In the late 1980s, with one wintry week off, my boyfriend and I decided to go to a resort. We found a last-minute deal in Cuba.
Our fellow passengers on the flight were mostly labour union people. Many had been in Cuba often, on educational tours and seminars as well as vacations at the resort we were going to. The tour company had some kind of link to Ontario unions.
The only one on its bay, the resort was comfortably small and uncrowded. It was between Havana and Varadero. Guests were mainly Canadian and German. Good food, a cottage near the water. The usual things to do. A pool, theme parties, tennis courts, and the ocean. Bus excursions were organized to visit the countryside, small craft shops and people. A riding stable was next door.
We took the local bus to Havana for a day. A woman invited us to eat with her family after she and my boyfriend talked in Spanish outside her house on a downtown side street. Her kids wanted to know about North America, we wanted to know about Cuba.
We went to a Hemingway bar – a famous little hole in the wall, the Bodeguita del Medio. Mojitos are the specialty. Decades of drinkers have scratched their autographs into the walls. We did also, and bought a t-shirt. We walked along the Malecón, looked at the beautiful crumbling old buildings, the dance clubs and theatres from Havana’s heyday as an American playground. Before Castro, before the embargo. Vehicles filled the streets. But the only newish ones were Russian. The others were from 1950s America, engines rumbling the way only old V-8s do.
At the resort, we saw how the cars were kept running. A man had the hood of his car up, working on it. So we went over to watch. Pretty much everyone with a car knew how to make some parts, he said, or adapt them. Metal fabricators specialized in making engine parts. With string, wire, metal and wood, those cars kept going. They sounded and looked like the pride of Detroit.
Americans in Cuba, again
The half-century old embargo likely will be lifted now. American hotel executives are with Obama on his trip to Cuba. Deals are being made. American tourists will join the Canadians and Europeans on the beaches. New cars will be sent. I think it’s been long enough now that everyone knows the museum value of the American cars kept alive in Cuba longer than anywhere except the garages of classic car collectors. The cars are not of intrinsic value as examples of their model, however, having few original parts anywhere in them. Their worth is as works of art, industrial art perhaps. They show the ability of machine and mechanic to stay operational. Adaptation and invention are highly developed skills in Cuba. I hope they survive.