“Lealtad beckoned me,” Roger Cohen of The New York Times wrote in a long, first-person magazine piece last Sunday on the approaching 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution.
“What I saw,” he said, “struck me with the force of a vision.” On Lealtad, the street in Centro Habana, the Times’ veteran, Paris-based reporter found a bar. Inside, people were drinking. And there were “harsh fluorescent lights” and a “white man with a bulbous red nose pickled by drink.” There was a black man and a black woman – stay with me, please – who also seemed to be drinking, and they were all “at a distance from one another.” Then before you know it, Cohen is pondering existential despair, and finds himself in an Edward Hopper painting.
I guess you had to be there. Regardless, Cohen then sums up: “The feeling of being transported is very Cuban.”
Roger, if you don’t mind my asking, what were you drinking that day?
Ok, more seriously, if you don’t mind the writer’s flair for the dramatic (the Malecon is “haunting”), and the snooty (during an interview in Miami, “inevitably, we ate at the kitschy Versailles Restaurant”), it’s an interesting article. I liked Cohen’s account of his exchange with an economy ministry official, and his account of the owner of a little private restaurant who takes out a camera, turns it to video mode, and gets Cohen to say that the food is good and he works for The New York Times.
On the Malecon, Cohen observed “over subsequent days that Cubans perched on the seafront wall rarely looked outward.” I always thought that was because people prefer watching the passing parade on the sidewalk and street, but there’s an existential meaning to it, and you have to read the article to find out.
But what really prompted me to write was to ask readers’ help with this inscrutable closing paragraph:
“Yes, Fidel’s communist revolution, at 50, has carried a terrible price for his people, dividing the Cuban nation, imprisoning part of it and bringing economic catastrophe. But as I gazed from Cuban hills at Guantánamo, and considered Obama’s incoming administration, I thought the wages of guilt might just have found a fine enough balance for good sense at last to prevail.”