Someone, years ago, asked if I'd ever been to Cuba. I never answered directly.
The sun was merciless, beating down equally on everyone and everything. I looked hard to see if there was movement in the hot, bright daylight.
Squinting, I could make out some small objects, but the shimmer from the heat clouded my view. I pulled out my handkerchief and rubbed my eyes, getting the salty sweat out.
Havana, La Habana, Cuba’s capitol, and a place with a storied past. One of my uncles, Uncle Ray, had been a lounge pianist at the Habana Hilton, now the Habana Libre. Uncle Ray told me that the place was the center of action in a town filled with gamblers, liars and cheats. He made a lot of money there, all in cash of course, and a lot more from tips. Ray showed me an old postcard, a faded watercolor that hints at the grandeur of that place and time—of the Cuba before Castro.
It’s in a place called Vedado, a formerly wealthy suburb located along the shore of the Caribbean.
My mind wandered to a story Maggie told me. The child of a wealthy jeweler, my Cuban friend Maggie still recalls the day the family were told they had to leave. They had 15 minutes, maybe less, to gather enough to clothing to fit in a suitcase, get to the Jose Marti international airport, and leave Cuba forever. Maggie remembers the barbudos, the bearded followers of Fidel, storming the house, pushing her mother's elegant grand piano through the French Doors out the window, sending it crashing onto the brick patio below. She cried all the way to Florida, to a new life and vowed never to see her homeland again.
Thousands of others had similar stories. Ripped from a lifestyle that was anti-revolutionary, anti-Castro, the lucky ones were allowed to leave rather than face the firing squad. I’d met many of them, humble men and women with soft, lilting accents, a mix of African and Spanish inflections. They longed for the Cuba that no longer existed, the gay and free island. We sat in small cafes talking about the old times, maybe the times to come.
Now I needed to concentrate on the scene, so I focused on a large picture on the wall. It was black and white, taken from high altitude, but with a stereoscopic camera lens, so there was some dimensionality. I could see the objects, the ones that brought us to the brink of war.
“John Hughes found those, you know,” a voice said.
“I know, and now, he’s my boss.” I needed to get back to the task for today. “Let me look at this roll one more time, maybe there’s something there that I missed.”
I cranked the small handle on the ten thousand dollar light table, moving the binocular lenses up and down the streets of Havana.
“See anything?” he asked.
“Not much,” I said, seeing everything.