From the time of Adam and Eve it has always been that that which is forbidden is all the more viscerally desired. Human nature perhaps, our drive for the obscure, the unseen, the unknown, breathes within us and bubbles from deep in our souls. And when, though not often we can conquer our fears, it boils over the caldron rim and seeps into every nook and crevasse around the globe, enriching all aspects of our existence. It’s a human story, and our story. It’s what has motivated us to come out of the cave, and move across continents, and cross the oceans, and go to the Moon. So to with travel, the allure of places impermissible and unexplored is all the more palpable. From the far corners of the earth, societies and people beckon to be seen, understood, and experienced.
As a student of government, public policy and societal structures I have always been particularly gripped by monarchies, dictatorships and socialist societies. The desire to take one’s self as far outside one’s norms as possible, to see what works, what doesn’t, to challenge your base assumptions and build real life experiences to justify your positions is inescapable and, for me, must be acted on. When realized the lessons of these trips often prove to be all the more salient. As such I have traveled to all but one of the world’s remaining communist countries. China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, as well as several former socialist states (Russia, Cambodia, Panama) but as of yet I have not breached the shores of our closest, and most intimately familial neighbor. The oasis on the seas is just 90 miles from Miami and has so much of our history intertwined.
Sitting in the airport in Cancun, having just returned from 4 days in New Jersey and New York, an affair of great joy as I watched my best friend since age 3 walk down the aisle and reconnected with college and childhood friends in one the world’s most iconic cities, I muse what it would be like to take that hour flight to Havana and tour that enigmatic island to our south for a few weeks. To live the history, peer into the eyes of the people, taste the food, touch the architecture, smell the air and see reality with my own eyes. Of course, as an American, in the home of liberty and the land of the free, I am not permitted to do this. A fine of over $50,000 or 10 years in jail may ensue.
No matter the intellectual inconsistency of Cuban embargo policy, or the recognition that outdated voting practices and the implacability of the Electoral College allow three pivotal south Florida counties to drive national foreign policy by their outsized impact on presidential elections, still, I may not go. So instead, over the next two weeks I will take us on an imaginary tour of the forbidden island to our south. I will send an emissary, Gatito, an exuberant and fun loving doll, festooned with kitten buttons and a lively yellow jumper to take us on an intellectual fantasy tour of the island. I will pull from first hand experiences of travelers I’ve met, Cuban-Americans in Miami and popular lore of the long island. I will utilize photos pulled from the internet, to help visually ground our experience and, together, we will imagine, if only fleetingly, what Cuba may look like, feel like, taste like, and evaluate the worth or folly of our current policy from both the perspectives of the American, and Cuban people.
We will walk the streets of Havana, watch the sun glisten on the Caribbean seas at the Bay of Pigs, ride in the infamous 1950’s taxis, taste the tobacco of Castro’s favorite cigars and hold hands with some of the world’s most beautiful women on roof top terraces while sipping mojitos. Together, we will imagine Cuba as it is in today’s world.