The Magic of Life Hidden in the Heart
Havana and its old town, through which one should pass by foot or in a carriage, was established in 1514. It was a well-protected port from which boats were set off to Spain, loaded with gold, and the town soon became the capital of the New World. In the 30’s of the 20th century, moving away from the prohibition in Cuba, the rich men of the States were settled here. They built palaces, hotels, bars, pleasure salons, and the press called Cuba an American bordello. But, for half a century now, everything is different in Cuba. Never mind your ideological views; you shall not leave this country indifferent, well-rested or empty-hearted

Text and photographs by: Mišo Vujović

Thanks to the economic embargo of ”Big Brother”, the spirit of globalism and branded hunger for spending still did not reach Cuba, there are no identical managers, no economic experts, no stock exchange speculants, no symbols of American imperialism such as ”McDonald’s”, which is anchored somewhere on Hemingway’s Key West in Florida, where emigrants are sold on ships, and also many accessories which still miss to this isolated ”pleasure archipelago”.
This green and sweet island (sugar cane is its major product) was admired by Lorca, Márquez, Sinatra, Ava Gardner, and Hemingway... Al Capone and his followers, avoiding prohibition, built hotels, casinos, restaurants in Cuba, which all witness the glamour and the luxury of the ”golden thirties”.
Hemingway, the American Nobel Prize winner, with his novel ”The Old Man and the Sea”, inspired by swordfish hunting with the father of present Cuba, Fidel Castro, made famous his Cupola (which is Cuba in Aravacan language). 
A novelist, a journalist, a warrior, a fisherman, a drunk, a man of never-ending imagination and nature, in the end of the 30’s of the 20th century, after a two-decades long coverage from various war centres of Europe, escaping from the States in front of the prohibition, found his refuge and the refuge for his war memories on this ”island of earthly heaven”, where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, his most famous novel. 
In ”Ambos” Hotel, in the centre of Havana, on the fifth floor, is the room where the famous writer lived, the admirer of the sea and a drunk. For 10 pesos (the international SIS or also popular as CUC), one can see this intimate corner in which Hemingway lived for several months, one can also see his typewriter, and take a photo of it, then several telegraphs and letters, photographs of Marlene Dietrich, Hemingway with Hadley Richardson, Marta Gellhorn, Marry Hemingway. Besides the dummy of his fishing boat, placed on the old wooden cupboard, is the photograph of Valerie Hemingway, taken on his fishing boat in 1960, right before his last and tragic departure in the States. This is where he killed himself on July 2nd 1961, faced to his life’s dead-end.
One of the greatest classical writers of American literature lived in Cojimar since 1940, which is about 20 kilometres from Havana. Hemingway’s house is one of the most attractive tourist places. The writer’s fishing boat is placed in the garden, then the swimming pool in which Ava Gardner swam, the movie star, one of the many beautiful women from the love life of this drunk and charming man, for whom his secretary, journalist apprentice and biographer Valerie Hemingway claims that he was a shy loner. As a memory of the great passion of Ernest Hemingway, fishing, the local marina is called after him and the World Fishing Championship in Swordfish Hunting is taking place right here.


The most expensive bar in Cuba, ”El Floridita”, once the favourite spots of Ernest Hemingway, who helped to make the famous ”Daiquiri” cocktail, is always crowded. The bronze Nobel Prize winner is standing at the bar, the walls are decorated with photographs of the famous writer with many important persons, among which dominates Fidel Castro. Tourists from many different places, with Hemingway’s favourite ”Daiquiri”, this cold expensive cocktail, are making photographs besides the bronze statue of this master of words. 
”The old man did not chose this sunny archipelago by chance, in which the gifts of nature are in perfect harmony with those eruptive parts of the human being”, said the vice-minister, while cooling his wild thoughts, like all others, with Hemingway’s magical drink.
Watching a bunch of Italians with many pretty mullato women, from whose lips butterflies in many colours are flying away, from lips full of life, the general with four stars, the oldest member of our expedition, is telling about his impressions aloud, while having another white cold drink:
”This is a country for those with a repressed ego, for the other half of Freud’s human being. The heat, the sun, the sea, the night life, awake all senses and only a dead man could not feel the energy which comes out of every corner of the mind, from every move. The good and honest Sigmund missed a lot in his life – he never went to Cuba. But, if he had lived here, he would have never written a thing on hysteria or depression. His work would miss the pessimistic, dark and suicidal part of human nature.”
”This country is a miracle!” said the expert for bank law, while he was glancing at a beautiful black woman, trying to make a detailed description of last night mixed up with the first morning sunbeams of hangover, but the night which is still on in his sleepy and rich memory.
The centre of Havana around Plaza de la Catedral Square had vivid colours of beautiful restored facades, whose restoration and returning of old glow witness that the capital is finding its ways through ideological gaps of one of the last communist regimes in the world. The old part of town is full of tourists who make the monumental buildings form colonial epochs immortal with their cameras.
On paved squares, life never stops. Many music bands, animators, ladies in beautiful dresses, jongleurs are all making part of this life, and there is also the living tourist icon of Havana, the old fortune teller in a white dress with a cigar.
”Look, she looks like as she popped out of some Emir Kusturica’s movie” said the general, stopping the driver Richard for one more drink in a nearby bar, while Šumar, among the animators, after taking a photograph, came back with two colours of the revolution.


One CUC for a photograph, two for fortune-telling, four for a Che cap... And the rest is in bargaining. The guest is the most important person in Cuba, including all secret or official guests, and according to the words of our guide, the people of Cuba are very friendly with tourists.
”They have a really high security awareness and a strong ”syndicate” just like we had under Tito’s regime. Criminal is still on a low level, social and health services are functioning really good, the national interest is above everything else, says the General, also showing the nostalgia for the fraternity and the unity of former Yugoslavia.
Most buildings are from the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, as the Baroque-style Residence from the colonial era, built in 1791. This is where we have many styles of colonial architecture, from Baroque, Neo-Classicism, Mavarian influences... On one of the squares is the great Baroque Cathedral of Saint Christopher, built in 1666 on the foundations of the old church. The facade of this sacral building was described by the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, as petrified music. Today, on this very square, which is one of the centres of town, we can hear the cheerful tones of salsa, rumba, jazz...
From nearby bars we can hear the sounds of one of the bar anthems of Havana, ”Guantanamera”, which means ”the girl from Guantanamo”, a place which is world-wide known as one of the biggest American casamats and one of the most brutal tormenting spots in the world. The ensemble ”Lustardaicional” is greeting with ”Viva Serbia” and after a few songs they offered us their CD for 10 dollars.
The old part of Havana should be seen by foot or from a carriage. The capital of Cuba was established in 1514. A well-protected port from which ship loaded with gold were sent to Spain, quickly became the capital of the New World. Fortifications such as Castillo del Morro and La Havana were built in it. 
Richard, the driver, is actually an agronome, but as well as many highly educated Cubans, he is not into his profession because of bad salaries. Many taxi drivers, barmen, bellboys, merchants all have academic education, but they have abandoned their professions for the business with tourists which is enabling bigger money and a decent life. Richard is an excellent guide, he speaks English fluently, and he is also an excellent carriage driver, demonstrating us how he parks his vehicle with two beautiful white horses. 
After a mojito with the sounds of ”La Tradicional” ensemble and a ride around the ramparts of the naval museum, we are arriving to the building of Capitol Hill, called El Capitolio, built in 1929. Its cupola is 91 metres high and visible from almost every part of town. Since 1962, it is the place of the Ministry of Science and the Academy of Arts.


Near El Capitolio is ”Havanos”, a factory for the production of the best cigars in the whole world. ”Cohiba”, ”Monte Cristo”, ”Romeo y Julieta” are all made manually for decades now. The best are the ones made from the entire leaf, rubbed against female thighs, claim passionate Cuban cigar lovers.
A retired police commander is confirming us this, putting the rest of his cigar on a toothpick, in order to prolong the pleasures of the wonderful scent of pure tobacco.
”Gentlemen smoke it to the half, the poor people to the third, and you would smoke till your lips burn...” says the banking expert and our ”mobile pharmacy”.
On Morro Fortress, the Guinness record was beaten in making the longest cigar in the world. The master Jose Castelar succeeded in manually making a ”Cohiba” 45.38 metres long. When they asked how he did it, he said:
”The true magic is in the heart, not in the hands.”
In the former Presidential Palace in Havana now stands the Museum of the Revolution.
Every guide would recommend you to visit the Cathedral Square, as well as the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, in which Spanish governors used to live.
Unfortunately, those buildings were built before World War II, when Cuba, during the alcohol prohibition in the United States, was a paradise for rich industrials who sought for pleasures and calm life, are now all destroyed. At that time, American rich men were inspired by their hedonistic instincts and they built hotels, villas, bars, pleasure salons. Until Castro’s government, Cuba was called a big American bordello. Now, many of those abandoned buildings in the old part of Havana make us sad and feel pity. In some moments, it seems that they are completely abandoned. But, if you take a closer look inside, you can find a few people. Or even families who live in the ruins of the former fancy quart.
Some of the beautiful buildings, as symbols of the former regime, destroyed and crippled, are now witnesses of the destructive instincts of the masses, even if it is working for justice and social equality. Some of the buildings were closed by the revolutionary government, and recently, they were open again as a part of the tourist offer.


No one will leave this country indifferent, well-rested or empty-hearted, never mind his ideological views. Strong images, contrasts, emotions, the energy of the soul and all the things that the human eye can see for a short time, as only a small part of the great spiritual, cultural and civilization area on this Caribbean island of happiness.
While we are walking on white sand, which is changing its colours under the waves, the footprints, disappear under a new wave, as thoughts which overpower one another. ”Monuments” of the revolution are also placed on sandy beaches. The regime of Fidel Castro left hundreds of bunkers behind. They are still left as a reminder but also as a memory of the short war in the Bay of Pigs, when revolutionary forces succeeded in breaking the invasion of uniformed Cuban emigrants supported by the American aviation in 1963. Castro’s army killed about 90 and imprisoned about 1200 mercenaries, who were trained ”on the most ideal asylum for bastards”, as Che Guevara is calling the northern neighbours, in his memories of the Cuban revolution.
The Americans had no success in assassinating Fidel Castro, for years. Officially, they tried to kill him 637 times. ”When I am really dead, no one will believe it”, said Castro once.
Is he alive or is he sitting in a heavenly bar with Guevara and Hemingway, smoking his favourite ”cohiba”, drinking a mojito with mint leaves, or standing on his ship, we did not find out, but his epoch in Cuba is still alive and well.
While we are returning to the dark of the transition, we still hear the melody written for two guitars, by the swimming pool, on one cheerful evening in Santa Maria:
”Viva Cuba! Viva Serbia! Amigo Cuba! Amigo Serbia!”


Cuban cuisine, a mix of Spanish, Creole and South-African cuisine, really does not have many meals and specialties. However, with its great offer of sea food, the hosts recommend cristianos (a rice plate with black beans, which is the food for the poor), then picadillo (steak with rice) or arroz con pollo (chicken with black beans). Besides white and black rum, Cuba also produces two sorts of beer – ”cristal” and ”bucanero” (pirate).


Socrealism in blue
Opposite to old Havana, a new one has grown, a modern one, built in socrealistic style, taken from the Soviet Union. But, tourist complexes, especially in Varadero, hotels, bungalows, apartments are all very modern, as in every other tourist centre in the world.

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