Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fear, Greed and Wonder on the Captain's Trail

If, according to Ryszard Kapuscinski, "the meaning of life is crossing borders" certain lessons were learned on the Captain's latest sojourn in the Americas. What exactly those nuggets of wisdom were, I still haven't figured out, but for sure it was an enlightening and engaging experience. From giving a speech in Spanish to three hundred Cubans, to attending a protest comprising of ten people outside Trump Towers, the journey was thought provoking to say the least. Like Dynamite Johnny's own voyage to Cuba, my travels were subsumed by larger events! While in N.Y. I was told by one enlightened individual "what Cuba needs is greed." Alas, I can't pin this statement to my own mast. But it seems this is what the U.S. wants, it is determined to infiltrate the regime in Cuba, and pin its own peculiar brand of freedom to the island. It has, as A Captain Unafraid interviewee Louis Perez says a long seated "obsessive compulsive disorder" when it comes to Cuba. And Cuba isn't the only country that the U.S. has attempted to extend its ethos, or failing that, control over. While giving an interview at NYU'S Gluckman's house at Washington Square Park I was given some interesting reading by my host Miriam Nyham. The book (which she edited) "America and the 1916 Rising" has a section that deals with the parallels between Cuba and Ireland and their fights for independence. Many commentators and politicians at the time referenced the Cuban revolution against Spain when speaking of possible U.S. support for Irish Independence, with some hoping for outright military intervention by the U.S. in Ireland "the time may come when the American government may find in Ireland as effective a means for intervention as she had found in Cuba." While this never happened, U.S. culture in all its varied qualities has certainly subsumed the island of Ireland these past 100 years. It has left a thick blanket of fog over the country, leaving us digging for nuggets of our own truth amongst the chaff. 

A Captain Unafraid still

Trump Towers

Speaking of the Irish presence in Cuba, I was put up by the Irish Embassy in "Hotel Palacio O' Farill" for the duration of the film festival. The "Palacio"
 is indeed palatial, O Farill is one of the old surnames of Havana, unfortunately, their palatial grandeur was achieved on the back of money from the slave trade. Strangely, the floor I was on was named Longford-both the O' Farill and "Dynamite" O' Brien's came from that county! The foremost expert on the Irish in Havana has to be Señor Rafael Fernandez Moya, a walking library on all matters to do with the Irish presence in that city. Here we are in Havana's "Biblioteca Pública Rubén Martinez" with a portrait of Juan Antonia Mella McPartland (founder of the Cuban Communist Party) between us. Mella's mother was from Ireland.

Señor Moya y yo, Biblioteca Pública Rubén Martinez

Another one of the many minds of information I met told me how Mella was involved in the first attempt to establish a socialist republic in Cuba. I've forgotten the name of the person I conversed with, but he wrote a screenplay with a title hard to forget-"The Red Rooster Sang and Dawn Didn't Rise."

In Old Havana there was an exhibition at the Rubén Martinez Library for the 100th anniversary of Dynamite Johnny's death. Organised in conjunction with some of the local schools, they screened the Captain there and used copies of the drawings of the animated segments as part of the exhibition. A program was organised for the kids called "Discovering my locality, Old Havana."

One morning in Cienfuegos, around halfway across our traversal of Cuba, we had coffee in the home of a farmer called Santiago O' Bourke.

Santiago O' Bourke, Cienfuegos

Santiago, the town, is on the far east of Cuba and is strongly influenced by its African heritage. One of our screenings was at An African Cultural Centre in the city. John McAuliff of the U.S. based "Fund for Reconciliation and Development" was the man behind taking the Captain to the provinces of Cuba.

Myself and John McAuliff, African Cultural Centre, Santiago

Santiago's Santa Ifigeniais Cemetery is the burial place of many's a Cuban hero, most famous of those being, José Martí and Fidel Castro. Cuba, like many a nation, venerates heroes of old as examples for the future, but in Cuba you get the feeling of the closeness of history much more so than in other countries. There is a changing of the guard every half hour at José Martí's grave, it is like he died a few months ago, or did he die atall! As he said himself los que no creen en la imortalidad creen en la historia, "those who don' believe in immortality, believe in history." When I first read this quote I didn't rightly understand it, but by the end of my trip its significance was blindingly clear-the past is the immensity that makes us, it cannot be escaped, and consequently it should be listened to and reflected upon. There José Martí remains in a palatial tomb next to Fidel, around the corner from Thomas Estrada Palma who named Johnny chief Havana Harbor pilot.

José Martí's tomb
I arrived home from my flight to the Americas just in time to gaze in wonder at the reams of U.S. flags unfurled for the 4th of July celebrations in Killarney. 

Talking to other Killarney natives, many were not happy with this exultation of U.S. nationalism in their town, in whispered tones they disagree, but are afraid to speak up. It looks like the 4th of July festival in Killarney is here to stay, though it began just two years ago, methinks it will be set in stone for a long time to come. Even now, it has the feeling that it has always been there. In the same way no-one believed Donald Trump could become president, or that Brexit would ever happen, we now accept these new worlds and deal with their consequences pragmatically. We forget a time they didn't exist. The trick here is to be very careful what we wish for. It has to be said, Killarney's Fourth Of July festival is a crass celebration of U.S. nationalism that is dangerous and blatant balderdash. Given how much war and power mongering the U.S. is and has been involved in, for a prominent town in a neutral country to be raising the U.S. flag alone over its town hall to the sound of the star spangled banner, is ominous as well as being offensive. And I love many, many things about the U.S., but following them down a rabbit hole in my own country to some sad exultation of imperialism, consumerism and trash culture is not something I can support. I was reminded, upon my own recent return to my native land, of the poem by Bonifacio Byrne called Mi Bandera or "My Flag." Byrne came back to Cuba from the U.S. in 1898 and saw to his dismay the U.S. flag flying next to his own. He composed these verses inspired by that ominous vision. 

Upon returning from a distant shore,
Weary of heart and somber,
I searched for my flag anxiously
And saw another flying beside her.

This morning I looked for my flag,
The most beautiful flag in the world;
From the ship's deck, I surveyed the skies
And have never seen anything sadder.

With the faith of an austere soul,
In this conviction I have grown
That two flags should not be flown
When one is enough: my own!

In fields that have been turned to boneyards,
She saw the struggles of the brave,
And she has been the winding-sheet
Of warriors who lie in the grave.

She proudly held her own in battle,
Without puerile or romantic praise:
The Cuban who doesn't believe in her
Should be branded a coward always!

From the depths of the darkest prison,
She heard not a word of woe;
In other lands she was the beacon
That led our footsteps in the snow...

Don't you see her? My flag is the one
That never has mercenary flown,
In whose field there shines a star
All more brightly for being alone!

I've brought her in my soul from exile
Amongst my memories of home,
And I have rendered her homage
By raising her aloft in my poem.

Though listless now and sadly drooping,
I hope some day the sun's pure light
Will shine on her — on her alone! —
On land and sea and mountain height.

If my flag were torn to pieces
Those who died to make her free
Would raise their arms together
And fight eternally!