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Back to Basics

In just a few weeks, we will be traveling back in time.

The mission will be a reconnaissance-in-force of Savannah architects, preservationists and artists travelling to Havana to visit with leaders there.  We will give Cuba our eyes, our ears, and perhaps even our hearts, as we visit the largest island nation in the western world.  Our hope is that we will learn enough from them to come back to Savannah and decide whether we should be doing more there—and here—in the future to preserve, protect and create more of our unique cultures.

Cuba has the population of Ohio, the land area of Pennsylvania, the internet capacity of one building in Savannah, and the carbon footprint of less than a medium-sized American city.  In many ways, it has been frozen in time since 1959, when Che’ Guevarra and the Castros overthrew an unpopular dictator, and became a communist threat to our American world order.  Last Christmas, Pope Francis successfully encouraged President Barack Obama to begin the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, and to normalize American travel to Cuba for the first time in 55 years.  Although it is unclear whether Cuba can handle the expected flood of tourists from the United States (they have been accommodating Canadians and Europeans for over a decade) they desperately need U.S. currency, since their money is worthless to buy durable goods, energy and food in the world market.  Now isolated without a Soviet Russian big brother, or the hard currency from Venezuela’s sympathetic (and oil rich) government, they need us capitalists to keep them afloat.

It remains to be seen if the U.S. Congress will go along with the Pope and the president, but VisaCard, American Airlines and Delta are already moving ahead full speed.  Disney, Nike, MicroSoft and Comcast won’t be far behind.  Our hope is to make lasting connections with Habaguanex, the development arm of the Office of City Historian in Havana, and the community of local artists, preservationists and architects there, to see if we can initiate some kind of cultural exchange.  We think we can learn from them how they have restored and renovated the most significant of Cuba’s historic landmark places without capitalism.  We know that we can share the lessons we have learned in Savannah about becoming a world class tourist destination without losing too much of our own culture.  Seems logical, right?

We are not doing this naively.  We have done loads of research, and enlisted a fellow Georgian, Kit Sutherland, who has made this trip a dozen times already, to lead our expedition.  She has arranged our meetings with Habaguanex, and other Cuban leaders.  We have also been listening to native Cubans that live here now, but retain Cuban passports and visit their families, and their investments, frequently.  Our research indicates that although Cuba has some great hotels and tourist accommodations now, that they may be as much as 100,000 hotel rooms short of meeting anticipated demand once those airlines start daily flights from Miami, Atlanta and New York.  The reason, we are told, is simple:  Cuba is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and her people some of the happiest and best educated.

One other important fact:  Havana’s Vieja Habana historic district is more than ten times the size of Savannah’s.  And her architecture, art, music, food, and nightlife are magical.

As we prepare for this visit, we go without any belief that we are coming to bring our superior culture to help save some third world country.  Instead, we come with eyes wide open, to learn, and hopefully, to return with ways that we can share.  Frankly, the opportunity to visit a place that has not made some of our worst mistakes over the past 50 years, and that has faithfully resisted the temptation to modernize and globalize up to now, seems irresistible!

Manténganse al tanto


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