Past, Present, and Future
Socialism or Death!
That is what a wall mural outside Havana said as I was being dropped off at the Jose Marti Airport of Havana in a 1941 Chevy. But in experiencing the island country for five days, I too related to the statement of our host and Cuban filmmaker, Pedro Navarro, who believes that Cuba is rediscovering itself and at the edge of its best possible progress in over 50 years.
Cuba is a new frontier for American travelers but not for Canadians, Europeans, and those from other parts of the world. These travelers have been going there since the mid 90s. Old Russian and American cars and a capital full of buildings from another era can't distract you from the buzzing mix of art, culture, and history that defines the island. The amount of art in Havana was most surprising.
It's clear that art has maintained the soul and spirit of its people through its many challenging times in the past decades.
For example, a visit to the Factoria de Arte Cubana is an incredible intermingling of night life blended seamlessly with multiple gallery rooms filled with Cuba's soul and culture visualized. Seen throughout the city are the quiet byways where the Communist Party of the Castro brothers was never welcomed. Musicians spread joy in the restaurants and streets throughout the city as groups of younger generations gather in parks and along its well-known waterfront to sing and party.
A few decades ago you couldn't sell peanuts in the streets as our host informed us, but on my visit many small restaurants, night clubs, and homes that rent rooms known as "particulares" are seen through out Havana. FOR SALE signs on homes (that can be sold to other Cuban nationals) and even a spare-but-seen gay community, are small signs of a society in flux and gradual openness.
As I read in the state-sponsored paper one morning, the current Community Party leader, Raul Castro, reminded the people that a shift to capitalism was not happening...but the spirit of the city indicates slightly, and perhaps slyly, otherwise. But not to be naive, the presence of state-run enterprises and their political machine is obvious on every corner.
And don't forget the food! A cuisine defined by its rice and black beans, pan Cubano and butter, cafe Cubano, and its many delicious meat and pork dishes. But worry not, plenty of meat-free options are possible.
So, while in the past there was the Cuba that was limited in contact with people and cultures around the world, today Cuba shows itself while visitors learn along with locals. A recipe for a common human ground is welcomed by the stylish, joking, and confident manner of the island's patriots.
Take the trip!
Walk Old Havana. Bike the city. Have a cigar.
The Cuban people are festive and will keep you smiling. Book your reasonably-priced flight. Fill out the state department affidavit, get a tourist card at the airport, book travel health insurance, and discover in person this once isolated island that is soon to be a former communist state.