International Casino, Hotel Nacional de Cuba, 1952
A month after the Bay of Pigs invasion, on February 2, 1962, President Kennedy called his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, into his office and directed him to buy as many Cuban cigars as he could find. The next morning Salinger walked into the Oval Office with 1,200 H. Upmann Petits, the president’s preferred brand. “Fantastic,” Kennedy said, placing them under his desk. Then, as Salinger explained at a Cigar Association of America annual meeting in 1987, the president “pulled out a decree banning all Cuban products from the United States and signed it.”
In acknowledgement of the embargo’s golden anniversary this week, Kempt looks back on an extraordinary time and place, the likes of which may never be experienced again.
All things change except barbers, the ways of barbers, and the surroundings of barbers. These never change. —Mark Twain
Jay Seldin gets it. His new tome, The Barbershop Book, is a sort of No Reservations-style look at barbershops in some of the most remote corners of India, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Haiti and Cuba. Seldin, an “environmental portrait photographer,” steps out of the way and lets the grooming rituals do the talking. The Barbershop Book is a fascinating glimpse into one of man’s oldest and most common rituals: a haircut and shave at the local barbershop—some of which boast nothing more than a wooden plank, a semi-sharp blade and a couple of chickens frolicking about.
Maybe it’s just *Godfather II*, but there’s always been a certain mystique surrounding pre-Castro Havana. For a few years, it was on its way to becoming the Vegas of the Caribbean—that is, a city almost completely controlled by the mob. It operated under a kind of resort colonialism, with a government whose main concern seemed to be developing new cocktail recipes and keeping the showgirls coming.
Luckily, it’s not completely lost to history. Boing Boing pointed us to Peter Moruzzi’s *Havana Before Castro*, a quick, colorful tour of the city as a tropical playground. It doubles as a primer in 50s luxury, the beach look back when Miami was still just retirees and sailors.
Some of the spots are still there, if you feel like dodging the travel embargo, but this book may be as close as you’ll get.