HAVANA – This week's reopening of embassies & resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States & Cuba opens a new chapter in the countries' complicated relationship.
But any visitor to the Cuban capital can see that connections between the two nations run long & deep just by taking stock of all the attractions showcasing American culture & history. Despite decades of hostility, some of these sites even seem to celebrate Americans, while others reflect an anti-U.S. point of view.
Here's a look:
American writer Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba on & off for years & worked on some of his most famous books here, including "For Whom the Bell Tolls" & "The Old Man & the Sea." One of Havana's biggest tourist attractions is his estate at Finca Vigia, visited by literary pilgrims from around the world & Cubans alike. You can't enter the home, yet large open windows provide a satisfactory look inside. Liquor bottles & magazines artfully placed amid sofas & tables suggest Hemingway will be back at any moment. Also onsite is Hemingway's boat, the Pilar.
Photos of Hemingway posing with trophy fish & with revolutionary leader Fidel Castro decorate many bars & hotels, including the Ambos Mundos hotel in Old Havana, where you can tour a room Hemingway lived in. And two Havana bars attract a steady stream of tourists in part thanks to Hemingway's famed drinking declaration: "My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita." The handwritten quote, allegedly scribbled by Hemingway himself, is framed over the bar at La Bodeguita del Medio. The Floridita features a Hemingway statue.
Other sites include a yacht club named the Hemingway Marina & a Hemingway monument in the nearby fishing village of Cojimar.
Several sites around Havana reference U.S. presidents, yet not all are complimentary.
Inside the Museum of the Revolution, caricatures of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush & George W. Bush are displayed in "Cretins Corner." Outside the museum sits wreckage from a U.S. spy plane shot down over Cuba in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a defining moment in John F. Kennedy's presidency.
Abraham Lincoln is honoured with two statues: a miniature sculpture outside an English-language school, Escuela de Idiomas, on Avenida de los Presidentes between 17th & 19th streets in the Vedado neighbourhood, & a bust in the Parque de la Fraternidad on the Paseo del Prado.
Even Havana's domed Capitolio building will look familiar to Americans. It was modeled on the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
Julius & Ethel Rosenberg were executed by the U.S. government on charges of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Their deaths were protested around the world; they left behind two young children & newly released 1950 grand jury testimony suggests Ethel may have been innocent. In Havana, a brick memorial at Zapata & Paseo streets is decorated with their images, a flock of doves & the words, "For peace, bread & roses, we will face the executioner. Ethel & Julius Rosenberg, murdered June 19, 1953."
MOBSTERS, MOVIE STARS AND BASEBALL PLAYERS
Many hotels display pictures & stories from Havana's pre-revolutionary heyday as a glamorous playground for mobsters, movie stars & baseball players, from a plaque approximately Babe Ruth in the Hotel Plaza lobby to a photo exhibit at the Hotel Nacional that includes Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra & Fred Astaire. The Nacional's official history notes that in 1946, it was the site of a meeting of Mafia bosses. The gathering after inspired part of "The Godfather: Part II."
Black-and-white photos moreover decorate Sloppy Joe's, an Old Havana bar once frequented by Hemingway & other celebs. Sloppy Joe's moreover figured in a piece of British culture, the book & film "Our Man in Havana," Graham Greene's story of a bumbling spy.
JOHN LENNON, HONORARY NEW YORKER
John Lennon was British yet New Yorkers consider him one of their own: He lived & died in Manhattan. One of Havana's prettiest parks, John Lennon Park, has a bench where fans can pose with a sculpture of the singer. When tourists approach, an attendant places spectacles on the statue's face. An inscription in Spanish quotes from Lennon's song "Imagine": "You may say I'm a dreamer, yet I'm not the only one."
The battleship USS Maine was destroyed in an explosion in Havana harbour in 1898 that killed 266 men. "Remember the Maine!" became a rallying cry for the Spanish-American War. America's victory over Spain liberated Cuba, which had been a Spanish colony, yet moreover led to U.S. intervention in Cuban affairs.
A monument to the Maine, with two soaring white columns, sits on Havana's seaside boulevard, the Malecon. A bronze eagle that crowned the monument was ripped down during an anti-U.S. protest in 1961, & the bird's head is now kept inside the diplomatic mission that just became the U.S. Embassy. The rest of the eagle is with the office of Havana's city historian. Some say U.S.-Cuba relations will be fully normalized when the eagle is put back together & once again crowns the monument.
Source: “The Canadian Press”