A brief visit to Cuba

As the illegality of visiting the island slips into history, I thought I'd enjoy it before everything changes

Molly Crabapple goes to Guantanamo Bay

Artist Molly Crabapple visited Guantanamo Bay and documented the bizarre conditions in which men cleared of all crimes are held without charge at a cost of millions, forever, in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Crabapple documents the boondoggle that is Gitmo with admirable clarity, and her illustrations are especially poignant.

Afghans sold Nabil to Afghan forces from his hospital bed. Injured and terrified, he huddled together with five other men in the underground cell of a prison in Kabul. Interrogators whipped him. The screams of the tortured kept him awake at night. According to a statement filed by Clive Clifford Smith, Nabil’s lawyer at the time, “Someone—either an interpreter or another prisoner—whispered to him, ‘Just say you are al Qaeda and they will stop beating you.’”

At Bagram, Americans held Nabil naked in an aircraft hanger that was so cold he thought he’d die of exposure, while military personal in warm coats sipped hot chocolate. When Nabil tried to recant confessions he’d made under torture, the soldiers just beat him more, according to a statement filed by Clifford Smith. Finally, the military transferred Nabil to Kandahar, and then to Guantánamo Bay.

Nabil arrived at Gitmo’s Camp X-Ray in February 2002. With its watchtowers, clapboard interrogation huts, and rings of barbed wire, X-Ray looks nothing but surreal—a concentration camp on the Caribbean. For the four months it took the JTF to build permanent prisons, Nabil lived in a metal cage under the burning Cuban sun. For hygiene, he had one bucket for water and another for shit.

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Cuban Pete, an appreciation

My daughter and I share a trick memory for lyrics. Part of our bed-time ritual is singing three songs -- two "new" songs (that she hasn't heard before) and one "old" one (from a previous night). It's really challenging to come up with two new songs whose lyrics I can remember (or fake) well enough every night. Last night, I found myself singing Desi Arnaz's "Cuban Pete," as performed on I Love Lucy, and we both agreed that it was a keeper, particularly for the "chick-chicky-boom" refrain (not to be confused with the likewise excellent and legendary "CHICA CHICA BOOM CHIC" refrain from Carmen Miranda). YouTube being the collective memory of a large slice of the species, it naturally has a clip of Desi and Lucy performing "Cuban Pete" from the 1951 I Love Lucy episode, "The Diet."

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CUBATV: photos of Cuban televisions and environs

Back in 2006, I blogged about photographer Simone Lueck's gallery of photos of TV in Cuban families' homes. She's since gotten a deal to print the photos in a handsome volume, recently out from Mark Batty: "In Cuba, television is the most important communication medium and a national pastime. No matter that the TV sets themselves are outdated, pre-revolution relics imported from America or sets from Russia over fifteen years old; green-hued beasts jimmy-rigged with ancient computer parts and fantastically adorned like religious altars."

Cuba TV: Dos Canales

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