I have never been to Cuba. Some of my friends have and they loved it. Mostly. Sort of. It was interesting, they said. I love great coffee, great beaches a warm climate, 1950s architecture, Latin music and an intelligent health system (considering the money they have at their disposal). The home of Hemingway (one of my heroes) is a place I may not get to. (She thinks wistfully).
I’ll talk about cars instead because cars got me thinking about Cuba in the first place. Every year, our little town in the Wairarapa hosts Cruise Martinborough a festival of American cars from the 1950s and 60s. Men (they are usually but not exclusively men) arrive several days before the Saturday parade of cars – the deep thrum of engines driving over the hill and into our valley announcing their arrival. The bars and cafes are full of grey-haired men, their stomachs slack with age talking about makes and models, engines and spare parts, paint jobs and hood ornaments.
On Saturday morning, the streets are closed. The cars form up in an orderly manner (revving not only permitted but encouraged) at the rugby grounds. From there they proceed to the centre, loop the town square and park for the day in their allocated spot where the public can ooo and aahh at the work of the American twentieth century automobile industry. The style, the excess, the sheer inpractibility of these machines can take your breath away.
I hate to think how many miles to the gallon, these cars need to get from A to B, but the local garage owners are always pleased when Cruise Martinborough rolls into town. So too are the local retailers, and the public who turn up in increasing numbers for a dose of wonder.
In the fifties and sixties few New Zealanders had access to American cars. We ( by that I mean very definitely – my parents ) drove British made cars. Occasionally we would see one of these on the roads. Too flashy for my father to entertain ownership.
Mighty great tanks, their top speeds around 60 mph, no seat belts, bench seats front and back, no safety glass, no airbags and no air-conditioning. They had temperamental engines and delicate tires, cornered atrociously, and had next to no shock absorbers. What’s not to like?
The stuff of culture, these cars. American culture. The culture we envied and aspired to back then. Movies, TV, magazines and songs. The car of the Beach Boys; the T-Bird which no one’s gonna take away gunning it down the freeway to Malibu, loaded with suntanned youth, surfboards and Gidget.
The cars of the last century, collectors items in New Zealand lovingly restored by their owners are similarly cared for by their owners in Cuba. A hobby in New Zealand. An essential means of transport in Cuba.