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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Raul and Cuba, My Best Friend Travels Back to His Birthplace, Placetas, Cuba, Part III. Salary, Economy, Food and Rations.

This is the third and last installment of an Interview of my best friend Raul of over 30 years.  A Cuban born American that traveled back to his home town, Placetas, Cuba after 42 years.  To read the full interview, please see Part I and Part II of my blog.

This is Part III, if you missed Part I or  Part II, click it! 

The Caryatid Building is one of the most important structures in the Malecon. Built in the early 20th century. Named after the Art Deco-style female figures that support the entablature of the loggia.

Q: You say that your one cousin is a pediatrician, so how much does she make per month in Cuba?

El Floridita, home of the Daiquiri. Made famous by Ernest Hemingway. 

A: She told me she makes Like 35 Pesos, which is equivilant to almost like less than a dollar.   

Raul and Hemingway at El Florita.

Q: Your Cousin, the one that you stayed with, he is in Travel Industry and how much does he make per month?

A: He makes about 25 Pesos per month.

The demitasses are part of Raul's grandmother's wedding china. Only 5 left.
The rest of china was sold years ago. Raul's Grandmother is 102 years old today.

Q: Do people receive any free services from the government?

A: Yes,  Education and Medical services. 

Q: Can you buy a home in Cuba?

Houses in Placetas.

A: Now you can. That has been one of the changes that Raul Castro has made since he took over the power.  I think there is also a social revolt, my cousins were telling me that there was a revolt because the Cuban were so fed up.  You can get what you need if you have money, if not you are fucked.  Everything is basically available through the currency they developed for the tourist, which has a higher value than the Euro and the Dollar but only in Cuba. Then there's currency that you can not use anywhere else so the country is like stealing.  When I traded my American Dollars for the Tourist Currency, I got *90 CUC for $100. USD.  I see people selling things that they make or they do not want anymore out of their house.  Which was not allowed at one time. So, you sort see the genesis of a flourishing economy.    

*I did a little research and found that there was a 10% service fee to change your money.  This is what Raul was speaking of but not in these words.  See source on the United States Deptartment of State  Scroll down to Currency Regulations.

A bigger and brighter house.
You can get an apartment and you trade it with someone else.  If you see another one that you like better you can trade off what you have and you pay the difference.  I am not exactly sure how it works.   My cousin is in the process of doing this so he can live in one and he will rent another.

Q: How much toilette paper or coffee are you allowed per month per person and how much does it cost?

A: I think you get a pound of coffee per month per household or something like that. I'm not sure but it wouldn't be much because there was a lot of news paper in the bathrooms cut up for single use. Could you imagine if you had hemriods?  

Q: Are their any supermarkets?

A: No, but I did go to a specialty supermarket in Havana but then again it was nothing like the regular people, it was for the tourist, other than that there is nothing to buy.  You only buy your rations.  There is more variety in Havana which with money you can get anything, but the citizens do not have it. 

Restaurant Bar in Havana, very different from the non tourist areas. 

Q: The cars, tell me about he vehicles there?

Another old car but still running....pretty amazing.

A few buildings an yet another old car but working.

A: The majority of the cars are from the 1950 and they are called al Mendron and the other mode of transportation is horse and buggy.

Q: Wait a minute, didn't you tell me that you rode in a New Audi? 

A: Yes, my cousin befriended the Spanards there that own a hotel chain and one is in Havana.  So, when guest gets sick he calls my cousin's boyfriend who is a doctor to go and see them.  He doesn't charge him for medical care so, the owner lends him the car.  We also stayed in Vara Dero (Beaches in Matanzas) for free because of the same owners. 

This one looks like it had a some nice work done to it.
Paint and rims perhaps?

Q: And Television, do they have cable?   

A: No, they only have 2 TV Television Station.

Q: Movies?  What Movies do they watch?

A: I didn't go to a movie theatre but I brought back a disc that I bought with CUC that had 5 Oscar nominated movies on them for this year (2012).  So, basically they are up to date but everything is pirated.  They have been watching the Spanish Television shows out of Miami.  They get in DVD form. 

A well spout. 

The Chickens!
Q: Food?  How was it and was there plenty of it?

A: My family saved up money and food for me and deliciouso.  Everything is a lot more flavorful. I don't think they have this much food normally as when I was there.     

Peppers and a Tomato Salad with onions.  

A Tropical Breakfast. 

Q: Clothing? do they buy them there or do they rely on Cuban Americans to send them items? 

Don't you jut love the t-shirt this man on the left is wearing? It says, "Fuck Me, I'm Famous in Ibiza". Raul said he wasn't sure if this person knew exactly what this meant and he didn't want to tell him in fear of embarrassing him. I wish I had the nerve to wear a t-shirt like this in 'Let Freedom Ring" America! I blocked out their faces because I just wanted to focus on the Shirt!  - Fabulous!!!

A: Again, Clothing is also rationed. I saw a couple of guys with DandG T-shirts which is surreal.  I think most people rely on things sent by family in the USA.      

Q: Did you feel that there was a high crime rate there or did you see plenty of police around keeping order?

A: I didn't see Police but I was told that the crime rate is somewhat low.  Nobody has much to steal.  But in certain areas where people have chickens and pigs, keep them in the house over night so not to be stolen. 

Q: How about things that Americans might take for granted, like water, electricity or natural gas?

A view the ocean.

A: Electricity,  I heard they are very thankful to Chavez for giving gasoline so they can have electricity.  So, there is a lot more electricity than before, because before, in order to reserve, they turned off the power during certain times.  My cousin told me that in the 80s they would go days without it.  Now, they leave it on and there are periods when the lights go out, but it didn't happen when I was there, but it happened when I was a kid. 
Imagine at one point they couldn't even sleep because of the heat.  

Q: Tell me about the people, how do you find their spirits to be?   Do they believe in  communism?   Do you think that they wished they had left?  Overall are they healthy?

One of Raul's family member preparing for a meal.
Look at the big old lock on the table.  

A:  I know that my cousins are happy were they are.  Overall my family has a fairly good life in moderate means.  That is all they know, so unlike my parents that had different life experiences before life has taken away from them.  So, the generation that grew up during the communist years.  Bascailly, once emotional state is primarily determined by   family dynamic, being loved, the economy doesn't necessarily have that much impact.      

Another vintage Decorative piece, still in excellent condition.

Q: How do you see in the future of Cuba?  Did you get a feeling that things are going to change for the better
A wedding gift to Raul's Parents over 53 years ago.  It now resides in Havana with a family member.
 All the pieces are still there -Amazing, right?
  Really Nice Vintage set!

A: Absolutely, what you are seeing is a change.  It makes sense that things are changing anyway.  Nothing stays the same.  

Q: Now that your mother and father made the decision to come to America, are you glad that they made these sacrifices so that you and your sister can live in freedom?  

Another view of the ocean, from Havana and a lonely tree.   

A: Oh, absolutely, and I really admire them for doing it. Going back, it really brought on feelings of abandonment and sadness of leaving.  Which I am sure were emotional restlessness I haven't dealt with since I left the first time.      

Q: Will you plan on going back and if so, why? 

Another Decorative piece from the 1950s that is well preserved. 

A: I defiantly want to go back.  I want to go back next year to see places I wasn't able to see.  
Santuario  de San Lazaro.

Q: What have you learned about yourself, the people that were left behind and of communism? 

A: I don't necessarily know if I learned about myself.  Well, I guess my I had the sense that there were emotional issues that I had to get in touch with.  The feelings of lose and the abandonment that I worked through. That people adapt and that communism will not last forever.   

A chandelier in a Cafeteria. 

Straw Roof in a Cafeteria.

Q: Anything you would like to add that I left out that you would want readers to know about your experience?

I would say that those who can go, do so.  Put political views aside and to do so is an incredible emotional experience.   Very Life Affirming.  

This wraps ups my interview with Raul. I hope you enjoyed reading and learning about Cuba and Raul's trip.  I know I did.  I am so happy to be able to learn more about someone I love very much.  

I am very proud of Raul and his accomplishments and relationships.  He is married to Mark, and they have been together for 18 years.  He has very close relationships with his family.  He is a caring son, grandson, brother, uncle, cousin and friend.  He is truly a great human being and I am so glad he is in my life.  He is a big part of my family too, which includes my 2 sisters, my mother and my husband.  

Raul and Mark are also great "Uncles" to my two girls which I appreciate deeply.  Oh and I almost forgot to mention, Raul bakes the most beautiful Cakes for everybody and for any occasion!  You can give him a picture or an idea and he will execute it, (after an intense spell of perfection) with Mark's help of course...like I said, Raul is like a brother to me and I think we were all happy that he was able to travel back to his Birthplace, Placetas,  Cuba...............Salute!

Raul and me, hanging out in my back yard.

Thank you for reading and hope you are having a Fab Day! ~ Gina (and Raul).

 Guayaba is one of
my Favorite Fruits. 

For  Part I or  Part II, click it! 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hells Kitchen in Newark, NJ - Femme Flea Market- Taking the show on the road!

I know it is last minute, but sometimes that is how things go.   I was invited to sell my goods at the very active Bar/ Lounge/ Restaurant - Hell's Kitchen in Newark!   They always have something going on, From Burlesque Shows, Live Bands to Movie nights and even Trivia Contest.   I have been there about 4 times and I have to say, it is really a nice vibe. 

Shop while you Drink....OH MY.........

The flea market will be held outside, tonight, May 11, 2012 and their address is 150 Lafayette Street, not to far from the Prudential Center and Penn Station.   Oh, and they are having a special on Selected Martinis, 1/2 Price, but for ladies only....oh my, I wonder where they are gonna find a lady these days......not that many girls ride side saddle today! 

Looking forward to seeing everyone tonight and hope for a good time for All!!!!!  See you there, if you can make it!  

Thanks for reading and have a Fab Friday!  ~ Gina  

Next Femme Flea Market will be on May 25, 2012! 
Hells Kitchen Web site 
Hells Kitchen on Facebook

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Raul and Cuba. My Best Friend travels back to his birthplace, Placetas, Cuba, Part II. Homosexuality and Havana

Part II - Homosexuality and Havana.  If you missed Part I, click it!  

This is the second installment of a 3 part interview with my best friend of over 30 years, Raul.  A Cuban born American that travels back to his home town, Placetas, Cuba after 42 years.  To read more, please see Part I of my blog. 

 Early 20th Century Fountain of the Muses at El Tropicana of Havana.
Q: Since you are a gay man and you found out that the cousin you stayed with is too while there, tell me what are the struggles that homosexuals face in Cuba as compared to homosexuals in the USA.  

Santuario de San Lazaro at El Rincon.
San Lazaro patron saint of the sick.
Next to an old lepers' hospital in Havana.
Santa Barbara. 
A: I think overall there is more acceptance here (USA).  I think there is more of an opportunity to normalize. Homosexuality is fairly new as in Cuba it is more progressive like some other countries.  

Q: So, even though they didn't thrown people in jail any longer for being gay and before Raul Castro's  (Fidel's Brother) Daughter, Mariela Castro Espin started actively fighting for LGBT rights in Cuba , it was say, kind of illegal to be publicly gay?   
Locals, School children and El Gran Teatro in the back ground. 

A: Yes, my cousin was fired from his job when they found out he was gay because he was having a relationship with a coworker.  They were turned in by people (government watchdogs) who were with the communist, most likely employees of the hospital where they worked. If you turn people in that were anti-communist, it would elevate your status.  Being gay in Cuba was considered anti-communist, it was illegal and up until the late 1990s, homosexual would be sent to prison.  Both were fired and they moved to Havana where it was more accepted basically, like New York and they were followed by the government.  Not by the same people but for the original Crime" committed in Placetas.  They were both fired again from there new jobs.

Q: Did your cousin's relationship survive?

Local Artist - Mural in Havana.

A: No, because after all of that, the boyfriend went back to his wife, he was married with children and so was my cousin.  My cousin didn't go back to his wife, but he went back to Placetas and fell into a deep depression and he told me he was like comatose for like a month.  That he just laid in bed and didn't do anything.  

Catedral San Cristobal in Havana.
Q: How did it make you feel knowing that you this could have been you. 

The Cuban 5.  The 5 Cuban men convicted
of conspiracy to commit Espionage
 and murder in the US.  
Modern sculpture art up against old Architecure. 
Iglesia San Martin de Porras in Havana.
Iglesia San Francisco de Paula in Havana.
A: I felt sorry for him and a lot of compassion and I was also glad that my parents made the sacrifice to get me out of Cuba because that could have been me. I too would have married a women because I almost did it here.  It was from all the internalization homophobia that I grew up with.

Painting of La Virgen de la Caridad en
 el Hotel San Francisco

Q: And how's is your cousin doing now at the time of your visit? 

A: He is well. He works in the tourism industry in Havana and quite happy with his partner of 8 years. 

Was once the Hilton Hotel of Havana.
Now a Government Owned Building.

Q: You visited Havana and you said it was a totally different world than your home town...describe what the difference is between a large city and a small town?

Raul  shaking hands with a Cute Gigolo.  Ok, not a real Gigolo
Just a cute Hot Dog, Dog that Performs but not Gigolo things.  

A: Well, the difference is Havana has a night life, it seemed like it was alive all the time.  There is tourism, there are places to see, saw a lot of prositutes, male and female.  There is a park that is like Central Park that is know for it's gigolos. In a small town, you have none of this, although I am sure there prostitution, but I sure didn't see it. All over Cuba there is a large percentage of Alcoholism. 

Live show at the Tropicana that Costs about $150. per
Ticket.  This would take a Citizen of Cuba 5 years to save up for. 
Hey, is that a Celia Cruz Impersonator?  No, it is
Amparito Valencia An Entertainer at the Buena Vista Social Club! 
 p.s. You know there is a Celia Cruz Park in Union City...On Bergenline and 32Nd Street.  Oh yes there is!

La Bodeguita Del Medio is a Cuban institution. Its walls are covered with photographs, drawings and graffiti and autographs from patrons such as Nat King Cole,Pablo Neruda, Nicolas Guillen, Grabriel Garcia Marquez and Ernest Hemingway.

Raul at Buena Vista Social Club,,,
Getting down with the Rhythm.

Buena Vista Social Club-Mazacote. 
Q: Since this is a large tourist area, (Havana) and people from all over Europe visit, tell me about the old buildings, have they been refurbished and maintained?

The Hotel Nacional.  

A: Yes, they are being refurbished now.  A lot of Havana is being rebuilt and a lot of the buildings are keeping the facade and modernizing the inside.   

Hotel Lobby
Raul at the Hotel Beach.

The Hotel Nacional

The building where the Restoration Architects
work out of to Restore Havana for Tourism.

Q: Does it appear to be similar to America in Havana, such as American goods, restaurants and clothing stores?
El Capitolio - Capitol Building in Havana- Look Familiar ???

A: It doesn't.  It is like comparing apples to oranges.   

The view from the balcony in Hotel Laguna Azul.
An Apartment Building in Havana not renovated.

A view from Rau'ls Cousins Balcony onto
 a rooftop where Roosters live and are used for fighting.

Another Renovated building in Havana.
A view from Raul's Cousin's Apartment Balcony in Havana 

Havana University and an Old car. 

Q: Can the Cubans visit the tourist areas and do they shop there too?

A: They can not afford it, but at least they are somewhat now allowed.  Before they weren't allowed in the tourist area.  


Raul as a tourist in Havana. 

That concludes Part II -  To read Part III, please click this link.  We talk about salary, the economy, food and rations.   

Thank you for reading and have a Fab Evening!!! ~ Gina (and Raul) 
A Vintage planter that was in Raul's house in Placetas but now resides
 in Havana with a Raul's Mother's cousin.