Back to Boston

family-vacations-bostons-public-gardensWhen I was five, we moved from Altoona, Pennsylvania to Boston so my dad could attend Gordon College.  We lived in a student apartment in the basement of the college which was located beside the park in front of the Isabella Gardner Museum.   I played in the park, went to Farragut School, and got to go to Saturday morning art programs for kids down the way at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  We’d attend church at Park Street Church and, when I was lucky, after church I’d get to ride the famous Swan Boats across the street in the Public Garden.

Four years later, when we moved to Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, I got teased unmercifully because of my Bostonian accent.  As if people from Philadelphia area talk normal!

My first year of college I went back to Boston.  By that time Gordon College had moved out to Wenham and among other discoveries developed a taste for steamer clams.  That and lobster … and I enjoyed more than my fair share.  So eventually I developed a shellfish allergy … I guess too much of a good thing.

One of the things I love about doing Canada/New England cruises is that it gets me back to Boston and usually a stop in Gloucester which is just down the road from Wenham. And this year once again I get to sail out of Boston on a Grand New England cruise to some of the best ports on the coast of Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  I’ve had fun working on my talks including a fun, new one “Cockroach of the Sea” which isn’t about another new RCCL mega ship but lobster which, way back when, because of its abundance and low-class reputation, was known as cockroach of the sea.  This is a “Lobster” cruise featuring, among other things, a down east lobster bake … and me allergic to lobster.

 

 

 

The Perils of Publishing

In some ways writing a book is like having a baby.  You think about it, conceive an idea, slog through gestation, then deliver the finished product … and wait, hoping everyone will ooh and aah.  Producing a book, unlike a baby, can be a DIY experience.  And frankly, I’ve always enjoyed do-it-yourself projects.  I like to learn and DIY is a great way to do it,  Doesn’t work for babies, and with other things sometimes it works better than other times.

Cuba_CoverAmazon’s Create Space operation allows would-be writers to create their own stuff: books, CDs, whatever.  It’s a more-or-less understandable program that works pretty well.  When finished,  your book can be almost instantly available on Amazon.  Unlike most self-publishing, you don’t have to buy a whole lot of copies that you will foist on your friends, try and sell at garage sales, and finally dump in the recycle bin.  Create Space prints books on demand.  So there is no inventory, and you’re never going to see books produced through Create Space piled up on remainders tables in book stores.  You order my book, it is printed then and there and shipped out immediately in one smooth operation.  For the writer this makes it possible to add information, change, and update your book easily.

So when you finally produce your book it’s out there.  Out there in public for everyone to see, adore or dispise … it’s out there.  As my gay friends remind me, “When you are out you are out.”  And as I’ve discovered in life, the only way not to be out there is to do nothing.  Writers, producers, actors, speakers, artists, cooks, politicians, celebrities, presidents and princes … anyone who produces anything, says anything, does anything outside of their own little shell … you are out there.

So, I happily produce my book on Cuba.  And I take a bunch with me PEARL SEAS on our voyages around Cuba and they sell like hot cakes.  People love the book!  They really do.  They tell me how much it adds to their Cuban adventure.

Then I get my first … and so far only … review on Amazon.  One star from a gal from Utah known only as D. Foster and the review is headlined, bold and it caps, “SAVE YOUR MONEY AND DON’T BUY THIS BOOK!”  Wow!  Talk about the kiss of death!!

Here’s what she says,

Don’t buy this book. This is terrible. I bought this book because of it title! I can go to the library anytime for a history lesson on Cuba for goodness sakes! The writer and editor have done a terrible job here, they repeat the same line verbatim of information throughout this book. There are numerous misspellings, problems with context and more.There are just a few pages out of 208 pages of pertinent information regarding what a person on a cruise to Cuba can actually use!  I have never been so disappointed in a travel book. SAVE YOUR MONEY!

She didn’t like it.

So I comment on her review, as you or anyone else can do.  I know that nobody is ever going to read the comments, but I just had to explain!

Wow! What a way to start! 

Seriously, thank you Ms. Foster for buying the book, carefully editing it, and taking the time to write a review. Granted, you should not judge a book its cover, or the title, which is why Amazon has wisely included the LOOK INSIDE feature which lets the reader take a look at what is inside the book, including the Introduction. Reading it, you see this is not a quote travel book close quote but a background book for a specific group of people, people who are cruising around the island of Cuba (which is about the size of Pennsylvania!) and not just doing a quickie 6-hour stop in Havana to be able to check Cuba off their country list. More specifically, it is primarily for U.S. citizens who are visiting Cuba under the restrictive and specific parameters of the Trump Cuba Presidential Order. Many U.S. visitors, unlike yourself, are unaware of the long and at times confusing history of the U.S. and Cuba and, to get the most out of their experience, need to understand that history. 

Amazon and their Create Space publishing arm is a great tool for writers, but it is possible, as happened in the case of the first few copies of CUBA, to hit a button and find out your book is published, out there for sale, before you are finished with it! Fortunately, books are printed on demand as they are ordered, which makes it possible to make changes, as I have on this book, now including [sorry, more history] about the new President, for the first time not a Castro. 

I am sorry the book did not live up to your expectations. Thank you for taking the time to read it and review it. The way Amazon works all reviews count, even ones that are not very enthusiastic. Enjoy your trip to Cuba! Regards, Richard

I thought it was a pretty gracious response.

Yep, I think she just bought the book without ever taking a look at what it was about.  Her bad.  My bad is that editing is tough for me and takes soooo much time, and so many read-throughs, and yes, I did press the wrong button and the book was out there before I was finished.  But since the book first suffered premature publication, Raul Castro has retired and Miquel Diaz-Canel is the new President of Cuba.  The Create Space DIY method made it possible for me to update the content of the book and include information about the “transfer of power,” which, being it’s Cuba doesn’t mean a whole lot, and correct those editorial problems which, in a manuscript, are crawling around everywhere like ants in Panama.

New Picture (3)So, corrections have been made, and the book is updated to include the current history, understanding that Ms. Foster doesn’t understand why a U.S. citizen visiting Cuba would have any interest in the history!

If you haven’t yet bought the book, please do so and then me and the rest of the world know what you think!  Yes, it’s true, the way Amazon positions books, even negative reviews help, not that I’m asking for negative reviews!

And if you bought the book from me on the ship, please write a review on Amazon!  Same page.  Don’t worry that you didn’t buy the book through Amazon, in fact just say up front that you bought it from me on the ship.  You can still review it.  Like it or hate it: I wrote it and I’m out there and eager to hear.

My book on the Great Lakes is also available, and I’m busy working on Canada/New England which should be available this summer.

 

This will be an interesting week for Cuba.

April 18, 2018 – Let me just add, you want to read a well-balanced, informative op ed piece in the New York Times by Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and executive director of Global Americans, entitled “We Shouldn’t Ignore Cuba.”

Raul Castro is expected to step down as President of Cuba and for the first time there will no longer be a Castro at the helm.  But not to fear, Raul Castro will remain the head of the Communist Party in Cuba which runs everything anyway.  But there will be a new face at the helm, a man who wasn’t even born when, as the Cubans always say, “the triumph of the Revolution” occured.  It will be interesting.

Castro Diaz CanelRaul when on the international, diplomatic stage, always dressed in a business suit, but when addressing the Cuban people he appeared in his military uniform.  Cuba is, after all, a military dictatorship.  The likely successor is  Miguel Diaz-Canel,  57, trained as an electronics engineer, but like many Cubans did something totally different than that for which he was trained.  He spent 30 years working his way up through the party to be the number-two man, in effect Raul Castro’s vice president and the second in command of the military, although he never appears in a military uniform, unlike his boss.  Sometimes when Raul was challenged by the Revolutionary elite he would say, “I am not my brother.”  In the case of the rapprochement with the U.S., Fidel had made clear that it was not his idea.  So maybe the fact that Diaz-Canel never appears in a uniform is a way of stating hat he is not Raul.

DSC_0227My sense is that while younger Cubans have great respect for “the triumph of the Revolution,” and the Castros, and the good things that have resulted from the Revolution, and face it, there have been some good things, younger Cubans are ready to turn the page and move on.  Make no mistake about it: Cubans are in love with Americans.  Maybe not the U.S. government, and certainly not with Donald Trump, but with ordinary Americans, the neigbhors next door, ordinary Cubans are in love with US.  Sure, they’d all like to hop on a plane and visit the U.S., maybe not to stay, but to take home as much of the culture, and commercial junk as they can.  Of course with China on the verge of stepping into the vacuum, they may get more commercial junk from China than they can possibly imagine!

My take is that there is a great vacuum in Cuba and someone is going to step in and fill that vacuum. The likely suspects are the Russia (yet again), China, or the U.S. neighbors next door.  The choice is ours.

PEARL MIST was the second ship to go to Cuba from the U.S. after Obama opened the door, and I have been on every trip except the first.  I think something like 15 trips, and in that time, about two years, there have been some interesting changes.

First, Cuba has just introduced ATM machines.  They only work for Cuban banks.  Due to the two hundred plus prohibitions of the U.S. Embargo there can be no financial interactions.  So the ATMs are new and Cubans are literally struggling to figure them out.

DSC_0238Second, there is a lot more begging for money, hand lotion, soap (they figured out this stuff is pretty easy for cruise passengers to come by), and a lot of this has been encouraged by well-meaninging U.S. Americans, some of whom genuinely want to share, and others of whom just like to strutt their stuff and get a kind of kick out of throwing what they don’t want to people in real need.  It’s a tough line to walk, and I keep urging the cruise line to come up with a way that folks can help in a way that is genuine and still respectful of the Cuban people and culture.

Third, and I’m sorry, but this is really sad.  One of the great things Obama did was to get Raul to open up Cuba to the Internet.  Now don’t think that everyone has Internet.  Less than 5% of Cuban homes have Internet.  No Mc Donald’s or Starbucks with free wi-fi.  But there ARE hot spots in the plazas, along Havana’s famed Malecon, some of the pedestrian streets in Santiago de Cuba.  These aren’t free.  You buy an Internet card with the tourist money. [There are two currencies in Cuba.  The local currency of the people, the CUP, each worth roughly the equivalent of 4 U.S. cents, and the tourist currency called the CUC which although it actually costs U.S. tourists 87 cents for one CUC, is roughly the equivalent of one U.S. dollar.]  So one hour of Internet access costs 1 CUC or the equivalent value of 1 U.S. dollar.  In a country where the average Cuban only makes the equivalent of U.S. $24 a month, Internet access is no bargain!  Yet Cubans are addicted already!

DSC_0226Wherein the past, in the cool of the evening, folks would gather along Havana’s famed Malecon seawall, known fondly as “the world’s largest sofa,” singing, socializing, drinking, sharing with friends, they now sit with their faces glued to their smart phones!  Same story in the cities great plazas.  Everyone under 50 sitting staring at their phones.  Texting is replacing talking.

So now what?  It will be an interesting week.  There’s a great article in THE TELEGRAPH, “Cuba prepares for life after the Castros.” And if you are thinking of seeing Cuba, now is the time to go!  And by the way, going on a monster ship that spends a few hours in Havana is NOT seeing Cuba.  No way  Jose!