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Being an American in Cuba is often revelatory, rarely easy, and never dull. Living abroad - whether it's Cuba, Malta, or Marrakesh - can also be extraordinarily lonely. Anyone who tells you different is in denial or isn't paying attention. Since neither are my style, I started a short novel in 2004 entitled Here is Havana. All the contradictions and challenges, new culture, language, and ideas, flowed out of my over-crowded brain and onto the page. Nearly six years later, it's still a work in progress. Slow, I know.

Then, in 2009, I was inspired anew to re-incarnate Here is Havana as a blog. This time it was a confluence of both positives (a dear writer friend of mine started a blog) and negatives (the volume of misinformation and outright lies about Cuba floating around online got my Irish up) that got me writing again about my adopted home. Whatever semblance of sanity I've been able to retain in this crazy, mixed up place I attribute to keeping pen to paper, continually writing about what befalls, troubles, and motivates me.

Below are a couple of samples to whet your appetite. For more, visit Here is Havana (the blog) and Here is Havana (the book).


blog excerpts


Excerpt from Dying in Cuba - Part I (Posted June 9, 2009)

Walking to the grave site, we had to pick our way among disintegrated coffins spilling dead flowers like stuffing from a busted chair. The exhumed detritus littered the tree-lined road where cemetery workers in coveralls rested on a shady tomb. Sidestepping a moldy bouquet and the ghosts of other people's grief, I vowed - once again - not to go underground in a box: disinterment day at Cementerio Colón makes one hell of a convincing argument for cremation.

Hodgkin's, heart failure, an accident, or AIDS - whatever the cause, once death descends, Cubans act fast. From autopsy to crypt might take only 8 hours. No deep freeze storage or sit downs with morticians for los Cubanos. Until last night, I thought this was a cultural question, a simple desire to mourn quickly and move on to the real pain and loss. But last night, when Cuban television started showing Six Feet Under reruns, I realized fast funerals are practical: have you seen what tropical heat does to a corpse? And if butter and toilet paper can go missing in Havana, what of wound putty and cadaver makeup? More ...

Excerpt from Cuba is Bugging Me - Part I (Posted Sept. 5, 2009)

When we moved into our new place 18 months ago, I was happy to swap termites for ants. No more of their pebbly droppings on the soles of my feet. No more threat of the bed collapsing while we did the wild thing (although it did present a titillating element of the unexpected). Then one fine Sunday cleaning house, I found myself sweeping up their shit - again - and cursing our luck. But even the infestations of years past could not prepare us for the horror that awaited: while flipping our mattress - an occasional necessity since Cuban mattresses are crappy and lumpy and poke you where the springs have pushed through - we found termites had made a buffet of our bed, burrowing holes all over and through it. Even writing this makes my skin crawl and if I describe what termites eating a mattress looks like I won't be able to sleep tonight. Suffice to say, it's nasty. It's downright fucking nasty and I wish I hadn't even thought of telling you about it because now it's imprinted on my mind's eye. More ...

book excerpts


Excerpt from Excerpt from Chapter 1:

Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait and wait and wait: the city paces itself at a parabolic tempo that's like the hurricane watch, with everyone anticipating the hit and then weathering the blow, gathering themselves up and moving on. Beholden to such meteorological maybes and other uncertainties - brothers disappearing to Miami or Madrid, perfidious lovers and periodic light failures - Cubans are conditioned to live in the moment. Who knows if the bus will come? If it comes, will it stop? If it stops, will there be room for more passengers? If it stops and there's room, will I be lucky enough to squeeze on? In Havana, living means waiting and we might as well tell some jokes, throw back some rum and drink in the sensuous scenery of the meantime - whether we're waiting for a bus or something más allá. More ...

Excerpt from Chapter 2:

I'm surprised Cuba doesn't sink, it's so full of secrets. Miguel is planning to defect at the next boxing tournament while his sister considers the raft route; Mirta is cheating on Julio but since he found out, he's been sleeping with David; and the good General was caught on tape making several off-color remarks. Goodbye General.

All those secrets, innocent and otherwise, hover above the Malecón before drifting out to sea. It's a paradox that Havana's air should be freshest here, along the five miles of seawall where lovers betray one another, hatching escape plans. Nearby, like birds on a wire, young black bucks and their foreign flings lose the mystery in translation. The city's most sacred space, the Malecón mixes the heavy sighs of the long fight with hope, yes!, for tomorrow. Exhaustion and expectation make today feel revelatory, distinct from what came before and what we promise ourselves will come after. Hope lives carefree along these salt-cured curves of wall that protect cracked homes from the final fissure. Taking the Malecón's sea air is to take a fresh breath; a nightly ritual in the city of secrets. More ...

Excerpt from Chapter 3:

Joyful and energetic, Cuban laughter is infectious, instinctive. It smoothes troubles, but also creates fellowship. Every hug, favor and joke unifies, helping keep it - and us - together. Cuban solidarity protects the island like chain mail, functioning as ingrained and sacred scripture. Neighbors arrive at my door unannounced proffering limes and honeyed squash fritters, young men guide octogenarians across the street, and public phones with money remaining are handed to the next person in line. Stoked by Cold War fires extinguished almost everywhere else and against all odds, the human spirit thrives. Like family in the ideal, Cubans stick together, watching each other's back, lending a hand or leg up, and pitching in; it's no coincidence that Cuban immigrants have had such success in the US. Through squabbles and dark, hard-kept secrets, Cubans stand as a unit, ready, willing, and able to circle the wagons. More ...




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