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My Cuban Bucket List

cubapassportI was so excited to go to Cuba in 2011, I created a bucket list of all the things I wanted to do while I was in the country. Before I left to attend a satellite conference hosted by the Social Sciences division of  the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), I watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode that featured Havana.  Much of what he experienced contributed greatly to my bucket list. I fulfilled almost everything on my list except attending a baseball game. This post is four years overdue because my Ipad died and took with it all my notes and bucket list entries. By chance, I came across this list while looking for an email (Go me!). My next post about Cuba will discuss my observations regarding information technology and freedom of access in a communist country. Until then, please check out the monograph, Open Access and Digital Libraries /Acceso Abierto y Bibliotecas Digitales Edited by Rudasill, Lynne M. and Dorta-Duque, Maria Elena featuring subject matter from the satellite conference. As you can imagine, there are a lot of updates needed for the next post due to the passage of time and changing political climate. cigars


Smoke a cigar 

I don’t smoke. I usually hate the smell of cigars. However, I was, as Samuel L. Jackson would say, in mother f**king Cuba. So of course, this was a significant task on my list. All I wanted was a single cigar- just one cigarillo. Part of my search included bringing a Cuban for my cigar smoking Dad (Ok- I guess the term is smuggling). A Cuban colleague suggested I buy myself a Cohiba Mini Cigar and my father a larger Cohiba cigar. It turns out that single cigars were more difficult to find than I realized. Many places didn’t sell single mini cigars so it wasn’t until my last night that I found a place that did. Even before I smoked my cigarillo, I wrote about cigars my first night in Havana. At the time I wrote:dad

 “As I’m smelling the sweet aroma of a Cuban cigar I think: It had to be rolled on the thighs of a virgin. It smells so much of a sugary nectar, a nice compliment to my buzz..”

(Buzz? Ok, so the first thing I did on my bucket list was drink a Mojito. But doesn’t my dad look smooth?)


hemingwayex

Write a fictional piece while in Hemingway’s Bar 

The name of the bar is La Bodeguita del Medio which roughly translates to “the store in the middle” because its in the middle of a long narrow street. It is known to be the place where Hemingway started his Mojito hazed days. hemingwayintThe bar is small and filled with the scribbles of people who flock there to be in the presence of his ghost.  The bartender sent me air kisses and made one of those cat calls. All I wanted was to buy my cigarillo.

Went to Hemingway’s bar
To buy a Cuban cigar
But instead all I got 
Is a whistle and kiss
Adios little bar in Havana

(Hey, I had like three minutes to compose this while I was in the bar. Don’t judge me.)


rafaelGo to a baseball game

Baseball in Cuba is an addiction. I love the ambiance of a feverish sports crowd and was really looking forward to eating bad food and warm beer in the seats with the die-hard fans. Sadly, I wasn’t able to go to a baseball game as the season was done. It was one of the major items on my list. So instead, I just talked to Rafael, our driver, about baseball in his pidgin English and my non-existent Spanish.


mojitoDrink a Mojito

I think I must have done this bucket list item at least a half-dozen times. How often does one get to drink this succulent cocktail on the cliffs overlooking the ocean in Havana?


Kiss a Cuban

Other than too many romance films, I don’t know why I added this to my list. From my notes I wrote:

men“You need a caballero?” Yes the Cuban men love me. Of course they love any female, but it’s nice to feel like you got game in a foreign land. I suppose kissing a Cuban will be an easy thing to knock off the Cuban bucket list.

As I predicted, it wasn’t very difficult to find a Cuban man who would let me kiss him on the cheek. I won’t kiss and tell, but I did get this done and a few wedding proposals to boot!

( I didn’t take up the offer from these men to be my caballeros but I did ask to take their picture. It may have been the shirt.)


water in cubaPut my toes in the ocean

We went to Veradero Beach and not only did I get my toes in the ocean, but I got all the way in! The water was beautiful and in the crazy heat, felt amazing. I felt bad when little kids wanted to charge us for taking pictures of them but when you live in a country like Cuba who can blame them.


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Take a picture of a classic carexterior

Not only did I take amazing pictures of classic cars but I got to ride in one! I was totally shocked to learn that most of the old cars are just “classic” on the outside. They have been spliced together with various parts and whatever else they can use (I saw Duct Tape!) to keep them running. Check out the inside of our touring vehicle. These pictures are the exterior and interior of Rafael’s car the Garcia Gallion. I pray that the first imports from the US are original Pontiac and Chevy parts.

(The back seat was from a Chinese manufacturer and virtually nothing inside these cars is original anymore)


el hornoEat at a Paladar

Paladar is the Cuban name for privately owned restaurants. They take Cuban Pesos (CUP) instead of the tourist currency called Convertible Pesos*. I was eager to eat at a Paladar. The  fish and meat were served in ample amounts. The prices were equivalent to $5 a plate for a meal we would normally pay $25 for. This included the wine. It was  a small place but the staff were thrilled to have a gaggle of librarians come eat at their spot. I only wish we had tipped more. It’s the cocktail waitress in me I guess.

While the food was tasty, this was the first of many meals that left me wishing I brought my travel-sized bottle of Tapatio. I tried to ask for spiciness in every Spanish variant I could think of: Salsa picante, jalapenos, even the shaking motion a bottle of hot sauce. Every time, I got a dog head tilt as a reply. Alongside Costa Rica, I had to add Cuba to my list of Latin countries that have not discovered the culinary necessity of chili peppers. If I could start a business in Cuba it would be a Sriracha hot sauce plant.


coolbook

Visit a library 

internallib

As it turned out, I visited many libraries in Cuba. The Biblioteca Nacional de Cuba José Martí is where our conference was held. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations so other than the presentation rooms I didn’t see much. I visited a large public library and archival collection both located in the middle of old Havana. El Buro de Homicidos was the best book title of the trip. I also met librarians who worked diligently to meet the needs of their patrons. Their passion for librarianship matched those of their American counterparts. Meeting and speaking to them about their experience providing information to the public was a highlight of my trip. In Cuba there are also underground libraries with collections made up of “subversive literature”. I wish we could have visited these as well to get an accurate representation of information access and censorship.

library1

Oddly enough, my two favorite libraries were both abandoned. They were near the Paladar El Horno and were catercorner from each other. The sign Biblioteca is definitely the coolest library sign ever made. It was apparent the second library had been vacated for many years. If you peaked through the windows, you could see books that had been leftifla inside. The holes in the ceiling let in light and birds used them to fly in and out of the open spaces. Ironically there was a placard on the front of the library commemorating the first time that  International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) visited Cuba.


Take an iconic picture: Plaza de la Revolución

iconic

The Plaza de la Revolución is perhaps the most historically significant place in Havana I visited. Castro addressed millions in this Plaza. You could almost imagine being there when standing in the center. From the José Martí Memorial, I was able to see get this view of the plaza. I consider it my “iconic photo” of Cuba.


Dance

The Enrique Jorrin Orchestra was my soundtrack for this bucket list item. Enrique Jorrin is long gone but I guess these bands stay together and use the original name in perpetuity. He is said to be the originator of the Cha Cha ChadanceThe band performed in the foyer of the Biblioteca Nacional de Cuba José Martí. While we danced we had an endless supply of Mojitos and Cuba Libre available at the information desk. Needless to say, I danced. Many of my readers have been on the French Quarter and witnessed drunk librarians. Yes it was like that.

(The front man was muy suave. Don’t you think so too?)


churchGo to Mass

I must be hanging out with my dad too much. I am not even Catholic but Catholic churches are usually one of the first things I want to see when I travel (OK- well maybe not in Saudi Arabia). I wanted to go to an old Catholic Churches in Old Havana but didn’t recall one of the basic tenets of communism: Religion is the opiate of the masses. So of course religion isn’t a dominant aspect of current Cuban society. While there are still Catholic churches, most of them have been converted. The San Francisco de Assisi in old Havana was converted into a concert hall.


Visit a bar.

barI went to many bars but the coolest one was what I called “Bar of memories” in my notes. Upon further examination it is a bar located within a section of the hotel that is known as the Hall of Fame. The hall was a nostalgic look at the notorious and famous guests who stayed at the Hotel Nacional . This list included gangsters, movie stars and sadly even the Backstreet Boys. Glass cases held programs, old casino chips from the pre-Castro years and other ephemera. So many primary materials. It was a librarian’s wet dream for sure. The history of the hotel is romantic and worth checking out. The Bar attached to the hall is where I finally found my tiny cigar. Since it was my last night in Havana, I was scrambling to complete my bucket list. I hit two birds with one stone as I completed a additional task on my bucket list: Drink a tumbler of Cuban Rum – neat.


festival

Eat at a street vendor truck.

Whenever I travel, I try to eat where the locals eat. In St. Thomas the best meal I had was from a food truck. My first day in Havana, I saw a lot of food vendors near the Malecón and decided to eat there one night. It was another thing on my list that I didn’t complete. While I could see the vendors from my hotel room, I never made it out to buy food. I got sick from water I bought on the street toward the end of my visit, so it is probably a good thing I didn’t!

While looking at  the Malecón, I could see the people hanging decorations on the light poles. They were also setting up large floats that later had bands and dancers all over them. After a few Mojitos, we partyventured down to the festival and had another amazing Havana night. The closest I got to buying local food on the street was purchasing a beer for $.50 that would cost $4 at the hotel. The empty street in the picture with the float was later crawling with people, soldiers and librarians .

(I wish I had quality shots of the floats but thanks to Apple’s inability to make cameras on iPhones that work at night you get a picture of me and my librarian friend Liz)


Watch the sunset on the seawall

havana

This was the view from taken from my hotel the first night in Havana. It was this breathtaking. What is probably more awesome than this image is the fact that I could hear the Bee Gees blasting from the market tents below. Surreal.


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Adios Havana

I really enjoyed my time in Havana and I hope to go back and visit again soon, My dream is to assist Cuban libraries as they transition into a connected society. When I visited in 2011, internet access was limited and there was no online catalog or inter-connectivity between libraries. My smart phone was the equivalent to a tablet on the Flintstones. As US-Cuban relations relax and increases, I foresee an increased need for digital and information literacy for the population. Anyone in Cuba reading this feel free to send me an email when the time comes!

* I was happy to find this BBC article which notes that Cuba is changing their dual currency system.

The Dirty Little Secret about Prop 47.

Yesterday I sat in various courtrooms in the Orange County Superior Court in downtown Santa Ana. The first was Court 60 which previously had been where all the felony drug convictions were handled. I have spent many hours in this particular court. I watched my son start a moderate outpatient program that consisted of random drug testing and attending self-help meetings.

I attended again when he was arrested for his first, then second, then third and finally his fourth probation violation. I listened to the sob stories of reformed addicts and those, like my son, who failed miserably no matter which program they were given by the Commissioner. All of these people had one single thing in common: a drug addiction and the need for consistent help to get out of their endless loop of petty crime and drug use.

While I sat in court time after time,  one thing i knew for sure is that the tax money I paid for our judicial system actually had a few safety nets for those that fell. Whether it be Drug Court or court ordered in-patient treatment, the State could help these people who could not help themselves. Yes they spent time in Jail, yes many didn’t take advantage of the hand extended to them but i always left Court 60 feeling like all was not lost.

Enter Prop 47. Endorsed by virtually all politicians and touted to be the way to spend more money on schools and less money on prisons. The opportunity for my son to have his charges reduced from felonies to misdemeanors was appealing. The promise of more money for drug treatment rather than the harsh jails (believe me I have been to all three of the Orange County Jails so harsh is actually a nice term) sounded almost too good to be true. Well guess what voters of California it was.

I watched the dirty little secret of Proposition 47 play out yesterday in my day long journey to three different court rooms in the OC Superior Courthouse. First in Court 60, I watched as the public defenders handed out goldenrod forms to petition for Prop 47 reclassification of a drug conviction. People who were high on methamphetamine as they stood there were terminated from drug programs and given informal probation. No more drug tests, no more probation officers and no more mandatory drug programs.

On to Court 57. More of the same. All felonies reduced, formal probation terminated, drug program requirement terminated. In Court C5 it felt like Groundhog Day as more and more inmates were released and given informal probation and drug treatment orders terminated.

“The new law also derails drug court, where felony charges were set aside for offenders who completed treatment regimens. Those who succeed have a high success in staying sober, but without the threat of jail, there is little incentive to participate, said Mark Delgado, executive director of the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, which runs those programs.”

Los Angeles Times

Perhaps the saddest example of the fraud that is Prop 47, was a female inmate sitting behind the protective glass in Courtroom 57. Frail and hauntingly beautiful she plead to her public defender that she needed to be out to hug and kiss and support her two year old child. But the sad fact was that she failed three different drug tests and was arrested (yet again) for being with another probationer who had drugs on his person. She had her felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor and drug program requirement terminated.  It wasn’t for her that I felt bad, it was for her child who would have a mother with no reason or money to seek treatment. The safety net that existed previously from Prop 36 and PC1210 has been torn and in its wake I foresee destroyed families (As parents who have been through the same ordeal as me know- the threat of jail is sometimes the only thing that will persuade addicts to try out sobriety- even if for a little while) and a rise in petty crimes. As long as the addict can stay under the $950 dollar threshold, they will be free to continue to steal bikes and cell phones and get just enough money for that next fix.

I voted for Prop 47. I selfishly wanted my son to have a reduced sentence and a chance to correct his youthful indiscretions. I admit I didn’t really care what happened to anyone but my child. But now i see that the dirty little secret behind Prop 47 is freeing people and offering zero help towards redemption. My son is lucky. He has a family that will support any attempts by him to get out of addiction and I have the health insurance that will fund his recovery. The others like that pretty girl in Courtroom 57 will not.

So i have to ask the authors of proposition 47: When exactly will all this money be used to help the thousands you have released from any sort of supervision or accountability for their drug use? Where is the help for those that need it now? Can you explain this to my son’s grandmother between her pain and tears? This is the last hope for so many lost souls and what do you do? Put them on the streets with nothing but a chance to use again without the threat of consequence.

Meeting Joe Strummer

I posted this on MYSPACE shortly after his death.  So i thought i would re-post it here:

strummer

The Clash has always been one of the major soundtracks of my life. I never got to see them play live so when the chance to see Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros at the House of Blues in Anaheim came about I was down. Seeing Joe Strummer on stage with all the same energy of clash footage from years past was awesome. But I never thought we would run into an old friend of Boxer’s that would take us backstage. I have met and know a lot of people in entertainment so I have never been one to get star struck but being inches away from Joe Strummer left me speechless. He and Boxer were talking about some tour they were on together in Italy while I stood listening to them. Joe Strummer noticed me and asked Boxer: “Aren’t you going to introduce us?” and then he politely shook my hand. We stayed backstage drinking beers and hanging out for what felt like hours but was probably just an hour and a half. Forever etched in my mind will be Joe Strummer listening (no- really FEELING the music- eyes shut, head moving) to music blaring out of a boom box, drinking a glass of red wine, and talking about the magic of reggae. I remember feeling the sweat soaked wetness of his shirt as he handed it to me and asked me to put it under the chair I was sitting in. Normally I would have cringed touching sweaty musician clothes but it was Joe Strummer man sweat so somehow that made it alright. What I remember most is how fucking NICE and down to earth he was. He had no attitude, no rock star personae, he was just a passionate man listening to some nobody girl’s demo tape on a boom box. I smile when I recall how much he tripped on the fact that Manic Hispanic would do a cover of one of his Clash songs. I think Boxer may have even sung a few lines. Joe was amazing in the few minutes our paths crossed and I am so glad I had the privilege of meeting him that night.

Later that summer I took my little boy to the Hootenanny and the Mescaleros were headlining. It was so cool to watch my son recognize the clash songs and sing along. It was the first time I took him to see live bands. Joe Strummer as a first gig- how awesome is that? I was more grateful that I was able to share that experience with my boy, when unexpectedly, a few months later, Joe passed away. My kid doesn’t know it now, but he is one of the few 6 year olds that can say when he is older,  he saw a legend perform.

Joe Strummer, you will be forever missed.


This original painting of Joe Strummer was done by the awesome Rebecca Curren-Willingham check out her online store

The Reason I love what I do

Every once in awhile between the half listening slackers and the “I already know this” students you get the kind of student that becomes THE REASON I LOVE WHAT I DO. This semester it was a petite Latina girl in a college sweatshirt with a carefully made up face and waves of black hair. A typical freshman.

She never told me her name but she was attentive and engaged. She waited until class was over and all the students were gone before she asked her questions. She was doing her first college paper on global warming. She was planning to become an engineering major but the College of Engineering doesn’t accept “pre-bac” students (the ones that don’t pass the writing requirement). She was clearly stressed about passing this class. I HAVE TO DO REALLY WELL ON THIS PAPER. And after talking to her for a minute it became clear why.

“I am the first person on either side of my family to go to college. NO ONE at home can help me. My mom is a single mom and my dad was never around. My mom and grandparents came from Mexico and I am the first one.” I could feel the magnitude of her situation in her tone of voice and body language: This is a BFD.

I could feel the weight on her shoulders however, she wasn’t like a typical stressed student. While she was overwhelmed at the enormity of her accomplishments she was still determined to succeed. I could see an inner strength in her that you don’t always see in freshmen or first generation students.

I wanted to give her a hug.

Instead I gave her the most heartfelt advice of my life. I told her everything I wished I had done to take advantage of support programs in college. I told her about my other first generation students and assured her that others did it before her and she could do it too. She didn’t know it but she brought tears to my eyes. She left the classroom with a renewed sense of confidence and told me she would “see me around”.

So thank you for reminding me of why I teach six classes in one day. why I never dread coming into the office. Why I smile even though I have worked more than 10 hours straight. I hope I see her in a cap and gown within the next five years.

Because you, dear student, are a big fucking deal.