As a preface to the next few blogs, I should explain that I spent the past 10 days driving around the island of Cuba with my father and grandfather. It was a very intense, if also brief, trip that took these 3 generations of my family back through our personal history as well as through the maze that is Cuba’s political, economical, and cultural reality. The following several blogs will represent an honest, though inadequate attempt to put that story and my experience into words.
The humidity feels like a blanket. At the Jose Martí International airport in Havana, basset hounds make up the K9 unit. The whole situation is like organized chaos; “locura con orden” as my grandfather says. The inside of the terminal looks like a makeshift import-export business with hoards of expatriate Cubans running neon-saran-wrapped bundles of goods passed ambivalent customs agents. In quantity, it would alarm and enrage those remaining stubborn proponents of the US embargo. In principle, it makes all too much sense. Economics are simply running their course.
The great Cuban experiment, that which has played out on that small island just 90 miles off the coast of the sovereign US soil since the revolution of 1959, is as tangible as ever. The taste may have changed and aged in the past 50 years, but the flavor is undeniably ever-present. Low, sea-swept clouds play games with the tropical sunlight as we drive across rickety roads. In typical developing world fashion, horse-drawn carts and hopeful hitchhikers crown the shoulders, sometimes wandering between the lanes of a sparsely populated and sluggish freeway.
For those with a mind to history, a certain feeling is quickly, though subtly evident--the smell of saltwater and fumes from ancient automobiles (running on aviation fuel) fill the lungs with it. It is the need to figure it all out. The island seems to echo, enveloping one’s mind with this great imperative to understand the reality of America’s Imperial City before it crumbles under the weight of pressing time and economic inevitability.
I have family on this island. Great Aunts and Uncles, their children and grand-children, who have waited sixty years for my grandfather to come home. They have heard stories about me, seen my pictures and heard about my life and the life of my family. And though we are connected by blood, we are separated by worlds of politics and culture and economics. Just 90 miles away, but somehow, there are these great things that could not be more different. Where in the world am I?