I’ve long wanted to go to Cuba for the same reason that most Americans my age might. I wanted to see a place that has, for most of my life, been shrouded in mystery. It has been difficult for me to accept the idea that a country only 90 miles off our coast, home to more than 11 million people, is officially a “forbidden isle.”
I also wanted to ride in one of those vintage cars, now called “hybrids,” which are “old” only in outward appearance; I wanted to sit in the Floridita and sip a daiquiri, and smoke a Montecristo in the lobby of the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernest Hemingway whiled away his off-hours between frantic scribblings and trolling for marlin. I wanted to wander around the Hotel Nacional, where Meyer Lansky and his Mafioso partners schemed, and visit the Tropicana, where Eartha Kitt and Frank Sinatra crooned. I wanted to climb to the top of the Bacardi Building; to stroll along the Malecón, the lengthy seawall across from Morro Castle, and view the gulf’s blue waters streaming by; to marvel at the idea that, just over the horizon, the blandishments of the American lifestyle were waiting.
For most Cubans, that 90 miles might as well be 9,000.
Mostly, though, I wanted to see Cuba as she is, before normalization of relations intrudes to change the country from how it is to how everyone,...