The lure of Cuba


By Matthew Hansen / World-Herald staff writer

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Story by Matthew Hansen
Photography by Ryan Soderlin
The World-Herald

Do not go to Cuba if you want life to be easy. Do not go if you demand constant wireless Internet and hotel showers guaranteed to spew hot water and reliable air conditioning and fresh white paint and emerald green manicured lawns.
Do not go to Cuba if these words are essential: Simple. Precise. Ice-cold. Vacuum-packed.
Do not go to Cuba if you need everything to make sense.

Rosa Guillén puts a candle in a holder at the Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Charity in Old Havana. Guillén cares for and cleans the area where patrons light prayer candles at the Catholic church. Catholicism is having a renaissance in Cuba after the government ended previous restrictions on organized religion and after Pope Francis visited in September. At top, a butcher feeds a cat a piece of meat in an open-air agricultural market in Havana. You can buy pork, chicken or fish in this market but not beef, which is seen as a luxury item and purchased mostly by hotels and restaurants that serve tourists.

Go to Cuba

if you want life to be messy. Go to fall in love with the faded signs and the old cars bumping down narrow roads and the salsa music and the swaying hips and the life spilling onto every Havana sidewalk, city park and street. Go to Cuba if these words snap you to attention: Nuanced. Tangled. Fiery. Adrenaline-fueled.
Go to Cuba if you need your preconceived ideas poured into a tumbler and shaken, stirred and strained into something that tastes different.
Do not go to Cuba because it’s stuck in the past, because you miss 1961, because you think life there is somehow gauzy around the edges, like an old family Polaroid.

Classic American cars are still a favored mode of transportation, though they are gradually being replaced by newer Chinese, Korean and European cars.

The New Cuba

An eight-day series from The World-Herald
Day One Put aside those old views of Fidel and a Cuba stuck in the 1950s. In large and small ways, this country is changing fast.
Day Two Two women pursue their entrepreneurial dream inside the state-run economy.
Day Three How a $2 weekly service is connecting Cubans to the rest of the world.
Day Four Twisting, turning paths bring two young Cubans to Omaha.
Day Five A Nebraskan fights to get back what Castro took from her family.
Day Six Cubans rock out to music once banned as "decadent."
Day Seven A decade ago, Nebraska was a leader in selling food to Cuba. Not anymore.
The photographs Photographer Ryan Soderlin takes you on a visual journey through Cuba.

Go to Cuba

because it’s lurching into the future, a 2016 that’s unsteady and yet graceful, a life here that feels troubled and troubling and oh so worth the trouble.
Go because Cubans want to talk politics and their favorite Hemingway novel and where to find the cheapest cigars, too. They simply want to talk, in both Spanish and English. They want to meet you! Go if you want to meet them back.
Go because my gosh the sunlight bouncing off the buildings late in the day, the waves thundering and crashing on the Malecón, the feeling that the place itself can teach you something about what’s important, and what isn’t.
Don’t go to Cuba if you want another vacation, another place to warm your bones in February.
Go to Cuba if you want something different. Something singular. Something so indescribably deep and beautiful that words, at least mine, cannot match it. Something that you can glimpse in the photos that surround these words. Something you need to see to understand.
Contact the writer: matthew.hansen@owh.com402-444-1064,

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