Cuba, its Cars and Its People
I have always been curious about Cuba. My father lived there during the 1940s, a very glamorous time, and always spoke of Cuba as a place akin to paradise.
So I was thrilled when, at last I was able to go see Cuba for myself. And I am pretty sure that the place I saw was very much the place my father saw, almost 80 years ago, because it has been preserved, like an insect in amber. Its buildings are stunning, but often literally decrepit. Not the Royal Opera House, where prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso still reigns and which remains glorious. Soon, not El Capitolo, a replica of our Capitol, now under renovation. Not completely, the National Hotel, where one feels elegant ghosts roaming the halls. But the places where people actually live are often beautiful wrecks. They make the best of them, opening private restaurants called paladars, some of which are excellent. But the people should be able to live better in 2017.
The fabled cars of Cuba are fantastic. Fabulous neons, sleek lines, no seat belts. And they run sweetly. I was told, and believe, that Cuban car mechanics are the best on earth. But these cars belong in a museum. Or at least with other more up to date American cars.
The island is gorgeous--green and lush, surrounded by the bluest skies and waters. You can almost stand on tiptoe and see Miami from El Malacon, the waterfront. But you can't see many boats. As someone remarked, boats are complicated in Cuba. So fish is hard to come by.
I really enjoyed the people I met. Smart, fun, entrepreneurial, really interested and well versed in American culture. People frustrated by being stuck in a time defined by Castro's takeover and the Cuban Missile Crisis, when their decrepit buildings and beautiful cars were new. People who want to live in the twenty first century, who stand in long lines and pay a material portion of their monthly wages to access the internet. This Wired article says it better than I can.
The time is coming when keeping these people in thrall to politics will end. For one thing, Russians, Chinese, and Europeans are rushing in. But why let them have Cuba to themselves? Especially since Cuba is forty five minutes away?
Let's preserve the cars in a museum. Cuba's people belong with us, in the living world. But whatever you think, go visit. A splendid experience.