10 May, 2006

This is the story in the daily paper "Granma" that was read on "Off The Hook." It makes fun of President Bush's dog and all of the attention being given to it. Front page.

One of the incredible structures that was a part of daily life in old Havana. If you could walk past this cafe without someone offering to sell you a cigar, you probably weren't walking.

This park had vendors with books for sale on many of the days we were there. In the distance is the Hotel Santa Isabel which is where we would go for Internet access.

A sampling of some of the material widely available.

In addition to the really old books, there was almost always a copy of Fidel Castro's famous 1953 speech ("History Will Absolve Me"), given after being arrested for unsuccessfully trying to topple the old regime.

This was a different sort of Internet place. Mostly it was for locals who wanted to send email. The email terminals didn't actually connect to any websites but the email went out instantly. We had no luck finding "didactic games."

All of these people are on line for this place incidentally. The way it works is that you ask who the last person on line is and then wait for him to go in. Similarly, someone will eventually ask that question and you'll be the last person on line and then they will watch you. While waiting, you can do all sorts of things, even go to different places. Your place on line is assured.

One of the few paved streets in old Havana (most are cobblestone). However this one already has a nice sized hole. I found it interesting how the entire street is never paved to allow for drainage on the sides.

10 May, 2006

I have to say the last few days have been really exhausting so I'm welcoming the chance to sit back and take it easy a bit. We've got "Off The Hook" later today which we need to prepare for. And that involved heading to the hotel with Internet access (Hotel Santa Isabel), laptop in hand, to see if we could actually hook a machine up to the net.

It turned out to be far easier than I had thought. The ethernet cable was plugged in and I was immediately on the net. Not the fastest connection ever, and for some reason Trillian didn't work, but everything else came up nicely. So we spent a couple of hours catching up and preparing the show, not that I really thought we would have to rely on anything prepared with all of the material that we had just lived through.

On the way back we picked up an English version of "Granma" which we were happy to see contained a story about "malware" in Cuba. Perfect for tonight's show. "Granma" comes out weekly in English and daily in Spanish. It often has special supplements filled with the text of Fidel's latest speech, oftentimes covering many pages without a single picture or graphic. Both editions are ridiculously cheap.

The Spanish version had a story about how yesterday's baseball game, the one we had been at, was one of the longest in Cuban history. We were lucky to have left when we did as it was still on the TV when we went to sleep at 2 am. (The home team lost, by the way.)

In yesterday's Spanish edition there was a great story about President Bush's dog which mocked the attention being paid to it in American media and on the White House website. We decided this would be on the show as well.

And while we were being deluged with media outlets, the cable that connected to our TV unfortunately had snapped in the night. So we asked the person at reception if it could be fixed. When we returned from being on the Internet, someone went up with us to inspect it. Upon seeing the problem, they took the entire wire away. We haven't seen them since. We don't expect to.

Later in the day we took a trip down to the post office to try and mail some postcards and get postage for ones we were mailing later. It was the usual chaotic scene, capped off with trying to figure out where to put an international postcard in a pile of cardboard boxes used for routing mail. We made an educated guess and will continue to keep our fingers crossed.

On the way back, Mike found an office for people who needed to use email. This was not the Internet per se but something else that wasn't directly connected to the net. We had to wait outside for a while as they would only let people in when other people left. And there was no real line, just a crowd of people spread around the street. When you went to the door, they would point at the person who was last in line. When that person went in, you knew you were next.

Mike was able to convince them that we did in fact belong here and not at an actual Internet cafe. But they would only let one of us in so I waited outside while Mike performed some experiments with this true Cuban online experience. He wound up with a Cuban email address and sent out a couple of test emails to various places. Their system was running an ancient distribution of Linux and an old version of Firefox known as Firebird. This was very different from the Internet cafe we had been in which had pirated versions of Windows and a very recent version of Firefox.

Now it was time to get ready for the show. We didn't really know what to expect since we would be using the phone line in our hotel room. We figured this would be a phone call that both the United States and Cuban authorities would be interested in listening to, if in fact they even bothered to do this. So we decided to play down any talk of official journalism since we still had the visa issue to worry about as long as we were in the country. But we would most definitely go into detail on the many things we had been experimenting with.

We had our routable toll-free number coming to the hotel front desk and from there the call from the station would be transferred to our room. Hopefully. You never really knew with situations like this. I've been in places where the call gets cut off after a few minutes since long phone calls were apparently not allowed. Sometimes you would be tying up the only outgoing line for the entire place. Anything was possible. And add to the mix the fact that we were technically in the "Axis of Evil" and who knew what we were in for?

As it turned out, nothing could have been smoother. We had no problem at all getting connected, everyone was able to hear each other, and the call wasn't interrupted at any point. We could have gone on for hours with all of the material we had gathered from here but we packed as much as we could into the limited time that we had. And on top of everything else, we had to do a fundraising edition! That's right, Mike and I were put in the unenviable position of having to beg for money for a radio station in the United States while sitting here in Cuba. But it seems to have worked, We wound up getting a pretty decent response. Of course, the tradeoff was that we didn't have time to take calls over the air. But at least now I can say I've done WBAI fundraisers from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and also from Cuba.

It turns out Bernie S. has a friend at Radio Havana. With any luck we'll be able to work out a tour and possibly get an interview. We only have two full days left and we still have to record material for WUSB. And I've also started to record local radio stations on my iRiver which ought to make for some fascinating analysis when we get back home.

We ended the day by going to the Lebanese place we had read about. This was the third time we tried going there. Monday they were closed and last night we got there too late after the baseball game. It was OK for the most part. But one thing we both can never seem to get used to is the super relaxed atmosphere when it comes to such things as getting the check. We must have been trying for over a half hour. But persistence eventually paid off. One day we'll have to match their laid back attitude and see just how long we can remain in a single place.

We need to start waking up significantly earlier since our supposed check-in time for our flight Saturday is 7 am. Not good when we've been waking up closer to noon. So I'm going to not stay up past 2 am tonight and hopefully start seeing more of the daylight.