BY ANDREA GOLLIN | Miami Herald
WALKING TO GUANTANAMO. Richard Fleming. Commons. 351 pages. $27.
With great clarity, Richard Fleming describes the people he meets and the conditions he finds on a walk-about.
First-time author Richard Fleming chose a novel method of fighting depression: He self-medicated by traveling across Cuba. An unusual decision, maybe, but it’s a lucky choice for us, because Fleming has produced a fascinating, wry, vividly detailed and elegantly written account of a trip that no one else is likely to take.
Walking to Guantánamo is the narrative of his trip; The Road to Guantánamo: Images from a Journey through Cuba (Commons, $30) is the forthcoming annotated companion volume of photographs, to be published in January.
Fleming is a documentary film sound recordist and sometime DJ who was in his late 30s with a thriving career based in New York City, a ‘‘wonderful girlfriend,’’ great apartment and plentiful opportunities for exotic travel. Yet, after a serious illness contracted while working in Haiti, he had descended into a depression in which, he writes, ``what I perceived as the nightmarish mediocrity of my existence assumed life-threatening proportions.’‘
Then he came up with the idea of walking the length of Cuba. ‘‘I just have to do this,’’ he told his girlfriend. And so he did, armed with a hand-held GPS device he didn’t know how to use, inadequate maps and a body completely unprepared for the physical rigors of the trip.
What he did have was an abiding interest in Cuba and its people; a deep knowledge of and curiosity about the country’s music; a rabid birder’s determination to add such specimens as Fernandina’s flicker and the rose-throated parrot to his life list. He had a a fascination with spirituality, particularly Santeria, Palo and Voudo; fluency in Spanish as well as the ability to speak Haitian Creole; and a seemingly uncanny ability to connect with and befriend all sorts of people, from gifted musicians to Santeria priests to the local bike repairmen.
It’s not giving much away to report that Fleming didn’t succeed in walking the entire time. Nor is it a spoiler to reveal that his depression didn’t magically waft away as his plane touched down in Havana’s airport. And although his quest is over, and many of his somewhat rosy preconceptions of Cuba as a ‘‘viable alternative to the rampant, self-destructive consumption and cultural mediocrity of the median American lifestyle’’ don’t survive the trip, one suspects that this strange journey will reverberate through his life for years to come, particularly in terms of the friendships forged along the way.
Andrea Gollin is a Miami-based writer and editor.
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