Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Hero Pursued in Santiago

One of the charming (not!) billboards that plague the countryside of Cuba, reminding everyone how what a wonder the revolution is, what great things it's going to achieve. Cubans must wonder what happens when the revolution goes wrong, if a successful revolution leaves a Latin-American country, once a jewel of the Spanish Empire looking something like an impoverished African country.
This one says: Santiago - in the past - rebellious. Now - hospitable. Always - heroic.

It's no secret that I'm planning to set my next book in Cuba. (Well, it isn't now...) Not one of the Joshua books, something new. Well this is the story of how one Cuban received the proposed plot of the book I'm calling 'Jaguar's Realm'. (whoever publishes it - if anyone - may well change the title).

After the son lesson, we'd invited Yulieski and his girlfriend to join us for dancing at the Santiago Melia's fancy nightclub, the Santiago Cafe. Well, it's another shiny, cheesy latino nightclub where they play salsa for about half an hour and then solid latin disco music, just like most latin dance clubs in Mexico and apparently Cuba too. The setting is quite nice - an ersatz square in old Santiago, with reproductions of famous city spots, like the Casa de la Trova and a well-known bar. Yulieski turned up 30 mins late - sans jeune fille! I wasn't entirely convinced by his having apparently misunderstood that our invitation had extended to the girlfriend too. I figured she didn't like son but might like a fancy nightclub. "I thought you were just inviting me and the dance teacher", Yulieski said, all innocence.

The dance teacher had quite rightly turned up his nose at the invite. "That sort of place," he muttered, "is not really my scene."

Yulieski seemed keener. We agreed to keep quiet about the fact that he'd been out with us. I guessed that he had his reasons - didn't buy the mix-up. There was a live band playing son. They were good but not as good as the guys we'd heard in La Trova. Yulieski was keen to try out what he'd seen the dance teacher show us. He picked it up quickly, but was too shy to dance on the main dance floor.

Between dances he smoked and asked me what stuff I write. I told him a bit about Joshua and then told him I was planning another book, possibly a series, the first book of which would be set in Cuba. I told him the plot. Years and adult sophistication fell away as he listened. "And then this could happen...he said, jumping in with a series of suggestions. Pretty good ones too, but using a plot device which I use in Joshua 2, so that, I explained couldn't be used.

"Your story," he observed, "is the story of all boys in Santiago. We dream of crossing the island to Havana and finding a way to get to Florida. And like all Cubans, your hero is pursued in his own country."

"So it's a metaphor for the Cuban experience?" I said. Yulieski nodded. "I hope they let me back into the country if it gets published," I said. Yulieski's eyes widened in sudden realization. "...True!"

Yulieski kept making trips to and from the bar. "Maybe I'll stay on for a bit," he said as we got up to leave. "There are other girls to dance with," I said, looking around. Iran blushed and covered his face. "There are. But it's a secret, okay?"

Not anymore, pal.

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