Friday, 31 December 2010

Havana in general

I am beginning to form some general impressions about Cuba. These aren't particularly well informed but are based on my first hand observations and feelings about the country and its people at this point in time..

It feels like there is a strong sense of identity and not a little pride in the 'idea' of Cuba. That said there is an appetite for more than is currently on offer. One senses frustration at the absence of products and hunger for style and choice. I heard today from a Scottish doctor in training here that there is no shortage of technical expertise and regard for patient care but they lack basics for sterilisation, even soap.

Developed world progress feels a step away. Some of the state run restaurants and hotels could easily be viable as businesses but it seems unlikely that the theatre that I attended and it's medium to lavish production of La Boheme would survive any business case test - but what price culture and opera does indeed enjoy subsidy in the UK?  So I think the question is how to protect the best whilst setting free the strongest, and enhancing the high quality knowledge based professions with comparable equipment and resources.

Service culture however is generally not well embedded, perhaps because the businesses are not reliant on customer so much as state patronage.   Today, waiting 20 minutes for a sandwich the young man serving me was clearly embarrassed but his boss didn't really understand the rules of engagement regarding complainants and desirable  outcomes of customer satisfaction or at worst dampening of irritation levels. That said the B&B casa particulares do  show the values associated with sole traders and given their oversupply they are fiercely competitive except on price which is similar everywhere. I think that the interest in the tourist currency, CUCs is a strong motivation since it affords access to more exotic products.

To it's credit Cuba is heavily invested in the arts, health and history but it's infrastructure serves it poorly and it feels politically  isolated. As yet I haven't watched much TV but I have seen little interest in newspapers nor appetite for news - except the weather, so I wonder at the capacity for Cubanos to conextualise  themselves among similar emerging economies - generally in South and Central America there is growth but Cuba's growth is stunted by its own policies and that of its most influential neighbour.

This is a easy country in which to travel and I would definitely entertain the idea of cycling around the island, perhaps avoiding Havana. Other road users are polite and friendly and the roads are generally made well enough. Buses can be overcrowded especially in Havana but they are very cheap locally and even tourist buses are reasonable in price. Roads are very clean with none of the fluttering plastic bags seen littering the roadside in other countries developing countries.

People here are friendly and polite. Most adults are happy to say hello and the children are OK. I have not once heard the disparaging shout 'Gringo' and people readily engage in conversation almost universally enquiring where you have come from. That said, a good number try and sell you something and there is a flourishing black market fed by the products needed to  service the successful tourist trade.

In a  nutshell Cuba is a fine and interesting place to visit and could be an exciting place to live, not least for the music and dance that pervades the public spaces and many bars.

No comments: