In every country we have traveled, we´ve met travelers. I remember fondly the Canadian in Egypt and the Colombians in Bolivia and so on. We always land up striking a conversation in bus stops, hostels or cafes. It was 2 or 3 days in Cuba and I was surprised that we met a lot of people, but it was unbelievably difficult to start a conversation. After observing a bit, I realised that most of them were French. Nothing against the French, but I think they love to speak hush hush in French and that´s it.
We were on the bus from Havana to Vinales and we had a French couple in the bus to our side and behind us. When we stopped for coffee, I tried my luck again. Where are you from? How long are you here? Monosyllables. France (pronounced like Fronsce). Three weeks (Pronounced like ttree weeeeks). And, thats it. I struggled. I tried and tried and tried and was desperate for the French connection.
And, just as Cuba surprises you with things you least expect, I found just the perfect conversation starter. You would never guess. Le Petit Prince, the book by Antoine Du Saint Exupery. I fondly remember the days we had spent in Nice, France a couple of years ago and stayed at Villa Saint Exupery, which was the author´s home converted into a backpackers hostel. The stained glass and the various editions of the book around the breakfast counter… these little details are fresh in my memory.
There is no doubt that Cubans read more than anyone else. You would see the average rickshaw guy reading political books as he waits for the next passenger. And, that´s when I stumbled upon little children in Cuba reading Le Petit Prince. Though its classified as a children´s book, it makes several profound and idealistic observations about life and human nature. While the little prince is traveling on earth, he encounters a fox who tells him: On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. (“One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”)
What a beautiful statement and how perfectly it fits for Cuba. And a Cuban child´s imagination is triggered by the kind of books they read since they are young. I heard from someone about a play staged by a theatre group “La Colmenita” [The Little Beehive]. Comprised of young Cuban children, this play staged in the United Stages spoke about freeing the Cuban 5 (5 heroes of Cuba arrested in the United states for espionage more than a decade ago). The children wrote the script for the play in which the characters were the Little Prince, Peter Pan, Tom Sawyer, Mafalda and Pippi Longstocking. These characters unite in an adventure to save the Cuban 5.
Cuban 5 below …. (Will write a separate post about this…lonnnnng story)
Before I deviate further, having figured out the French connection, I tried my luck with the next French couple I met. Where you from? How long over here? Hey, did you hear that the Cuban kids read Le Petit Prince and they have included him as a character to free those Cuban 5 ´Los Cincos Heroes´.
French girl replies, ´Reeeely, I don´t read the Little Prince´. French guy, ´Who are the Cuban 5?´. Wonder whether they came all the way just for a tan. Any case, a perfect conversation starter.
All my French friends, you can write politically incorrect stuff about Indians. I won´t complain.