Tilting at Cadillacs

Quijote de America, statue in Vedado by Sergio Martínez (1930-1988)

   AFTER YEARS of seeing references to Carlo Gébler's 1988 work, Driving Through Cuba, an East-West Journey (Hamish Hamilton Ltd.), I've finally found a copy. Not that anything was lost in the interval. Given the slow pace of change in Cuba, Gébler's book could have been written last week.
    As the title promises, this is a road trip. The best kind, too, it turns out — the kind in which the narrator pushes ahead without set itinerary or even a reliable map, as unknowing as you, the gleeful reader, of what might await beyond the next rise.
Carlo Gébler
    You aren't the only one along for the ride. With the author in a rental Lada of dubious electrics is his pregnant wife Tyga and their young daughter India, both seemingly as willing as he is to accept whatever they encounter, from empty grocery shelves to pursuing money-traders to tire-puncturing crab migrations.
    They have a quest, of sorts. Gébler (God love him) is an admirer of the grand, 1950s-era American cars for which Cuba, by the 1980s, had already become famous. The Irish writer hopes to come across one of the most opulent and rare of those cars— a 1957 or 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, a four-door hardtop with stainless steel roof and air suspension. "Visually, with its tailfins, sculpted exhaust and sweeping lines of chrome, it was one of the most extraordinary if exaggerated cars of the Fifties," he explains.
    And what better place than Cuba, where a small wealthy class had a huge taste for Cadillacs, to see one?
Unlike so many tourists, however, Gébler embarks without a trunkful of preconceptions. If there are judgments in his account, I couldn't find them. Instead, the observant Gébler serves us morsel upon morsel of detail. We learn about the island's history, about the lives of the Cubans he encounters, about the stitches administered at a Trinidad hospital after India cuts her eyelid in a fall. It is pure journalism, with the ring of objectivity and the clink of the rum bottle in the glovebox from which he takes an occasional sip.
    It's a fascinating road trip.
    But what, you ask, about Gébler's quarry, the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham? Does he find one?
    Sorry — you'll have to find your own copy of Driving Through Cuba. It will be old, but it won't seem dated.

See also:


The Brougham next door


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