Day 1

Live from Havana

Havana, Day 1

The airport in Cancun is both a transition from San Francisco to Cuba and a cautionary tale. The food court screams out, Johnny Rockets! Starbucks! California Pizza Kitchen!  And the ubiquitous Duty Free, where I buy a few small bottles of American Whiskey for friends in Cuba.  In my day long journey, necessary due to the difficulties of travelling under the embargo (the embargo still exists, in spite of Presidents Obama and Raul Castro agreeing to loosen restrictions and move towards “normalization” of relations), gave me much time to meet a Spanish artist,  a Brazilian-American professor of Informatics, and members of the growing cadre of American tourists and travellers racing to Cuba “before it’s too late.” I assure them that Cuba’s transition will be incremental, and many of the things I love about this island—the music, dance, sport, and the joie de vivre—are not going anywhere. Or so I hope, being an optimist.

My good friend Javier met me at the Jose Marti airport with his older son, who does the lights and sound for Javier’s comedy performances. Javier is always my first contact on the island, and he fills me in on his family (his wife gives birth to a boy in 5 months!), the new photo exhibitions of our friends Rick Swig and Roberto Chile, and my Cuban cel phone, which he uses when I am not in country. As always, his young daughters have erased my contacts.

After settling into my casa particular, an apartment rented out by a local in Havana’s Vedado district (pre-Air B n B, Cubans have rented out extra rooms or empty homes to travellers for years), I meet my friend Ernesto Wong for dinner. Ernesto is a professor of linguistics at the University of Havana, is fluent in Spanish, English and French, and has a keen understanding of our cultural similarities and differences. He also serves as my translator, helpjng me not only with language but with cross-cultural subtleties that I sometimes miss. Our conversation sprawls from language stylistics to voting in Cuba and the U.S. (always interesting to see our system through the lens of an outsider) and the confluence of art, Cuba, the encroaching market, and free expression.

Saying goodnight, I strolled to La Rampa, one of Cuba’s first wi-fi hotspots, to check e-mails. Monday night is fairly slow at La Rampa; later in the week this 4-block corridor will be filled with people on their laptops and cels, communicating with friends and family on and off the island, gaming, managing their facebook pages.

Back in my casa a little after midnight, I discover that Anisa, the owner of the casa, had left a plate of sliced papaya, pineapple and guava in the fridge. I love this island.

- Ken