My Close Encounter with Stephen Hawking in Cuba

By Vicente Morin Aguado

Black hole.

HAVANA TIMES – Photos of a black hole are making their way across the world. It’ll be the scientific discovery of the year. The news has rekindled the memories I have of when I first learned about the scientist who, along with Albert Einstein, has captivated millions of people, in spite of them both formulating theories which are practically impossible for the vast majority to grasp.

In 1995 I was walking in Cayo Largo del Sur, a paradise reserved for tourists, a resort in the heart of an economy trying to rise out of the ashes of Soviet socialism which had sustained our country for decades up until then. Stephen Hawking locked eyes with me from the cover of a book, the first of many piled up on a reception table at the Pelican Hotel. Still a mystery, the title is today’s headlines: Black Holes.

Humans have managed to see the invisible, thanks to the efforts of Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which is an international project that consists of telescopes located in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. It is in fact a super virtual instrument that covers the span of the planet with a set of very real astrophysical facilities.

Back then in 1995, I was one of the privileged Cubans who could see light when the sun set, because tourism was a budding sector and that islet full of virgin beaches had a permanent electricity supply. Meanwhile, the rest of Cuba was a real black hole, no metaphor intended. There were so many blackouts that lasted for days on end that when we had electricity, people would say that we had an “alumbron” (illumination). Communist Party Propaganda said that we were experiencing a “Special Period in times of Peace”.

Hawking’s book that would define that human fragment of pure energy in time and space was in English, abandoned by some visitor, and was happily recovered in the sand by a sensitive Cuban. I read it with some difficulty as we weren’t even in the early days of the Internet yet, and I couldn’t even dream about having Google or even downloading a book online.

The two most important (and widely covered by the media) scientific discoveries in the last hundred years are similar:

Albert Einstein became a press celebrity when photos taken during a solar eclipse in 1919 proved his general theory of relativity. More precisely that light should curve while traveling through space and nearing the warp induced by the gravitational field of stars that served as a background to the surrounding darkness of the sun eclipsed by our planet.

The event in the galaxy.

Now, the famous British thinker (who has been put on the highest platform by ordinary citizens and heads of state), has shown us their eternal presence in time. The most advanced technology, reinforced with international collaborative efforts, have allowed us to have the first ever images of a black hole.

Astrophysicists confirm the vitality of the hypotheses of Einstein.

Stephen Hawking, who was always chasing after a Nobel Prize in Physics, might get one now post-mortem as his devoted followers in the scientific community are showing such striking and unprecedented images.

Those memories haven’t left me, twenty years after that first meeting with the book of the tenacious theoretical physicist, who survived his death foretold by a few anomalous genes. Visiting Miami, an HT reader and friend of mine let me use his powerful computer and I was finally able to download an e-library. I came across a “A Brief History of Time” again, this time for a proper meeting.

Since that August 2014, I haven’t stopped giving my fellow countrymen copies of all the universal literature I have in my hands, without borders, without limits that don’t transcend human dignity. They are my Free Books, a tribute to the super scientist and spokesperson that Stephen Hawking was and is.

Cayo Largo del Sur has grown a lot since the first time I found out about the man of black holes. There are lots of hotels, a local airport that is busy at all times of day and night, there is also a continuous electricity supply while the power begins to fail more and more often here in Cuba. In Havana, there is talk (although not explicitly mind you) about another Special Period, the term that means extreme shortages.

An honest and hard-working Sicilian who recently married a Cuban woman, told me of their experience last weeked they were together on their honeymoon at the islet where this article is based:

“Sirena beach is incredible, with its pink, burning sand, like the woman who chose me to make her happy, but something dark came to end the honeymoon in a second. When we went to catch the boat to go the Cayo de las Iguanas for an outing, my wife was told with cynical kindness: Mrs. company regulations, which are in keeping with laws of this country, prohibit Cubans from boarding tourist boats. Being married to this man doesn’t matter, you are Cuban and you can’t board the boat.”

This black hole of discrimination escaped Stephen Hawking’s powerful mind.

Vicente Morin Aguado: [email protected]