If Hemmingway could see this place now; the whole world really. Gone are the days of sidling up to the polished wooden bar and regaling the Cuban regulars with his stories, fresh made daiquiri in hand. He’d plop down right next to the lounge singers, but off in a corner where he could command exactly the size of audience he was most comfortable with. His voice booming, he’d recall the huge fish he had caught, or that German submarine he thought he had seen while on unofficial shore patrol for the safety of the Cuban people.
No, the Havana bar La Floridita that famed writer Ernest Hemmingway had once so cherished had undergone the inevitable Disneyfication that has overtaken so many special places. Hemingway himself had been relegated to a brass statue for tourists to snap selfies with, a disposable object only useful for photo adornment to gain some fleeting social feedback. I sat a few seats down, watching a meandering stream of tourists come one by one for their moment with a statue in a bar, reflecting on just how strange this whole scene was.
I had come to Cuba to see one of the last outposts of the world, relatively untouched by American tourists when compared to most of the travel destinations. America had only recently agreed to open up tourism directly to Cuba, and I wanted to see what things were like before Coca Cola and Nestle had rebranded all things Cubano.
Only upon arrival, I noticed that despite America’s blockade of this small island nation, Cuba had long since moved on and built up relations with almost the entire rest of the world. And once more, now that America had opened the floodgates, tourists were arriving in massive waves by air and cruise ship filled sea. Sparingly, but growing increasingly more popular, locals were discarding traditional garb for name-brand t-shirts, local food was being replaced by typical tourist fare seen the world round, and some radios had synced up with the ubiquitous Top 40’s americana that can be heard in taxis from Havana to Kuala Lumpur. Disney had arrived, and the change had already been taking place.
I’ve spent much of my travel life lamenting this fact and longing for the days of feeling like a stranger in a strange land, every experience and object a curiosity. As days turn into weeks on the road however, I’ve found myself reflecting further on my own perceptions of days gone by. Authors and poets for centuries have lamented that they were born too late and long for a time before theirs with amber colored lenses. I remember that fact piercing my psyche as I watched the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris and realizing that this view is one all too common to so many creatives. It was a romantic pitfall that transcended generations.
And yet, here I find myself, in this era and of this time. I am a citizen of the modern day, the world’s knowledge at my fingertips, a universal translator at the ready, and the ability to instantly connect with anyone I’ve ever met. And that’s just using the tiny phone in my pocket. In thinking about this state of affairs, I lean towards zen teachings that are increasingly becoming a major part of my world view. Letting go of all resistance, wholly and entirely accepting the world in its current form, is a key to a peaceful life. So I try.
The world can only be exactly as it is. Beauty lies in finding the things that make it wonderful and accepting the things that are no longer, or will never be. I tread through a living breathing world, evolving at an ever increasing pace and becoming something new and amazing. I must accept that while idyllic and famed, Hemingway’s Havana is no more. But, a new and wondrous place has taken form in its stead. And I just have to open my eyes to its grandeur in order to see the beauty all around me. This is my world, it is astounding and ever-changing, and I venture out excitedly into it every day.