May 13, 2006

Cuba and Baseball

For some time now, I have been meaning to begin a string of posts that would allow me to share my experiences in Havana, Cuba. Blogger has been making this difficult by denying me the ability to upload photos. I've also had trouble accessing these photos, because they're store on one of DS's harddrives that requires him to not be playing Oblivion. Any idea how hard that is? Also, I'm forgetful. But now, I give you baseball in Cuba.

My trip occurred over spring break my first year in grad school, which I guess makes it about two years ago. This was just before President Bush pulled yet another asshat move and further restricted travel to the country. Contrary to popular belief, it is quite possible to travel to Cuba legally, though admittedly they create many hoops for you to jump through. My favorite professor, one Dr. Dennis Domer, had a teaching visa that allowed him to take small groups of students to the country to study the architecture.

Before the embargo, the United States was Cuba's number 1 trading partner, which makes since as they're only 90 miles away from us. Havana was a vacation spot for the American elite, and was also known for it's nightlife. I believe this is illustrated in the move Havana Nights, a Dirty Dancing sequel or something, but it sounded awful and so I haven't watched it. Anyway, after the embargo, the country became very poor. Most goods now had to be imported from Europe, a much more expensive venture, and many things within the country came to a standstill, including architecture. As such, the country has become almost like a time machine. The lack of funds to demolish and build new has created a necessary preservation movement. The streets today look very similar to the streets of 1962. For anyone studying the Modern movement in architecture, it is a dream come true. It also creates a very good excuse for historic preservation students to legally travel there.

Now where was I? Oh right, baseball. In case you didn't know, baseball is, and has always been since I knew the difference, my favorite sport. I was lucky in that I found someone who also shares this passion, so that DS and I can always enjoy a baseball game together. Cuba also shares this passion, and has made it their national sport.

Before leaving on the trip, the class was told about the extreme poverty of the Cuban people. It was suggested that we bring gifts, things that were cheap for us, and yet meant the world to them. In general, Cubans are a very generous, loving people. When we were invited into their homes for drinks, we repaid them with gifts or money. It was nothing to us, and everything to them. So for the children, we all decided to bring baseballs. We had loads of them. I felt like a travelling salesman.

These images are of the baseball stadium along coast. It is mostly in disrepair, as are most the buildings along the coast. The salt spray are especially hard on them, and repairs are expensive. In the first image, you can just see children playing in the field to the far left. The structure is a beautiful example of modern form and the flexibility of concrete.

Here, you see some children playing in an open space near La Habana Vieja. There were adorable, but their baseball was crap.

When we would see things like this, we would give out a baseball if we had one. Oh to see their faces! It was like the best Christmas you had ever had, when Santa Claus was still an unquestioned certainty. A brand new baseball was rare, and they did not hesitate to show their gratitude. We were hugged, they would follow us around, laughing. It was the most amazing feeling.

You don't generally think of a baseball as something that is expensive, or out of reach. You can probably get one at Wal-Mart for a dollar. But to them, it was an expense that took money away from food, clothing, and shelter. And yet the sport is so important to them. One of Dr. Domer's personal friends in Cuba, who is collaborating with him on a book about Havana, had a young boy in his house, probably around 5 or 6. I cannot remember if he was his son or grandson. We all went to visit him in his home, which like all homes within the city was small. For him, we had a special treat, both a ball and a mit. The child was young, and though excited, was shy and scared by the multitude of people speaking English around him. But the adults, they knew what a gift like that meant. He had trouble holding back tears, and struggled with the words to tell us how thankful he was. I must admit, the sight of it made it hard not to cry myself.

Hopefully, I can get more of my pictures and sketches from this trip uploaded. It was, by far, the most amazing week I have ever had in my life, and it's time I shared it with others.


Janelle Renee said...

Beautiful post, SG. I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway for some reason... ah, yes. I remember, I saw a documentary about his life not too long ago. He lived in Cuba. He loved Cuba. (He had good taste! He also lived in Paris for a while, too, if I remember correctly.) On his property, the neighborhood kids would come and play baseball. "They" say that his health declined greatly (mental health, too, I presume) when he was forced to leave Cuba. I remember thinking while I was watching the documentary that Cuba looked like a wonderful place to live pre-conflict.

Ooops! Long comment! Sorry... :)

I hope you share more Cuba stories with us!

Sleep Goblin said...

I didn't get a chance to see his house while I was there (which is still an historic landmark there), but I did visit a hotel he frequented. They keep his room just like he liked it, and there are pictures of him everywhere!

Janelle Renee said...

That's cool... Now I want to visit Cuba even more!

justacoolcat said...

I've always wanted to go to Cuba. Did you ever see Balseros?

Spinning Girl said...

Very cool!
Someone I know recently organized the 1st World Baseball Classic; the Cubans are nuts about baseball as you know, and their games at the tournament were some of the most passionate!

Spinning Girl said...

kimberlina said...

that stadium is amazing!

wish i could say i liked baseball... but i do like peanuts and beer. :)