02 Dec My memories of Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro visited Kiev shortly before my high school graduation, in the spring of 1963. Even my mother and grandmother always contemptuous of anything labeled socialist or communist acknowledged that he was handsome. So I don’t have to tell you that all the girls in my school were in love with him.
The excitement had built up in the years prior to the visit. In addition to banging his shoe on the podium at the United Nations, evicting Stalin’s body from the Mausoleum, erecting the Berlin Wall, and sending a man into space, Khrushchev gleefully welcomed new Cuba, our beachhead in the backyard of our archenemy, the United States, then emerged victorious in the Cuban crisis.
Clearly, the rest of the Americas would follow Cuba and the world would become one big happy family. Utopia or not, Soviet students flocked to universities in droves to take Spanish.
We could not associate Fidel, young, tall, strong, handsome, virile – adjectives unimaginable for Bolsheviks as we knew them – with a revolution as we knew it. Unless, of course, it was a gentle and fun one. Our revolutionaries wrapped up in building communism had no room for base urges. Little wonder the 1975 edition of the 50,000 words Russian-English dictionary listed no entry for the word sex. The stocky, rotund, uncouth, brash Khrushchev had to be out of his mind to stand next to Fidel in pictures.
Love and Bananas
That spring of 1963, we could not wait to get to the designated spot where our school was to wait for a dignitary’s motorcade to pass by. For the first and last time in my life, the enthusiasm was real (at least the women’s enthusiasm)—the dignitary was Fidel Castro! We held placards with his picture tightly because some men in the crowd tried to snatch them—they promised to bring one home for each woman in the family.
The moment when the long, open car rolled past slowly is still vivid in my mind’s eye. Newspaper photographs did no justice to Fidel’s appearance. To a Soviet female, he was the definition of a heartthrob and cut quite an impressive and romantic figure as he stood smiling and waving his hand.
We waved our placards wildly and threw him kisses, each girl swearing afterward that her kiss was noticed by Fidel. “Maybe we’ll get bananas from him,” said one of my classmates.
Thirty years after being dependent on the Soviet Union instead of United States, Cuba partially reverted to oxen instead of tractors and firewood instead of electricity. Still, people cried when Fidel Castro died. People cried when Stalin died too. By the way, I saw bananas for the first time in 1976 in Italy after I emigrated.