Going to Cuba isn’t actually illegal. You just can’t spend any money there. So I’m not technically admitting to a federal offense when I tell you that I’ve been there twice. You just have to imagine how I got along without spending an American dime over the course of some six weeks, total. Fasting and camping, I guess.
It’s easy to get there, actually. You just fly to Mexico and then hop a rickety flight to Havana. If you’re paranoid, you say “por favor, senor, no stamp.” The customs official just looks at you with a wrinkled bushy black unibrow and an expression that says, “si, obvio, this is what I do, Americano.”
But soon, it appears, a Cuban stamp on your passport won’t be a problem. Maybe it’ll be of Che. The little 50 year tiff we’ve been having is coming to an end.
Saying that this is bittersweet for me isn’t exactly right. It’s really just sweet. The embargo and all the related restrictions are among the stupidest and most counter-productive national policies we’ve ever devised. And yet…
I love the Cuba that I know so much, it truly pains me to imagine Cuba as just another country, slowly acquiring the same architecture, cars, goods, economic policies, inequalities, advertisements, social mores, and internet memes as the rest of the world. The embargo and the socialist policies have been like a damn, holding the globalizing forces at bay, keeping Cuba special. A place run under a completely different system, with completely different values. A place without a McDonalds.
In Cuba, there aren’t any advertisements. Just billboards that say things like “an enlightened community takes care of its plants.” Or there are signs affirming female equality. There’s no everyone’s-trying-to-sell-me-something-ironic-cynical-defenses. It seems like there’s no loneliness. Everywhere people are on the streets together, working together. No one’s on their smart phone. There are no smartphones. No one’s being wry or too cool. There’s no hipsters.
Cubans are ridiculously educated. You really do get cab rides from people who have PHDs in Neuroscience. And then they invite you out to talk politics or to dance.
The five-member nuclear families on 80cc mopeds; the pimp-ass 50s American rides. Men cutting boys hair in the streets or walking their coffins through the streets together. Body confident women in dayglo spandex, swaying. Children in their little school outfits, running. The music. The revolution.
The peeling paint, the crumbling buildings, the signs of time and inevitability everywhere. The beautiful perfect peeling paint, with its layers, ready to be pulled away.