Today let’s start with the ending because it is news. The tagline, “Read: It’s good for both of us” takes on new meaning come September 15th. The long-awaited, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales From Brooklyn” will be available.
After the 15th the book will be available at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and through my website http://www.williamgralnickauthor.com
Along with heart-warming and memory inducing stories, the book has over three dozen vintage pictures and over three dozen quotes from Brooklynites who have achieved fame and fortune (one of whom actually sold the Brooklyn Bridge three times!)
Order a copy and see why Brian Williams, Lynn Sher, Carl Erskine, Diamond Jim Gentile, a United States Ambassador and a man who has been the president of two universities have endorsed it. A formal announcement will follow–but put it on your calendar now!
Now to the content…
Maybe in comparison, it is a black ink spot on the foreign policy misstep map of the administration. It certainly isn’t the major failures with the Taliban or with N. Korea, or with China. But two executive rulings about Cuba in the last six months seem to be setting us up for yet another failure. The first was the ending of permission for American cruise ships to dock anyway on this island nation. The second, announced last week, was making it illegal to send money or make financial transfers to this impoverished but proud communist outpost a mere 90 miles from Key West.
After spending eight days in Cuba on a religious mission mixed with sight-seeing, it strikes me that the deluge is coming and it can’t be adjusted like water from the tap. At first, when the previous administration opened up relations with the island nation, there was one kind of deluge. It is an American trait to be “first” at most anything. So the crush began for Americans to board ships and planes to be able to say they were there or back again. Some of the stories being quite poignant from those who fled the island during the revolution. The first wave soon turned into a tsunami. With the final passing of Fidel, brother Raul was beginning to show he was not a cardboard cut out of his brother and things slowly but clearly began to change. Very slowly. The deluge continued and it was good.
Another thing Americans do is talk. Faced with an economy that was a car wreck, Raul’s island had faults that a blind tourist could sense if not see and a seeing tourist could see like it was a big zit on a teenager’s face. Arrival by plane is like arriving in the 1950s. The airport no ramps to connect the planes to the terminals. You walk off and board very crowded buses. The terminal is one small building packed to gills. It is very easy to end up in the wrong line. Baggage service is tortoise-like. Bathrooms are few, far between, cost money, and are pretty gross. And oh yes, the terminal is dim, depressing, and dirty. Sea passengers told us, and we could see from the street, that the cruise terminal is the size of about four Quonset huts and about as comfortable.
Public transport is almost non-existent or omnipresent. It was so bad that when he took over one of Raul’s first efforts was to buy 2,000 made in China buses. They are already down 500 because there isn’t enough money in the treasury to buy the needed parts to fix them. Omnipresent? A law was passed that any tourist bus traveling the highways and byways that had open seats headed back to its base had to stop at bus stops and pick up passengers. How must the paying passengers love that! Police at bus stops flag them down along with an occasional truck that might have an empty seat or yes, space in the back. It’s not quite the surrey with the fringe on top. It is also free.
Public Utilities are another mess. The island experiences frequent blackouts. Water is turned on three times a week, so every apartment building and house has a jury-rigged water catchment system to supplement city water with rainwater. Public inspection and sanitation of them are close to non-existent so Cuba has it’s own Montezuma’s revenge called, “La Revenga de los Hermanos Castro.” It is wicked. If only the water ran as well…
An oddity of the island is that it is a country devoid of toilet seats! The filthy bathrooms, zealously guarded by matrons also don’t have paper towels or toilet paper. These guardians of sanitation supply them, including paper “seats” to cover the porcelain, for a fee. The forewarned traveler brings all these things along from home.
Medical care is free in Cuba. The problem is an important part of the economy is the money that is made from contracts between Cuba and other Latin and poorer countries around the globe to provide medical professionals. So this country, which turns out high-quality medical professionals like mice turn out babies, is itself short of doctors. In Havana, there is a surplus of neighborhood doctors. It takes no time to learn that the doctors have an expectation that free isn’t really. Goats, chickens, bushels of corn, animal feed and more-all presents of appreciation come into the office with the patients or are delivered after hours. Doctors outside of Havana? Pretty much, “forgedaboutit!”
Like most dictatorships, Cuba is pretty safe to walk around in day or night. But when was is allowed to wander, even under the protective and inquiring eyes of the police, one sees a stunning number of people who live in abject poverty. I saw places on the island that pushed the limits of “3rd world country” up at least another .5 or even to 4th world. Heartbreaking are the stray animals who look like they’ve just been released from DP camps after the Holocaust. The herd animals don’t look much better.
We Americans are fascinated by grocery stores. We compare them to our local Publix, Winn-Dixie, or Trader Joe’s. The problem is that is you arrive on the wrong day what you see is rows, and rows, and rows of empty shelves or shelves with three loaves of bread or 16 cans of vegetables, or maybe a half dozen picked over boxes of pasta. This is throughout the store. Ironically, Hanava and some of the smaller cities have restaurants of wonderful quality, service, and cleanliness–but no toilet seats. Go figure. Of course, the average Cuban never sees the inside of them unless they are employees.
Two things are plentiful. Neither are edible. One is the fleet of 1950s American cars, many convertibles, many with more than two million miles on them. Cubans are fabulous mechanics and fashioners of spare parts. They can be taxis or tour guide cars, or anything you want them to be. Small things, like a door that no longer opens so you slide in over the top of it, no seat belts, and that fact that some drivers have to stand up when they hit the brakes to find enough pressure for the brake pads to actually work–well the pictures for back home are worth it.
The other is cigars. Everyone wants one, or a dozen, or a box or two. Every worker gets four free cigars a day. They are virtually the only Cubans who can afford Cuban Cigars. Three of these are usually sold on the black market to supplement the government mandated $27 a month salary. One is smoked almost ritually when one is relaxed, sitting outside on something comfortable, with time to think and the night breeze being all yours while inhaling what is acknowledged to be the finest cigar in the world.
Cuba is a beautiful island. Nature’s beauty abounds. And there are no snakes in the grass. The people are lovely. If you speak Spanish or can find someone who speaks English, long and surprisingly open conversations can be had. When you realize the thousands of people a day who arrive on Carnival ships will be whittled down so much they will resemble the municipal water flow, when you realize the remittances from brothers, aunts, uncles, friends are now illegal and can both land you in jail and be confiscated you can almost hear the deluge in the distance. This one isn’t good. Many felt that after Fidel would come the deluge. It didn’t. Many felt that after Raul it would come. ‘doesn’t look like it. It could be though that it will arrive apres Trump.
So put it all together, as the old song went, and what do you get? “Bitty-boppity, boo.” Something that makes no sense.
Is Cuba the kind of threat to us as is Russia, China, even N. Korea? Do crushingly poor people need further crushing? If one looks at what surely will be just the beginning of picking on Cuba in ways that will make the miserable lives for Cubans more miserable can you say anything more than, ” Really?!?” It is a tiny communist country that can’t even afford to repair its buses. F-16’s? Foolishness–at least from my perspective.