HAVANA – I met an orchid clutching a tree in Viñales, and to me that flower said, “I am Cuba.” Deeply rooted into the trunk, the flower trembled but stayed erect as a brisk breeze swept through the tobacco plantation. A week earlier, applause erupted as the Southwest Airlines 737 landed at José Martí Airport in Havana. “Hallelujah,” someone said. Getting to this closed island had always been a kind of religious pilgrimage. This time it was easy.
It was all so enchanting. The cobblestone streets, beautiful European architecture, foreign accents and food … . It was my first time visiting Europe; London and Madrid, to be exact, and I completely fell in love. It was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life, but it sure changed the way I viewed a lot of things.
MADRID, Spain — Fifty years ago I walked into the Palace Hotel here looking for a cup of coffee and was promptly escorted out by two burly guards. It was Spain at the height of the fascist Franco dictatorship and, at 19, my buddy Mike and I probably looked like communists or worse, like the hippie kids we were, backpacking through Europe, sleeping in youth hostels for 30-cents a night and bathing once every couple of weeks. I carried two Leica cameras with me, my only possessions other than the shirt on my back, and I documented every step of our wanderings from Luxembourg where Icelandic Airlines dropped us off, across the Mediterranean to North Africa where penniless in Tangier we had to scrounge to get back to Madrid. In Madrid, we avoided the museums and any semblance of establishment culture, after all we were following in Hemingway’s footsteps and we spent our time guzzling raspy red wine at the bullfights, scouring for señoritas and scratching poetry on napkins in the cafes. After shooting the bird at the Palace hotel, we walked back to the center of town to our usual haunts near the Plaza Mayor.
EL PASO — With an increasing number of drug-war killings in Ciudad Juárez, shootouts in broad daylight and random acts of violence such as the burning down of a nightclub, the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) administration has warned students and faculty to be extra careful when travelling in Mexico.