Cuba

cuba1

Just a little report on that garden paradise called Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

First let me explain the reason for this trip, which was not sun and sand, but more of a fact-finding mission. My husband is one-quarter Cuban and an indirect descendant of their first hero, General Ignacio Agramonte, the Liberator from Spanish rule in the 19th century. The family left in 1870 for the US. Charles was looking for family information to put into the book he is writing for our children. There has been an incredible connection between Europe, Cuba and America since 1492.

The name General Agramonte got us many admiring looks from the Cubans we met — all from the intelligentsia, academia, and the visual and performing arts communities. If you were to judge Cuba by these people, living in charming villas and flats facing the sea or nestled in historic pre-revolution homes (behind locked gates), you would believe that you were in the land of true nobility. It is a bit Swiftian in a sense. The Revolution is always in the frame as it stands for the break that was made in 1958 from previous history, or so they have been led to believe.

Communism creates new masters, and perhaps they have a more moralistic component, but Cuban society is still divided by class, income, education, gender and skin colour, but like most things it is not entirely straightforward. Everyone is taught to revere Fidel and they are still in shock that that the Soviet Union fell and abandoned them to their Caribbean fate in the 1990s. They talk about capitalism quietly (which has been evolving for the last ten, fifteen years or so)
and they want it. They want to live in a pleasant place, they want to have families. They want to travel freely. They also want free education and universal health care. They want good paying jobs, which is something the Revolution does not give them. At the same time they want the moral assurance that THE REVOLUTION gave them. It is a conundrum.

The same story is told by everyone, but with a charming smile and a winning attitude. The Americans dominated Cuba, unfairly,and the Mafia ran the island and sent the profits back home to the Godfathers, headed in the Cuban enterprise by Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. This made me run back to my basic Mario Puso from the 60s.

20130626Okay…on to the joys. The Saratoga Hotel is five star by Cuban standards, three-and-a-half by European, but delightful nonetheless. A Cuban breakfast is cross current of Cuban pastries (they love sugar); European cheese and meats; and American eggs and bacon. Our room (and we had to resort to INFLUENCE to get one of these) was clean, spacious, had a Cuban style Nespresso machine, a spacious bathroom and a safe! Our team of guides (minders) consisted of two of the most charming young men you could ever meet. Kind, eager to please, incredibly intelligent and a bit confused about the rest of the world. As we travelled on our British passports, we were assumed to be members of the British nobility and treated as such. I naturally played this to the hilt and dressed fully in white linen or silk at all times and sported a Panama hat.
We went to wonderful small hidden restaurants with excellent food, though always accompanied by the national dishes, Explore-Cuba-2rice and beans, yucca and roasted taro. I learned to love roasted taro root. We visited Museums, artists’ homes, a coffee and tobacco farm (no farm by law can be larger than ten hectares, which of course makes it impossible to have an economically sounds agricultural system). They have the best cigars. They are the largest owners collectively of
American cars from the 50s in the world. We visited with musicians and they performed for us privately — everything from Rachmaninov to Afro Cuban rhumba and the Cha Cha Cha, which of course they invented. We drank 12-year-old rum after dinner, which is mucho gusto and concluded every encounter with hugs and kisses all around.

The Cubans are a wonderful people with a rich history and culture. The Soviet Union gave them a love of the classical ballet, Russian 19th century music, and a melancholy feeling that those heady days of Fidel and Che are fading fast and that they must develop a new reality.

To book your amazing visit, contact Tanja (a delightful and brilliant half-Dutch, half-Irish young woman, married to a Cuban musician) at tanja@incloud9.com. She made everything work like the finest timing mechanism.

Kaaren Hale

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