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Showing posts from May, 2009

Drop the pedal

Matanzas, late afternoon, shadows pushing sunlight from the thin streets. Heading north with brother-in-law, looking for the connection to the Via Blanca. Red turismo plates on the Hyundai screaming “I’m a mark! I’m a mark!”
Two guys leaning against an brick wall. Taller one steps out on the roadway, flat palm high, big shining grin, eyes knowing and amused.
Chances 90 per cent, no, 99, he just wants to scam us. Buy my sawdust cigars. Wouldn’t you like to meet my sister. No car-jackings in Cuba.
Doesn’t matter. Right foot has goosed the throttle. Tall guy’s grin becomes an O as he twirls away from Hyundai bumper, grille, fender.
Ease off gas, look in the mirror. Tall man is sauntering back to the sidewalk, not looking our way, oh I’m so cool.
Turn to brother-in-law. “Buddy wouldn’t last a night in Detroit.”

Baby you CAN drive my coco taxi

C. Otis Sweezey, who so kindly provides this photo, reports that in four visits to Cuba he has seen many women driving coco taxis, but never a woman driving a regular, automobile taxi.


Baby you can’t drive my car

C. asks, “Did you ever see any women driving cars in Cuba?”
“Of course,” I begin to reply, until my brain catches up with my vocal process. “Er ... I think ... ”
   Women must drive cars in Cuba. I recall that Karina, for instance, a character in Leonardo Padura’s Havana Gold (original title: Vientos de Cuaresma), buzzes around in a government-issued Lada.
   I look through my photos for real-life proof. No women drivers. I study hundreds of images in the Facebook Cars of Cuba group. Just one driver is recognizably female. She’s operating a three-wheel Coco taxi.
   M., a frequent visitor to Cuba, confirms that nearly all the drivers he sees on the island are male.
   So is this a Latin thing, a motorway machismo? R., recently returned from Sao Paulo, tells me women do own cars in Brazil, even if they are rarely seen driving. “I only noticed it once,” he adds. “A blond lady was blasting past in a Renault and a guy was in the passenger seat. It looked weird and out of place.”
   But wait…

Of cars and commerce

Rarely bountiful, Cuba’s food supply has been further squeezed by last year’s parade of crop-damaging hurricanes and the global recession that robs the island of resource revenue.
   Sure, there’s plenty of food in the tourist resorts – they see to that – but elsewhere, the daily hunt for fresh produce and staples can be long and difficult.
   Cubans with transportation and a bit of cash, however, can take advantage of just-picked bananas and other offerings from roadside vendors. Usually super-discreet, the rural entrepreneurs this year seemed less concerned about attracting notice. Perhaps the authorities are gazing in the other direction, as they did in the “Special Period” following the collapse of Soviet aid.
   They’re not looking away in the cities. On the Via Blanca in Havana, we watched a motorcycle cop motion a truck to the curb, probably to check that it wasn’t carrying a black market load from farm country.

If you can't sell it, eat it

You gotta like “Vance Astro,” whose Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere blog beams in from a Caribbean island bearing the Vonnegutian name of Trafalmadore, but which sounds a lot like Cuba.
Astro, an American, is nearing the end of a business or diplomatic posting of some sort (U.S. Interests Section?). But whatever his day job is, he could probably make a living through his caustic commentary, especially since – and this is why we like him -- he’s not afraid to target his own failings.
   In a recent post, he explains vividly how he’s left holding the bag, in the form of a purple Suzuki Grand Vitara, because of a policy flip by his bureaucratic hosts. Until lately, newcomers in his situation could neither import their own car nor acquire one in the open market. If they wanted wheels, their only option was to buy a car from a departing coworker. Limited supply; high prices.
Now, however, non-citizens are allowed to bring their vehicles with them, and the market for used cars currently owned…

The ol' reflecto

Don't be fooled by the Lada wheel; this is a 1952 Chevrolet. Reflected in its window is the La Cabaña fortress on the east side of the Havana harbour.