Impressions of Cuba by Shira Zimbeck
We’re driving through the fluorescent lights of Havana, breathing the fumes of Diesel gas. It’s our last day in Cuba after a week that seemed much longer. As a country, Cuba is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen— a dusty stunning vista, because the intricate buildings and vintage cars are more than a little dilapidated. I also noticed that with "Fidel" still in charge, people appeared to be either very poor—with ragged clothes and no shoes—or very rich and well dressed. That was pretty frightening to see: With things going so downhill at home in America—with houses being foreclosed and prices going up—this is what a country with no middle class looks like. The other thing I noticed right away was that the people were really nice and welcoming. I wasn’t in “enemy territory,” as one of my friends in the Midwest warned me about when I told him about my trip. When I would tell people in Cuba that I was from the States, the general reaction was “Oh man, that’s cool you came down. People don’t come down so much anymore since Clinton is out of office.”
Anyway, I’m not supposed to be in Cuba as a tourist. I went there as an artist. Attending the Havana Film Festival was weird. It was much harder for Americans to come down this year. There weren’t many at the festival, and, unfortunately, none of the films had English subtitles. One of the filmmakers told me they had a word for the artists that snuck into Cuba for the festival and other artistic endeavors—“Cultural Terrorists.” I thought that sounded alright – much more high risk then what we were doing.
Among the artists I met, talked to and spent the most time with was a group of Cuban dancers. Their rehearsals, which I sat in, were a lot like the dance classes I’ve gone to in New York, except after they were done they all drank straight rum and chain smoked. (That’s a shame we can’t do that in New York.) The dancers were really good. They practice five hours a day and are obviously a close knit group. While this is good, it also points out the problem of their isolation. When you’re a dancer anywhere else in the world, part of the fun is traveling and going to different schools and learning different styles with different teachers. The dancers here don’t get out that much. When you can’t go to other places and see what other groups are doing, there’s only so far you can go.
So back in the taxi. Probably the most important thing I learned in Cuba . . . are you writing this down? When you fly back to the States and the nice man in immigration asks you why you have two entry stamps into Mexico, you bat your little eyelashes and tell him that you met a rich man in the hotel who took you on his private jet to a private island in the Caribbean. It doesn’t even matter if you know the name of it or not because you don’t get taken to private islands because of your brains. Then they’ll stare at you disapprovingly and stamp you in. That’s ok. It’s better they think you’re a dirty, filthy tramp then a Cultural Terrorist.
By Kitty Fishinger