To my teenage eyes, it was an awful place. Women rented babies from other women with extras so that they could beg on the steps of the cathedral. The Havana Hilton was extraordinarily lavish with live flamingos strolling around a reflecting pool in the lobby. We were staying at the Havana Riviera Hotel which had table lamps that would serve as floor lamps in my American living room and carpeting that actually was ankle deep. And yet, in the same neighborhood, there were tenement buildings so appalling that I wanted to cry when I looked at them.
The then-dictator Batista had two separate police forces. One policed only the Cubans and the other was there to protect the tourists, who were a source of revenue to the dictatorship. Traffic was, to put it mildly, terrifying and at one point I handed my newly minted driver's license back to my mother saying, "Maybe this isn't such a good idea!". She laughed but I wasn't kidding.
One morning my mother and I were awake early and decided to go for a walk. We got about 10 steps outside the hotel when one of the policemen who were charged with the duty of protecting tourists told us we must go back to our hotel and not come out on the street unless accompanied by our driver or my father, because we would be considered to be "loose women" if we were out there alone. In my very, very young and idealistic mind, this was absurd and offensive.
And over all of the other things that I found unlovely about Havana in those days around Christmas 1958, there was the constant uneasy feeling that something very very bad was about to happen.
I understood that the Cuban people wanted change - and I couldn't much blame them. But when they got CHANGE - what they got was the 48 years of misery (so far) exemplified by the reign of terror of Fidel Castro and his even crazier brother Raul. They took control of the Cuban government on the very day that we left to return to Ohio.
So I guess what I'm saying is - be careful what you ask for America. And whatever you do, be sure to vote.