Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Times' man in Havana

“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.”


Unknown said...

I did enjoy the original article. Regarding your question, I understood this paragraph to mean something like:
Despite the "bad" side of the Revolution, America has also screwed up. Obama might bring to the table the right understanding of these two sides and thus finally move both our nations forward from this half-century long impasse.
Then again, I am sure you can also see thats what Cohen meant to say, so I ask you: where did he go astray, or what did he say that contradicts this interpretation of his words? I might be imposing my own understanding of the situation.
Please keep up the great work of this blog. I and surely others follow it avidly.

Anonymous said...

last para -- typical us media perspective of cuba; with no historic context as to the US-Cuban relationship. Good sense is for the US to end the embargo and economic strangulation. I read the article while in NY and was disappointed.
enough with the hyperbole and dishonesty, the US coveted Cuba for more than a century, got it, lost it, and never forgave Fidel for bringing real independence. And for 50 years have punished the Cuban people with their policies of siege. and then blame Fidel for all.
if anyone wants to read an incredibly perceptive book about the history of American relations with Cuba, that has absolute impact today, then read Cuba in the American Imagination by Louis Perez. He makes it clear how American political and media elite framed Cuba relations in terms of US bringing freedom to Cuba in 1898 and how they will never forgive Cuba for the ingratitude they showed in 1959. Read it and then you'll understand why the US continues its criminal polices to this day