Cuba 2018

Memory and invention mix in Cuba

This is the continuation of a multi-part series on Cuba. Read the previous collection of vignettes: “Deciphering Cuba: Of streets, gardens, churches and kitchen tables”


“A woman can never forget”

HAVANA – It’s 9:45 a.m., and Lesbia is having breakfast. She is using her favorite mug, the one that Kiki, her husband, got her years ago. It says “the world’s best lover.”

While Lesbia dips a slice of bread in milk, I set my eyes on her hands. Today her nails are painted with a glittered pink polish. Yesterday they were burgundy. A couple of days before, as she sat on her porch doing her nails, she looked at me and said: “A woman can never forget to bring nail polish in her purse.”

Lesbia and Kiki have been married for 27 years, dividing their time between Havana and Matanzas, where they first met in 1990. In the early years, not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was in the middle of its economic crisis, the so-called “special period.”

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Deciphering Cuba: Of streets, gardens, churches and kitchen tables

This is the continuation of a multi-part series on Cuba. Read the previous collection of vignettes: “Of democracy, dogs, and WiFi: Scenes from Cuba”


Cuba through a cereal box periscope

HAVANA – Cuba’s capital is defined by its veneer.

American tourists experience Havana from the vantage point of a cereal box periscope. Freshly waxed Chevrolets from the 1950s, fine cigars and restored Spanish colonial buildings weave the veil draped over the true face of Havana.

The reality of Havana is rusted disparity.

Opening the hood of one of the well-polished classic cars will reveal the oil-burnt “Frankenstein” engine, a mashed mechanical spectacle of salvaged parts. The toilets flush in Havana but the bathrooms lack toilet paper. “Special forces” soldiers will casually walk the streets with barrel-chested bravado despite having only the training of a basic infantryman.

The veneer is kept polished and clean by Cubans themselves. Continue reading

Of democracy, dogs and WiFi: Scenes from Cuba

This is the continuation of a multi-part series on Cuba. Read the previous collection of vignettes: “Connecting with Cuba: Exploring Havana in the 60th year of revolution”


Finding clarity elusive

HAVANA – Sprawled on the beds at our guest house, we preach to each other about what we do and don’t get about Cuba, as though we could understand anything after three or four days.

After a failed attempt to connect to the internet at one of the public Wifi access spots, one of us says, “How can they live like this? Do they know the Arab Spring started over social media? How would they start a new revolution?”

We wonder whether Cubans are excited at the potential of a new political age after Raúl Castro steps down later this year, as he has said he will. And then we ask them, Do you want change? Does the government represent your point of view? Can you express yourself freely here? Do you want to stay or leave?

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Connecting with Cuba: Exploring Havana in the 60th year of the revolution

Tuning In

HAVANA — “I have been without email for two years,” Dani tells me as the music in the car skips. I’m trying to stream a song by Sylvan Esso while we ride in his 1976 Russian Lada back to the Vedado neighborhood where I’m staying. But even with my expensive cellular data plan, service is spotty.

“It’s not because I don’t have access,” he continues. “I just try to go without wifi.”

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