At Dusk in Havana, I Fell in Love
On loving, leaving, and dreaming for a place
December 23, 2022
Happy Friday, travelers! I missed this space so much while I was gone, but I didn’t have enough internet access in Country #26 to write you.
Since we last saw one another, I went to Cuba for a week.
Before we get into what that experience was like, I have a few housekeeping updates:
I’m working on Sarah’s Ultimate Guide to Paris, and it will be published here once it’s finished. I know some of you are planning first-time trips to Paris and want my recs to reach you early on.
Before the end of the year, I’ll send all the books I read in 2022 in a list. Titles and links only, no synopses or long-winded reviews. There are too many for that!
In a separate post, I’ll highlight the top 10 and share a little more detail.
December Links are coming on the 31st. You can see November’s here.
Now, off to Havana we go. I’ve been sharing the day-by-day snapshots of what we did while in Cuba on Instagram Stories, but there’s so much more than I can say in a short paragraph.
Every traveler has one country that was their travel love story. Cuba is mine.
Here’s how it all happened. This is the first installment of a few—I don’t want each issue to get too long, but this experience changed me. I hope you enjoy. ❤️
Everyone told us we shouldn’t. Or so it seemed.
Every what if, every doubt this could work, every day I regretted the idea in the first place.
From the moment we stepped outside the airport, they faded into nothing. Destiney and I knew This place is it. The one. As the banality of airport suburbs, ubiquitous worldwide, made way to the Malecón and finally to the tighter, pastel streets of Old Havana, that realization grew, grew, grew.
Foreigners wax poetic about the charm of Havana, particularly in its old foreign cars. Tours of the Malecón and Old Havana go for 90 bucks a pop, Instagram photos included. But that’s not the charm I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the hum of everyday life. Rapid-fire, flowery, islander español surrounds you. Cubanos don’t pronounce the “b” when they say Cuba. The ever-present, “Taxi?” lingers past every corner.
That first night in Havana, the city was alive. Vibrant. Soaring.
Families were everywhere. A group of karate students, dapper in their little uniforms, made a sea of white against the onyx backdrop of Havana at night in one of many, many parks. A man stood in front of a blanket full of books for sale. Artists painted the night away, for a few pesos a canvas. Any photo I took had moody, mysterious clouds, opening just enough to tease, to say You were wrong about me. Let me show you the truth.
When I found that $370 roundtrip months prior, this night, this day, this week felt so far off in the distance I could ignore that I was going to Cuba. A place my government does not allow its citizens to visit on a vacation, but only with a real reason.
That first night in Havana was a world of possibility, more real than any destination before it. What the city had for us in the daytime was a world unexpected, a world I will share when I write you next. Until then, all I can say before making this much, much longer is that at dusk, I fell in love.
What’s On My Tray Table
Weeks ago now, I flew through a beautiful, heartbreaking novel about a forger in the French Resistance. My introduction to Kristin Harmel’s work was The Forest of Vanishing Stars, which was one of my top picks from last year.
The Book of Lost Names is her most-read, most-loved novel to date. It made an appearance on my TBR not long after I read The Nightingale and fell in love with WWII-era historical fiction.
There are so many stories like Eva’s that are lost to time, forever in the ether, lingering in the wind. Around us, maybe even in us, but we aren’t fully aware of them. There were too many secrets kept out of necessity. Novels like these help those of us so far removed by time, distance, and circumstance to experience some level of proximity.
Out of all the novels I’ve read like this, The Book of Lost Names has the greatest love story. From the first page, we’re transported to Paris and introduced to Eva, a young Jewish woman studying for her PhD. When France is invaded and its jewel of a capital occupied, restrictions on her people tighten to the point of suffocation.
Devastated by the arrest of a loved one, Eva leaves Paris for the French countryside, in search of a new life and identity. The village she chose, though, has secrets of its own—and her new life is one that will change who she is forever.
I give it 5 beaming stars. You can find it here.
Aside from The Book of Lost Names, I also read Women Talking. It’s now in theaters. The novel is about a group of Mennonite women who meet in an attic and discuss leaving the colony after a series of brutal attacks.
The narration is unique and, at times, erratic, but fitting. There are snippets of their conversations that have lingered in my mind and will forever. If the style of this book isn’t your type, I at least recommend watching once the movie is more widely available. Stories like these deserve as wide an audience as possible.
I hope you have a beautiful holiday weekend of warmth, love, and laughter. I’ll be back next week, just after Christmas.
Be brave and stay that way,
Yes, we traveled to Cuba legally. I’ll explain all of that after I tell the story of my experience there.