I meant to link to this last week, but John Jeremiah Sullivan for a while has been one of my favorite new essayists on American life. He captures contemporary U.S. culture as well as any other writer today.
He’s taken his eye to Cuba (his wife in Cuban, so he’s made multiple trips to the island) in a sparkling piece in the New York Times Magazine that examines Cuba from an American perspective, but from a three-dimensional way that recognizes the problems with the U.S. embargo of Cuba (a half-century and running) without apologizing for Fidel and Raúl Castro that also manages to be just as much about the United States and Americans as it is about Cuba and the Cubans:
You know when you’re meeting a Canadian, because they always ask, in the same shocked tone, “How did you get into the country?” It’s an opportunity to remind you that you can’t go legally, and they can. And by extension, that they come from a more enlightened land. “You need to grow up about that stuff,” one guy that I met at a nature preserve said, to which I wanted to tell him to get a large and powerful population of Cuban exiles and move them into an election-determining province of Canada and call me in the morning….
God, the human body! It was Speedos and bikinis, no matter the age or body type. You would never see a poolside scene in the United States with people showing this much skin, except at a pool where people were there precisely to show off the perfection of their bodies. The body not consciously sculptured through working out has become a secret shame and grotesquerie in America, but this upper-class Euro-Latin crowd had not received that news, to my distraction.
If you haven’t read it already, it’s worth your time. And the accompanying photos are mesmerizing (see above from photographer Andrew Moore) — Moore has been traveling to Cuba since 1998, and his photos of late-Castro Cuba are spectacular. His book, Cuba, comes out next week.