The American Conservative, December, 2007
On Havana’s malecón, the seawall that parallels the shore, the waves roll in and hit the sudden obstacle, sending towering explosions of bright white spray far into the air, occasionally soaking the unwary pedestrian. Across the highway that follows the malecón is a cheap open-air restaurant, the DiMar. A steady breeze from the sea pours across the tables. A tolerable shrimp cocktail, topped with mayonnaise, costs a few bucks. On a couple of evenings I drank a beer there, watching Cuba go by. It wasn’t what I had expected.
Unlike many gringo tourists, I was legal, having gotten a license from the Treasury Department. Without a license travel to Cuba is illegal under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917. Why Cuba was my enemy wasn’t clear to me. Nor was it to the Cubans.
I had inadvertently neglected to tell the authorities that I was a journalist — I hate it when that happens — so I was not in a position to ask probing questions of officials. But then I didn’t want official twaddle. I wanted to wander, take cabs down the coast, just look at things. And did.
I was pleased to find the old part of Havana both charming and reasonably well preserved, especially around the convent of San Francisco. The latter is of course a museum now, as God knows we mustn’t be religions, but it is in good shape and breathes a moody solemnity. I tried to imagine the stillness in times before the motorcycle. The narrow lanes around it were closed to cars, making it pleasant to walk among the shops.
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The country is poor and run down, and itself almost a museum. Sitting in the DiMar is like visiting the Fifties….