The title of this post is the same as the title to my favorite Hemingway short story. A Clean Well Lighted Place is basically about a lonely man who has nothing and is looking for a clean, well lighted place to contemplate the misery of his life.
I find that appropriate today, resonant even, given last nights Food Network special on Hemingway’s Cuba. I didn’t watch it. I didn’t have to see it to know that it was going to be another fluff job. Another piece that barely scratches the surface on Cuba and the situation the island is in. I knew it would be something of an infomercial for Cuba.
I also received the following via email from reader Ray Sand:
I just finished watching Hemingway’s Cuba on the food channel and I like to share my thoughts on this program with all of you.
To start off, it was nothing more than a travelogue undoubtedly made in cahoots with the Cuban Ministry of Tourism. It had the imprimatur of the Castroite dictatorship all over it. For instance, on several occasions when the camera showed a close-up of a Hemingway book, or a picture of Hemingway on the wall, it would invariably show Hemingway next to Fidel Castro. When the camera showed a close-up of a bartender making a mojito, it would focus on a bottle of Havana Club thus giving Cuba’s rum [Bacardi’s competition] free advertisement. At the end when the program was ending, they played a Buena Vista Social Club song. The Food channel stressed all of Cuba’s selling points!
There was really so much propaganda in this program that it is hard to point a finger at any one thing, but I will do so anyway. Take the Chinatown segment for instance. Cuba’s Chinatown [before Castro destroyed Cuba’s Chinese community] was the biggest Chinatown in Latin America and could rival New York or San Francisco’s Chinatown. That much said, Havana’s present-day Chinatown is kitsch and it has no Chinese people. I think that I saw one old Chinese guy and that’s all. Basically, it looked like a cheap theme park with all of the red Chinese lanterns and ornaments hanging from the buildings, but without any authenticity or legitimacy, the authenticity and legitimacy that a Chinatown populated with real Chinese people would have! By the way, Mariel Hemingway mentioned that you can buy songbirds in this Chinatown. The tragic thing is that Cuba’s songbirds are endangered and these are undoubtedly some of those endangered songbirds being sold in this Chinatown. But HEY, Castro has systematically sold off Cuba’s national patrimony including its fauna and flora, so this should not come as a surprise! What is surprising is that any American program would casually mention the songbirds without taking into regard the harm that is being done to Cuba’s wildlife. Isn’t America’s media politically correct and liberal? Aren’t politically correct liberal Americans supposed to be ecologically conscientious?
Another propaganda point were the paladares which we are lead to believe are all over Havana. In fact, while paladares were flourishing at one time, now they are diminishing. Castro is so afraid of a Cuban middle class that all of the paladares that were making money were so heavily taxed that most of them were forced to close. The owners were also heavily scrutinized and fined for the slightest infraction of any of Castro’s arbitrary laws such as the one where only family members can work in paladares, or that you can’t have more than a certain amount of tables in the paladar. Mariel Hemingway made it seem as if paladares were everywhere and she didn’t even hint at how the owners are mistreated by the government. And talking about food, that farmer’s market that Mariel Hemingway visited was obviously, how shall we put it? Grossly embellished! Yes, there are food markets in Cuba, but the abundance and variety of food that was shown in this program is exaggerated. My mother speaks to her sister in Cuba quite often and she says that there is no food to be had. She says that she is literally starving and often goes to sleep without eating!
Of course, no Castroite propaganda program would be complete without to important things:
Number One: mentioning Cuba’s alleged “excellent health care and education” which Mariel Hemingway did.
Number two: Most importantly NO Castroite propaganda piece would be complete because of what was NOT SAID. As usual, no mention of Cuba’s repressive government, and lack of human rights in all of its manifestations was ever made, or even hinted at. Mariel Hemingway totally [and with flying colors] complied with these two requirements!
It’s sad and insulting that the Food Channel aired this propaganda piece without any regard for the many Cuban exiles that undoubtedly watch it, or most importantly for the dissidents who are still imprisoned and the Cuban people who are repressed.
By the way, what’s with the title? “Hemingway’s Cuba?” Not even ashes are left of Hemingway’s Cuba!
At the end of Hemingway’s “A clean, well lighted place“, he gives us the true unending sorrow the main character lives in. An eternal life of solitude and isolation and sadness. It resembles the lives of Cubans in many ways:
“Good night,” the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself, It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.
“What’s yours?” asked the barman.
“Otro loco mas,” said the barman and turned away.
“A little cup,” said the waiter.
The barman poured it for him.
“The light is very bright and pleasant but the bar is unpolished,” the waiter said.
The barman looked at him but did not answer. It was too late at night for conversation.
“You want another copita?” the barman asked.
“No, thank you,” said the waiter and went out. He disliked bars and bodegas. A clean, well-lighted cafe was a very different thing. Now, without thinking further, he would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it’s probably only insomnia. Many must have it.