Dateline: Downtown Havana
On the bus on the way to the National Museum of Fine Arts, our writer-in-residence Tom Miller teased a special guest at lunch. Of course, we all wanted to know who it would be. “I haven’t finalized the details yet. But I think you’ll be surprised and really pleased,” Miller said.
So with that bit of speculation in our minds, we began our guided tour of the museum’s massive collection. Of course, there are paintings by Cuban masters such as Wilfredo Lam and Amelia Peleaz. There are also artistic calls for La Revolucion such as El Alba (The Sunrise) which depicts faceless worker trudging unhappily to a belching factory. In the modern section, there was an interactive Punch and Judy-like display where you could create your own history with figures of Che, Jose Marti, Simon Bolivar, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, V. I. Lenin, and many others.
Outside, Miller revealed that our special guest would be Naty Revuelta, Fidel Castro’s mistress and fighting companion during the 1950s and the mother of his only-known daughter. Miller said Naty, which she liked to be called, would not speak to the group, but would allow two of us to join her at her table. Or course, I wanted to do just that, but held back to see if others would want that honor. When no one came forward, I readily volunteered and so found myself in a Havana restaurant sitting next to someone who had once known Fidel Castro perhaps as well as he can be known by anyone.
Miller had laid down some strict guidelines for what was appropriate for discussion and mandated that I couldn’t take notes nor ask anything about Castro unless Naty brought it up first. On first meeting Naty, now in her mid 80s, I quickly discovered that I was in the presence of a lady who exudes a sense of specialness in speech, dress, and manner. She is, as I told Miller later, a woman both “classy and classic.”
Born into a wealthy Cuban family, Naty said she had an interesting raising. “I had a grandfather who was English and was very proper and I had a grandfather who was Spanish and was very emotional. I learned about both worlds,” she said.
Naty spent four years at a boarding school in Philadelphia, then two years in college in DC. We talked briefly about both those places: what they were like then and what they are like now.
“You know, I was 22 years old when I met Fidel,” Naty interjected. “It was an interesting time.” I waited for more, but she shifted into a narrative about the daughter she shared with Castro.
The daughter had fled to the United States from the island in 1960. It would be 24 years before UNESCO set up a meeting allowing Naty to see her in America. She showed me a picture of that meeting she always carries with her.
She then shifted back to earlier Cuban years. “Batista was not good for the people,” Naty said. “I was not a party member, but I was working for the party when I met Fidel. I am 6 months older than him.”
Although we then chatted about other matters, I knew from previous reading her current stand on the Cuban leader. She doesn’t say outright that Castro has failed to follow through on promises of democracy. Instead, she names his successes and commends his bravery in facing both Cuban and U.S. opposition. Castro, she says, will be remembered as ” a man who tried very hard. Some love him more, some love him less.”
Miller and my fellow traveler Dennis excused themselves from the table and I found myself alone with Naty. Suddenly, she began choking on a piece of prosciutto. A vision flashed before my eyes. I would try to save the choking Naty and be unsuccessful. Castro would be outraged. I would find myself in a Cuban prison. The New York Times lead article would be headlined, “Castro Claims American Agent Kills Mistress; Calls for Death by Firing Squad.” However, a sip of wine cured Naty of her choking and we resumed our talking until Miller returned, signaling the end of lunch.
I thanked Naty for her conversation and asked if she would pose for a picture with Judy and me. Ever gracious, she complied. “Did my husband talk too much?” Judy asked. “No he was the a perfect lunch companion,” Naty replied.
To Follow Our Cuban Trip in Chronological Order
- Cuban Ties, Cuban Dreams
- Moon Over Miami
- A 1st Look at Cuba
- La Melia y El Malecon
- Havana: The Last Virgin City in the Americas
- Look for What You Don’t See
- Hemingway and Cuba
- The Truth of Our System
- Now You’re Smoking
- At Home with Hemingway
- We’re Only Dancing in the Dark
- The Cuban Countryside
- A Night of Love Under a Havana Moon
- A Day of the Dead
- Thank You, My Good Frenemies