Havana is time travel. To a simpler time, an older time.
This—by proxy—makes things more difficult to deal with if you’re used to a Western mindset of “getting things done.” Being there forces you to align yourself to move with the ebb and flow. It is, in a word, inspirational. It makes sense to me that Hemingway and others made their way to the erstwhile hidden island, for it causes you to be, to think, to feel—in real time.
There the Caribbean winds refresh, blowing in with experience that remembers the small Cuban capital as it was in the 40s and 50s...basically the same as it is today. The feel is Carribean, just mid-20th century Caribbean.
The age is draped over the landscape. Old buildings look geriatric, some completely fallen in heaps. But while that is sad to some degree, it’s also incredibly endearing. Consequences are real there. Time shows itself in the wear and tear. The place isn’t done up to appear nicer, it just is at it is. And that is refreshing.
As an example, to get into the highly-recommended Paladar La Guarida for dinner, I had to pass a security guard only to find myself on the first floor of a dusty, unfinished building. As the second floor appeared over my horizon, the queerness of the building met me. An ornate room nice enough to be a ballroom sparkled...in the same building. Behind that room, in the heart of the building, were apartments. And far above, in the restaurant on the third floor, the gorgeous restaurant shown in brilliance. Old exists with new. Ornate with basic. Beautiful.
The city, like that building, casually boasts a perspective that seems not care who you are or where you’re from, only that you are. The warm breeze espouses this reality, bringing in acceptance and a richness that is slow.
Everything there is rich and so slow...except the music, of course, which is just rich. Any given evening all across Havana, and particularly in Old Havana, bands play on the street and at restaurants—indoor and out. It’s impossible not to dance as you move through the street. For many, it’s less like walking and more like swaying.
The place sultry and romantic just by being it’s calm, wild self.
And one of the things that’s most amazing to me is that I didn’t really even realize that the island existed. I knew it was there and had travel restrictions, sure. But I didn’t know that the country is as long as Florida is (from Pensacola to Miami) or that it’s so close that when you’re flying there it only takes 5 minutes for you to see the coastline once you’ve lost sight of the Florida Keys.
But now I know it does and I’m taken.
I love to wander Havana’s streets, buy fruit from random street vendors, and hole up in a small cafe to write. At night, dinner and dancing is my fancy, as well as taking a leisurely stroll with a beloved.
If you chance a visit, make sure that some of your time is spent learning, in your own way, about the culture and the people who carry that culture through the generations—for they are lovely, just like Cuba.