William & Park | A Glimpse at Cuba's Art Deco Beauty Before It Disappears
There goes a ‘52 Chevy. And a ‘55 Pontiac right behind it. Look! That blue one must be a ‘56 Ford.
The tour bus was humming with excited chatter, the kind you’d expect from a school bus full of kids arriving at Disneyland. We’d just landed in Havana after a quick 45-minute flight from Miami, and the senior citizens sitting all around me were practically squealing with delight. On the road into the city we must have passed nearly every make and model of classic American car from the 1950s. It was a total nostalgia lovefest.
Since President Obama announced his plans to normalize relations with Cuba at the end of last year, that ever-elusive Caribbean island has been popping up everywhere: in magazine headlines, Instagram feeds, and happy hour conversations (Cuba seems to be the travel destination du jour for all my journalist friends).
The rush to see Havana in all its well-preserved, Art Deco beauty—before cash-infused development remakes it—has officially begun. Now Americans are finally getting a glimpse at what Canadians, Europeans, and other tourists from around the world have been enjoying for years.
Yet America has always had a unique relationship with Cuba. Following our split with Fidel Castro’s government in 1961, the country has remained a kind of forbidden fruit dangling in our sights. Like a long lost lover, we still pine for its sultry summer nights. For in Cuba, we see a glimmer of ourselves: a sentimental version of our past when life was simple, innocent, and wholesome.
Havana is a city with an old soul, where dilapidated buildings painted in pastel hues are haunted by their former glory. When I visited in the spring of 2013, I could see very clearly how Havana had once been a cosmopolitan capital. Even now it’s a city alive with possibility, and the people are friendly and joyful in spite of their poverty.
The food is not much good (quality ingredients are scarce). The technology is antiquated (no internet, no cell phone coverage). But the weather is just right, and the way the spray from the waves crashes against the Malecón is bracing. Baseball fanatics shoot the breeze all day in Parque Central. Old cars stalk the streets like a movie set. Music is everywhere. "Bésame Mucho" and Nat King Cole standards play on an endless loop.
In Havana, the air is charged with a latent sense that Cuba is on the verge of a new beginning. And why shouldn’t it be? There is nowhere else to go from here but up.