Rogelio Moreno Manuel Diaz
HAVANA TIMES — As the result of an activity on Children’s Day, I became interested in a “social club” that I, as a worker in the health care sector, have the right to enjoy.
These started back in the 1950s, when there existed clubs that had swimming facilities and other recreational activities stretched out along the shoreline of Havana’s upscale Miramar neighborhood.
At school they taught us that these were private institutions, symbols of the exclusion of the disadvantaged majority of society. They explained that thanks to the revolution, these were nationalized early on so that everyone can enjoy them today.
Some older people will undoubtedly qualify that image a bit. While most of these were exclusive clubs that only rich people could enter, in addition to having money one also had to be white.
But one could also find clubs owned by certain trade unions, where only workers who belonged to those organizations could be members.
The fact is that all of these were nationalized by the revolutionary government that came to power after 1959. Today these clubs operate under the auspices of various unions comprising the Cuban Workers Federation.
The Otto Parellada Workers Club is the one to which health workers belong. This is our club and the one where we can go to. We can’t go to the one to the left of it, which I think is assigned to industrial workers, let alone to the one that’s on the right, which is dedicated to members of the armed forces and its civilian workers. Nonetheless, all of them offer access to the sea.
Swimming in the sea is one of the best and easiest recreational options in Cuba. Yet to us in Havana, going to the eastern Santa Maria beaches means up to a three-hour bus wait-ride, while the available pieces of coastline near our house are composed of “diente de perro” (or “dogteeth,” sharp volcanic rock).
The Parellada Club is very close to our home. As a sliver of coastline, without actually being a beach, it’s much more comfortable than the dogteeth because the rocky bottom is much less uneven and even some patches of sand. You can reach the water by going down concrete steps, though over the years some sections have been broken up by the power of the waves.
Two breakwaters, each extending thirty yards out into the sea along the club’s east and west property lines, provide some buffer from sea swells and provide alternative access to the water.
Between these, fronting the water, is a band of sand a few yards deep and covered with beach umbrellas. Further behind these is the food court.
In addition to the beach there are courts for playing soccer and beach volleyball, as well as a number of table games can be rented. For Saturday nights it’s possible to reserve a table in a large hall where they serve light meals and a few drinks and where you can dance most of the night away.
We spent a nice first day there, which was thrilling for me since I had gone through all the paperwork to become a member of “my” club. So, we continued going there. We must have gone a total of seven or eight times this summer.
Now, let’s see how ungrateful I can be – I’m going to start complaining.
With the vacation break having just officially ended, now I find that I can’t get into the club anymore. We workers — who are the members and the “owners” of this club — will have to wait until July of next year to be able to go up to the door, show our membership cards and freely walk on in.
It turns out that the opportunity to enjoy the club is only available to us in July and August. The rest of the year the facility is reserved for activities that are centrally organized and determined by agencies related to the administration of the country’s affairs: “the bureaucracy.”
This means that if I’m deranged enough to want to go to the beach in April, May or June — when it’s so cold in Cuba that its practically snowing — I’ll have to take the long bus ride way out to Santa Maria or deal with the razor-sharp “dog teeth” on nearby 70th Street.
All this is because, as we can see, my “ownership” interest is only mine in July and August…not every day. How I can be so cruel, wanting the employees at “my” club to work relentlessly for me every day of those two months.
If we feel like going as a family, or if Rogelio Jr. demands that I take him for a swim on a Monday during those months, then there’s no alternative but to head for the dog teeth on 70th or take the three-hour bus ride out east.
So, from Tuesday to Sunday in July and August, the nationalized club “for me” is in my service… though certainly not for very extensive hours. It’s opens at 9:00 a.m. and closes promptly at 4:00 – not a minute later.
In my capacity as “owner,” I have to go to the club to swim in the sea during those hours of the day when it’s hottest. As everyone knows, such solar intensity slightly exceeds what’s recommended for good health. To those who want to swim when the sun is a little less violent… you already know where you have to go.
But there’s more. I can give a couple of other convincing details to demonstrate the privilege I have as an “owner” of the club.
When I mentioned the entrance to the club, I wasn’t referring to the front door. For common workers in the health care system, we have to go around to the side service entrance to get in.
And then, once inside, the first thing you discover is further evidence that the club has a second category of “owners,” the other being higher ranking than me.
Inside, one finds a few isolated swimming pools within a serious enclosure and a gate where stone-faced guards let the “primary” owners in while keeping us “secondary” owners out.
The people who work at club are courteous and treat you kindly, but they have to comply with a host of stringent regulations. Access to the pool is through a reservation process that is outside the reach of a simple worker.
The union head at the job where you work might be able wrangle up access for you, but they would have to go through a bureaucratic gauntlet that seems to have been put in place to convince us — mere “secondary” owners — that we need to stay the hell away from there.
In these situations, such evidence of your inferior status is probably enough to convince you that you’re not welcome and need to go.
Even excluding the VIP-only aspect of “my” club, even with the restricted hours during the days and months of the year when they have the gall to only “let us in” through the service entrance, we won’t be deterred. We’ll simply enjoy the wide, blue, free and energizing sea when we can.