A Glimpse of Cuba in 1988

It was lunch hour inside the Ministry of Commerce in old Havana. In a small cafeteria, in a building that dated back to the 1800s, workers ate baked fish, rice and beans, soup, salad and cake, off white dishes on tin trays. They washed down the food and cut the sweltering heat with cold water from sweating metal pitchers placed on each of the 20 tables. Like many of the basics in contemporary Cuba, the meal was subsidized and cost each employee only a few cents.

A clerk there, a 58-year-old man with crooked teeth and thinning hair, spoke about why life was better, now that a Communist government ruled his country.

Columbia, Maryland

APRIL 7, 1997

Driving around Columbia reminds me of surfing the web. Everything is hidden, not visible except for an icon that says mall or village center, or hotel. But double-click one of these icons – that is, follow the small, waist-high sign that tastefully pokes up off the road – and a hidden reality opens up to you, be it a shopping mall, a housing subdivision, a park, or a school.

Like the web, one can pas quite a few pleasant hours in Columbia, navigating its maze of curvy, curvilinear streets, losing all sense of place and time. Each choice leads to a new set of choices. Destinations are down secondary roads, and in even there are concealed behind rows of trees and sculpted man-made hills.