History of Che in 3 Stanzas

Revolution and change in his heart
Ernesto lead Cuba – to start
T’ward a socialist dream
With vanilla ice cream
And an absence of crap from K-Mart

His work done in Cuba Che fled
To the Congo – which wasn’t yet red
He fomented revolt
But was met with a jolt
When the locals refused to get dead

Bolivia called him from there
Special forces were brought in by air
Made a martyr of Che
Way to go CIA!
Those Americans never play fair

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Shady Promises

[Prompt provided by Summer Ross: Shady promises oozed from…]

“¡Viva la Revolución!” cried José Martí on May 19, 1895, breaking away from the Cuban forces and riding straight into the Spanish line and to his death.

Fifty-eight years later, in 1953, inciting the 160 members of ‘The Movement’ to rise up against President General Batista, Fidel Castro encouraged, “In a few hours you will be victorious or defeated, but regardless of the outcome–listen well, friends–this Movement will triumph. If you win tomorrow, the aspirations of Martí will be fulfilled sooner. If we fail, our action will nevertheless set an example for the Cuban people, and from the people will arise fresh new men willing to die for Cuba.”

“¡Viva la Revolución!” chanted the tens of thousands, lead by Ernesto “Che” Guevera on New Year’s Day 1959, the day after President General Batista fled Cuba.

Three months later, to cheers in Revolution Square, shady promises oozed from under Prime Minister Fidel Castro’s scraggly beard, “I will lead the country to economic and cultural progress without sacrificing individual freedoms.”

An eruption of cheers!

“I promise free elections!”

The gathered crowd went wild!

The one promise, made in private, which Castro has managed to keep for over fifty years, “When we have fulfilled our promise of good government, I will cut my beard.”

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Cuban Customs

“Are you going to include everything on the customs declaration form?” Dave asked, an hour before landing in Cuba.

“Of course,” I said.

He sighed. A sound I knew meant he had misgivings. He may have been sighing while I collected the antibiotic ointment, maternity vitamins, infant formula, Tylenol and prescription pain killers. He may too, have sighed, while we packed the night before. In fact, I’m quite sure he did. But I wasn’t willing to hear it.

“If you get pulled out I’m not leaving you alone with the customs people,” he said with conviction. Then he whispered, as an aside,”We’re so close to Guantanamo…”

“It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. As long as I declare everything, I’m not breaking any laws.”

He sighed again. I laughed and had a flashback to a trip I’d taken to Sri Lanka by myself, the year before I met Dave. In Columbo, the capital city, soldiers with automatic rifles stood on every street corner, perched atop buildings, surveilled the parks. I’d never felt uncomfortable, even when I had one of those rifles pointed directly at my head while four soldiers ran at me, full speed, yelling. I was standing on a bridge, taking a picture of a train. In a city where the most recent terrorist bomb had exploded just three days earlier, I should have known better. My faux-pas was considered serious. But just for a moment. My Canadian passport was my ‘get out of jail free’ card.

Perhaps I was naive. But Cuba, and the possibility of upsetting a customs agent, and our proximity to Guantanamo Bay, made no impact on me.

At customs, Dave and I were separated. All couples were. Dave carried the suitcase with our bathing suits and aloe vera lotion, and the carry-on that held our Kobos and headphones. I dragged the suitcase and carry-on we were leaving behind in Cuba. Dave’s bags went through the x-ray machine. Several other Vancouverites and Calgarians similarly walked through the screening without incident. The agents appeared to be asleep with their eyes open.

My carry-on entered the x-ray machine. The man with the sleepy eyes raised his right hand high and yelled something. Then he looked at me and pointed to the bag, “Yours?”

“Yes,” I said.

“What?” he asked, pointing again at the bag.

“Glasses,” I said, taking my own off my face and pointing at them.

As the saying goes, that’s when all hell broke loose. Five agents and a security guard surrounded me. I could tell the security guard from the others by the fact that he wore a serious scowl and a gun. The female customs agents, by contrast, wore high heels, super-short skirts and blouses that emphasized their generous assets. Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.

My bags and I were escorted to an open area at the side of the large customs room. Dave was told to wait for me outside. He refused but was prevented from entering the roped area I was now standing in. I smiled, nodded to the agents and motioned my request to say goodbye to my husband. They agreed. I kissed Dave and told him I wouldn’t be long, “See if you can find Pastor Moises and Jose. Maybe they can come in and explain.”

Two of the five agents spoke English: the head agent and the younger of the two female agents; the one wearing the torn fishnet stockings. She smiled at me. He did not.

“What is all this?” he asked, waving his hands over my bags. “Open them! They’re for the black market!”

“No! It’s all declared. I have a right to bring this medicine to your country,” I said, surprised at my confidence. “Wait. I have a document,” I pulled a one-pager from my handbag, written half in English, half in Spanish.

He read the sheet and looked me up and down, shaking his head. “Empty your bags.”

While the other four agents stood behind the table I’d been placed at, I emptied all of the medical supplies from the suitcase. “Do you want me to take out the clothes and toiletries?” I asked.

“Are they yours?” the young agent asked.

“Yes,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t test me and take out the brand new children’s shoes or the size 2 jeans or the men’s handkerchiefs or the six tubes of toothpaste; all the items we were bringing as a gift to the families of the two men who ran the community clinic from their Church. I closed and zipped the suitcase and placed it on the floor, away from me. I put the list of items I’d declared beside the pile of medicines. I prayed to Pastor Moises’s God (since I didn’t have one of my own to pray to) to keep that bag from being re-opened.

“Now this one, please,” she asked.

I unzipped and opened the carry-on. All of the agents simultaneously gasped.

“They’re just glasses,” I said, not able to hold back my smile, wondering if perhaps a spider had made its way into the bag.

“For the black market,” said the head customs man.

“No! For Pastor Moises. He’s outside. For a clinic. Can you talk to Pastor Moises?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “How many pairs do you have?”

“One hundred and forty.”

“This is very, very bad,” said the head agent walking away.

The junior agents spoke among themselves. Two started to write an inventory of all the medicines, checking expiry dates and making sure none of the containers had been opened. After an hour (they were working v-e-r-y slowly), the other two agents went through the exact… same… procedure.

“Why are you looking so closely at the vitamins and baby formula?” I asked the young agent, who’d told me her name was Yanni.

“Two, maybe three years ago, a tourist like you brought poisoned baby formula to our country. Many babies died. We have to be careful. Not everyone is as nice as you are.”

I’d showed Yanni the pictures I brought of Pastor Moises receiving suitcases of medical supplies from other Canadian tourists. She’d immediately recognized him, “He was my pastor when I was a child. That was my church. He is a very good man. He helps a lot of people.”

While the medicines were being examined, the reading glasses and sunglasses had been separated and counted out – not once, not twice, not even three times. Each of the four agents handled then counted every pair of glasses, enjoying themselves trying on the nicest sunglasses, posing for each other. A brand new, tags-still-on, pair of Oakleys were obviously coveted by all of them and sat to the side of the two, long runs of lenses.

After two hours, the head agent returned. The four junior agents laid into him, waving their hands, raising their voices, shaking their heads, walking away then returning to wave and yell and shake some more. I watched from a safe distance, seated on the one hard bench in the inspection area. I rose when he finally walked toward me.

“You have caused me a great deal of trouble. My staff are upset with me because I have to follow the rules and they want to let you take the glasses. That makes me very upset with you,” he stared hard at me and I could tell his anger was sincere. “You can take the medicines out to your Pastor, but we are confiscating all the glasses.”

I must have smiled. I certainly didn’t on purpose, but he added, “They will be destroyed.”

It took another hour for the paperwork to be completed. I was given a copy and sent on my way into the now dark night. Dave, Pastor Moises, and Jose were standing in a row, arms crossed, heads bowed. Obviously exhausted from three hours of standing and waiting.

I danced to Dave, tired but laughing. I threw my arms around his neck and we kissed.  “See,” I said, “all that worry for nothing!”

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The Sacred Door

With irrational enthusiasm, I opted to climb five flights of stairs and experience the hotel as I’d been lead to believe He had in the 1930s, ’40s and ‘50s. My destination? A door so sacred that bus tours stop here to let tourists see it. A door so famous that it has websites devoted to what rests – and who rested – behind it. I needed to see this door. To open it. To step inside and breathe in the remnant oxygen molecules expelled by Him. I knew that the room behind that door would have the answer to a question I’d been too afraid to ask out loud.

I wasn’t alone in my journey up the five flights but it was my compulsion to sit where He had created His masterpieces that kept us from experiencing the offerings of the chocolate museum or spending our converted pesos on Che key-rings or photographs of vintage cars at the tourist-oriented craft fair.

“You’d rather visit an empty hotel room than taste world class chocolate? The heat must have melted your brain,” my husband, Dave said.

“You don’t understand! His energy will still be in that room. I need to stand in his chi, to absorb his vital force.”

The door to room 511 was grubby and stained, the residue of thousands of hands having pushed it open, many like me, with reverence. I truly believed that if I opened the door slowly enough, quietly enough, I might catch Hemingway at his typewriter, bleeding his stories on to the pages. But the room was empty of men. His bed was made and roped off, making it difficult–but not impossible–to lay where Papa had once slept and dreamed. His typewriter sat under the cover of a plexi-glass box, its keys protected from dust and the inexpert fingers of wannabes, like me.

I stood and I gazed and I closed my eyes and I breathed deeply and I tried to open myself to the brilliance that I knew must still be hanging in air, waiting to be absorbed by anyone open to receiving it. But nothing came. Room 511 was… a creative void.

“I don’t understand,” I said, almost in tears.

A Cuban man with near-perfect English stepped into the room, “So, what do you think?” he asked.

“It’s not at all what I expected. I’m disappointed,” I admitted.

“Did you ever hear that the cigars made by the Romeo and Julieta cigar factory were rolled between the thighs of virgins?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“And do you believe it?”

“Of course not.”

“Of course not! So why would you believe that simply because Ernest Hemingway is said to have stayed at the Ambos Mudos Hotel that he wrote anything here? What do you see in here?”

He didn’t leave me time to answer, “Nothing!” he said. “Hemingway lived and wrote in Havana for over twenty years, but not from this room. He lived in a giant hacienda on ten acres of land with a swimming pool and a library where he hosted friends like Ava Gardner and Gary Cooper and Jean-Paul Satre. He didn’t live in this small hotel room. The very idea is ridiculous!”

I felt like a fool. Snookered. I’d given up the chance to eat a chocolate Che Guevera head and buy grey market, communist trinkets for the false promise of artistic inspiration. As though reading my mind, the man said, “I can take you to a place where Hemingway did find inspiration– Bar Floridita.”

“That sounds perfect,” said Dave with the enthusiasm of man who’d very quickly grown to love the Cuban rum that was served all-you-can-drink at our resort.

We sat at the bar with the Bronze, life-size Ernest, dressed as casually was we were, down to his sandals. We each ordered a ‘Hemingway daiquiri.’ Then a ‘Papa Doble,’ the same, but as Hemingway drank this lime and grapefruit slurpee, as a double.

“You know,” said our new friend, “Hemingway wrote that daiquiris felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier-skiing feels running through powder snow.”

“Then we need to order another round because I’m not feeling the snow yet!”

Before I left Bar Floridita I finally had the courage to ask the question that I’d been worrying over for weeks.  I leaned over to Mr. Hemingway and with drunken enthusiasm, whispered into his cold ear, “Papa, is my novel ready to be submitted to publishers?”

Papa leaned heavily on the bar and put his hand to his hip. Looking into my eyes without blinking, he said, “Donna, I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

“Thank you, Papa. I’ll hire an editor.”

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Hello world!

Thank you Story A Day for the kick in the pants to make time to launch my next big idea!

Starting tomorrow, May 1st, while my socialist comrades in Quebec are staging a mass general strike, I’ll break ranks and write my first story-a-day story.

Be warned, I expect (although I don’t know for sure) that my stories will have a political flavour. Don’t hate me for writing about the topics that aren’t polite to discuss over dinner. If politics were a religion, I’d be agnostic with an affection for the Church of Kindness and Acceptance.

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