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James Suckling

Thoughts on Cuba

Posted: Feb 19, 2009 1:00pm ET
I was in Aljibe, the famous chicken, rice and bean joint in Havana last night, and ran into a couple of Americans who were on a fact-finding mission. I am not sure what they were looking for, but it was a little of the ugly American and it wasn’t pretty. I wonder how much of this will go on when the airports and docks of the city are open to my fellow countrymen?

Of course, the two beautiful local women sitting next to their tables were happy to see my fellow Americans. I am not sure that there was a meeting of the minds following our conversation.

Maybe it doesn’t matter? But there is a lot more to Cuba than sun, mojitos, music, pretty girls and cigars – not necessarily in that order. It’s why I brought my 14-year-old son to the island to listen and learn about jazz piano. And it’s why he wants to come back and is questioning his traditional education of classical piano.

Cuba is a place saturated in history and culture. Walk down the streets of old Havana and feel the centuries-old cobble streets under your feet. Look at the Spanish colonial architecture. Listen to the traditional jazz coming from the bars and smell the bouquet of Afro-Caribbean cuisine. To understand Cuba is to simply walk the streets, live in the city for a few moments. I hope you get the chance soon to experience it yourself.

The cigar embodies this magic of the island. The act of lighting and smoking a cigar is a symbol, a remembrance of what is special about Cuba. It gives you time to reflect on your life as well as the life on the island. I am not sure why I am so philosophical today.

Anyway, my Canadian friend who arrived at José Martí Airport yesterday afternoon was totally elated with the Ramon Allones Special Selection. The robusto satisfied in every way. “It was delicious,” he said.

My friend first came here 14 years ago, and he says that the “innocence” of the island has been lost already and that it seems in Havana that Cuba is competing for tourist dollars like every other island and beach in the Caribbean. Before, it was like falling down the rabbit hole into an Alice and Wonderland World of innocence and complacency, he said.

I guess we were thinking about the same thing last night. Good cigars and good minds often have a lot in common.

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