Cuba, head high
It is not enough to have seen Ibrahim Ferrer sing, his cap on tight, the boleros of the older generation nor Compay Segundo adjust his nylon-stringed guitar, to have an accurate impression of Cuba. The island is a concentration of Caribbean culture, a royal part of the Antilles.
Of course, with the development of tourism in recent years, through the impetus given by the Líder Máximo, Fidel Castro, the visitor comes looking for the myriads of old American convertibles, the quays made salty by the high waves, and the sound, music which has won over the world, along with the smooth rum and the strong cigars. But Cuba, it must be said, cannot just amount to the Buena Vista Social Club.
A living museum of socialism under the open palms, the country stretches between its official and suggested capitals, Havana, Santiago and Camaguey. Cities that beat to different rhythms, and which can be reached within a few hours on the tropical roadways. Otherwise a flat country, where the rare hills don’t rise far above the ocean that surrounds them, Cuba is a cultural breeding ground . You have to go back a long way, perhaps to Beny Moré, the finely toned crooner, to understand what makes up its soul. Or maybe even further still, to the late Santeria masses, The Regla de Ocha (Rule of the Orisha), religion of the liberated slaves whose shrines still liven up even the most humble Havana home.
Cuba seems not to have changed a bit since its revolution. The old buildings with their patched up wooden floors and ledges of uninforced concrete, everything seems to have aged with communism. And yet, between a captivating literature, a cinema that is changing at the speed of light, and a music industry that goes from the hip-hop of Florida to the classic mambo, the island is an artistic goldmine whose picturesque streets continually reflect this richness. It’s essential to take a tour of the markets of the big hotels of the capital, where groovy pianists play a syncopated Bach. Or the squares of Karl Marx, where ambitious youths dance in the open air. A new island of beauty.