J-F had asked me to pack playing cards, and, well, I forgot. On some level I was thinking, "Why would we need cards on vacation in Cuba?! There are other, better ways to spend our time."
On the whole, I think I was right. We survived the tedium of the airport; it was only once we'd reached our final destination, when we saw some people playing cards at a table in the hotel lobby, that he was reminded and he asked me, and I remembered that I'd forgotten.
On the whole, I was right. There was no time for cards. You don't bring cards to the beach, or poolside. "Free" time, "downtime," was spent napping or watching CNN. Time at the bar was spent talking. We talked. Quite possibly more than we have in years. It was only very occasionally that a lull would fall over us, and it was a comfortable lull, though one or the other of us might say, "Too bad we don't have a deck of cards," only half-heartedly meaning it.
It wasn't till the last day that we meant it.
On the last day, we check out by noon, with six hours to kill before boarding a bus for the airport. Relieved, emotionally and logistically, that this should be the first cool day we'd experienced. It was easier this way to not wish we were at the beach; easier also to wear jeans and sensible shoes. But it was early evident that we should do something more than quietly drink mojitos all afternoon.
We have 11 pesos (convertibles) to spare. We check the hotel gift shop. No souvenir playing cards, or playing cards of any kind. Against J-F's remonstrances ("We might really need another peso or two!") I spend one and a half pesos on a souvenir bookmark, for myself (I had to!). Two more pesos on a pack of Lucky Strikes to enjoy with another round of mojitos.
Let's check the gift shops on the strip. Dominoes everywhere, but no cards. (What about canasta? Doesn't the whole world love to play canasta? Didn't the Ricardos play canasta?) We've gone the length of the strip and into the town proper. We go into the shopping mall, which has more-regular stores such as locals (what few of them there are in these parts) might patronize. No cards at the grocery or the toy store.
We try a shop that's displaying an odd combination of children's books, stationery supplies, and souvenir trinkets. There's one pack of cards in a glass display case, locked. The cards are miniature (about half the size of usual). The fronts of the cards appear to be unspectacular. I believe the backs are marked "Cuba," but because of the angle I can't be certain. We have to ask for the price. About 6 pesos (~$7 Canadian).
The afternoon is near gone by now. We opt to save the pesos for a snack at the airport.
J-F spends the rest of the day fantasizing how we will defect to Cuba, open up a shop, a house of cards. (Certainly, his surname hints that he is destined for this life.) There will be souvenir cards with landscapes and landmarks, cards with beach scenes, cards with topless beach scenes, and cards depicting Che. Regular cards and miniature cards and novelty cards, for Cubans as well as for tourists.
The fantasy gets us back to the hotel, and through one last mojito. It carries us to the airport, and through a couple more hours of waiting. It rides with us all the way home.
It's a nice fantasy. We talk about it still, every day.
I learn now from The World of Playing Cards that, in Cuba, cards have been banned since the revolution.
My research into the matter has been fruitless. I find one document asserting that playing cards were quite popular after the defeat of Batista, and those featuring revolutionary leaders were traded much in the manner of cards with sports figures. A card with Commander Camilo Cienfuegos was more valuable than one with Castro (Camilo mysteriously disappeared later that year). I surmise that this fact may also play into the disappearance of cards from Cuba.