When I stepped beyond the gate onto Avenida O, I left the guard's protection-if that's what it was-and instantly found myself with a Cuban companion. Where are you from? Are you in Havana on holiday? For work? What kind of work? Do you need directions? Would you like to know the history of the city? Do you have a cigarette you can spare? An ink pen? A dollar for food? A dollar for powdered milk? A dollar for rum? Are you looking for a restaurant? A jazz club? Cigars? Girls? Boys?
No, gracias, no, gracias. I wanted to wander at twilight through the streets of Vedado, the newest section of Havana, developed in the mid-nineteenth century as a graceful, middle-class neighborhood punctuated by broad, tree-lined, commercial boulevards and plentiful parks and gardens, and I wanted to walk alone. I would be in Havana for just a few days, with a group of colleagues from the university where I teach, and most of our time would be taken up by efforts to arrange future exchanges between our school and the University of Havana. That evening, my first ever in Cuba, I wanted just to savor the fact that I'd finally managed to travel to this place that had long loomed so large in my imagination.