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In the land of cigars and rum

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copyright the Chronicle January 4, 2017


by Paul Lefebvre


It had been hot all week in Havana. It was the kind of heat that gets inside your head so you feel hot even when you’re lying in your room with the air conditioner running on high. Ever since arriving in Havana five days earlier, with a stopover at a small airport in the province of Holguin — where they make cheap cigars that are sold at storefronts in the city — the temperature had been running right around 90 degrees.

As in Vermont, winter in Cuba starts in December, only no one here complains about the weather. I try to take it in stride by telling myself this is the tropics; it’s strange, unfamiliar, and far beyond what I imagined.

Upon reaching our hotel, the Hotel Colina, next to the University of Havana, I packed my winter coat and gumrubber shoes deep down in the duffle bag, and shed my socks and my suspenders, which had got me in trouble earlier, going through customs at the Montreal airport. Immediately after the alarm went off, an officer took me aside and had me stand with my arms outstretched while he checked me out with a metal detector.

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