I got a voicemail from a friend who is a big cigar smoker. He said, with a plaintive note in his voice: "I can't believe you're going to Cuba again without me." After a few more grouses, he ended his voicemail with, "but have a good time. Just make sure you get it ready for me." And, I could tell, he sincerely meant it.
That wasn't the only envious comment I got. My country club's golf opening day was Saturday, a day-long event with a tournament and a big, outdoor grill-lunch after golf. Since I'm the food and beverage chairman there's a good reason, even beyond the golf, for me to be there. But I kept telling people I was going to miss it because I was traveling. When they asked where, I said, "Cuba." Without exception, it was like I touched a nerve. Everyone wanted to know why, and how easy was it, and how could they get there. There was a fire in their eyes, like they had dreamed for years about being able to visit Havana; some were cigar smokers, but not all. And they all understood why I, even as obsessed a golfer as I am, was missing opening day.
Havana occupies a mythical place in the minds of Americans. It has echoes of Valhalla, or El Dorado, Camelot or Atlantis. The capital of Cuba lives only as a mirage, a fantasy in the mind's eye for most citizens of the United States. They long for the opportunity to see it for themselves, to get a taste of the forbidden fruit, a pleasure that has been denied to them for more than 50 years.
I stopped years ago predicting when the Cuban trade embargo and travel ban might be lifted. Even if you accept the idea of the Cold War and that decades long struggle when Cuba was a satellite of the Soviet Union, the rationale for the embargo ended nearly 20 years ago. But the emotions among Cuban Americans still run high, and they may never accept the idea that the embargo should be unilaterally lifted.
That's too bad. Because in the lifting of the veil, Americans could see once and for all the wonders of the small island just 90 miles off our southern shores. It is a land unlike any other place in the world today, locked in a relative time warp created by a stalemate between two diametrically opposed political philosophies.
The tearing down of the barrier across the Straits of Florida also would trigger a celebration not seen since Berlin in 1989. Americans would be welcomed by the Cuban people. And, if the walls truly were obliterated, the Cuban people would revel in the chance to travel freely back and forth to a country that for them, has also been obscured behind a wall of political rhetoric.
But until the veil is lifted, Americans will just have to hold onto their fantasies and be envious of those of us who are lucky enough to get to travel to Cuba.