We have a wonderful Cuban contact here in Havana acting as our guide. Boris is the best friend of Edmundo’s personal trainer in Miami, Osmany. They used to work together here in Havana as models for tourism promotion. Boris is now a popular and well-respected fashion photographer and has no desire to travel abroad. “I cannot live anywhere else. I love my family; my friends; I love Cuba”, he says.
While touring yesterday, we stopped at the Church of Jesus of Miramar (where Edmundo celebrated his “First Holy Communion”). It still functions as a Capuchin church and is in reasonable repair. Edmundo points out the beautiful murals of the Stations of the Cross that run above the doors and windows right around the church. He starts to elaborate on the Stations but it was irrelevant to Boris, a ‘child of a Communist education’ where there is no mention of God let alone any understanding of religion. We were surprised to see Mass and Confession times outside and Boris commented, “I thought Confessions were only in the movies”. . . . Edmundo has been intent on ‘converting’ him ever since!
Our visit presents so many opportunities for Edmundo to explain to Boris what the Catholic faith is all about. Edmundo’s missionary fervour was already raised a notch last night when Boris quite innocently asked (over our second bottle of Chilean red wine) at dinner last night, “What is God? Why believe in a God who allows tsunamis and hurricanes”. To Boris, the wonders of Creation, children and flowers, are from Nature. “I’m just part of the Animal Kingdom”, he says. The first step in Edmundo’s plan is to change Boris’ Russian-inspired name!
Here in the Monastery of St Francis of Assisi, I observe Edmundo becoming most intense when explaining the Host in the Monstrance that we were inspecting in a glass display case in the museum. We walk on through the magnificent cloisters and see many fine examples of Crucifixes, and a Pieta that attracts Boris’ photographer’s eye first, but also piques his interest in hearing more of the ‘story’ that Edmundo is telling. Unfortunately, I can’t join in as they’re speaking in Spanish. Later, Edmundo tells me he gave up when Boris asked “how long was Jesus alive within our system?”
Before leaving, we visit the gardens and see the bronze statue of Mother Teresa with a dear old lady on the seat next to her saying the Rosary. A walk-in Baptismal set under shade trees behind a new Greek Orthodox Church in the corner of the gardens provides me with an opportunity to explain in simple English what we mean by Baptism – but probably too much for the poor Boris for one day. It’s difficult talking to an atheist. All our Christian upbringing and reasoning doesn’t equip us well for that. But that’s not going to stop Edmundo!
As a reward for being so attentive, Edmundo suggests we take Boris to the rather extravagant Café del Oriente located on the Plaza opposite the old Stock Exchange building and the Terminal Sierra Maestra (named after the mountains in Oriente province where Castro landed from Mexico). The restaurant has a large U-shaped Bar with beautifully patterned marble floors, high ceilings and dark wainscoting on the walls. We order our usual selection of small ‘starter’ courses and after my delicious $3 fried chicken meal of yesterday, I splurge on lobster and shrimps in a coconut sauce. Guess which one was better?