Billy Eichner
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PHOTOS: Cuba's Endangered Authenticity

PHOTOS: Cuba's Endangered Authenticity
I am already working on borrowed time in Cuba. Ah, in Cuba, where my heart and my soul live. It's all borrowed, of course. It isn't mine. It was never mine. I have called it a beautiful disaster. I've said that it was well past the point of crisis. And at the point of crisis, change comes, inevitably and irrevocably, change comes. 
It's my experience that in the past couple of years, Cuba has already changed and change is always traumatic. Cuba lost its innocence. Cuba climbed the ramparts and saw over the wall, saw what they were missing, better viewed their global position, and stirred a more global consciousness. And after 55 years of an accidental nostalgia, after 55 years of patience, they demanded more. And so Raul Castro said, in 2010, that Cuba was unsustainable, that Cuba needed to change course, which is quite a big deal after 50 years of his brother saying, toe the line. And so came some reforms and little spots of capitalism; but a little capitalism is a funny thing, a little capitalism is a petulant child at a fine restaurant. And so came capitalist thinking. Compete. Get ahead. Make money. Make opportunity. And so my Cuban friends all point out that Cuba has become heart-wrenchingly dog-eat-dog. It wrenches my heart, because it's already not the Cuba I saw and knew and loved only a few years ago. And so now nearly every Cuban I know, has left already or is leaving. And for those that are still left behind, with just a few exceptions among my friends, there is resentment and envy and desperation.
But what was the Cuba that I knew? What was my beautiful disaster? Cuba is a mad paradox difficult to strip down and lay bare. First there is the illusion on either end: the postcard facade for a crucial tourism industry on one end, and, on the other end, the persistent indoctrination of the socialist martyrs and revolutionary dogma. Pretending is the first thing Cuban children learn, I've been told. To pretend to understand the socialist promise, to pretend to believe it too. And there's my illusion, too, in the middle, with alien eyes that want to understand, that want the romance and the seduction too. That first time, when I rose up out of the tunnel under the bay into the heart of Havana, into the crumbling architecture, I knew instantly I was in love. Havana is other-worldly: the architecture, the ruins, the feeling of far-stretching time, the presence of ghosts and history everywhere — it really ought to be impossible, but there it is. Like a castle in the clouds. I love the joy of life I see everywhere. In Cuba, there is theater everywhere. There are people everywhere. There is joy and beauty everywhere. And at least as far as I can see, they know how to live, they know how to love, they dance and drink and smoke and celebrate life.


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