Monday, April 21, 2008

Goodbye to Cuba

My last memory of Cuba is looking up to the blue sky, as my shoes touched the metal steps leading to the plane of Cubana de Aviación that would take us to Mexico.

To this day I can feel the enormity of the emotion I experienced then. I knew then and there that we were leaving our country for many years. Maybe even forever.

A few minutes later, as the old plane flew over the beautifully carved fields of Cuba, the stunning contrast of the red soil and the bright green plots, struck me so strongly that it was at that very moment when I first realized how beautiful Cuba was. Even if it sounds trite, I must admit that I never knew how much I loved my country until I never saw it again.

Living in Havana since birth had made me too familiar with its beauty. I took for granted its magnificent architecture, its ornate centuries old palaces, the magnificent churches and colonial buildings, the beautiful boulevards and its old fashioned sidewalk cafes, the salty mist of the Caribbean, as it furiously blasted against the old walls, the wide arcades filled with the most amusing street vendors, the intoxicating smells of Jasmine and Ylang-Ylang, its History, its charm, its never ending rhythm....

Havana was ‘my city’ and --like most of us ‘habaneros’-- I felt I owned it all.

The city was a fascinating mix of our deeply rooted European influence, which was ‘alive’ in every turn of the winding streets of Old Havana, infused with a wonderful feeling of tradition and hard work --hand in hand with the modern city that grew next to the water, happy, tall, bright, sensual and filled with the unmistakable images of a tropical vibrant metropolis.

Havana was my mother’s ‘territory’ and she showed me every corner and everyone of its magic sites. Never a person to enjoy ‘the country’, she was the consumate ‘city-girl’ and instilled in me an endless love for sophisticated big cities, always ready to be discovered.
The rest of Cuba and its landscapes were my father’s obsession. ‘His’ is the memory of the Sunday outings he insisted on taking us on when we were growing up, many of which I detested, since I would get violently car-sick, and my mother obviously disliked them as much as I did. Somehow, with the typical insolence of the very young, I was jaded and bored by so much "tropic", so much "greenery" and so "many stunning-white-sand-like-sugar beaches".

No, Cuba was not important to me when I was an adolescent ---because Paris was the city of my dreams! I dreamed of living in Paris --and had memorized the entire Michelin Guide, knowing by heart every corner of the Louvre Museum, and the location of the Nike of Samothrace ---and the Venus of Milo, at the end of a corridor. Cuba did not interested me that much, because -I then believed- it had no mystery to offer me. For a teenager raised on dreams for a scintillating future, fascinated by American movies and Rock&Roll, there was nothing exciting about the sensual swaying of old cobblestone streets, or the grayish baroque façades of Old Havana. A million of my steps were all over my city. I had walked it many times and knew by heart its twists and turns. And although it was my warm and familial coccoon, I had always wanted to fly away to the ‘allure’ of the foreign.

After all, I lived there, I was born and raised there; and beyond the travels and the adventures --whenever I returned from the exotic jaunts of my dreams-- Havana would be there. Undisturbed, filled with warmth --always welcoming. And I would live there forever! Hence, what was there to dream about?

Little I knew that the moment the plane circled the island and climbed up towards Mexico, I was going to start to feel --to this-day—my never ending nostalgia. The "love of country" hits us at odd moments. Mine had been always present during the playing of the National Anthem (specially at base-ball games in the El Cerro Stadium) and at school's Flag Day. But –since our depart- my love for Cuba suddenly unfolded like a giant flag and enveloped us like a comforting -and many times very sad- shroud. A veil of love that cloaked us all, and showed its true colors right away!