LLast time I was in Havana, in the late nineties, I wore a jipijapa, which is the word I first knew for the Ecuadorean hat Teddy Roosevelt wore in Panama. As with the Spanish-American War, a name that leaves out Cuba, toothy Teddy had the last word, or at least his influence did. My own Panama was well worn by the time I took it to my hometown, where, as far as I could see, I was the only one covering my head from a killer summer sun with one, my reason for wearing it in the tropics, same as Teddy, same as the men who did so in my Caribbean childhood.
Now, according to the New York Times, Panamas -- and guayaberas -- are worn in Havana by tourists wishing to indulge in before-the-Revolution nostalgia. And they're about as hip as berets in Paris. Havana hipsters dress and groom themselves like, well hipsters.
One could argue that Fidel's barbudos were protohipsters: young, irreverent, informal, hirsute. They certainly marked a change in style when they came down to Havana, until then a fashionable and glamorous city. By the time I first revisited my city in the mid eighties, suits and ties had vanished completely. Lumpen gaucheries, like men bare-chested in public, were common, and slovenliness ruled. Cuba's poverty, officially blamed on the "blockade" (the American embargo), accounted for some of this, but only some. There was a change in attitude.
But a certain stylishness has been reborn, this time the hipsterism of reggaetoneros, performers and followers of reggaeton, the popular Latino genre derived from Jamaican dancehall. No Panama hats, no guayaberas. Nothing that recalls old Cuba, or revolutionary Cuba for that matter. But a lot of attention paid to whatever is the latest look. With or without Fidel this would've happened. Young Cubans, like youth everywhere, want lo último de los muñequitos.
You will hear no jeremiads from this old Cuban. Let the reggaetoneros reggaeton on. Sure, I prefer older sounds. In fact, my favorite Cuban genre is danzón, but maybe that's because my grandmother taught me how to dance it -- I was not a good student, however.
Havana is becoming a theme park. So what? Like Venice isn't. Any thing is better than rotten poverty and the culture of resolver. Those who lament the imminent renewal of the wretched old whore that is my hometown are first-class assholes. I acknowledged in print the allure of her ruined beauty thirty years ago. Maybe I was a pioneering asshole.
I will wear guayaberas, but not in Miami, where they're too fucking Cuban. And I will keep wearing my old jipijapa/Panama. But not in Havana.
The Cuban Rush is on. I would like to say that I will wait for the buffaloes to pass, but I wonder how long that will take.