What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

July 20, 2015 Issue

The piece in this week’s issue that most absorbed me is Jon Lee Anderson’s "Opening For Business." I’m fond of Cuba. It’s the source of some of my most pleasurable travel memories. I haven’t been there since 2011. I’m curious to know what’s happening there as a result of the announcement last December that the United States and Cuba agreed to normalize relations. Anderson’s excellent 

piece informs me:

To a visitor, Havana appears much the same as it has for decades––people at loose ends, distressed buildings—but there has been an explosion of small private enterprises and, with them, pockets of encouraging prosperity. For the first time since the sixties, when Castro declared a “revolutionary offensive” to “eliminate all manifestations of private trade,” Cubans are being allowed to take charge of their material lives. People are better dressed; there are more cars on the road; and everywhere there are new restaurants and bars and hostels, where Cubans rent rooms to foreign visitors. In early April, Airbnb announced the launch of Cuban operations; by month’s end, Governor Andrew Cuomo had flown in with a planeload of New York business executives for a trade summit, and an N.B.A. good-will delegation had set up training camps for Cuban athletes. On May 5th, the U.S. Treasury Department lifted restrictions on ferry services from Florida; the same day, Jet Blue said that it planned to begin flying between Havana and New York.

Tourism has surged nearly twenty per cent this year, and hotel lobbies in Havana are noisy with troubadours singing “Guantanamera” and odes to Che Guevara; buses and luridly painted old Chevys trundle sightseers around the city. There are Europeans, Canadians, Brazilians; one morning, I saw a group of elderly Chinese visitors dressed in safari clothing exploring the grounds of La Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s home.

Increasingly, there are also Americans, mostly sixty-somethings on “cultural tours” but also college students and hipsters from New York and Los Angeles. People in Havana joke that the latest accessory for an evening out is an American friend. The city’s harbor is being refurbished to accommodate U.S. cruise ships….

Havana’s night life, once moribund, is alive again. In a former peanut-oil factory, La Fábrica de Arte Cubano hosts dancers, filmmakers, painters, photographers, and musicians. Across town, the Las Vegas Cabaret features a transvestite show. Havana, long a Soviet-style culinary wasteland, is now a fine place to go out for Spanish, Italian, Iranian, Turkish, Swedish, or Chinese, in restaurants frequented by foreigners but also by newly moneyed Cubans….

The best parts of “Opening For Business,” for me, are the first-person sentences, e.g., “One day this spring, as I rode through the city in a taxi, a glossy black BMW raced past, and a policeman at the next intersection gave the driver a deferential salute”; “In Havana, I met a successful Miami night-club owner who is converting his family’s old home into a boutique hotel.” They personalize the piece, converting fact into experience.

“Opening For Business” is an illuminating report on the shifting identity of the “new Cuba.” I enjoyed it immensely.

Postscript: The most inspired sentence in this week’s issue is Shauna Lyon’s “But, after a bout of wrestling, a forkful of sweet crab meat was finally dipped into a sauce of toasted garlic slivers and rich guajillo-chili-infused oil, and there was peace” ("Tables For Two: Rosie's").

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