Cuba: Oh, the Absurdities

I’m writing this on February 14th (see note 1), which down this way is known as Día de Amor y Amistad – Day of Love and Friendship. In Conner-speak, it’s the Day to Stay Indoors since Cubans embrace St Valentine with the frenetic enthusiasm of a nine year old screeching a speech on high revolutionary holy days. (If you haven’t been subjected, count yourself lucky – it can be pretty disturbing). Interminably long lines at restaurants, theaters, clubs and shoddy bars are the norm here every February 14th. My advice? Stay close to home.


This fury for the Day of Love is the perfect opportunity for me to tackle the sticky issue of how absurd this place can be. Love, absurd? Indeed, but even more so here, where it’s as scarce as an honest butcher. Lust? It’s everywhere, a veritable epidemic of Eros we’ve got going on. Lasciviousness and overworked libidos? Cubans take the concepts to new heights (or lows, depending on how you look at/do it). But love? Love is something else entirely and aside from parental love for a child and elderly couples with decades of dedication, it’s not much in evidence as far as I can tell.   


And I’m not referring to what Cubans say – they talk a huge and charismatic love game – but rather what they do. Blackmail and brujería, lying (by omission or otherwise), cheating, unwillingness to compromise and difficulties/resistance to communicating are how many back up their grand claims of love, making the emphasis on Valentines look pretty absurd. And a lot of things other than love are looking this way lately – where folks walk the walk, but don’t talk the talk; where there’s a great and spreading maw between theory and reality; and where the policy contradicts the practice, resulting in paradoxes no one can wrap their heads around.


Some of Havana’s absurdities are simple (and simply ridiculous) like alarmingly long fingernails (which make picking up coins and masturbating problematic) and impractically high heels (which render women unable to walk). Personally, I find these killer nails and come-fuck-me-shoes (as Mom always calls them) absurd. Some other absurdities happening around here lately include:


$200,000 cars: The liberalization of car sales ‘no tiene nombre as we say in Cuba. Liberating car sales essentially means the authorities corrected one absurdity (i.e. buyers no longer need to navigate the onerous bureaucratic approval process to buy a car) by introducing another (i.e. cars would now be sold “freely” at prices set by the state). The logic goes that pricing cars high would bring in sorely-needed revenue to create a good, functional public transportation system. But who’s going to buy a car – and a French or Chinese one at that – for 900 times the sticker price? What sounded doable and looked good on paper (and whoever drafted, edited and approved that policy isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer), bombed fantastically in practice. The new car sales scheme kicked up a firestorm of critical foreign press and dealt a low blow to the Cuban people, many of whom had been saving for years to buy a (normally-priced) car. Now they couldn’t even dream of it. People railed publically, loudly against the measure, creating new jokes to channel their frustration (see note 2). For instance, a cartoon popped up of the classic Cuban animated character Cucarachita Martina pondering whether she should spend a $200,000 windfall on a new car or Manhattan penthouse. Thinking she could buy more than a closet with 200 grand in New York is almost as absurd as the policy she’s lampooning.


Televisión Cubana: I love TV in Cuba – there are only 4 channels (5 in Havana), which makes choosing what to watch much easier than where you live (see note 3). There are also no commercials, just public service announcements explaining the importance of sharing; why parents need to spend quality time with their kids; and how to keep bacteria at bay through proper food handling (not that it always works). To boot, something like 50% of all programming is pirated from the USA. This has its good parts (August: Osage County; Inside The Actor’s Studio) and bad (Malcolm in the Middle; Royal Pains) but means I can get my English fix any day of the week.


Not surprisingly, TV Cubana can also be poignantly absurd. Recently, the national sports channel TeleRebelde was showing figure skating, giant slalom and bobsledding every night. This isn’t absurd in and of itself, but rather a welcome change from the usual baseball/futbol fare we’re fed. What is absurd, however, are the Cuban commentators calling the action from a booth in Vedado. Needless to say, they don’t know fuck all about winter sports. Still, I was heartened that they were sharpening their skills in the lead up to Sochi. Except Televisión Cubana isn’t showing the winter Olympic games. Other TV absurdities include an hour-long midnight aerobics program and a detailed segment on Japanese stationary stores with long, lingering shots of well-stocked aisles of papers and pens, chalk, crayons, ink, paints and markers – mountains of them in all colors and weights and manner of applications. This may accurately be called torture, as well as absurd.


Pirates of the Caribbean: When I moved here in 2002 (to say nothing of my virgin voyage in 1993), DVD players were the stuff dreams were made of: only the most worldly and wealthy Cubans had one of these new-fangled gadgets. Indeed, most of us only had VCR players (many still do) and ‘videotecas’ – libraries stocked with movies and soap operas did a brisk business. Oh, how things have changed. Today, you can buy five blockbuster movies for a buck, including those still in theaters near you, like Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Most of these are decent copies, dubbed directly from those provided to festival and awards juries. Sure, there are some, like the version of Last Vegas I watched yesterday, filmed in movie theaters – you can see a head every time someone goes for popcorn or a pee and hear the audience laughing at the funny bits, but these are the exception. Havana is peppered with mom-and-pop shops selling these 5-movie ‘combos.’ There are also more technologically advanced options, like the service whereby a young buck comes to your house and copies whatever you fancy on to your computer – anti-virus software and updates provided free of charge. The newest innovation is a service where for $2, the young buck installs a potpourri of 250 gigabytes on your machine, with the bundle of movies, shows, and computer programs changing each week. Need the latest version of iTunes or the season finale of Breaking Bad? These are your gente.


What’s so absurd about this is multi-factorial. First, Cuba is signatory to international anti-pirating conventions. Second, it hurts Cuban artists as much as Hollywood and the rest since copyright infringement knows no nationality and you can just as easily procure pirated versions of the hot new Cuban movie Conducta as The Hobbit. Last, many of the movies and shows come with that threatening FBI anti-piracy warning. Very ironic. But what chaps my ass most and takes the absurdity to new, personal heights is the availability of pirated versions of my Havana Good Time app. You can’t download it legally from iTunes in Cuba (the site is blocked by the US government embargo; when you try to access the site, you’re informed of such) but you can easily get a bootleg copy. I don’t know how much it costs or what version they’re offering, but if you come across it, drop me a line – I’d love to know just how absurd this place can get.




1. But it probably won’t go live for weeks due to my crappy internet connection – which is so crappy, it conspires to make a quitter of me.


2. One notable change over the past 3 years has been the dearth of new jokes around town. Cubans are incredible jokers and love a good pun and humor serves as necessary catharsis here. I’ve been worried about the lack of new jokes recently – people are too anxious, stressed or depressed to devise and enjoy new jokes, until things take a turn for the really absurd, like we’re seeing with the state’s car prices.


3. Lack of Netflix and any other streaming video limits choice even more. 


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38 responses to “Cuba: Oh, the Absurdities

  1. Nimrod

    Conner , sounds like you’re going through a rough time. As you are more than aware your adopted country is going through a very complicated transition. I have visited Albania , Vietnam and Cuba in the last few years.
    As I wrote you once I feel a connection with Cuba because in 1966 I almost wound up there as an alternative to Vietnam (in the end a non-Jew I came to Israel to live on a kibbutz) . Putting aside any personal problems you maybe going through all of the communist countries that have liberalized have had a really hard time. But I hope that you continue to give us a window on the events and attitudes. yours Nimrod

  2. Enjoyed the Valentines present – worth the wait, so don’t kick the bucket yet.

  3. maudiaz

    Hi, Conner.
    Another great post. What else is new?

    I also marvel at the fact you can get ANY cd/DVD by local artists on Obispo (or even in Palma Soriano, as per my latest Cuban trip). The fact they’re so prevalent and readily available anywhere makes one wonder how the Osmani Garcias of the island make a living! Touring in the USA and Europe? Aren’t those fees collected by el gobierno?! What’s your guess?

    Also, a couple of weeks back, my novia mentioned she’d been to the movies to watch Conducta. She said she loved it. So I wanted to see it also… I found the whole enchilada (or should I say congrî) right on YouTube. I’ve told her ill race her to the boya verde on my next trip.

    Keep ’em coming!

  4. bill mcclary

    yes found your name on an internation web site some 1 made comment on your humour…yes i have been to cuba 12 times and 1 time for 32 days…but all in the STGO area I just spent 1 week in CAYO COCA at a wedding (canadian) this was not cuba but another part of canada…
    my time in cuba has been so interesting had radio stolen out of
    my car…got to be part of the police went to interviews,,court case and the jail lunch with a judge…
    I had a girl friday that my wife and i educated smart she now lives in canada toronto and her husband also move to canada…both are doing very well.
    you say what you see is NOT what is…..true that a lot of studing to understand it all..
    i had friends fly to visit and arrived when it was -20 cold has hell so i teased them about not being a man in tough times!!!
    oh yes there are 2 flights a week to canada tues & thurs and they are filled..
    thanks for your news and writings….i will send this to all my cuban friends…..bill,,, irene

  5. Have so enjoyed your personal account of life in Cuba. Thanks so much for sharing a refreshing pov. Hope you hang in there. After all, things can only get better. I will be visiting Cuba soon, and dream of the day all the posturing is over, and the U.S. and Cuba are working together again – for global healthcare. You haven’t mentioned anything about your medical experiences. If you’re ever inclined, I would love to hear all about it.
    I happened to be in Poland, in 1979, filming a movie, just before Solidarity hit. The situation was dire, and somehow, did a complete turn around. I welcome you to join me in thinking positive thoughts and appreciate the absurdity of it all during the transition. After all, “things, and people change”.
    It’s all still very exciting from my pov.. I look forward to seeing the faces and hearing the music of the people, breathing in the air and appreciating the aroma of Cuban cuisine, as well as cigars. The art in Cuba should be peculating…

  6. Ole

    Am I detecting a bit of loss of fervor for the Socialist Paradise? Another great commetary, conner. You do know your Cuba y los Cubanos.

    I have always called it el Dia de los enamorados, though.


  7. Ole

    Hey now- Malcolm in the Middle is pretty cool, especially the kid. And Moms is a Super MILF!

  8. Ariel

    Bueno, como en todos tus posts careces de comentarios de cubanos, voy a dejarte el mío por aquí.

    Siempre es refrescante mirarse al espejo a través de tus inteligentes y no viciadas observaciones de nuestra realidad diaria. Desde hace años yo le llamo a este fenómeno “la visión del turista”, que logra “llegar al pueblo y ver las casas”, contradiciendo el viejo dicho de “vives en el pueblo y no ves las casas”.

    Todavía no sé cómo sacas el tiempo para mantener este blog, pero continúa haciéndolo.

    Continuaré debatiendo tus posts cada vez que vaya por CubaLibro.



    • Gracias Ariel – me levanta bastante tu comentario, sobre todo por que hay un cubano el la diaspora molestandome, gritandome y mandandome en una manera tan bruta y desagradable en estos dias. Me alegro mucho que algo que escribo tiene relevancia y le da placer para leer.

  9. Alex

    lol! Conner, wanted to share this short passage 🙂 thought you would get a kick at it ..

    Va por la calle caminando sin rumbo. Lo miras pero no te ve. Generalmente lleva una bolsa plástica en la mano, a veces vacía sólo por vicio. Parece una persona normal a simple vista pero tiene rasgos ausentes. Lleva el entrecejo fruncido todo el tiempo como si estuviese pensando.
    Ve una cola y pregunta: ¿para qué es esta cola? Si nadie le responde se pone al final de la fila. Las multitudes atraen al cubazombie. No piensa, no tiene criterio ni argumentos: repite textualmente lo que un día aprendió. Cuando le haces una pregunta que no domina, el cubazombie busca en su código preprogramado y te repite la respuesta que más se asemeje a lo que preguntaste; a veces se bloquea cuando preguntas mucho.
    Le hablas de política y se asusta. Cuando tienes varios alrededor y te molestan, la palabra mágica es “Derechos Humanos” y se echan a correr. En su mente tienen solamente un comando que los hace despertar del trance: comida. El 100% de sus neuronas útiles las emplean en ingeniar maneras extraordinarias de conseguir alimentos para su familia; y el resto de las funciones necesarias de un ser humano quedan sonámbulas.
    El cubazombie no se diferencia en sexo ni profesión, perfectamente puede ser un médico o una prostituta. Una forma fácil de detectarlos es cuando van a una tienda y reciben un mal trato y se quedan petrificados sin reaccionar ni exigir sus derechos. Siguen la corriente populista, eso les multiplica el sentido del zoombilismo. Los puedes ver vistiendo un short con la bandera de los Estados Unidos y una camiseta con el retrato del Ché Guevara, pero conocen poco o nada sobre la historia de lo que llevan puesto. Han borrado de su vocabulario motor varios verbos: quejarse, reclamar, demandar, argumentar, expresar inconformidad, discrepar en voz alta…
    El cubazombie va a un mercado y cuando le pregunta al dependiente siempre lo hace en forma negativa; en vez de preguntar ¿hay aceite?, utiliza, ¿no hay aceite? ¿se acabó el jabón? ¿no han sacado el detergente? El cubazombie dice que le dieron una olla arrocera, un refrigerador y media libra de pollo, pero en realidad todo lo compró. El cubazombie suele confundir el nacionalismo con defender la política actual del gobierno cubano. Criticas a Fidel Castro y te dice: “¡oye, no hables mal de mi país!”.
    Y siguen reproduciéndose, ya está afectando seriamente a las nuevas generaciones. Es un virus que destierra a toda persona de su “ser” inherente. ¿Cómo evitarlo? ¿Cómo combatirlo? ¿Cómo erradicarlo? Se necesita un contenedor de tiempo y cuatro camiones de paz mental; además de 18 toneladas de educación social y una gota de libertad política.
    ¿Cuál es tu opinión? ¿Qué es el cubazombie? Veamos las respuestas de algunos lectores:

    • And readers say Im the one who doesn’t like cubans!

      PD – este cuento es tan absurdo como lo demas de lo que escribi

    • Adriana

      I certainly got a kick out of it. A kick out of seeing the time people devote to hating on Cubans. It’s funny to read something so totally baseless. I’ve never met a Cuban, ever, like what’s described in that worthless pile of words. In fact, Cubans are just the opposite of all that. You and the person who wrote that diatribe can go **** yourselves. 🙂 Have a great day.

      • Everyone’s a critic…..I suggest you read some of my past posts before unleashing more vitriol.

      • Adriana

        That comment was not directed towards you, Conner. It was towards the person who originally posted it, Alex, and the person who wrote it. From his comment it doesn’t seem as though he’s the one who originally wrote it.
        No one’s more of a critic than you, however, since you seem to think you you know everything about Cubans and make all sorts of commentary that about them that is indeed vitriolic. I have read some of your past posts and that’s what I’ve seen. If you’re going to critique Cubans, I’m going to critique you, naturally.

  10. GaryGuillermo

    —I’ve always thought that Cuban mothers were the backbone of their society. So many single parent families as the men go for greener pastures and the women/ girls raise the family. Maybe it’s got something to do with poverty and sex . . . a simple pleasure that doesn’t cost anything.
    —I really don’t get the car thing. I know in Jamaica a $20,000 car in the US costs $40,000. Why they are jacking the price up to $200,000 is crazy . . .

  11. Max

    Hey Conner, I’m having a war of words with someone over at who’s telling me cannot “legally” be accessed by Cubans themselves. You’re the only person I “know” in Cuba. Is this true? If you type into your browser will you be fined? Taken to the gulag? Will that particular site be blocked? What?

    • Im a lover not a fighter, but Ill tell you that from my dial up connection, I can access Havana Times. Its possible however, that it its blocked in some workplaces, telepuntos and the like – that isn’t where I connect so I dont know. I think this may be a case of you both being right

  12. Adriana

    Conner, you don’t seem to understand the way Cubans love. It’s a very complex topic. Besides, from my own experience and understanding, hardly, if any, generalization can be made about such a personal and subjective aspect of life. Love is different for everyone. Cubans may be lustful in general, but that doesn’t have any bearing on their capacity for love. If anything, such lust and passion would indicate an aspect of their general character in relationships (and towards life in general) and present the possibility that their capacity for love can be just as deep and intense as they are horny and lustful, if not more.

    Everything in life can be seen through multitudes of different perspectives and you’re just seeing what you want to see. Please don’t make generalizations about us based on your very subjective observations.

    Also, those nails and heels are common trends everywhere. Cubans follow similar fashion trends to those in Miami.

    From many of your posts, I get a sense that you are missing the big picture of Cuba and you’re just nitpicking at things that are really of no importance without considering if what you’re criticizing can be applied to Humans in general and not just Cubans. Your perspective is pretty narrow from what it seems. Also, you seem kind of troubled and rather resentful through your posts. Maybe you need to speak to some friends about this and find out what they think. Anyway, good luck.

  13. steven

    Conner, We stopped by your cafe last week and it said you were closed due to no “electridad”…..:( Think it was Wednesday. I had whole bunch of magazines for you!!
    maybe next time.

    • Bummer! Last week was a little rough: we had no electricity the entirety of Wednesday and no water on Saturday. Ahhh, the challenges and vagaries of cuenta propismo!! Thanks for your support, though! see you next time.

  14. Carl

    I am fluent in Spanish and have just returned from 5 months in Manzanillo, stayed at the hotel and a Casa Particular B&B.

    I find your blog very interesting and will continue to read it but I want to point out that based on my observations of the people I met in Manzanillo and your descriptions of Cubans that there is a big difference between East and West, assuming that you are describing Cubans from Havana.

    I should add that the Cubans I met in Manzanillo were at the poor end of the economic scale, none owned a car, only one owned a motorcycle and only because he is a Dr. and had worked outside of the country. Most did not even own a bicycle.

    It was a very intersting 5 months and the contrast of daily life in Manzanillo and here in Canada is extreme.

    I will add that life in Cuba, if you ignore the daily grind of worrying where your next meal is coming from, is much more lively and fun than anything I have ever experinced here.

    • Hola. Yes, Manzanillo is a completely different world from Havana (I have stories from there too!). What I write about is Havana only – as I mention often. I don’t get into the provinces with near enough frequency to write intelligently about what’s happening outside the capital.

      Five months in Manzanillo is a looooong time. While a lovely town, I have to ask: why would you do that?

      • dany

        Yep, too long! I spent 1 month in Calambrocio ( a small sleepy town, or batey near Manzanillo) and it was awful,no electricity,barely any food,no running water. This habanerita was the laughingstock of the town for a while, I just couldn’t adapt. But it was where my first boyfriend’s family lived and I was in love….but never again. I still have nightmares about it.

  15. Carl

    Many reasons, but most of all because I have not left home for more than 4 to 5 weeks since I did a 6 month trip more than 40 years ago. We lead a very comfortable life here in our 1st World countries and even though Cuba is not a 3rd world country it presents unique challenges for a long-term visitor not staying at a resort.

    I know that my challenges there were alleviated immensely by having ready access to an ATM so I can never compare my life to an average Cuban but by spending so much time with so many new friends I think that I have a much better understanding of the challenges that they face in their lives.

    I am also looking for a warm retirement place and I like that Cuba is only 4 hours away as compared to Asian destinations in a similar price range.

    My resources are such that I have to look for an economical location or else I cannot afford to stay away for so long but I also do not want to have to ignore squalor and suffering outside my front door while I am trying to enjoy myself.

    After 5 months there I think that I have found that compromise in Cuba but only time will tell. Yes, most locals have to overcome incredible hardships just to survive every day but there is a willingness to keep at it and to generally be in a happier frame of mind than I find with my neighbours here at home.

    Am still not certain if I will return next winter so I am reading blogs like yours and other Cuba oriented forums to get more information before I decide.

    Thank you for your efforts.

  16. Laura

    I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and have since devoured it all. I think a lot of people don’t understand that a blog can really only be written from your own perspective, so calling it opinionated and subjective is entirely redundant. I really enjoy your style. Keep writing!

  17. Patricia Pomerleau

    Hi Conner, We met a around18 months ago. (I sat across from you at La Guarida) I’m the one who took the cool photo of your bicycle “Frances” (or is is Francis?) at the roof top party. Anyway, I’ve been to Havana a couple of times since then (thank you for the app, it’s great), have made some great Cuban friends, have hung out and talked for many hours with said friends, and now *really* appreciate you blog. I didn’t understand it very well two years ago. I “get it” now. And, your writing style is fabulous–the blog is such a hoot to read–and your insights are spot on. I’ll be back a couple times in the next nine months and will stop by your new bookstore and say hi. Best, Patricia

    • Hi Patricia. I love that photo!! Im not sure how to spell my beloved’s name: I intentionally picked a gender bend-able name. This is something my friend asked me about just yesterday: whether my “chivo” was male or female.

      Thanks for writing in. Your comment is especially insightful for me because Ive had other people who are new or know very little about Cuba tell me they don’t understand much of my blog. This is something Im going to explore in further writing: how to make the place more understandable. Is it possible? Maybe not after so many years of disinformation. I dont know but its interesting food for thought. Thanks!

  18. Jaco

    In a nut shell, Cuba is exactly like your former home, NYC. The only difference is scale. I have some real bad news for you. Raul is no different from the head of Goldman Sachs, Blankfind. Obama does not give the slightest shit about the poor blacks. He is not even black himself. Human beings are extremely nasty animals and the sooner you learn that the less you will suffer from delusion. Just take it easy, in a Zen kind of way like the people in Hiroshima did in 1945. Humans are hard wired for the absolute worst people to rise to the top. You like writing, all the great authors have seen this. There is no happy ending, or beginning or middle. Good luck!

    • Now THAT’S how you hijack a conversation. Well done.

      • Jaco

        Not sure what “highjack a conversation means”. Sounds like some kind of twitter term that is beyond my mental capacity. I understood your latest commentary to indicate a rather down in the dumps ambiance. That is what triggered my comment. I guess I was less than successful in my message. So here it is from the master:

        Confined to a French nursing home at the end of his days, Beckett was asked by a visiting Irish poet what he had found worthwhile about life. “Precious little,” came the reported reply. “For bad measure, I watched both my parents die.” He himself died in Paris 22 December 1989. His remains were buried with those of his wife.

  19. Laraine O'Neill

    Where have you gone? I really miss your writing.

  20. Jerry Mckkid

    Hi there Conner,
    I’m also an American who has visited Cuba many times (Born in Boston, Irish background) and I love it there. I just wanted to include my opinion here since I’ve been browsing your blog recently and I have to say that I don’t agree with a lot of what you write about, particularly about the Cuban people and their ways. I don’t know if it’s because you’ve been there so long that your perspective has been skewed or if it’s something in the water but you fail to realize that much of what you write can certainly apply to any culture yet you express these observations of yours as if they were entirely unique to Cuba. While it’s natural to critique the places you live in, I would like to know whether you have anything more positive to say about the Cuban people. Whenever I’ve been there, and I have been there for extensive periods of time, everyone there certainly does not fall under the sweeping generalizations that you make. It’s just unfair and childish to say some of the things you’ve said. Cuba is a lovely place with lovely people. I just feel like I should mention that if you’re so unhappy there maybe it’s time to move on to another place?

    • perhaps its the difference between what people feel when they live in a place, full time and permanently from those who visit?

      I find it interesting too, how people condemn my entire blog because of one post. Ive written for years and extensively about how lovely Cuba is, and Cubans too.

      • Patricia Pomerleau

        It’s funny, I have the exact opposite reaction to Conner’s blog than Jerry. The more I visit Cuba (six times since 2003), the more I understand Conner’s writing and appreciate her assessment of the Cuban society. I’m a realist. I know many “hot” Cubans–the artists, musicians, models, AKA, the “upper class” and I take photos and return over and over again to my firends–the not-so-“hot” Cubans who own the beauty salons and the car repair shops. Cuba is complex, it is remarkable, it is changing, it is staying the same. And, the finger nails are seriously crazy.

  21. Hey! I was reading your blog as I go through my random thoughts of expatriating to a more “socialist” country. I am financially well off so the higher level of taxes doesn’t bother me, and I lived in bush Alaska for a while so going a few days without water or power is nothing new either.

    I had looked at Cuba for a while, but then thought I would start looking more to South American countries. However, I have been on a Royal Pains binge which got me thinking about Cuba again (just because they mention it and “travel there”, not because of their depiction of Cuba)… it’s funny they air the show there and interesting that you mention it since it’s what got me in the mood to start googling “Cuba Expats” which led me to you.

    Anyway, that’s all. Hope all is well.

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