La Palacio Cueto, foto por Anne Willis.

We moved across the sunlit gray bricks of Plaza Vieja, dizzy from the very miracle of being in Cuba. We passed the building housing Camara Oscura, then meandered into the center of the square where the fountain was surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence. From there we could see an art gallery with arched, stained glass windows, restaurants, a few musicians, and a huge metal sculpture of a bald woman, naked except for her shoes, holding a huge fork over one shoulder, riding a chicken. Several men tried to sell us knock-off cigars and cheap rum.

The Gods were sleeping.

At the edge of the plaza a class of young children played a highly-regimented game of tag; we stopped to watch them before we moved on through Habana Vieja, Old Havana, one of the most restored, touristy, and expensive parts of Cuba. We were on our way to a church in a modest neighborhood, to hunt through their baptismal records for information on Anne’s mother, who had her first communion here in the 1950s.

On the Southeast corner of the wide, majestic Old Square was a massive art nouveau building with stone gods, griffins, and satrys, curlicues abounding the graceful, weathered, ornate façade. We stood in wonder, tracing the details with our eyes, and pointing out all the pagan elements we saw.

If you look behind the curtain, there is nothing inside.

And when we tromped onward, making early steps to find Anne’s Cuban family, we had gone less than half a block before we realized that the building, La Palacio Cueto, was only a facade. A construction crane slept nearby, idly rusting, and grasses grew in sandy clumps on the bare floors inside the edifice, a 10-year restoration project far from completion.

The back walls and interior of the former hat factory/hotel/apartment building were completely gone, empty of substance; someone had done a half-assed job of shoving random pieces of wood into the windows of the bottom floor to prop them up so the entire concrete behemoth didn’t collapse.

Just like Trump’s Cuba policy, first announced in June 2017, with more details released five months later. No substance, no real plan, just a piece of incomplete work designed to restore an old, exhausted facade.

The Art & Architecture of Forbidden Hotels

Trump’s policy bans United Statesians from doing business with some hotels, stores, museums, distilleries, government and other organizations, and even marinas associated with the Cuban military.

After searching through my pictures from Old Havana, I don’t think I could afford to stay at any of the hotels on the list anyway.

Hotel Raquel has been banned for United Statesians.
Hopefully taking pictures of these hotels is not a violation of the Trump Cuba policy.
The cherub on Hotel Raquel did not fool the Trump administration.
Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernest Hemingway loved to write.
A stay at Hotel Ambos Mundos, or Hotel Both Worlds, is no longer part of ours.

Unforbidden Hotels

I am still marveling that the Hotel Nacional de Cuba is not on Trump’s list. The entire building seems to be a monument to the elite communist powers in Cuba, as these photos show.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba’s website says it is a symbol of Cuban history, culture, and identity (for the last 85 years).
Outside the cigar store, a crooked painting of Castro.
After traveling in Cuba, I’ve paid more attention to how United Statesians use our flag in public and private spaces.
At the edge of the Hotel Nacional’s lawn, a bunker-turned-tiny museum explains the Cuban Missile Crisis. The English and Spanish versions had radically different attitudes about the events. Foto por Anne Willis.

Real News on the Trump Travel Policy

If you want to travel to Cuba, you can still book a flight online, take a cruise, and return to the U.S. with most Cuban rums and cigars, por supuesto. Gigantic U.S. corporation Caterpillar gets to keep its contracts there as well.

To discover more about the details of this silly façade of a policy, check out these links:

You  can also live vicariously through my photographs.


We booked our accommodations through AirBnB, still legal under the new policy. The space was owned by a Mexican national but managed by a local Cuban woman. Foto por Anne Willis.
Living in a local residence in a real neighborhood is for me a superior experience, even without the current legal limitations on hotels. Foto por Anne Willis.
View from the rooftop of our Airbnb residence, and a lovely place to have a drink and smoke a cigar while waiting for the Cuban authorities to release your veterinary supplies so you can complete your humanitarian mission.

Rum, Art, Merchandise, Cigars

We can still bring back Cuban art under the new policy.
One of the stores in Habana Vieja we can still visit. Foto por Anne Willis.
Ron Caney and Ron Varadero are prohibited distillieries, but there are many other rums to choose from. I will never forget the ubiquitous clinking of bottles in the customs line coming back into the U.S. Foto por Anne Willis.

Following Serendipity in Cuba

I can’t stop writing about Cuba. Read more:

One Reply to “Façade”

  1. When I was very young I lived in Hialeah (Florida for those who don’t know!). Almost every Monday we could hear the single teachers snickering about the weekend in Habana! I thought they must have had a really good time if they couldn’t talk out loud about it! It sounded like a pretty magical place- guess it was and still is!

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