Monday, March 17, 2008

Humor and Pathos for the Tourists

Did you know Fidel is the worst bartender in the world? He has been trying to make a Cuba Libre for 48 years and still hasn't gotten it right.

Fidel and Raul are on a flight across the country, and Fidel says, "If I could drop one peseta out the window, I would make one person very happy." Raul says, "If I dropped two pesetas out the window, I would make two people very happy." To which the pilots says, "Why don't I drop both of you out the door, and we would make 11 million people very happy."

Three presidents are making phone calls to hell. President Bush completes his call and his bill comes to $1,000. President Putin finishes his call and must pay 1000 rubles. When Castro is done, he is charged 10 cents. The other two are very upset until they are reminded that Castro's call was a local call.

Such is the state of affairs in Cuba, when they can joke like that about their leader.

These jokes appear in an article in the Redlands Daily Facts, the fourth in a series by Ilene Cox who went to Cuba on a "humanitarian mission" in November of 2007. Frankly, the article makes it seem more of a tourist trip than anything else. Hmmm.

In the process, she seems to have learned more than a few jokes, closing with the following:

What a beautiful city, what a beautiful country.
Look past the crumbling buildings and the pace of life there and you can envision a time when Cuba may once again take its place among progressive nations. Now that Castro has stepped down, maybe there are some changes in the wind.

Contrast that with this account of a tourist trip in the Guardian in which Alison Littlewood struggles with an inconsequential decision that haunts her. Obviously oblivious to the truth of Cuban history and reality, her major concern seeming to be the costs incurred in the trip, she passes by "a pony and a trap" and "oxen" without any conception that Cuba has been sent back to the nineteenth century.

Her unease is caused when she refuses to buy a little wooden tortoise from an elderly man, having decided she would not buy souvenirs. It is a decision that haunts her...

I looked again. His soul was there, in his eyes. And his soul was full of pain, the kind you can't fake. It was built in layers, one disappointment laid over the next. Fergus was talking to the guide. I opened my mouth, started to say something: "Oh, go on. Let's get one." But my voice somehow never came out.


Later, I wondered how long he had spent making these things. Twisting his old hands around them, forming the shells, the shine of a tortoise emerging. Putting in the mechanism, some trick he knew. And all the time, maybe he was thinking of me, or someone like me. Seeing this thing take shape, the thing he made, and all the time hoping that we would like it.

and finally

I took a little of it away, I think. I left him nothing, but I took away a little of his sadness. I hoped it lightened his load, but really I think he had more than enough to go round. I've imagined it since - pressing a note into his hand, telling him to keep the change. Seeing the wonder in his face that someone had so much to give away. Seeing him smile.

In this last, I find a metaphor for these tourist junkets. They may lighten the load of some, but there is more than enough sadness to go around.

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