A Visit to Cuba Before it Was Legal, 1998

Guanabo Girl, 1998
Cuba, Guanabo Province – 8×10 film

I went to Cuba with a group of five friends in the mid-1990s before it was technically legal for US citizens to do so. Cuba reminds me of North Korea and Myanmar. Perhaps somewhat surprising, I have found some of the nicest atmospheres in the less developed places, which also happen to be some of the places with the most dictatorial governments. I reflect that ‘progress’ is a two-edged sword and that we should be careful to preserve the simplicity and grace of the old world.

March 10, 1998 Guanabo, Cuba

Now I am sitting in the door way of my cabana at Che Guevara’s old Hacienda. It is really peaceful here. I love the atmosphere. It is dark now and there’s a light wind blowing. It’s pleasantly cool… This is really great. I am in heaven tonight. When we got here I just lay down and fell asleep. It was one of those sleeps where my mind was truly at rest. No phones. Breeze, trees, the sound of them swaying. It is one of those sleeps where my mind is thousand miles away from the things that bother me.

Grisel, 1998
Cuba, Havana Province – 35mm film

I went to Havana with the group. The high priestess of the local cult religion sat across from us with a ruby flower in a white headdress. We danced with her… She was smoking a big cigar, drinking liquor. She was very fat. Her face was ugly in the conventional sense, but I liked her as a person… The others went off and had a great time, so they said. I walked alone, happy to see this interesting place. I stopped for a coffee. A young Negro woman with light brown eyes sidled up to the bar allegedly to change 10 convertible pesos to $10. When the bartender refused due to a shortage of change, I told her I could help. I asked where she lived. She said just near. I asked if I could come to her house. She took me there with her “aunt.” At her house, I met her (real) aunt and several friends and family members. It was a pleasant atmosphere. When she took me to her room we held each other and kissed. I asked if she could sleep with me. She said yes. I suggested I get a hotel in Havana and she suggested I stay there, to pay her aunt $20 for the lodging. I laid her on the bed and kissed her. I said, “But your aunt will be in the next room.” She indicated it would be no problem. She took me downstairs and her aunt said I was welcome to stay. She walked me back to the café and we kissed goodbye.

I felt a raw attraction for Grisel (the light-skinned Negro girl). Grisel’s teeth had a stain in front, but I did not care. I was embarrassed with the thought of introducing her to the others in my group, for their girls have nice teeth. But for my tastes, she, I felt like being with. Something about the immediacy of the feeling sitting next to her, as if it was my decision, just looking at her and thinking, I would like her. It was a basic feeling.

I think my downfall is not listening to the obvious messages in my heart. I would do well to concentrate on what I feel and follow it, especially when forces are driving me in a direction non-harmonious to its call… Now I am in a taxi on my way to Grisel’s house. I am looking forward to seeing her.

March 12, 1998
Havana, Cuba

Woke with Grisel, she bathes me, we go to café for a coffee and cheese sandwiches… in the afternoon, we go to buy postcards in the square, later to steak lunch, return to house, nap. In the evening, out for chicken and juice, to bed, photos at night. Calls: none.

March 13, 1998
Guanabo, Cuba

Awake in Havana, feeling sleepy, sleep in, debate about bringing Grisel with me to Mi Hacienda, but do anyway. Grisel and I in bed in cabana. Later Mike brings his girlfriend for photos. Great. Evening to town, to dinner all, Grisel dresses up, Copacabana disco. Calls: none.