We met last time in summer 2012 and you left few months later.
I often think about you, with love and happiness, and we miss you a lot.
You’ve been an amazing travel companion and a wonderful man: genuine, cheerful, patient. You made us live the real soul of Cuba, the one hidden by the immense resorts on the coast and the one in which tourists are not interested in, firmly convinced that what you see in the hotels is what the island has to offer.
I remember your wife drinking beer and the tales about your sons, the inappropriate way in which you cured your diabetes.
I’ve always had a weakness for Cuba and, since I was a child, I completely destroyed my parents trying to convince them to bring me there. And finally I won!
One of the things that my parents taught me since the very first trips of my life, was the difference between a traveller and a tourists, and the main “contraindication” to come to Cuba for them consisted exactly in this distinction. In other words, they thought that Cuba was a real tourist attraction, in particular for Italians (in the worst sense possible).
I was sure, instead, that the place could offer much more. I’ve always been a “revolutionary” character and I was deeply fascinated by all the historical events and the ideological and political turmoil of the Island, the myth of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
Today I want to tell you how things have changed since you left, and maybe you’ll be happy. At least not thinking at the long-period consequences for your beloved Cuba.
When we arrive in Cuba, there still were two currencies: one used by Cubans, one by tourists. And there still were the rationing cards, the lines in front of the bakeries and the clothing “shops”.
When I think about Cuba, the very first emotion I feel is a sense of melancholy. When you speak about the island with someone, no matter in which country he lives, the idea is always the same: Cuba is a wonderful place because it is in the Caribbean, people are always happy, they dance and sing and play instruments and they have the typical heart and soul of southern populations.
But what I perceived when I was there, is that this stereotyped image is completely mistaken. At least, it is a sort of mask for a deeper and hidden sense of suffering and pain. I remember a dinner on a patio, we were just us three in the entire restaurant, and there was a man playing guitar. We asked him to come to our table and play with us. We tried to make him speak, but it was like the only way for him to express himself was to play that guitar. He knew every song in the world and he was amazing, but his eyes and his words and the way in which he was playing were telling us the truth. He was tired out of life in Cuba, of being far away from the rest of the world, completely excluded or in the dark, comparing to what was happening in other countries. In that moment I realized that music and dance for Cubans was a way to lighten the burden of their lives.
Another thing I remember was the obvious difficulty in speaking about Fidel and his regime. It was not possible to meet someone for a coffee and immediately asked him an opinion about it. We spoke only with the few brave ones, who became our friends. The general trend was that at the very beginning everyone usually said “Yes, of course I support Fidel, he made big our country”. And, truly, there were people sustaining the regime because they believed in it. I’m speaking for example about Eugenia, that we met in Trinidad. We slept in her home and she was a very good cook: she made me eat fried plantain (platano in Spanish) for the first time. And I fell in love with it: it’s like eating chips, but they’re a kind of bananas. One afternoon, when we came back home, we found her watching Fidel speaking at the TV. So, we asked her to speak about him and she told us “I’ve always supported Fidel Castro and I will always do that because when you listen to him is like listening to a father speaking to his sons.”.
Many others, instead, told us that they didn’t want the regime anymore, because the world was going faster and faster and they were completely out of the global dynamics, so tourists were the only way to get closer to the world. They were deeply asking and hoping for an opening (but they couldn’t publicly tell that).
And when we speak about living in a paradoxical situation, because Cuba was in the world, but out of the world, I have to mention an anecdote.
In the way back to Havana, at the end of our trip, we drove along the only highway present in Cuba, at least at that time. In the boredom of the situation (hours and hours of driving along the same straight and wide road), our attention was captured by a “detail”. Aside the road, on the grass, there were huge iron cylinders with prongs, all rusted. Astonished, we asked you, Cristobal, what they were. And your answer, for me, was telling of the Cuban paradox: “That cylinders were ordered by the government in case of a sudden attack by the US force. This highway is actually a strategic-military strip (“una pista estrategico-militar” in Spanish). So they have to be used to obstacle the landing of US aviation.” And we were in 2012.
Cuba has also a very magical and almost sacred halo, conveyed by all the monuments dedicated to Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, the Revolution and the people dead for it. When we went to visit Che Guevara’s mausoleum I’ve been pervaded by thrills. There was a huge square, in the middle of which was standing an immense statue of Ernesto with a shotgun in one hand. The walls of the grave’s room were rocks and there was no light, except for the one released by the candles around it. The room itself was not very big. I stopped in there for some minutes and I felt peaceful. All the regime’s propaganda, the myth emerged all over the world about Che’s ideas and ideology and also the economic speculation about it (T-shirts, pins, bandannas and so on), disappeared at once in my mind. And I felt a sense of respect and dignity and pride in front of the grave of such a man, that has been used through generations as a means of making money. Maybe these words could appear banal or supposedly respectable, but I assure you that the emotions I felt in that moment could only be explained at the light of a trip in the real Cuba. That mausoleum has a real meaning, and it’s not another sign of an “utopia” that took place and handful of years ago.
Today, dear Cristobal, the situation is completely different and your Cuba (and also my Cuba) is opening to the world.
I remember that, already in 2012, there were huge resorts in the most beautiful places of the island, along the cost, and when I accidentally went in one of them, it seemed to me to be in a kind of chicken livestock. There was an embarrassing quantity of food, everywhere, at any time (and I immediately thought about the rationing cards for Cubans); at the arrival the receptionists gave clients bracelets of different colors on the basis of their reservation; the hotel was so big that a sort of golf cart was necessary to get to the room. It was awful.
In 2015 the American embassy in Cuba, and the same for the Cuban embassy in the US, has been reopened thanks to the intense work of three historical and revolutionary personalities: Papa Francesco, Barak Obama and Raul Castro.
Always in 2015, the first US ferry moved from Florida to Cuba.
The 3rd May 2016, Karl Lagerfeld organized for Chanel the first fashion show in Cuba, that took place in Havana, at Paseo de Prado (just in front of the place in which we met the very first time).
A lot of celebrities were there and also one of the nephews of Fidel was there and, besides, he modeled in the show.
Jess Glynne, a British singer, filmed the video of her last success in Cuba.
I don’t know, Cristobal, how you would react to this deep changes. Maybe you’ll finally be happy to see the world visiting your home. Maybe you would think that it is an opportunity for your sons and your wife to improve their lives and live in a better environment.
As my little experience teaches me, unfortunately, these kind of processes, that are too fast and sudden and unexpected, can lead to bad consequences if not managed appropriately.
I truly hope that life for Cubans will get better, but I also know that the world has gone too far in these years of Cuban closure. The impact will be enormous.
I would like not to see the development of a crumbling modernity.
And I truly hope that Cubans won’t lose their minds and get crazy, following international trends that they’re not able to welcome at this early stage. I hope that the government won’t permit the foreign companies to open fast foods and destroy the immense cultural heritage that made the young generations of the entire world dream.
Cuba, as I saw it, is a wonderful diamond and I want to remember it for the emotions it made me feel, no matter what is going to happen in the next 5 or 10 years.
I want to remember you like this.
Maybe, dear Cristobal, you’ll tell me I was right!