Archive for January 24th, 2018

by Sam Juliano

One of Cuba’s most distinctive if even defining anachronisms – highways populated with classic American cars from the 1950s – appears set to fade into history following the most sweeping relaxation of vehicle imports since the revolution.  For most of the past half century, Havana’s traffic has been jammed with Pontiacs, Studebakers, Oldsmobiles, Chevrolets and Soviet imports as a result of tight domestic controls and US sanctions that made it difficult to buy parts and fuel. But in the latest of a series of economic reforms, the council of ministers headed by his brother – the current president, Raúl Castro  abolished the need for permission and opened up the car market to all citizens.  The Communist party’s official newspaper, Granma, related that the new regulations would “eliminate existing mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state”.  The measure was largely designed to erase public frustration at the previous directives, which afforded an unfair economic edge to those who could purchase cars and push them on the black market, often at several times the original price.  The end of the import ban however came at a price, and the long overdue modernization will effectively eliminate the world’s largest automobile museum for good, closing a time portal that for many allowed a bygone era to maintain a presence in an age where other technological advances like the cell phone, lap tops and social media allowed the 50’s to break bread with the new millennium.

A celebration of the car culture permeating Cuba in the baby boomer years and the resilience of the island’s natives is gloriously brokered in All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle and her illustrator Mike Curato.  As related by the renowned Cuban-American author and poet, life during the era seemed to revolve around the vital use of the car, which after trial and tribulation gave Cubans pride of accomplishment.  The car in those days was nearly equal to the home, carrying family members to visit other relatives, to run errands, and especially to head into the steaming metropolis of Havana, the country’s capital city, where the major roads were a living embodiment of what some will fondly recall from movies like American Graffiti, Tucker and Heart Like A Wheel.  Keeping an automobile in running condition was often equaled by cosmetic attention, the results of which defied age, mileage and excessive use.    All the Way to Havana is about pride, perseverance and responsibly, and the car with its inherent physical grandeur is the vassal of those fiercely maintained propensities.  The encapsulation of the daily diligence is a sensory road trip to the capital where the sounds of other cars, street performers and people buzzing attest to the indomitable spirit of those who are high on life. (more…)

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