On June 5 I did my first public reading at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia’s Annual General Meeting. I have to say, it’s fun showing up on the same page as Alistair MacLeod and Shandi Mitchell!
Three other participants read, too. I heard touching excerpts from the memoirs of Mary Jane Copps and Sarah Jewel and the colourful poetry of Brian Braganza.
A public reading should be just be enough to whet your audience’s appetite, and with Stephens’ help, I chose a section with a bit of drama. I read a two-page excerpt from chapter three of The Last Honest Man in Havana. It was a little nerve-wracking, but this was a supportive group, not a room full of literary agents. They gave me a great round of applause and I enjoyed the experience more than I thought I would.
Chapter three is set in April 1980, when a hijacked bus crashed through the gates of the Peruvian embassy. This resulted in more than 11,000 Cubans claiming refugee status behind the gates. Not long after, more than 100,000 Cubans left the country via the Mariel Boatlift.
I wanted to visit the site of the former embassy during my last trip to Cuba. I’d heard it had been converted into a museum, The March of the Fighting People Museum. I wanted to see the fence, the gate and imagine the garden and all that transpired there. We shouldn’t have been so surprised to discover that the entire building is gone and is now the site of a small hotel. The March of the Fighting People Museum still exists, but has moved a few blocks over.
I was disappointed about the changes, but went in to visit the museum anyway. It cost one peso, or 25 cents. If you’re travelling to Cuba, I wouldn’t advise putting this high on your priority list. It’s only got one item that has anything to do with the incident at the Peruvian embassy: the rifle of José Ortiz Cabrera, the guard who was killed when the hijacked bus went through the gate. The Cubans maintain their story that he was hit by the bus. The Peruvians say he was accidentally shot by his colleague in the melee.
The most disturbing thing about all of it is that the younger Cubans I was talking to had never heard about the bus crashing into the embassy. It’s generally not discussed and it’s definitely not taught in the schools.
At home, I was able to find an excellent documentary (only in Spanish) about all the April 1980 events on El Nuevo Herald’s website. They’ve taken it down, but it’s called Mariel 25 and can be ordered from Univision by calling 1-877-CUBANOS.