Monday

Jan. 3, 2011

In A Cafe

by Gary Johnson

When Love is lost, the laughter's good and
gone,
The sun sinks down, the heavy fog rolls in,
Nothing is left to say and you know that no
good
Will ever come of this,
Life will never again be miraculous.
Tall dark woman in the café, I see
How the tears glitter in your blue eyes.
You drink black coffee for bravery
And weep onto the front page of the Times.
I had a love once too who now is gone, is
gone, she's gone. The waves roll along
The coast, the sweet summer rain blows in.
      If I knew you, I'd sit by your side and
sing:
      This world is not our home, we're only
passing through.

"In A Cafe" by Gary Johnson. Used with permission of the author.

It was 50 years ago today that the United States cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba. On this day in 1961, the Eisenhower administration closed down the American Embassy in Havana. The U.S. stopped trying to negotiate diplomatically with Fidel Castro.

The most immediate catalyst that President Eisenhower pointed to was this: Fidel Castro had just accused American diplomats in Cuba of being spies, and he demanded that the U.S. reduce the number of staff people working in the Havana embassy.

By this time, the leaders of the two countries had been making each other uneasy for almost two years. Cuba-U.S. relations had been careening downhill since shortly after Castro came to power in early January 1959. Castro had led a revolution in which he overthrew the regime of Batista — a longtime American ally, but a dictator whose brutality and corruption had recently begun to embarrass American leaders. At the beginning of the revolution, many American leaders supported Castro's idealistic campaign and budding government. Castro even did a public relations tour in the States, appearing at press conferences in New York City. He ate hamburgers and hot dogs, joked with journalists, and made solemn proclamations about his new government, such as: "We are democracy. We are against all kinds of dictators. … That is why we oppose communism."

Shortly after the revolution, though, Castro executed hundreds of people who had worked for Batista's administration, saying that they were war criminals. He consolidated political power. And he began to seize private companies, and private farms, and other private property, declaring that they belonged to the government. At one point, he nationalized foreign banks in Cuba — including Chase Manhattan Bank and First National City Bank of New York.

Then Castro became very good friends with Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev. Cuba and the U.S.S.R. began a formal diplomatic relationship. A huge trade deal was set up, where the Soviet Union bought 5 million tons of sugar from Cuba, and also gave Cuba oil and all the military support it wanted.

The issue about what to do with Cuba was a big one in the 1960 United States presidential campaign between Kennedy and Nixon. In the midst of the Cold War, the fear was that Cuba was becoming a "beachhead" for Communism in the Western Hemisphere. During the campaign, Kennedy repeatedly accused incumbents Eisenhower and Nixon of not "doing enough" about Cuba.

Kennedy was elected in November 1960, leaving Eisenhower a few months as a lame-duck president. And it was during this time, a couple of weeks before Kennedy took office in January, that outgoing President Eisenhower cut off diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

In the months that followed, there were huge crises between the two countries, whose leaders were now devoid of the normal channels of diplomacy. In April, there was the Bay of Pigs, a covert operation where CIA-trained Cuban-American exiles who'd been living in Florida landed on Cuba's shores and tried to incite their fellow Cubans to rise up and overthrow Castro. It didn't work, and it was a big embarrassment for the United States. Afterward, Castro declared that Cuba was going to become a socialist republic. The following year, Kennedy signed a trade embargo. And in October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war.

A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, President Kennedy wrote a note to Fidel Castro explaining that he was ready to end the trade embargo and discuss a return to normal diplomatic relations. Kennedy sent that note on November 17, 1963. But five days later, before a meeting could be set up, Kennedy was assassinated. The trade embargo remains in place.

When diplomatic relations with Cuba ended, an Operation called Pedro Pan began. There had been rumors in Cuba that children would be forcibly indoctrinated as Marxist-Leninists and sent off to work camps in the Soviet Union. After the U.S. State Department waived visa requirements for Cuban children, Catholic Charities in Miami set up Pedro Pan, a network that allowed Cuban parents to send their kids to the States. More than 14,000 children were airlifted out of Cuba, unaccompanied by their parents. The goal was for the parents to get their immigration paperwork approved and reunite with their children in the States. But then the Cuban Missile Crisis happened, and most parents never received exit visas. So thousands of children airlifted from Cuba in the early 1960s grew up in orphanages and rotating foster homes in the United States.

One of the airlifted Cuban children was Carlos Eire, (books by this author) who is now a professor of religion at Yale. He wrote a memoir called Waiting for Snow in Havana, and it won the 2003 National Book Award. It begins:
"The world changed while I slept, and much to my surprise, no one had consulted me. That's how it would always be from that day forward. Of course, that's the way it had been all along. I just didn't know it until that morning. Surprise upon surprise: some good, some evil, most somewhere in between. And always without my consent.
"I was barely eight years old, and I had spent hours dreaming of childish things, as children do. My father, who vividly remembered his prior incarnation as King Louis XVI of France, probably dreamt of costume balls, mobs, and guillotines. My mother, who had no memory of having been Marie Antoinette, couldn't have shared in his dreams."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of the man who said, "All that is gold does not glitter; not all those that wander are lost," the man called "the father of modern fantasy," the writer John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien, (books by this author) born in Bloemfontein, South Africa (1892).

Tolkien went to Oxford, and he studied philology, the study of the origin of languages. He became fluent in many ancient European languages, including Classical Greek, Old Norse, Old English, medieval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon. He became a teacher at Oxford, and he invented his most ambitious language, composed entirely of his own alphabet, sounds, and structure. And that was the language High Elvish, spoken by elves. He spent 12 years writing a book that incorporated that language. He said he wrote this new book "to provide a world for the language." He said, "I should have preferred to write the entire book in Elvish." But it was in English, and it was The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien intended it to be one book in three parts, but it was published in three volumes — The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955).

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, "I wish life was not so short. Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »