The L.A. Times sent one of its managing editors to Cuba a few months ago, to report on the status of the society, culture, etc. Good that they sent a big gun, instead of just a run-of-the-mill reporter. Here are two of the stunning findings from this report. Brace yourself!
If you travel to Cuba, be prepared for a squash fest. At every lunch and dinner, we were offered pumpkin soup or cooked butternut squash or squash stew. It was rarely bad but never great, which was true of much of the food we consumed.
Cuba doesn’t have the agriculture, the infrastructure or the economy to support anything resembling the flatbreads, house-cured pastrami and vinegared cauliflower that we’ve come to expect in Venice or Los Feliz or DTLA.
Well! That darn Cuba! Here the USA has reestablished relations, and Cuba does not even have the goddamned decency to offer squash stew that is “great.” Sheesh. Harrumph! How dare those tyrannized, dirt-poor people! Good thing the LAT sent one of its managing editors to get this scoop. I mean, think of how an inexperienced reporter might have handled the assignment!
And then we have the vital, earth-shattering news that Cuba does not have the “agriculture, infrastructure, or economy” to produce “flatbreads, house-cured pastrami, and vinegared cauliflower that we’ve come to expect in Venice or Los Feliz or DTLA” (the new “hipster” way of referring to downtown L.A..) Darn that Cuba again! Here Obama went to all that trouble to let American citizens haul their fat asses down there, and my God, those Cubans don’t have the courtesy to produce pastrami as good as Venice, Los Feliz, and “DTLA.” Unforgivable! Didn’t they know that U.S. citizens with big, rumbling guts and discriminating palates were coming? Thank God for this hard-hitting, incisive, pithy, empathetic, moving account of life in Cuba under Castro! Can a Pulitzer be far off?
But wait, there’s more. Just in case you were thinking of cancelling your trip to Havana, this veteran managing editor of one of the world’s great dailies comes through with information to set your mind at least somewhat at ease:
The fish was perfectly cooked, the gazpacho had the right balance of oil and vinegar, and the deconstructed lemon tart could hold its own in any restaurant on Abbot Kinney.
There you go! Call your travel agents! Hie thee down to Cuba town! Get that “deconstructed lemon tart” (what the hell is that?) that “holds its own” with “any restaurant on Abbot Kinney!” What more could you want? What more significant aspect of Cuban culture could this managing editor possibly have covered? (For those of you who do not know, Abbott Kinney Boulevard is a street in Venice, named for the original designer of Venice. Venice used to be a bucolic, well-worn working class community next to the ocean. It is now overrun with “start-ups,” tech companies, fabulously overpaid young tech employee jackasses, mega-rich Hollywood princes and princesses—all of whom like to ingest “gazpacho” with “the right balance of oil and vinegar” and “deconstructed lemon tart” in trendy little restaurants for the rich on Abbott Kinney Boulevard.)
To be fair, oh, the hell with “fair.” This is a major daily, or the remnants of one, that has forever touted itself as a “great newspaper,” and this is one of the managing editors writing. Reprehensible? That’s a starting point. (The on-line bio for this editor, Alice Short, explains that she was a history major at UCLA. Now, forgive me for being a Polyanna, but I really expect more meaningful reporting from a history major covering the reopening of a country held in time-warp for sixty-plus years.)
Yes, you expect cheesey, asinine Cuba reportage from U.S. media, of course, and it will soon hit in an avalanche as Castroland is cut up into bite-sized media pieces for North American mentality, or lack of same. But here is the headline on this report: A first-time visitor to Cuba finds it beguiling, welcoming and frayed. Perhaps I’m a pointy-headed intellectual, but, you know, given that headline, I expect some insights and investigation pointing up the stupendous ironies and contradictions of capitalism making its first invasive forays into a society held in check by Castro’s tyrannical version of communism. I expect pithy and poignant comments from people who can’t imagine the voracious greedbeast lurking immediately to the north, the corporate sharks circling offshore. . .
But this so-called report is so full of cliches and stereotypes as to almost have been written from Cliff’s Notes on Cuba, if there were Cliff’s Notes on Cuba. Its chauvinism is showing, and the author doesn’t seem to have the faintest awareness of this in her apparent search for good “deconstructed lemon tart.” From hackneyed references to hand-rolled cigars and mojitos (they “flowed through the meal,” and we all know how messy that can be) to the “fading elegance” of the architecture (throw away your Ambien!), this thing was Ugly American 101.
Of course, the verbose sub-heading on this exemplary work reads:
Expectations will be met and shattered in a visit to this richly diverse island nation. Cuba’s story unfolds through its food, flora and fauna, and most of all, its people.
Well, gee whiz, my expectations were shattered—my expectations for journalism that is. The food reference, presumably, somewhat explains the relentless focus on the author pleasing her Abbott Kinney-honed taste buds. Yet the rest of the piece is equally thrilling with non-gustatory revelation:
* After visiting a tobacco farm, the author reports that “Manufacturers produce tens of millions of cigars each year, and a few of them ended up in our suitcases.” Winkety-wink, and never mind that up to a hundred bucks’ worth is now legal. Gee, tens of millions of cigars a year. Had no idea that the most famous cigar-manufacturing country in the history of the planet produced a lot of. . .cigars. Knock me down with a tobacco leaf. Of course, never mind widespread reports that despite the decline in reputation of the Cuban cigar, manufacture actually is still in the hundreds of millions, annually.
*“We spotted water buffalo, which, we were told, were sometimes used for plowing.” Imagine! Water buffalo used for plowing! The mind boggles. How is it possible? Of course, this was mere reportage. The intrepid managing editor was told that they were used for plowing, but she did not confirm this. (Never mind that Google reveals that water buffalo were imported to Cuba from Australia, Trinidad, Tobago in the 1970’s (2984 specimens) for. . .agriculture! And that water buffalo milk is a favorite drink of everybody’s favorite hoary old Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro.)
*The author observed dogs in Cuba: “Many appeared to be strays whose scars and limps testified to a hard life. Although Cuba has several pure-breed dog clubs, pets are a luxury, we were told.” This just kind of leaves one’s jaw flapping soundlessly, impotently. Does the author not know that poor countries are lousy with stray dogs and cats ravaged by disease, neglect, abuse? Well, never you mind, because aside from good deconstructed lemon tarts, Cuba also has pure-breed dog clubs, kiddies!
To those who think this is laying it on too thick, and that this managing editor is in charge of travel and food writing, after all, I can only say that she is on the newspaper’s masthead, meaning she is one of the principal architects of the fading rag. That any newspaper would print anything this provincial, unknowing, uninformative and self-centered as this is sorry enough. That it comes from a managing editor is appalling.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is just exactly perfect for the monied, self-adoring, greedy, amoral young royalty of Los Angeles, and just what the overpaid, privileged, detached, condescending, chauvinistic management of the L.A. Times is prepared to deliver! Salud!