California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

Mitch Scorza

Photo by Mitch Scorza/Contributor

Photo by Mitch Scorza/Contributor

Mitch Scorza,
Contributor

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Salternative facts

iAy que rico y sabor!

Allow me to explain; in Latin American countries, this is a compliment mostly aimed at the food or “la comida.” In Cuba, the food has a bounty of flavor, but the phrase is not meant to describe only the food. This phrase is meant to showcase a lifestyle. This phrase is a way of life in “El Caribe.”

The air, the ocean, the food, and the drinkable water is latent with sodium and/or salt. Salt in many kitchens is considered the easiest and most bountiful flavor enhancer for any meal around the world. If ever you might have a chance to come to Cuba, do not hesitate. Make it happen and come to Cuba!

The first thing I will tell you is that everything in Cuba has a venerable cornucopia of flavor, generally geared in the direction of salt.  Unexpectedly, even the bottled water that is sold here in Cuba has a surprising amount of sodium. 

It may go unnoticed, but salt in this part of the world is more than abundant and overflowing.  It is expected as it greets the locals and tourists alike. It is found with a flavorful embrace, with welcoming arms as if it was a jovial relative that happened to stop by. Even when least expected the salt is there. The foundation of salt can even be found within the Cuban spirit. Not to say that the Cuban people are abrasive, sharp-tongued or salty in relative terms. It is actually on the contrary; the Cuban spirit is resilient and keeps going. It is always present. This is not about the flavor of the edible things of the Caribbean. This has to do with the relentless souls, the tireless people that combine together to create a semblance of an economy. The people of Cuba along with their food, also have more flare and flavor being embedded in the Caribbean, than any dish they have here.

Some would even consider those hard working and diligent people of Cuba with a steadfast and truest form of loyalty to be the salt of the Earth and seasoned people. Speaking of their souls, they have a love for life and an ability to adapt.

iAy que rico y sabor! There will be no truer words found on this island. These people are fantastically warm and genuinely the real salt of the earth.

 

Liberdad Estan Roter

Hailing from a land where the press and the people are allowed to speak their mind and to freely do so is more than a gift. In Cuba, they can only dream of what I have grown accustomed to. Liberty is just a word in a land of communistic holdover, but even in the land of the free, the word is fading with the gravitas it once held.

Hearing the Cuban people beg for the freedom or even offer congratulations to our citizens amongst the streets on this day of American independence felt both hallowed and hollow at the same time. Many Americans have never lived a single day of struggle like the people of Cuba have. Walking the streets in Havana, seeing the faces that yearn for their government to figure out this tumultuous dizziness is in an overdue matter simply enough. To share empathy for those perpetually left without true representation is all there is left to do. It is not, however, simply the fault of the Republic of Cuba, but the mismanagement and addiction to control that the United States wields. The U.S. makes no mistake that they do this at the forefront as well as in contingency.

The word “liberty” is meant to be held with cherishing and high regard. It is not just the brand of a Jeep, it is an opportunity for rebirth and development.  There is a disconnect to the word and the implications it carries, but in a truly free state the people give freely and expect nothing in return. The people here in Cuba seem to always have their neighbor or comrade’s interest in mind before their own. There is no grudge nor hostility towards their neighbor, for they know their neighbor is in the same scuffle alike.

Bearing witness to both cultures and knowing that freedom has been abused because the passion has been abandoned is merely irresponsible to flaunt in front of our southern neighbors.

After hearing me inquire about hot dogs, a Fourth of July staple, my contact for my project wished me a happy Independence Day. In his broken English, he said he wished for the chance to see the same allowance from his government to the people that he shares a bond with in this country. My retort was posed as a question, would he rather be free and derelict his close relationships, or possess the fraternal allotment that his burden is shared? He responded with, “you’re right! liberty is broken.”

A profound statement from someone who has never lived as free as I have. He was right after all; Americans are too self-involved to think that freedom was easy to come by. Being on this trip with two ex-Marines has even further enhanced my gratitude for freedom and the holiday that has now come to pass. Stick together and conquer is the quintessential basis of the Marines, and in the Cuban antiquity, this has been their motto as well. By sticking together, they will eventually conquer, and then they will be absolved of their shackles. These shackles were placed upon them by their government.

Being free is not about doing whatever one wants to do, but it is being able to pick up those that struggle at your side for a cause that is bigger than just one. Liberty is broken because it doesn’t allow us to free others, but it becomes a competition of vanity. Without gratitude, freedom seems like a lonely island set adrift at the expense of good people that stepped in the place of the rest. Working together is the only way to gain liberty, and that was a lesson I chose to value on this Independence Day abroad.

 

No glove, still love

Not having a glove does not mean one is excluded from a baseball game in Cuba. In fact, the people here will share and it does not matter which glove is whose. In any baseball game, the players on the field will use whichever glove is handed to them or available. I had the opportunity of a lifetime and it happened because of an accident.

During my production team’s ever arduous quest to capture some footage of Cuban baseball, we made it to a park with a sports complex. This is a place that our translator informed us about, a place with low-down details that only a true insider would have.  

This sports complex was unfortunately closed off to filming. Turns out it was a school founded by Jose Marti, the founder of modern Cuba, before the revolution, and that made it government restricted. We needed specific permission from the school director, which we knew we would not get. Bummed out, we were still nosing around and not about to walk away from at least seeing something.

Walking around the complex, we found a gold mine for filming a documentary on baseball, but we were not allowed to film it. There was a game! An actual game of softball happening. We asked if we could merely observe the action, and they said just as long as no one was filming. We agreed.

Sitting there watching the game start, one of my film team members had a wish that almost manifested as soon as he said it. “I hope they need an extra player because I would be so down to play right now.” Almost exactly when he said those words a stocky gentleman came running toward us and offered a bucket list opportunity. He asked if we wanted to play a game of baseball and so we did!

It was surreal and fantastic to play a game of baseball here in Cuba. Although I was a bit rusty, we were able to hold our own. At this moment I was able to observe that gloves or “guantes” are common property, meaning that they are up for public consumption, making it very easy for a few ragtag travelers to be a part of this casual game that was going on.

The back drop or “the batters eye” (behind center field) was dark and very brooding as the storm was coming in. Cracks of lightning and rolls of thunder were cheering us on, but they were also threatening to cancel the game quickly.

After a few feverish innings, we kindly thanked the team and decided to try and get back to the hotel while our gear was still dry. Unfortunately, the imminent storm had other ideas in mind. Just as soon as the first rain drops came down, a cascade of heavy Caribbean rain followed. We ran until we all found a small green Datsun to pile into and hire it as our taxi, our shield from the storm. With the amount of joy on our faces, we were hilariously crammed in this small car along with our video equipment in our lap. This made for the opportunity of a lifetime and worth talking about for years. My film team and I had played baseball for Cuba…at least that is how we felt and how we will tell the story from now on.

 

Dance, dance and viva la revolution

On the weekends, we were set loose and cut free to explore the city as liberated tourists. We put our school material on hold for a couple of days, as we worked so hard throughout the week. It was time to celebrate, as far as we were concerned. There was only one place to go and that place is called Fabrica de Arte Cubano.

The vibe at this colossus of the Cuban nightlife is electric. There is no better place to go in this hemisphere. F.A.C. has several bars scattered throughout the entire building with mixes of flashing lights and beautiful color. Music and art were the common themes, and just when one thought they had seen it all, the place evolved further to please both eyes and ears. This place was the revolution of dance and good times.

The way the drinks were made provided a great experience as well. The bartenders handed one bottle to the patron and they boat raced to pour the fullest drink, while pouring from a separate bottle simultaneously. This was a brilliant way to stimulate a camaraderie and participation from both guest and barkeep. The drinks flowed as strong at night as Cuban coffee does in the day time. What better way to get up on the dance floor than having a cold and tall libation to get the party started?

Beats of the music echoed throughout the long hallways and large performance venues inside F.A.C. Silence was not an option, yet there was a tailored sense of life and pulse for everyone who arrived. Having a nice, relaxed sit-down and enjoying a lounge atmosphere may be for some, or simply wandering around until the mood strikes to engage in the music de jour might be for others. At any rate, it was impossible not to tap toes and get on your feet, dancing at some point in the night.  

The city-style art adorning the walls winked back at the viewer as if to say their secrets were safe there and the stories they would tell could dazzle and awe all who visited those halls. Live bands and DJs mixed all throughout this temple of art, but they played for the artwork itself, considering that even the art is alive. There were hundreds of pictures of musicians and old nostalgic gear. This place felt like heaven for those in love with both music and art.  

Fabrica de Arte Cubano was the best gem and joy I had the privilege to drink and dance at. Smiles were as equal to the abundance of booze and tunes. It was impossible to not have a great time, and if one let the music flow through them, they could also use this place more like a gym, rather than a club. The dance scene made you not want to leave, even if it was hotter than the surface of the sun. Sweating was imminent, but no one seemed to be self-conscious. Everyone sweat and it was all in the name of fun. It was even worth every penny that I got pick-pocketed on the way out down the street. I not only would return, but I now want to live there.

 

Malecon memories

A fortified stone wall accompanied by a long stretch of sidewalk is known locally in Havana as the Malecon. This wall is drawn alongside the Caribbean Sea and faces a far-off Miami in the not-so-far distance. Normally one does not marvel at a simple wall, but when in Cuba this elongated barrier comes to life.

17 days in the country, this public commons and bastion for the hustle and bustle of the Cuban experience becomes a staple in the daily repertoire of life. The Malecon is not just a seaside feature, it is a living, breathing, life-filled epicenter for all who visit.

Waking and ending each day at the Malecon offers the best people watching and experiences of true bonding and relationship building. On our first day, we ended the night there after vigorous singing and exquisite dancing. I felt it would only be appropriate to spend the last night on this haven of activity until the sun came up. Gazing into the horizon as the sun sparks such an inspirational yet sobering feeling that this was the last day.

This would be the last time to make such deep and meaningful memories with new acquaintances that will be considered lifelong friends. Throughout our stay, the Malecon was a meet-up spot, and we all became addicted to seeing what was going to happen next each night. Musicians approach and serenade in both English and Spanish,  and some even play a multitude of instruments.  Laughs and jokes were always flowing, the conversations were on a spectrum of serious substance to wild imaginations. This is how strangers find a home in a foreign land.

The glory and majesty of this setting are that it is not only revealing of who people really are, it also allows one to introspectively find themselves. Whether alone on a Tuesday or amongst the entire city on a Saturday, this is where true Cuban magic and spirit thrive. The involvement from hour to hour is as different as it is from night to night. It is ever evolving with the wind, forever in a constant dance of change. It is a rock wall and sidewalk, but it seems to create the perfect amount of embrace and harmony.

As harmonious as it is, there is a bit of irony about this simple hang out. The irony is even though it is not the most grandiose place, it is free and liberating in a communist stronghold and it costs nothing to enjoy the freedom it offers.

During one’s stay in Cuba, the most alive and connected is this location, costing no one any money, just the whiles of time. Sweet and delightful memories will be recounted for years to come. We as young travelers owe our heartfelt gratitude to the effect that the Malecon had upon us, and boy, I sure am going to miss her.

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California State University East Bay
Mitch Scorza