Sunday, November 19, 2006

'Castro Visit Triumphant'

In April 1959 I had a seven-dollar-a-week room in the Sound End section of Boston, as part of my first attempt to make a living by writing. When Fidel Castro came to town, I bought a ticket to his grand address at Harvard, to a standing-room-only crowd at Soldier's Field in Cambridge. He was everyone's hero--well, everyone in Cambridge, anyhow. I can't think of another foreign leader who evoked the kind of adulation that Castro did, especially among the university crowd. (That included me, of course. There is no limit to the imbecilities of the young.)

Gaddis says (p.179) that Castro's English was 'hesitant' when he appeared on TV, but I remember him as spellbindingly fluent at Soldier's Field. The line that got the greatest applause, and that stuck in my mind for 47 years, was his promise that in Cuba there would be no slavish devotion to free enterprise: 'No bread without freedom', as he put it, 'and no freedom without bread'.

In retrospect, this seems a clear promise of repression: you'll get your freedom, compañero, just as soon as we have enough bread to go around. But if his listeners understood that, they were determined to overlook it. I had some good friends in Boston (the Italian North End, not the Irish South End) who in honor of Castro adopted US Army fatigues as their daily wear. They called the uniforms 'Fidels'.

After a considerable search (Castro evidently didn't make the impression upon the editors of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations that he did upon me and my Bolshevik friends), I found an account of his speech in the Harvard Law School Record for April 30. It's worth a read, especially if like me you prefer your history raw, unfiltered even by such an intelligent interpeter as Gaddis. Not having attended Harvard, I less amused and much more enthusiastic than 'Borden', the reporter from the Record. Still, he does capture the flavor of the evening. Ten thousand people! At a dollar apiece!

As for my 47-year-old quote, Borden renders it thus: "We want not bread without freedom or freedom without bread." Whatever! In hindsight, it still suggests the repression to come.


At 5:36 PM, Blogger said...

Dan, great insight. I agree that the raw documents and speeches uncover some interesting details. I look forward to reading it.


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