Today is my tenth day in Cuba. My last day. I am sitting at a restaurant called Farmacia on Callejon de Los peluqueros and Peña Pobre, where Old Havana and Modern Havana meet the harbour. I am here because the restaurant where I had planned to eat – and with whose staff I spoke as late as 10pm last night about it – is closed. I was turned away with an embarrassed apology from the manager who explained that the hotel has zero guests, and they are closing. Until when? He did not know.
Walking through streets where I am usually accosted by people trying to bring me in to their restaurants is eerie when the voices are silent, the tables empty, the restaurants closed. Of the five such establishments on La Espada, only one is open today. Here on Callejon de Peluqueros is is two out of four. Slowly but surely, this vibrant and amazing city, one of the great tourist destinations and seven wonders of the world, is shutting down.
The words Corona virus are on everybody’s lips. At last count there were sixteen confirmed cases in the country, still hardly a statistical blip. And yet Habaneros are feeling the affects of this global health crisis. I was speaking with a couple from Ireland last night, On a two week tour, they are forced to cut short after four days because their tour operators can’t guarantee getting them home otherwise. It is a story I have heard over and over again this week from Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Argentinians, Japanese, Mexicans, Australians, and more. They are canceling or cutting short their Cuban experience.
Most people are understanding of the situation. Only two people have expressed to me their anger at the steps their tour operators are taking to get them home, with one of them defiantly refusing to go. I think it has dawned on most of us that we are living through something none of us have ever seen before. Not since the unfortunately named Spanish Flu outbreak a century ago has anything spread like this. Then it was soldiers traveling for war; today it is the combination of business and recreation travelers who unlike any time in our history can travel from country to country, circumnavigating the globe in weeks or even days. While the team of flight attendants I spent a day with probably wins, many of the people I have met are on as much as their tenth country in a month. It is no wonder Covid-19 has spread to every corner of the globe.
With that, here I sit, the only patron on the street, enjoying My breakfast of eggs, cheese, coffe, and juice.a beagle puppy is being trained by his owner, but has entered into a heated conversation with an unseen mutt in a third story balcony. Hammers are banging, people are chatting. Behind me, the restaurant staff are watching the news. On a limited basis, life is going on… minus the tourists, with fewer people milling about. Yes, there are still some tourists here… but it is a wisp of the normal omnipresent fog that the city is accustomed to. Over the ten days I have been here, the city has not quite closed down, but it is getting there. People are asking me how long I think it will last… as if I have some sort of information they do not. While I hope it is quick, my crystal ball is on the fritz, and I am only catching static.
Covid-19 will last as long as it lasts and then hopefully it will be gone. If that happens, the world will complain that our governments overreacted. If it gets worse, the same people will complain that the same governments did not react quickly or thoroughly enough. I am not I. The business of feeling bad for governments, but this is their worst no-win situation with regard to public opinion. If that’s the case, then at least let’s all hope it is the first – the overreaction.
I do have one last interesting observation. However right or wrong, American governments have for sixty years punished this nation because of the oppression of their people. However none of the businesses that I have mentioned have closed because of government fiat, rather they have individually made business decisions to close, whether for lack of customers or to protect their staff. Tonight I am returning to a California where businesses have been mandated by the government to stay closed. Liza’s jewelry story is not allowed to open its doors today, so she is staying home with the dog to do whatever she does. When I arrive, I will be told I must go directly home, and stay there… by order of the governor of California. Who is right? I wish I knew. Whoever it is, the Department of Irony is working overtime this month.
…and with all that, with everyone coming together to help people out in this crisis, the restaurant decided to price-gouge their only customer of the day.