Destination: Cuba

Cuba, Undistilled

Cuba, Undistilled (Chris Ryan)

Tired of hearing pundits pontificating about Cuba, Chris Ryan wanted to see the island for himself -- before the coming of Best Western and American Express

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Travel Movie Watch: ‘Chico & Rita’

This looks great. Nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for best animated feature, Chico & Rita is set in Havana, New York and Paris in the 1940s and ‘50s and features some great music by the likes of Bebo Valdés. A.O. Scott just gave it a rave review in The New York Times, calling it “an animated valentine to Cuba and its music.” He also notes that Havana’s streets “are exquisitely rendered and meticulously colored.”

It’s playing in select Landmark Theatre locations; in Los Angeles, it’s at the Nuart through Thursday.

Here’s the trailer:


A Conversation With Fidel Castro

Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg recently got a personal invitation to visit Cuba—from Fidel Castro. His first dispatch from the trip is live, and it’s a fascinating mixture of traveler’s observations and quotations from the rarely-seen Cuban leader. Here’s a taste:

The morning after our arrival in Havana, Julia and I were driven to a nearby convention center, and escorted upstairs, to a large and spare office. A frail and aged Fidel stood to greet us. He was wearing a red shirt, sweatpants, and black New Balance sneakers. The room was crowded with officials and family: His wife, Dalia, and son Antonio, as well as an Interior Ministry general, a translator, a doctor and several bodyguards, all of whom appeared to have been recruited from the Cuban national wrestling team. Two of these bodyguards held Castro at the elbow.

...Fidel lowered himself gently into his seat, and we began a conversation that would continue, in fits and starts, for three days. His body may be frail, but his mind is acute, his energy level is high, and not only that: the late-stage Fidel Castro turns out to possess something of a self-deprecating sense of humor. When I asked him, over lunch, to answer what I’ve come to think of as the Christopher Hitchens question—has your illness caused you to change your mind about the existence of God?—he answered, “Sorry, I’m still a dialectical materialist.”

In the next installment, Goldberg tells the story of “one of the stranger days I have experienced, a day which began with a simple question from Fidel: ‘Would you like to go to the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?’”

Hanging Ten with the Havana Surf Club

Hanging Ten with the Havana Surf Club Reuters

In an excerpt from his new book, "Sweetness and Blood," Michael Scott Moore tracks down the origins of surfing in Cuba

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Interview with Michael Scott Moore: ‘Sweetness and Blood’

Jim Benning talks with the author of a new travel book about the spread of surfing around the globe

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Cuban Folk Singer Silvio Rodrígues Touring U.S.

In 1999, two years before we created World Hum, Michael Yessis came back from a month-long trip to Spain and told me about a song he’d heard in a bar in Madrid. Two nights in a row, sometime well after midnight, the bartender played an anthemic folk song on the stereo called “Ojalá,” and as Mike recalled it, each time the song came on, the patrons erupted in singing, with dozens of locals joining in.

He wasn’t sure what the song was about, but he thought I’d like it, and sure enough, when I finally tracked down a copy of it, I did. I’ve been a big fan of its singer-songwriter, Silvio Rodríguez, ever since.

Finally, the Cuban folk singer, now 63, is touring the U.S. He has already played to a sold-out Carnegie Hall—this New York Times piece and this Christopher Baker blog post are well worth a read—and he’s scheduled to play Oakland, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Orlando.

Rodriguez is a controversial figure outside of Cuba. Many Cuban exiles despise him because he has, at times, defended the Revolution. I love him for his music, not his politics. Besides, as the New York Times put it, “Through the decades Mr. Rodríguez has become more poet than propagandist.” He sings about life.

How excited am I about this tour? I’m going to reschedule a flight and eat a hefty penalty fee so I can see him play.

Here’s a video of Rodriguez performing “Ojalá” in Madrid’s Plaza de Toros—you can hear the crowd singing along, line for line, and imagine the scene in that Madrid bar. I’ve since heard the song played by folk singers in cafes and bars from Mexico to Argentina. It’s wildly popular. Its meaning is the subject of great debate.

The version of the song below is available on the album “Mano a Mano”—an excellent live album that also features Spanish trovador Luis Eduardo Aute performing.

World Travel Watch: New Warnings for Mexico, Golf in Cuba and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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World Travel Watch: Travel Insurance Now Required in Cuba, Maoists Shut Down Kathmandu and More

Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

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Photo You Must See: So a Dog Walks into a Bar in Havana

Photo You Must See: So a Dog Walks into a Bar in Havana REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

A dog sits on a stool in a bar in Havana, Cuba

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Super Freaky in Havana

Super Freaky in Havana REUTERS

With some help from the locals (and Rick James), Lauren Quinn lets down her well-learned defenses

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Video You Must See: Habana Vieja

Video You Must See: Habana Vieja Photo by ilkerender via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The faces and daily rituals of Old Havana, Cuba:

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Audio Slideshow: The Cinemas of Cuba

GlobalPost’s Nick Miroff looks at what remains of Cuba’s once thriving cinema and movie culture.

‘The Cuban Revolution Explained to Taxi Drivers’

José Manuel Prieto is “eternally amazed by the tremendous popularity of the Cuban Revolution among the taxi drivers of the world.” He explores what that means in an essay in the Nation. (via Arts & Letters Daily)

Is a ‘Gerontocracy’ to Blame for the Cuba Travel Ban?

Double X writer Kerry Howley, while calling for an end to the ban, highlights some stats about the age of those who still support it. “The future belongs to the would-be tourist,” she writes. “[W]hen you exclude the 65-and-over set, the percentage of people who support a change of policy shoots up to 62.”

Photo You Must See: Vintage Wheels in Cuba

Photo You Must See: Vintage Wheels in Cuba REUTERS/Desmond Boylan
REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

A classic car passes state-owned farm lands near the village of Quivican, outside Havana.