There's only one English language bookstore in Havana. Cuba Libro is said to be a literary oasis...with Cuban coffee. It's run by the travel and health journalist, Connor Gory. I've never met her, but I want to and I hope to when I visit Cuba in June of 2017.
I have longed to travel to Cuba for more than a decade, probably two. Its mystery to Americans, its Hemingway history, its people, its reputation for social justice, its love of Che Guevara and the idealism of revolution, all of this is deep in me. Where it all comes from is not necessarily clear to me...and maybe that is why I so believe I need to go.
I do not pretend to be a Cuba scholar. I do not pretend to know its true nature or its spirit. But I hope to and maybe Cuba Libro can help. I've reached out about a possible visit when I'm in Havana, maybe the chance to hold a reading in this restful, organic, spiritual place. Wouldn't that be a special thing—reading from one of my books in a Havana bookstore? Wouldn't it be lovely to donate some of my books, and others, to Libro? I have reached out to Cuba Libro, but have not yet heard from the staff or connected with its owner and driving force, Connor, but I certainly hope I do. There's time.
When booking the travel, I was asked by the agent helping me, a Cuban named Jane, if the Hemingway leg of the trip—to his home, Finca Vigia outside Havana—was "necessary." She was trying to help me keep the cost manageable. "Jane," I said, "I am the writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois. I have to go to the Finca. I must go. That stays." I think it was after this exchange that Jane really understood some of my motivations about my travels. "Plus," I continued, "my two sons are coming with me, and they would think their father had gone daft not venturing out to Cojimar, the tiny village near the Finca, where The Old Man and the Sea was set." Jane laughed. It wasn't a joke.
I plan to learn more Spanish—more than pollo and hola—since Cuban Spanish is different than Mexican or Madrid Spanish. It has Afro-Caribbean roots. I want to understand the draw of the Malecon and learn to savor the music and its importance in the culture, and to welcome the Cuban way—talking loud and often, embracing people physically and emotionally, and celebrating the good they do. And I want to smoke a cigar in the middle of the day in Old Havana.
But I also want to write—when I'm there and when I return. I want to put thoughtful observations on paper—the things I see and the things I feel. I want the place to envelope me, to be a part of it in real time and to capture it in words, and not simply walk through it as if I'm watching animals in a zoo.
One night while we are there, we plan to stay with a family in Trinidad, Cuba's central tobacco town with its 17th century streets under the striking Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco and its iconic bell tower. I want to drink rum with the locals. And I want to converse, to talk, to listen, to spend time and forget the clock. And then maybe have another cigar.
It's months away but I am already in Cuba in many ways, reading Pico Iyer's Cuba and the Night and a wonderful book of essays entitled Cuba in Mind, and dreaming. There has been a great deal of dreaming.