Mi Moto Fidel
All Books are second hand
Christopher P. Baker
This is Christopher Baker's memoir about the three month motorcycle trip he took all around Cuba in the mid nineties. I bought this book at a garage sale or a goodwill because I loved Baker's Moon Guide to Cuba: it was incredibly informative and invaluable when we traveled there several years ago. I was looking forward to hearing about his adventures in a more narrative and less "guide" format, but was somewhat disappointed.
To his credit, Baker makes many interesting observations about Cuban life, politics, and culture during this pivotal time in recent Cuban history (immediately after the Periodo Especial when Cuba was replacing Soviet subsidies when European tourist dollars). He speaks with many people with varying opinions about Cuba and the cause of the problems facing Cuba, and fortunately he lets their words and perspective play a big role in the book, as he, as an outsider, tries to form and reform his own ideas about the country he is visiting. I thought the best moments were when he is dealing with bureaucracy and MININT, the paranoia he expresses and the suspense of how his trip will be affected by these government figures. I wanted to keep reading, to hear about the places he was traveling to next, about the people he would meet.
What was truly annoying about the book, however, were his ego and his libido. Whether he is gunning his Paris-Dakkar motorcycle up the Sierra Madre on a path everyone said was non-navigable, or speaking up on behalf of Cuban-sympathizing Americans in a room full of Castroites, he has this way of writing about his own little macho triumphs that is just irritating. I get it, these moments were important to him, emotionally resonant, real accomplishments. It's hard to write about experiences like these without tooting ones own horn. But perhaps he could have tempered those moments with other more humble moments (though they did pop up occasionally).
Or PERHAPS they would have read differently if I wasn't already rolling my eyes at his descriptions of having sex with yet another Cuban woman. From the moment early on when it is clear his Cuban "girlfriend" was at most seventeen when they started their affair (he was 40), he does not show an ounce of self-consciousness about his very active roll in the practice of "jineteando" (Cubans courting foreigners that they hope will buy them things they can't afford, or give them money, or marry them and take them out of Cuba). He never questions the ethics of bedding these women who seem to throw themselves at him. He is disgusted when he sees teenage prostitutes with fat, old Italians, but never stops to consider that perhaps he is just like them, and not the exception, not the one who is different, who really understands the Cuban condition, the one who really warrants the affections of these women because... I don't know why. Because he speaks Spanish? Because he is handsome? Because he wants to talk to them and take them for a motorcycle ride as well as have sex? He writes about explicit sex tourism with a scornful tone, but can't seem to see that it exists on a spectrum, which he is most definitely on. I don't judge his desires of the motivations (sensual, economic, or both) of his paramours, but the way he writes about, or fails to write about his own conduct in this context, is extremely off-putting.