Obama and The Rolling Stones
By Pilar Montes
HAVANA TIMES — Very few times before have as dissimilar events – comparable only in the excitement they have caused among the population – coincided in Cuba chosen as their stage.
There is but one topic of passionate or controversial conversation in Cuba these days: the visit of the US president and the concert to be staged by the British band The Rolling Stones.
The sojourn by the legendary English band had been talked up for long and had seemed something as impossible as the lifting of the US blockade on the island.
Now, these two historic events will be forever linked, as the visits of the US president and the longest-playing rock band in history (with over 30 albums under its belt) are to be separated by a mere 72 hours.
Barack Obama’s visit, set for March 20 – 22, coinciding with the beginning of Holy Week, will be fully covered by hundreds of different media from around the world, while the concert that young and aging Cubans have dreamed of for decades will bring a close to this eventful week on the March 25th.
It is certain the final outcome of these two visits will be satisfaction, as the Rolling Stones suggest with their famous song.
A US president in office will visit Cuba for the first time 88 years. The previous one was Calvin Coolidge, who disembarked from a battleship, a symbol of the times. Barack Obama will arrive on Air Force 1, accompanied by his family, government officials and businesspeople.
Obama, the bearer of good tidings that will make trade between the two nations easier and give more US citizens authorization to travel to Cuba through people-to-people programs, will make a triumphal entrance, even though many demands have gone unanswered by both sides.
Just as ping-pong was once employed by Richard Nixon as a diplomatic tool to bring about a thaw with China in 1971, baseball has been chosen as the vehicle for rapprochement between the two countries, as this sport is part of the identity of both nations.
When news of the baseball match that Obama would be attending spread, the locals became desperate to get their hands on tickets for the game, scheduled for March 22 at the Latinoamericano stadium. There, the Cuban national team will be pitted against the Tampa Bay Rays.
On the 15th of the month, there was word tickets for the match had begun to be sold at junior and senior high schools, as well as universities and work places.
To buy the tickets, one did not have to be a member of the Communist Party or Young Communists League or any other organization, only offer proof of studies or work, or so a number of my neighbors who’ve already set aside a spot at the stadium told me.
They say the stadium’s surroundings have been painted and asphalted and that the people living near it have to thank the US president for his visit more than others.
A Concert, a Year and 62 Containers Later
British Ambassador to Cuba Timothy Cole said he was proud for having contributed to the holding of this historical concert. “I feel very happy that it was made possible during my time here,” he told the press.
The Vice-Chair of the Cuban Music Institute Osmani Lopez told newspapers that the Sports City grounds can accommodate 400,000 people.
Around 70 workers (including construction, lighting, services and production personnel – are working in the mounting of an 80 by 56 by 20 meter tall stage.
The production of the show has proven a considerable challenge owing to the 62 containers of equipment the band sent over and the needs of the concert, said Lopez.
Those who haven’t followed the career of the Rolling Stones, on hearing they are referred to as “Their Satanic Majesties,” will probably ask themselves whether they are in heaven or in hell.
It’s a good question, particularly if one has seen the band’s Facebook page, where we find tattoos with motifs related to the mythical band: this time around, the big, gaping mouth that sticks its tongue out is decorated with Cuban flags, waves and palm trees.
The truth of the matter is that Cubans are in ecstasy, in anticipation of a Holy Week full of unprecedented developments.