Notes from Cuba: the Hotel Nacional

The Hotel Nacional in Havana

The Hotel Nacional in Havana

The two American women wandered out of their more modest accommodation in Havana to have a look at the Hotel Nacional, a Cuban landmark where the famous and infamous have stayed. Flags from a half dozen countries were flying at the entrance to the hotel grounds, and in the center was the Stars and Stripes.

We stopped and stared in amazement.  A tall, burly security guard walked briskly over to us. “Excuse me,” I said.  “We’re surprised to see the U.S. flag here.”

“That flag represents the American people, not the government,” he barked.

We made our way through the building and out into the gardens, with a good view of the sea front. Foreign dignitaries, celebrities and, in times long past, mobsters have stayed here, with Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky even holding a summit on the premises in 1946.  In the film The Godfather II, Michael Corleone meets fellow mafia and Cuban leaders at the Hotel Nacional, though the scenes were filmed in the Dominican Republic.

The hotel has perhaps the best internet connections in the country, and every Saturday night there’s a concert by “ambassadors of the Buena Vista Social Club,” if not the original band members.  And there are touches of surrealism. I had a sandwich at the downstairs Cafe Film Corner and watched two young tourists at the next table drinking Coca-Cola and Sprite. (What about the U.S. trade embargo? ) There was a big screen television airing an episode of the hillbilly reality show Duck Dynasty, dubbed in Spanish.

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