Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Papa and the Cuda

It can literally and figurative be said that Cuba stopped growing as a country in January of 1959. What Sharon and I experienced as we traveled from one city to the next and finally through Havana was a country locked in a time warp. There are generations of Cuban people who have never experienced the social, cultural, and political changes other countries have come to expect over the years.

We found this out on our cruise around the island several years ago. There is nothing romantic about a people and a country stuck in limbo with little hope for change on the horizon. The Obama administration tried to open relations with Cuba. The Trump administration slammed that door shut just as quickly.

It was eye opening to visit another country just 80 miles off our coast and yet to find it so different in a multitude of ways. One side goal of mine was to discover Papa’s hideaway and hopefully a Cuda on the side. I found one but not the other.

The Hotel Ambos Mundos was where Hemingway used to hang out when he was in Havana. The tourists are there every day along with some locals, all soaking up the ambiance and fading memories that match the framed pictures of the old man on the walls. It’s easy to image what it was like back then for Hemingway (nicknamed Papa) with his heavy drinking, womanizing, political intrigue, and pressing demands from New York publishers.

I’m struck with amazement as to how it got to be this crazy for this poor Caribbean country. A country literally and figurative stuck in time. It is horse and carriage competing for space with cars and trucks.

For those in the know and with enough cash, there are amenities galore. There are charming restaurants tucked away in narrow back streets that open up to wonderful courtyards. The people there are very friendly. The food is great and relatively cheap...if you can afford it.

The Cuban children are beautiful, energetic, and alive with life. This is the only life they know and their parents must dread the time they will begin to realize what the real world outside of their shores is really like. The internet is closely monitored and regulated.

The music of Cuba is alive with African drumbeats, gyrating sweating bodies and an energy that is almost palatable. It hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. It’s just been in remission since the late fifties.

At the Hotel Ambos Mundos, pictures of the old man are everywhere. This is supposed to be Cuba’s version of ‘Sloppy Joe’s’ straight out of Key West. In reality, it is a tourist trap that has managed to keep a little of the original ambiance of the times. They charge five dollars American to go upstairs and wander around the hotel room where Hemingway supposedly drank and slept and misbehaved when he was in town.

Cuba has done a good job of retaining its past, reclaiming its history and pretending it has a future. Some things haven’t changed for over fifty years. I’m trying to take in the sounds, smells, and sights from a writer’s perspective. There are a hundred million stories here. I just have to find them and see if they translate into something my audience might find interesting.

In the meantime, the beer is cold, the air is warm, and the girls are all pretty. What more could Ernest and I wish for….besides a ’67 Plymouth Barracuda.

One of the fun experiences while traveling around Cuba recently was seeing all the old cars of my youth cruising the boulevards of old Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Cienfuegos.

Each city was a classic car collection I hadn’t seen anywhere else even at our McCormick’s antique car auctions here in Palm Springs. Most carriages of my past fantasies were in pristine condition even if their innards had probably been changed over a dozen times or more. These were the fantasy chariots of my youth.

They were all there, the cars of my youthful dreams. All except the Barracuda. One consolation was the one and only ‘put me to sleep’ dream that carried me as a young man through high school and well into college. A 1955 Chevrolet Bel Aire convertible. Dreams sometimes do come true.

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