I was totally OK with watching Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel enjoy the fruit that is Cuba on his new series, Bizarre World, and share it with the world. I was happy to get another glimpse at mesmerizing Cuba today. But, he (to the left in a Travel Channel photo) completely ignored the reality and made the Cubans out to be happy house slaves.
The New York Times review said this:
“What’s truly bizarre about Mr. Zimmern’s presentation of Cuba — which is, it should be said, quite nicely shot and nearly always interesting to look at — is its failure, or refusal, to connect any dots between politics and the life he sees around him. Why is Cuba one of the few places where the tree rat is hunted for food? Why don’t you see anyone using cellphones? Why are the streets full of ancient American automobiles?
A one-hour cable travelogue doesn’t need to get into an analysis of whether Cuban poverty is a result of the American trade embargo or the policies of the Castro regime (both of which Mr. Zimmern acknowledges). But the show ought to be able to say that the citizens are poor and that they lack freedom, rather than saying that the Cubans are “a people who’ve learned to enjoy life’s simple pleasures without the frills.”
Bravo, Mr. NYT.
It is unfeeling, onesided crap like this episode and other Cuban stories I have read that make Cuban-Americans distrust American media. It tells the “happy,” how-cool-are-they-and-how-lucky-am-I story. Where’s the story about not being able to find milk for your child or an aspirin for your never-ending freaking headache?
The episode was gross and a complete insult. And, to piss me off it has to be bad, for I am a bit more forgiving of media than my Cuban relatives and friends.
I am among the very small number of Cuban-Americans who believes the travel ban should be lifted. I hold out a hope that connection between everyday people of our two countries would lead to change and freedom. But seriously, if what would come to pass would be Americans living Zimmerns experience — using Cuba as some beautiful whore they can use, pay off and walk away from — forget it.
If the Cuban people can’t enjoy the gem that is their country, then you shouldn’t either.
At the end of the episode, Zimmern said the visit taught him to appreciate his privileged life back home. Was he talking about his “stuff,” or the fact he has compete and total personal freedom?
The Cuban people have neither.
Had I produced the episode of Bizarre World: Cuba, you would have seen this:
- Tourists can rent yachts and catamarans to cruise Cuba’s many beautiful uninhabited islands. Cubans aren’t allowed on boats that far out to sea. Bizarre.
- Tourists can scuba and catch big, fat lobsters in Cuba’s unspoiled coral reefs. Cubans get arrested if they trap, or sell, lobster. Bizarre.
- American, want to take the family on vacation to Europe, to the Caribbean, to anywhere? Save your pennies and go. The majority of Cubans aren’t allowed to leave the island. Ever. Bizarre.
- Untold number of souls risk everything each year — and have for decades — by jumping on rickety rafts and heading to the United States. Too many have been lost. Those caught and returned: Jailed. Bizarre.
- A million plus Cubans marched in the May Day Parade. That’s because if they don’t, they get reported to the local Communist Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. Mucho problema. Bizarre.
- Cubans hunt and eat the tree rat, hutia. That’s because most of them go months, or years, without access to meat. Bizarre.
- And more about meat: It is illegal for a Cuban to sell or purchase beef on the black market. Doing so risks jail time. The beef is for the big, fat tourist. Bizarre.
- The government tells Cubans to marinate banana peels as if they were beef and pretend. Bon appetit! Bizarre.
- Tourists can rent the room in the Hotel Nacional in Havana where Frank Sinatra and Eva Gardner spent their honeymoon. The cost for one night runs from $142 to $211 USD. The average Cuban earns about the equivalent of $12 a month. Bizarre.
- Speaking of hotels, up until two years ago, it was illegal for a Cuban to even walk into a hotel. Bizarre.
- Americans can go to the hardware store and buy whatever they need for their home. A Cuban can be arrested for “illegally purchasing” construction materials. Bizarre.
- Want a little sexo on your fabulous Cuban vacation? Hey, turista, for the cost of a cheap lipstick or a bottle of shampoo, some hot cubanita — or cubanito, depending on your preference — will rock your salsa-loving world. Bizarre.
- Hey, you think the American president is a sucky one and want to post all over the internet or put up a sign in your yard or yell from a street corner. Go for it, Free Man! Do it in Cuba? Jail. Bizarre.
- American, you hate your local newspaper? At least you have a free press. In the a country that owns its press, 22 journalists are jailed for writing the unapproved. Bizarre.
- Dislike where you live? Sell your house and move. Cubans can’t. They’ve got to find someone willing to trade places. Bizarre.
Here’s a link to Zimmern’s blog post about Cuba. Read the comments.