10 Facts About Cuba You Did Not Know (And You Should)

Cuba is one of those places everyone knows something about. And, most of the times, this something is wrong. Coming from an ex-Soviet country myself, I felt like I knew it all as well. Cold War between the West and the East, ideological battle of capitalism and socialism, Fidel, classic American cars, deficit, Cuba Libre. However, Cuba surprised me, more than once. Here are some key facts: I have collected them from the Museum of Revolution in Havana and Julia’s Sweig’s book “Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know” (to counterbalance the official view of the Revolution and a rare sympathetic American reality check).  The tales of Juan Carlos, our Cuban guide, spice up the facts and build a bridge between imagination and reality.

1. Cuba does not equal Fidel. For everyone Cuba means Fidel, and Fidel means Cuba. Even now, after his death, Fidel Castro remains a symbol of Cuban Revolution and the main force that has shaped up the life of 11 million Cuban people for the last 64 years. However, there are surprisingly few public images of Fidel around the country, and when there is one, it is usually to illustrate some motivational revolutionary quote. Che is, on the contrary, all over the place. My first guess was that that’s because Che is so much better looking, – but in reality, Fidel avoided self-canonization on purpose. Unlike pretty much any other powerful political leader before or after him, he was aiming at building a state which would function irrespectively of him and, eventually, without him. He was controlling every aspect of Cuban life during his period of political power from 1976 to 2008 and, de facto, even afterwards until he died. Yet Fidel’s dream was to have Cuba owned by its people and independent of anyone’s will, including his own.

2. Che Guevara, whose portrait has been going viral on all sorts of media for more than half a century, is not even Cuban. Technically speaking, he was proclaimed “a Cuban citizen by birth” in February 1959 for his instrumental role in the Cuban Revolution. However, Che, whose real name, by the way, was Ernesto, was born in Argentinian city Rosario (now a randomly bought Starbucks mug from there suddenly has a meaning!). A chronic asthmatic and a doctor by education, Che was introduced to Fidel by his brother Raoul in Mexico, where Fidel was regaining his forces after his first unsuccessful revolutionary attempt (and Che, the first blogger of his time, was just chilling on his romantic exploratory route through Latin America, which he later documented in a book). According to the legend (or Juan Carlos, in this case), Fidel and Che talked for the entire night, Fidel going strong with his revolutionary view, and at the dawn Che famously said “I am in!”. And in he was.

3. No one will ever know whether Fidel was a true Communist at heart, but it is a fact that with the U.S. around the corner he effectively had no choice. I found a great quote in the book of Sweig. It dates back to 1823 and pretty much sums up the U.S. take on the Cuban policy (and, in fact, the merely existence of the Cuban policy).

“There are laws of political as well as physical gravitation; and if an apple, severed by the tempest from its native tree, can not choose but to fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its unnatural connection with Spain and incapable of self-support, can gravitate only toward the North American Union, which, by the same law of nature can not cast her off from its bosom”.

As pronounced (proudly, I suppose) by John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the U.S. and at the time the Secretary of State, in 1823.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Names

I simply love words. The magic of connected letters has captivated me since I was a child. Since then, I have always been surrounded by books: novels when I was growing up, books on strategy and economics when I was studying, books on self-development and growth now, when I am done with degrees (with an occasional history reading, like the book on Cuba that was my vacation reading binge).

When I am not reading (and not working, or writing in my blog or IG), the magic of words still captures me on the streets. I have a lot of pictures with street signs, hashtags and city graffiti walls that have captured my imagination in different cities during different trips. For this week’s photo challenge, Names, I have chosen words with coffee from last year’s Roland Garros.

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Roland Garros 2016: the coffee

Happy tasting!

🙂

Quitting Sugar and Other Happiness Hacks

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It was a fantastic summer. Parents visited for almost a month, and I took them to the coldest place in France I could find, Bretagne (such was their wish). The next weekend we spent discovering Brussels and Bruges, a small city in Belgium that was on my travel map for a long time. Mom and Dad were happy. The same day I left them at Charles de Gaulle, properly escorted by all the priority lines I have access to, Louveteau and I took off to our own adventure, to St Petersburg and Moscow and then to Athens and Santorini. A few weeks later, we closed the summer in Croatia, in between Dubrovnik, the setting of The Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing, and the island of Lopud. I was breathing sun, summer, salt water and the distinct spirit of adventure.

And all this time, in the background, I was working on my happiness project. You might wonder, what’s there to work on during the summer holidays, when everything around inspires happiness. Time economics. I am a big believer of doing things when you can afford doing them versus when you need them to be done and all the alarm systems are on. I knew that when the work fully restarts after summer, it will probably take 90% of my focus and my most ambitious aspiration would be to have some kind of control over it. It is true: with my next week’s schedule looking like Croatia –> Geneva –> Paris –> Prague –> Moscow –> Paris, the time my happiness hacks becomes very limited.

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To Be Happier

I started this blog a little bit more than a month ago with a post on the importance of doing what you LOVE. It was my strategy to change my thought track from work-work-work, to reboot and to take a moment to appreciate all the beautiful things that were passing by with the speed of light. In a way, it was my own happiness project. Since then, I was keeping a promise I gave to myself to post at least once a week, usually on Mondays.

A lot of amazing things have happened. I have started taking pictures again. Not only that, I was actually going though them afterwards: editing, arranging, uploading here. With my edits, I wanted to do something more tailored than Picasa, my usual editing app, could offer, and I have downloaded Lightroom. I have played with my DSLR camera to see what it was capable of outside of the comfort zone of the auto mode. I got so excited about it that I have bought a new lens and upgraded my camera. Sharing my travel experiences made me live through them again, to my delight. Taking time to write and post pictures gave me this space for reflection which I was missing.

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What I learnt from travelling to 37 countries (and living in 9)

I have recently posted a teaser on stepping out of the comfort of the place you come from and setting a foot to wander the world. Here is my learning on what happens when you actually do.

Credit card, passport, phone. You will probably forget something somewhere. And most likely, more than once. As practice has it, any travel gap can be covered by a credit card, passport and a phone or a combination of the three. So make sure you hold on to these fundamentals. Everything else is replaceable. It is still useful to pack as few valuable as possible (and in some case, like when travelling to Brazil, to avoid taking any at all), to lock the few you take with you in a safe and to check the room before leaving the hotel for good. Knowing what is enough though will save you a lot of time (and peace of mind) when packing.

Follow your (photo) hunch. Places make first impressions, too. And these first impressions matter. So take pictures of whatever catches your eye. The palm trees will become a usual part of the scenery after a few days on an island, the magic of the Mediterranean sunsets will fade away after a few nights, so keep the memories of the things as you first see them. And remember: imperfect photo is better than no photo at all. In a few months, you might find things that you hated in this picture less dramatic. In a few years, they might become a source of a great story.

Some of the best travel memories happen at 6 am. I learnt it the hard way: waking up that early is the last thing I want to do on vacation. And it can be oh so worth it. My trip to Iguazu falls would never be even nearly as amazing without a 6 am plunge into the smooth surface of the swimming pool followed by the breakfast in the sunrise rays (and a walk to the falls in the only company of coati). One of my best pictures from Rio is its sunrise, which Louveteau and I captured on our last day in Latam when we could finally catch the sun after several days of clouds at the dawn.

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Stocking up on energy: do what you LOVE

A few weeks ago I reached out for a Harvard Business Review’s book “On Managing Yourself”. You know, a type of a book you buy after a year in a great business school, when consuming tons of a high quality content on self development becomes a habit. The school is over, you don’t want to lose the habit (and an addicting feeling that life is full of great things, and most lie ahead), and so you get books which you never read, because life does not slow down after school. On the contrary: life, real life with a new job and its ambitions, new projects and their bills, new friends and the old loved ones, just begins. One of the senior executives in the company I work for calls that a constant quest for balancing act, and I kind of sympathize with this life view (hence the tag). Because now, once MBA is over, life’s setup becomes sort of fixed. And somehow self development goes on a shelf, right next to the book.
Nevertheless, I have reached out to this book. Why? I was feeling pretty much dead. I live in the city I was dreaming to live in since I first stepped on its streets ten years ago. In my personal life, I am happy to the extent that I don’t want to write about it not to jinx it. After my studies, I got a job exactly in the type of company I wanted to be – and in 1,5 years managed to get to do there exactly what I wanted to do. And yet, I was feeling pretty much dead.

So I reached out for the book.

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