Two things from yesterday, before I write about today's activities:
1) I neglected to post the group photo that we had taken at the Patronato yesterday:
2) I was so excited yesterday to write about our impending evening at the reunion concert of several artists from the Buena Vista Social Club project. Alas, the concert was cancelled at the last minute, because the lead singer apparently had some health issues! The 11 of us who were planning on attending still enjoyed a lovely outdoor meal at one of the Hotel Nacional's restaurants. We are re-grouping, and hoping that some decent live music will be in our future when we try again tomorrow night.
Now, on to today.
Dr. Maritza Corrales (who spoke to the group on Wednesday upon our arrival here), and who is the Island's resident academic expert on Cuban Jewish life, joined us this morning for our journey to Guanabacoa, an eastern suburb of Havana. Guanabacoa is the birthplace of many famous Cuban jazz musicians. And - here's your random factoid of the day - was also the birthplace of CNN anchor Rick Sanchez.
Anyway...we went to Guanabacoa to see the first Jewish cemetery established here (by American Reform Jews who came over during/after the Spanish-American War of 1898). Here's a picture of the entrance to the cemetery:
Although the cemetery began as a joint venture between the liberal Reform Jews and the more traditional Sephardic Jews...the Sephardic community eventually decided that the first cemetery wasn't kosher enough for them, and so they built their own...right next door! In the picture below, you can see it in the distance:
Dr. Corrales patiently walked us through the cemetery, stopping to tell us fascinating stories about the lives of the many who are buried there. (She knew many of them personally!) Our tour culminated at the Holocaust Memorial, situated near the main entrance:
You're looking at the very first Holocaust Memorial erected in the Western Hemisphere - in 1947. (A few months later the Sephardic community put up their own Holocaust Memorial right down the road...) Our visit to the site was made especially meaningful, given that Jews around the world will be marking Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - this weekend.
After leaving the cemetery, we visited Ernest Hemingway's Cuban home, which was located nearby. Hemingway lived in Cuba on and off between 1939-1960. He wrote all of "The Old Man and the Sea: from this desk, which sits on the top floor of a mini-tower, on the grounds of his home:
The desk looks out onto an expansive view of the Havana skyline in the far distance. Jorge tells us that on a clear day, he would have been able to see the ocean as well. It was definitely invisible to us today.
The house is cool because - by agreement with the Castro government just after the Revolution, everything was kept pristinely, exactly as it was during Hemingway's last few months there. It's all original furniture, art (including a Picasso clay drawing/inscription), his beloved book collection (emphasis on military history), and even the magazines he was reading:
After lunch at an oceanfront restaurant tucked under the lighthouse/fort of Old Havana, we visited the Museum of the Revolution - filled with historical artifacts of the struggle that culminated in Castro's rise to power in 1959.
This might sound strange, but I was actually looking forward to my visit to the museum. I have been engrossed in Castro's recently-published autobiography, and feel like I am now something of an 'expert' in all things Revolution-related (at least up until 1959, which is where I am in the book...). (TANGENT: MANY THANKS TO THE ANONYMOUS SOLEL MEMBER WHO DROPPED THE BOOK OFF AT THE TEMPLE. PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHO YOU ARE, SO I CAN THANK YOU PERSONALLY!)
Anyway, the museum was a bit of a letdown. They have not kept the building and its exhibits up to date as well as they might (if they had more financial resources, anyway). I did enjoy the way they highlighted the "Granma" - the small yacht that carried Castro and 80 other colleagues back to Cuba in 1957 to re-start the Revolution, after a self-imposed exile in Mexico. I don't know if you've ever been to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley - but they recently built a new glassed-in hangar to house one of the Air Force One planes that Reagan used during his presidency. The treatment that Cuba has given to the yacht was reminiscent of that (on a smaller scale of course).
Speaking of President Reagan, he was featured in the ridiculous "Wall of Shame" that the Museum features on the first floor:
Yes, that's President Reagan in the middle, and the first President Bush on the left. On the right....Battista - evil enemy of the Revolution, whose presidency was overthrown by Castro and Company in the final days of 1958.
Tonight: we're off to Shabbat services and dinner at the Patronato (see yesterday's post).
Shabbat Shalom from Havana...