16 - 22 June 2017
"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
It's a place that's so easily romanticized.
I flew from Tampa to Havana on Southwest Airlines. The lead steward introduced himself. His name: Ricky Ricardo.
Not many people seemed to get the joke. For those too young to know, or are otherwise culturally stunted, Ricky Ricardo was a musician married to a zany redhead named Lucy on I Love Lucy, a TV show which originally aired from 1951-1957. Ricky was played by a real-life Cuban, Desi Arnaz, who was married to his co-star, Lucille Ball; the couple eventually had a son and he was affectionately referred to as "Little Ricky."
The show often had Ricky performing Cuban music in various classy night clubs. It was a different time.
Here's a bit of trivia: Desi's father was the mayor of Santiago, Cuba, where Desi was born in 1917. The Arnaz family lost everything in the Batista revolution of 1933 and fled to Miami. From there, Desi played the role of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes and becoming a major Hollywood star while riding on the appeal of Cuba's distinctive musical beats. Batista, in turn, would be driven out of Cuba in 1959, the end game of the Castro revolution.
Ricky the flight attendant didn't ham it up, he was serious. (Although it would've been funny if the female flight attendants were named Lucy and Ethel.) Indeed, his badge read, "Ricardo." Certainly the "Ricky" forename was merely a cutesy attachment, but after a 3-hour flight delay, I wasn't in the mood to engage him in a conversation to get the full scoop.
Much like Casablanca the movie versus the gritty Moroccan city, the reality of Cuba is much different from the Hollywood gloss.
The flight from Tampa to Havana is 75 minutes, gate to gate. It's the kind of flight where, while on the runway getting ready for take-off, the attendant informs passengers to check the menu and decide what they want to drink as quickly as possible. Once at 10,000 feet, they'll come through and take orders, deliver drinks, collect the trash, then get ready for landing.
Cuba is a mere 90 miles away from the Florida Keys. Even so, taking that 75-minute flight also involves a time zone change which requires visitors to set their watches back 75 years.
In this nutty exploration of a country lost in time, I spent six nights and stayed in three different hotels and four different rooms. By design.
For added impact, I wish I could saturate the following pages with a small portion of the sweat I poured out while walking around Havana taking photographs under the baking-hot sun — or even while waiting in stuffy, steamy hotel lobbies and dining halls. Alas, the words and the images will have to speak for themselves.