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I have the tendency to wallow. I know it’s counterproductive. I know it’s no fun to be around. I know it produces ulcers and zits, but all these years, try as I might, I’m still a focus-on-the-bad-shit kinda gal. So I’d like to take this opportunity to look on the bright side and be a positive force for once.
There is much to love about this island. Here are some of my favorite things.
The way the palm trees smell after it rains
5 cent cigars
No McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, or Mormons
Drinking little cups of sweet, black coffee around the kitchen table with friends
Yucca with mojo
The music – from Pancho Amat to Pancho Terry, Los Van Van to Los López-Nussas.1
How anything under the sun can be fixed and rendered functional
Young men helping little old ladies off the bus and other helpful gestures among strangers
The Malecón (of course)
Going to the stadium and watching the Industriales lose!2
How it can’t be considered a party unless people are singing and dancing
Almost anything grows (artichokes and asparagus notwithstanding)
Having turquoise water and white sand beaches 20 minutes away
Free health care – what’s better than that?!
How affectionate men are with each other
Recycling every single thing
Organic veggie markets
Telling the US to put it where the monkey put the shilling for 50 years – something no other country has had the ability (not to mention the cojones) to do.
1. Pancho Amat just sends me. A virtuoso tres player and musicologist, this guy is a must see/hear. I’d hyperlink to YouTube or something for easy listening, but my dial up can’t handle it.
Pancho Terry is formally trained as a violinst, but rose to greatness as director of the orchestra Maravilla de Florida and later as a chequere player. Recognized as the world’s best, he’s played with the inimitable Tata Güines, Changuito, and Bebo & Cigala.
Los Van Van are a super star salsa group known as the “Rolling Stones of Cuba,” they’re that great. I’ve seen tons of free concerts by these folks over the years; you might get lucky the next time you’re in town.
Los López-Nussas are an entire family of musical prodigies. Ernán López Nussa is a jazz pianist, while his brother Ruy López-Nussa is a jazz drummer. In turn, Ruy’s son Harold López-Nussa is a classical/jazz/rock pianist who won Montreaux at the absurdly young age of 22 and his brother, Ruy Adrián is a virtuoso drummer.
2. The Industriales are the NY Yankees of Cuban baseball. Either you love ’em or you love to hate ’em.
3. Cucuruchos are cones of sweetened coconut sold along the highway en route to Baracoa in Guantánamo Province.
This is dedicated to the one I love…..
56 responses to “Things I Love about Cuba”
Thanks for the music recs! I will try to check them out. We are big fans of the Ry Cooder album Buena Vista Social Club, not new by any means but still loooove it. I am digging your writing, sistah!
Double thanks!! Not only for the compliment on the word play, but also for an idea for a post: Conner’s Cuban music recs….there is a whole wide world of terrific music being made here. Look for it soon.
Love this list. Tell us about a day or a night on the Malecón. I want to feel why you love it. -Tessa
Hi Tessa — no plans to write about the Malecón anytime soon Im afraid (death, yes. Malecón, no). You’ll just have to come expereince it for yourself!
Let’s plan on it, yes? Maybe December?
December is a fabulous time to be here – Film Fest, Jazz Fest, lettuce!!
Always nice to get a big dose of the light with the dark. Keeps a healthy balance. Your list makes me jealous, I want to come play…
hee hee….my plan is working!!
You deserve a vacation mama!!
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i’d like to live in Cuba too in the future,after 10 years vacations over there
I’m a 50-year-old American financial writer, living in Malaysia. Cuba came up in a conversation today among the expats in Penang, an island off the coast of the mainland.
How long have you lived in Cuba?
Can one live there for many years? I’m considering Cuba as my next destination. My friend from Switzerland is intrigued, as well.
Im going on 10 full time years here. It is difficult (but not impossible) to get residency here. If you poke around past Here is Havana posts you probably learn more than you ever wanted to about life here.
I love your site. You’ve done a great job.
I’ll cruise around to read more of your posts. I read about the PayPal problem. LOL The US is just another bully on the block. Now the bullying will be directed at the people who pay for this nonsense. 😉 It’s why I left for Malaysia. The people are very nice here, especially the Muslim Malay.
Thanks Dominique! It’s great to hear from other expats here. Any other Here is Havana readers living outside their birth country?!
Okay, everyone fess up! Where are you hiding?
I have liver cancer trying to find out how to maneuver payment for chemo in cuba. I am an American citizen I have the money to pay for chemo I love cuba and have been there mahy times
Hi Jim. Sorry to hear about your illness. The three hospitals to check out with service for foreigners are: Hospital de Oncologia (they have a ward for foreign patients, I believe), La Pradera and Cira Garcia, all in Havana. You’re probably aware that due to the US embargo, US authorities prohibit US citizens and residents from legally accessing medical care here. The exception is emergency medicine while here visiting. This week three separate people from the USA have consulted me about accessing health care here and it enrages me that life extending/saving medicines and procedures available in Cuba are not available to everyone. The embargo is a failed policy, with 60 years of complete failure. Its time to try something new. Sorry for the rant. Best of luck with your treatment.
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I love the smell of a tropical area after the rain, too! And who doesn’t like a cheap cee-gar?
Indeed! And those cheap cee-gars? Im liking them to the tune of two or three a day.
Tell Jim Thomson to find a doctor who knows how to give him Intravenous ascorbic acid, a la Linus Pauling. In Cuba, they’ll can do that. And I cannot respond to him, it seems.
You make me homesick for a home I’ve never been in. I’m a Cuban poet in the Midwest and stumbling upon this blog helped give me a taste of “home” Thank you 🙂
No, Thank YOU: my book proposal for Here is Havana was rejected by its first agent yesterday, but comments like these make me feel like Im doing at least a little something right. Have you subscribed to the blog? I only post a couple of times a month and I would love to remain on your radar!
That is absurd that they’d reject your book 😦 I believe that I have subscribed but I shall do doublecheck. You are most certainly on my radar
I like your blog, but, I read that one thing you love about cuba is that there are no walmarts? mmmmm I wonder why you say that. I mean, I believe that most cubans would love to have a store that is one tenth as big as walmart…
Of course they would love a store like this bc on the surface it looks great: lots of stuff! dirt cheap! but the consolidated costs of Walmart: on labor, on the environment, on social fabric (pushing main street/local enterprises out of businesses) isnt worth it in the long run. Im quite sure there will be one here one day, in which case Im moving to my second favorite island (where they’ve actually succcessfully blocked some, not all, big box stores).
Also, while the Cubans would love this, as people never fail to point out here: Im not Cuban.
Liek WalMart? Check this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caV-m1wq6Vc&feature=share&list=UUTlbskr8TIHHwGnjYWLnXNw
There are no WalMarts in Essaouira, Morocco, either. I’ve been living here for 3 months, and there is no evidence of anything multinational or chained, except for a few banks and a Coca-Cola.
I think I’d feel sick if I ever went back to the US. Having lived in Malaysia and, now, Morocco, going back to a sterile life of overly cautious and socialized people, it would be tough on me to go back.
The US has become a budding police state, and that bothers me. I’d rather deal with corruption than experience being pulled over by some 90-IQ cop in a military-like uniform. And missing out on a WalMart ‘bargain’ suits me fine. It’s no bargain, and never was.
Love that town! You’re lucky to be living there. Im very intrigued by post 9-11 movements of US citizens to live elsewhere. Feels like many people feel the same way you/I/we do….Maybe some day when I get big fat advance Ill write about it. hahaha.
How do you know about Essaouira?
It’s very nice, but if you have no Western friends around, it can get lonely. For the most part, Moroccans can’t stop thinking about the money you may have to buy something from them. It’s not terribly wise to become friendly with a local until you’ve been around for a while. Most pose as friends of yours, but they are really off-the-books guides, who make commissions referrals.
The weather is almost perfect each day, approximately 25 C, sunny, with a breeze. The food is very good, cheap and healthful, but it maybe not be as cheap as food in Cuba. Markets are everywhere and the coffee is great! Eight dirhams ( a buck) for a cafe au lait at a tourist hangout.
If you want to learn French, this is the place to be. The accent is very good, very close to the Parisienne accent. The first thing I learned to say is: Ne triche moi pas.
Morocco is Muslim, but not many seem to adhere to any of it, similarly to how Christians have strayed in the States. There’s drinking and the same ol’ stuff you’d find in the U.S. Apparently, too, the relationship between the Moroccan government and the US is good and longstanding. I don’t know whether that is good or bad. LOL Incidentally, Morocco was the first country to recognize America’s independence.
Since, the worst of the global solvency crisis has yet to reach US shores, I’m afraid living outside the US could last quite a long time. When a country allows airport personnel to grope women and children before they may fly, there is something seriously amiss–and I know what it is, and I try not to dwell on it too much. The depths of the economic Depression could become quite deep and protracted.
It was good while it lasted, but the party is over. And if anyone thinks it is not, they should be reminded that denial is not a river in Egypt. But life moves on outside the States.
Ive traveled quite a bit (in my life pre Cuba – now, it’s too expensive for the most part) and I have very fond memories of Morocco. Enjoy!
yup. 21 years – same vote, same result. makes me feel a wee bit hopeless in the face of the USA. Luckily, we’re used to having their boot at our neck
Washington has become scared, losing influence each day. Anything could happen following a new reserve currency arrangement in the coming years. The US could use 12 million educated Cubans. Some day.
I have a question about banking. I read there are no banks to draw money. How does a foreigner sustain himself? Fly to a Florida teller machine?
Hola Dominique. This makes me laugh. Like ‘I heard they eat children in Cuba’ (very pervasive this one); ‘I hear they don’t let Cuban Americans back out once they visit the island,’ and ‘I hear there are tanks on the corners.’ Ive heard every one of these tall tales at one time or another…
There are banks but no US banks – not even forgeign banks with ANY US connection whatsoever (this is the extraterritorial part of the embargo which, along with other sovereignty-impinging statutes, is what makes the US embargo of Cuba the harshest in the world). So HSBC, for instance, which is not a US bank, but has US affiliates, cannot operate in Cuba and cards issued by this bank don’t work here.
Connor! LOL I know; I’m a financial journalist. How do you get cash, then? Do you bring in a bag of it, like you’re expecting a currency crisis? LOL
Can an American open an account at a Cuban bank? If so, then, I expect the only deposits that can be made will be in US dollars brought in from a flight in.
What am I missing? in other words, bam, I’m Cuba. I’d like to live there for a few years (which is not out of the question, I assure you), and my wallet of USD $1,000 are gone after buying cigars and adult beverages for the month. I wisely have more money in a US and Moroccan bank. Then what? How do I get to my accounts from Havana?
You’re actually a very valuable person on the web. I’ve never had the luxury of corresponding with an American (and with a brain, at that) about Cuba. I’m always looking for another country is haunt. The only thing keeping Cuba off my list is the access to banking. But, if bringing in $5,000 at a time from a trip to Miami may not be that bad, though I would regard it as stepping into a hellhole country of goons and Nazis. I never entered Singapore for that reason. Singapore is the Nazi Germany of Asia. And the US is the Nazi country of the West. So, I would have to swallow hard and make sure my plane out of the US was within a few hours. LOL
banking and dial up internet: two niggly realities that many people who dream of living here have to reconcile, but there are many more…
I’m trying to send you that peso you mentioned you’d like to have for each person who asks you about his intention to go to Cuba, but I don’t know how to send it to you. It’s a banking problem. LOL It’s okay; I don’t want you to reveal your ancient Cuban secret for accomplishing a money transfer from outside Cuba. You may have to eliminate me. Oh, no. 😉
Well, yeah it is true about walmart and such industrialists. It just sounds strange and contradictive. I am not Cuban of course but I have been there many, many times, know it pretty well and cubans too obviously, and after seeing the lack of things is depressing. Then hearing somebody saying to be happy with no store.. it is just an strange contrast of life…
Hola Arturo. Its not that we don’t need stores, goods and supplies. Hell yeah we do. But what type is the question? Im anti big box stores which exploit workers, kill small businesses, and control markets with their buying and sourcing. The world has to start taking the long view and I think Cuba has the opportunity to do that – socially, environmentally, economically
Ironic this conversation is revived on the eve of the boycott of Walmart, Sears, Kmart, Toys r Us, etc….
PS – strange and contradictory – Cuba in a nutshell!
I could give a two-speech on this subject. Apparently, some people don’t see the institutional nature of large organizations, or don’t see that Wal-Mart is a symptom of US de-industrialization. That’s okay; soon everyone will get it. A charismatic leader will emerge in the US who will be able to articulate what has happened in the US to those who haven’t really thought about it. It will be the remedy that disrupts the American way of life, prompting me to leave. May I suggest to Arturo that he start reading zerohedge.com for leads to others who have delineated the reasons for the sudden shift in political trends in the US.
Why is the gold price so high? Why are household incomes no higher (after inflation) than they were in the late 1970s, early 1980s? For starters, I’d like to know your age, Arturo. I’ve talked with 20-somethings and those in their 30s who have no reference point. The older you are the easier it is to see why the Wal-Mart concept has a dark side to the ‘fun’ of buying $8 sneakers.
Easy there cowgirl: I think you’re reading more into Arturo’s comment than he intended. While I agree not everyone agrees/sees the damage these megastores do, they’re here to stay Im afraid. Charismatic leader in the US as remedy? Not in our lifetime! By the way – didn’t you ALREADY leave? I’m confused…..
I’m male, Connor.
No one ever thought the Soviet Union would fall, either. If you’re old enough to remember, nothing can shock you after seeing the Berlin Wall come down suddenly. And if you think there won’t be serious unrest in the US when the next leg down in the US economy begins in earnest, you may be surprised about that, too. The epicenter of the global financial crisis is in NY. When the crisis reaches the US, you may be surprised what you see come out of Washington. The US has already prepared for the possibility of a revolt. That’s what the NDAA is all about.
Whoops! Its about time I made the gender bending mistake people make about me on a daily basis – especially when they see Connor instead of Conner. A thousand pardons….
Come to Essaouira, Morocco, Arturo, and I’ll show you nice without a Wal-Mart and other sterilized chains and phony greetings and smiley logos. Since when does a new pot or pan inject meaning into your life? Cuba’s poverty has nothing to do with whether there’s a Wal-Mart around.
In defense of Arturo, he’s right: Cubans would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have Walmart (and Costco, Home Depot, Office Max, Gap, Victorias Secret and all the rest). Its like GMO food – in the short run, it helps people put food on the table; in the long run, it’s a disaster. But if you’re starving, you’re focused, obviously, naturally, on the short run (ie feeding your kids).
Cubans like booze, too, but someone has to make it. That’s where wealth is derived, not cheaper and plentiful consumer goods. Arturo sounds like a pedestrian who has put the cart before the horse. But he shouldn’t feel bad; he’s in good company if you read what comes out of the Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. But when NAFTA and a re-vamp of GATT was negotiated, most people didn’t foresee its consequences, so why promote it in Cuba?
Cuba needs to industrialize, if the US would stop picking on it. Cubans doesn’t need retail chains; they need export jobs. Centralization of power is Cuba’s problem, and mega chain stores won’t help them. The US model is in big trouble. Why would Cuba follow a failed model of de-industrialized, consumer-driven economy when it has no disposable income? Arturo probably doesn’t live in Cuba. The bulk of Cubans cannot afford to shop at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is an example of an OECD problem. A better model for Cuba can be found in Vietnam.
Google Raul Castro + Vietnam to see what model is being followed here. Holy cow! You’re on the same page. PS I don’t think Arturo was advocating Cuba follow some specific model; he just knows that people need things sold in big stores like Wal Mart.
Google “Pope + Castro.” Even colorful pictures come up. I miss your point. Vietnam is as much Communist as the US is a Republic. China is far and away more Capitalistic than the United States is. Both are Chinese, though the Vietnamese would strike me dead for even suggesting that. But, they are, of course, Chinese. In fact, the Chinese, today, are more Capitalistic than the alleged flag-waver of freedom and free markets. That includes Vietnam. Vietnam and Burma represent the best foreign investment in the coming years. The BRICS and ASEAN are the two blocks or political and economic influence. Vietnam has been one of the top bright spots of Southeast Asia, a satellite of a BRICS nation, China, and a member of ASEAN. The US demonizes China. One pretends to be a free society, while the other pretends to be Communist. Now, I’m waiting for Castro to meet with the Dalai Lama. LOL
So, Connor, are you a Keynesian, Monetarist or Austrian?
I thought so.
The point is: Cuba IS going after the Vietnamese model – as suggested in one of your other comments.
Me? I’m just ConnEr.
I’d love to live there for a while. I’m only concerned about getting at some cash when I need it to pay rent. Maybe I could find the spot where Robert Vesco used to hang out. LOL
Thought you’d get a kick out of this, Conner. Another day at Wal-Mart.
I never saw talking chimps before.
I left the Us in 2007. Commentary on economic systems is my profession, and when I hear the virtues of Wal-Mart, I cringe. And “no,” Wal-Mart won;t be here to stay in its present position. People said that about Sears & Roebuck, too. Today, it struggles to keep its doors open.
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