School vacations and diplomacy

Stephen Crowley/ NY Times

Stephen Crowley/ NY Times

But the driving force, according to sources at both State and the Vice President’s office, was that the president and first lady very much wanted a family trip, and the March 20-23 dates coincided with spring break at Sidwell Friends School for daughters Malia, who’s been studying Spanish, and Sasha

How much world diplomacy comes down to school vacations? from this interesting article in Politico about Obama’s trip to Cuba.

Havana Cathedral

The Obama family made the requisite tourist stops, including the city’s grand Cathedral, built in 1777 from blocks of coral; they took a walking tour led by Havana’s remarkable official historian, Eusebio Leal. Despite failing health and being in considerable pain, Leal gamely guided the Obamas through historic Havana in and around the Plaza de Armas.

The buzz of la bola en la calle—Cuban street gossip—was that the visit had prompted previously unimaginable upgrades to parts of the capital. Every building that the Obama entourage passed had been repainted, and every road his limousine traversed had been repaved. Some streets were still being paved and re-striped just hours before his arrival. “Come visit us,” cried out residents of neglected, pot-holed barrios in what became a weeklong running joke, “y llevar el asfalto!” — “and bring the asphalt!”

leal_eusebio

Eusebio Leal

from an interesting profile of Leal in the Washington Post:

Eusebio Leal, a diminutive, silver-haired man in a dark suit, sips sweet Cuban coffee in an elegant salon of the Cuban Interests Section mansion on 16th Street NW and recalls the day they began calling him crazy in Havana.

The year was 1967, in a country not known for rewarding dissent, and Leal, then 25, was relatively new on the job as a city preservationist. He was leading a project to skin the asphalt off a historic street, revealing the original wooden surface, and he had a special load of vintage wood to restore the centuries-old grandeur. But government officials told him the street would have to be paved over immediately so it could be used for an important diplomatic visit.

The next morning, crews came to do the work — and Leal lay in front of the trucks to save the street.

“The mayor had to come to persuade me,” Leal recalls in his deep voice, through an official interpreter. “I didn’t get up until he guaranteed that we could complete our work. He kept his word. It was a very tense moment. Then they started saying I was a madman — but in that kind of aspect in which being a madman is a good thing.”

(Is Havana Cathedral the largest building made of coral in the world?)  As for this picture:

Obama and raul

AP photo

As the conference streamed live, Cubans watched a flustered Raul lose his cool, then abruptly end the news conference and march over to Obama to raise his arm in a victory salute. A bemused Obama was having none of it, and let his arm dangle. “Oh my god,” said a former Cuban diplomat. “It made Raul look weak. No one here has ever seen anything like that.”



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