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The home of the Mederos family in Havana, Cuba. Photo by Greg Geisser.

Last Sunday I wrote how I’d gotten an email from a woman in Cuba named Cecilia who was writing for her grandfather, Jorge, because of a story I’d written a couple of years ago about the search for a friend’s family home in Havana. Cecilia, or rather Jorge, was hoping that the Diego Mederos I’d written about previously was the same Diego Mederos he’d known as a young man in Havana in the 1950s.

Frankly, I didn’t think it likely. For one thing, in the email I received, Jorge talked about living on E Street in the Vedado neighborhood and I knew that the old Casa Mederos was much further to the west in a neighborhood known as Havana Biltmore. Then again, the neighborhoods weren’t that far apart.

Anyway, I passed the email from Cecilia and her grandfather, Jorge, on to my friend Diego Mederos who had been a small child when his family had fled Cuba after Fidel’s revolution.

This is what he wrote to Cecilia and her grandfather:

It was wonderful to get this email via my friend David Lansing. My uncle’s name is Diego as is mine.  My uncle Diego was your grandfather’s roommate in school in Havana. I just spoke with him and my aunt, and they were very excited about this email. They would love to communicate with your grandfather and share family history.

–Diego Mederos

I have a feeling that none of us are done with this story yet. I’ll keep you posted.

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If you’ve been with me for awhile you might remember a story I wrote a couple of years ago when I was in Cuba about searching for the family home of a friend of mine. His name is Diego Mederos. A brief recap: Diego’s dad and uncle fled Havana after Fidel came to power and ended up being part of the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion. After being imprisoned for several years, he was released and sent back to the U.S.

The deal was that when the Mederos family fled Havana, they, like a lot of Cuban families, had to leave everything behind—including a lot of friends and relatives. And never saw them again.

So when Diego heard that some of us were going to Havana, he asked if we’d try to find his old family home. He didn’t have a lot of information about it. He thought he remembered the address but he couldn’t be sure. Anyway, it ended up being a hell of an adventure for us. But we found the house. Then we went looking for one of Diego’s relatives. Well, we didn’t find her.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. This weekend I got the following email from Cuba:

Hello. In the article “The search for Casa Mederos”, you refer to a Diego Mederos? Well, I am hoping that it is whom I think it is. You see I knew a Diego Mederos, went to school with him. We studied together in the same school called Cander College, in Marianao city. He had a cousin, Nico Pardine who lived in the 1950s on Street E in Vedado. Referring to Diego (if it’s the same one) his family sent him to the United States to study. He fell in love with a local from the U.S., got married and had a little girl. I know he visited Cuba at least once in the 1950s, and he spent several day in my house which was on Calle Linea which was across a street from the movie theater named “Rody” (I think that now it’s called Yara). I would greatly appreciate it if you could pass along my email, would like to hear from the family and find out what happened to my friend.

Thank you,

Jorge E. Tamargo

(This was typed by his granddaughter, I am sorry if there are any typos or if comes across odd. It’s very hard to type down what he is telling me before he forgot. Thanks!—Cecilia).

So is it possible that Jorge E. Tamargo of Havana really knew Diego’s father?

I’ve passed this email on to him. Stay tuned…

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Papa’s got a brand new bag: The estate and family of Ernest Hemingway just announced that they’ve entered into an agreement with Hemingway Hotels & Resorts “to develop luxury hotels and resorts based upon the life of Ernest Hemingway.”

Wow. Really? So what does that mean? The bars never close? Fistfights in the lobby? Rooms overrun with dogs and cats?

Okay, I’m making fun. Actually, they can put me on the list right now of people who want to be there on the first night they open. Which brings up one other tiny little detail: There aren’t any Hemingway Hotels & Resorts. At least not at the moment. They’re still looking for them. And what will make a Hemingway Hotel?

First of all, they have to be in places that have a connection to Papa. Paris comes to mind, as does Venice, Nairobi, Key West, Madrid, Pamplona, and, of course, Cuba (how cool would it be if, once Fidel smokes his last cigar, the first Hemingway Hotel & Resort opened in Habana Vieja, ideally within puking distance of La Bodeguita del Medio?).

Here’s what else the Hemingway Hotel people say: The bars will serve “Hemingway’s favorite libations.” Mojitos! Daiquiris! Presidente Brandy!

They will also have “a well-stocked, comfortably furnished library” where, we assume, you can pick up a copy of our greatest American novel, The Great Gatsby…er, uhm, I mean The Sun Also Rises.

And the restaurants at the hotels will serve “Hemingway’s favorite dishes from Paris, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere.”

I love it! Sign me up!

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The end of the line

We got on the ferry and the boat pulled away from Casa Blanca. I don’t know what you imagine a ferry boat to be like but I’m sure this one was nothing like what you’d imagine. It was really like a floating subway car without any seats on it. It was boxy and made of metal and very hot inside. You got on the boat and everyone quickly maneuvered to get near one of the open windows to catch the breeze. I went to the end of the boat facing Havana so I could look out the window across the water. A young woman and her son did the same. The boy looked a little ill, perhaps just from the heat, so I made room for him so his mother could bring his face to the window and fan him with her hand.

The boy stayed very close to his mother but was quite curious about me. He would look at my face and then down at the camera slung around my neck. I smiled at him and asked him what his name was. He looked at his mother and she nodded and he said, “Miguel.” I told him my name. I asked him if he spoke English. Again he looked at his mother. His mother said he didn’t but she did, a little bit. I asked her if it would be okay if her son used my camera to take a couple of photos. She said yes and then shooed him over to me.

I handed the boy my camera, showed him where the shutter button was and how to hold it, and told him to take some photos of his mother. He shot one and I showed him how to look at it on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. He smiled, his eyes getting big. Then he took the camera and shot several more photos of his mother. We looked at them together and he picked out the one he liked best and then he took the camera over to his mother and showed her the photos he had taken.

She smiled. She was a pretty woman with reddish brown hair and a pink top and large sunglasses. She seemed very protective of her son. I asked her if I could take a photo of the two of them together and she nodded. After I took the pictures, the boy came over to look at them. He really liked one in particular, a shot where he is half in shade and his mom has an arm draped across his chest. I asked the mom if she got e-mail or had a way to get the photo if I sent it to her. She said no. I asked her if she had a relative or someone in a work place that could get it. “It’s not possible,” she said, looking down, and I didn’t know if she meant it wasn’t possible because she didn’t have any access to a computer or because it would be bad to get this photo from an American. I felt bad about it. It was a nice photo and obviously the mom and the boy were very close and I would have liked for them to have this memory of our ferry crossing from Casa Blanca to Havana, but as she said, it was not possible.

The ferry boat pulled up to the harbor and everyone hurried to get off. The boy and his mom got off ahead of me. I watched them cross the busy Avenue del Puerto, dodging the fast-moving traffic, and walk quickly up the street, the young woman always with one arm on the boy to guide him. Near the Hotel Valencia, the boy turned his head to look back. I gave him a short wave and he waved back. Then they disappeared up a side street and I did not see them again.

At the Plaza de Armas, we caught a taxi back to the hotel. I went for a swim and watched the sun set over Havana and then I went back to my room to shower and change for dinner. It was our last night in Havana. Tomorrow morning we would take a taxi to the airport and by noon or so we’d be back in Cancun. The Cuba trip was over.

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To the Che museum

The very modest Che museum in Casa Blanca. Photo by David Lansing.

We hadn’t ordered lunch yet at La Terraza because we were still waiting for Greg. We were enjoying the Cuban music and the cold Cristal beers and the sea breeze coming in from the bay and there was no hurry about anything. But then our driver, who had been sitting in the Impala beneath the shade of a thin tree by the plaza, came into the restaurant and respectfully told us that he could not stay any longer. He reminded us that he had told us when we rented the car that he had to be back in Havana by three and since it was now after two-thirty, he had to go. He was sorry. It was not something he liked to do, but there it was.

So we paid him the money we owed him, giving him a generous tip to let him know there were no hard feelings on our part, and went back to our lunch. At this point we weren’t sure if Greg was going to join us or not so we went ahead and ordered, getting a couple of dishes we could pass around, like the seafood paella and an octopus dish, plus some shrimp. Just as our food was being served, Greg came in. He pointed at one of the dishes, not bothering with the menu, and asked the waiter for the same thing. It was a very pleasant afternoon.

As we were paying our bill, we asked the waiter to call a taxi for us. He said it would be a few minutes. When it came, it was a small car, not nearly big enough for all six of us. Hardy asked the waiter to get us another taxi but he said this one was the only one available. So we decided that I would go with Cam and Nick and then the taxi driver would come back to the restaurant to pick up the rest of the group. We were headed for Casa Blanca, the little village on the other side of the Bay of Havana known for its 60-foot-tall marble statue of Christ and for the Che museum. The taxi driver dropped us off near the Christ statue and we walked down the hill to the Che museum.

There is very little to say about the Che museum because there is very little in the Che museum. Almost everything in it, from his bedroom scene to his office, is reproductions of furniture and material from old photos. He was a dentist so one display case has “dentist tools of the period.” Not Che’s tools, mind you, but just some nasty looking pliers and probes from the 50s. We went through the whole house in about ten minutes and then we sat on the tiled roof of the museum, looking out over the harbor and across the water to Havana Viejo, waiting for the others to arrive. They too went through the museum quickly and then we took a few photos in front of the Christ statue before walking down the hill towards Casa Blanca. There were some kids playing soccer in a playground next to a church. When they saw us walking by, several of the younger kids ran over, their hands out, asking us for candy or gum. We didn’t have anything to give them. They followed us for a little while, like stray dogs, before turning around and running back up the hill.

At the bottom of the hill was a small ferry building. The guards checked our bags and let us pass through. We sat in the humid dark hallway with about half a dozen other travelers, all locals, waiting for the ferry to come back from Havana. It was so hot and humid in the ferry building that all I could think about was getting back to the hotel and taking a swim in the rooftop pool. We had talked of maybe walking back to the hotel through old Havana but that was before going to Cojimar and the Che museum and walking down the hill to Casa Blanca. Now everyone was tired and hot and just wanted to go back to the hotel. It had been a very long afternoon.

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