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Che's Chevrolet, Fidel's Oldsmobile

On the Road in Cuba

Richard Schweid

Publication Year: 2004

Vintage U.S.-made cars on the streets of Havana provide a common representation of Cuba. Journalist Richard Schweid, who traveled throughout the island to research the story of motor vehicles in Cuba today and yesterday, gets behind the wheel and behind the stereotype in this colorful chronicle of cars, buses, and trucks. In his captivating, sometimes gritty, voice, Schweid blends previously untapped historical sources with his personal experiences, spinning a car-centered history of life on the island over the past century. Packard, Studebaker, Edsel, De Soto: cars long extinct in the United States can be seen at work every day on Cuba's streets. Havana and Santiago de Cuba today are home to some 60,000 North American cars, all dating back to at least 1959, the year the Cuban Revolution prevailed. Though hardly a new part has arrived in Cuba since 1960, the cars are still on the road, held together with mechanical ingenuity and willpower. Visiting car mechanics, tracking down records in dusty archives, and talking with car-crazy Cubans of all types, Schweid juxtaposes historic moments (Fidel Castro riding to the Bay of Pigs in an Oldsmobile) with the quotidian (a weary mother's two-cent bus ride home after a long day) and composes a rich, engaging picture of the Cuban people and their history. The narrative is complemented by fifty-two historic black-and-white photographs and eight color photographs by contemporary Cuban photographer Adalberto Roque. With his signature captivating voice, Richard Schweid blends the history of motor vehicles in Cuba with his personal experiences from time he spent on the island researching that history. His colorful chronicle of cars, buses, and trucks in Cuba includes historic moments (such as Fidel Castro's brother riding in a '51 Chevy to an assault on Batista's military barracks) as well as the quotidian (a weary mother's two-cent bus ride home after a long day). His engaging narrative, complemented by 51 historic b&w photos and a special 8-page color insert of contemporary photos, provides a rich cultural history of life on the island over the past century. Contains historic photos (b&w) and an 8-page color insert of photos by contemporary Cuban photographer Adalberto Roque. cloth pub 9/29/04; sales =1555 Schweid blends the history of cars, trucks, and buses in Cuba with stories from his own experience there. The rich narrative, accompanied by 52 b&w historic photos and an 8-page color insert of photos by Cuban photographer Adalberto Roque, presents a colorful chronicle of life on the island. Vintage U.S.-made cars on the streets of Havana provide a common representation of Cuba. Journalist Richard Schweid, who traveled throughout the island to research the story of motor vehicles in Cuba today and yesterday, gets behind the wheel and behind the stereotype in this colorful chronicle of cars, buses, and trucks. In his captivating, sometimes gritty, voice, Schweid blends previously untapped historical sources with his personal experiences, spinning a car-centered history of life on the island over the past century. Packard, Studebaker, Edsel, De Soto: cars long extinct in the United States can be seen at work every day on Cuba's streets. Havana and Santiago de Cuba today are home to some 60,000 North American cars, all dating back to at least 1959, the year the Cuban Revolution prevailed. Though hardly a new part has arrived in Cuba since 1960, the cars are still on the road, held together with mechanical ingenuity and willpower. Visiting car mechanics, tracking down records in dusty archives, and talking with car-crazy Cubans of all types, Schweid juxtaposes historic moments (Fidel Castro riding to the Bay of Pigs in an Oldsmobile) with the quotidian (a weary mother's two-cent bus ride home after a long day) and composes a rich, engaging picture of the Cuban people and their history. The narrative is complemented by fifty-two historic black-and-white photographs and eight color photographs by contemporary Cuban photographer Adalberto Roque.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6

CONTENTS

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pp. vii-12

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Chapter 1. Locomobiles and Model T’s

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pp. 5-51

One of the first things most visitors to Cuba note is the absence of advertisements for anything other than the Revolution. The relatively few billboards to be seen stand at the entrances to towns or at important urban junctions. They carry short, punchy, revolutionary exhortations in bright letters—social realism in advertising. Some call on the Cuban people to set their sights...

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Chapter 2. Tudores and Fordores

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pp. 52-95

Havana’s Vedado has to be one of the world’s most amazing urban neighborhoods. Built during the last part of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth, to the west of the central city’s narrow streets, it occupies a huge expanse of land that for centuries had been reserved as a woodland, a vast area that was forbidden to be cut. Even before the war with Spain in the 1890s...

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Chapter 3. Buses and Trolleys

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pp. 96-134

Call him Jorge, a guitarist in one of the licensed groups that play on a circuit of three or four clubs in Santiago de Cuba, casas de la trova (houses of the ballad), where every night people come to dance and listen to the infectious rhythms of that purely Cuban music called son and discreetly hustle tourists. He is thin, in his early thirties, angular and intense, with his hair in...

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Chapter 4. 1957 Chevys

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pp. 135-171

Each of the three main squares in Santiago de Cuba has a different feel. The knot of debating men around the benches and the goats pulling carts full of children are emblematic of the Plaza de Marte. This is a big, wide space with lots of benches and shade trees. It is a family park, where all the social niceties apply. People meet here and take great pleasure in greeting each other...

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Chapter 5. Che’s Chevy and Fidel’s Olds

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pp. 172-216

I wake up every morning in Havana by seven, with no need for an alarm clock. This may be the capital city and the most cosmopolitan place on the island, but it is not an urban sparrow’s chirping or pigeon’s cooing that greets the dawn. It is a rooster crowing upstairs in full throat that wakes light sleepers every day. Habaneros tend to think of themselves as worldly-wise...

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 217-234

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. 235-236

It is always a pleasure to thank by name those who have assisted me in my work. But people in Cuba can suffer consequences for helping a foreign writer. Some of the nearest and dearest of the people who put up with me in Cuba are not named here, nor in the text. I am deeply grateful to them nevertheless. As anyone who reads this book can tell, I am not a mechanic. A number of mechanics I spoke...

INDEX

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pp. 237-247


E-ISBN-13: 9781469605739
E-ISBN-10: 1469605732
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807828922
Print-ISBN-10: 0807828920

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 8 color and 53 b&w illus., 1 map
Publication Year: 2004