Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Havana, ooh na-na

While preparing for our Excellent Cuban Adventure, I realized that I know very little about the country that was practically my next door neighbor while growing up. I am familiar with the basics, of course: rum, mojitos, cigars, music, baseball, Hemingway. Here's what I learned.....

Fun facts:
  • Blowing your nose in public is considered to be extremely rude.
  • Government vehicles in Cuba must stop to pick up hitchhikers.
  • Voting in Cuba is mandatory.
  • Until 2008, Cubans were not allowed to buy cell phones or computers.
  • There are two different currencies - one for tourists and the other for Cubans.
  • Fidel had a thing for John Lennon (he thought they were both dreamers...um, okaaayyy) and had a bronze statue put up in a park. The glasses have been stolen so many times that now there's a guard standing by.
  • Cuba is sometimes called El Cocodrilo, which is Spanish for alligator, because the island looks like a gator from an aerial view...in more ways than one!
Rum:
  • Bacardi rum originated in Cuba, but when Fidel took over they decided to consciously uncouple and moved their headquarters to Puerto Rico.
  • Havana Club is now the official rum of Cuba and it's sold everywhere but the U.S. Bacardi makes a competing product with the same name and it's sold only in the U.S. Ah, the rum wars!
  • The Cuba Libre cocktail is called that everywhere except in Cuba. There it's called Mentirita, which means "little lie", which is probably because you were lied to about how much of a hangover you'd have the next day. I will not test this theory.
  • Supposedly Havana is the birthplace of the Mojito cocktail.
Cars:
  • Cuban citizens can only legally own cars made and bought before 1959. After that, nope. The government seized all the cars and still owns them to this day. 
  • Until 2011, there was an import ban on cars in Cuba, so lots of the cars on the road are '50s classics.
Cigars:
  • Cuba is to cigars as Napa is to wine.
  • The rollers in the cigar factories have a quota, but many of them sneak some out and roll them at home to sell them on the streets. Bootleg cigars.
  • It takes nearly two years for a cigar to move from nursery to rolling factory. No wonder they aren't cheap!
Hemingway:
  • Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba at Finca Vigia, which means "Lookout Farm", for 20ish years.
  • He wrote seven novels, including For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, while there. BTW, having to read TOMATS in 9th grade was pure torture, so thanks for nothing, Papa.
  • His favorite bars in Havana were La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio. I will definitely check out both. Ya know, for the sake of literature.
History:
  • Cuba gained independence from U.S. military rule in 1902, and became the "Republic of Cuba." Of course we still stuck our nose in their business strongly influenced them for the next 57 years until Fidel Castro led a rebel army of communist revolutionaries to victory.
  • In 1960, the U.S. armed and trained a group of Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro regime, which was known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. The invasion happened in April 1961 and failed after 3 days, which made Fidel a BMOC in Cuba.
  • Fidel asked his bestie, Nikita Khrushchev, if he would plant some nuclear missiles on the island to deter another invasion, and of course he jumped at the chance.
  • JFK found out about their plan and then it became a whole bunch of "which boy has the biggest toy" drama. Except toys=nuclear weapons/blockades, so kinda a big deal. And who says history doesn't repeat itself?
  • Eventually everyone calmed down and came to an agreement that the weapons would be dismantled in exchange for the U.S. minding its own damn business agreeing not to invade Cuba ever again. And we all lived happily ever after.

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