Adam Alexander on Meyer Lansky’s Hotel

Adam Alexander – Since yesterday’s blogs were written, we had an awesome experience in the Hotel Riviera at night. A hotel worker named Alejandro, my friend (he found my suitcase after it had been temporarily lost), took a few of us Wabash students to the back of the hotel so that we could explore it a bit. We found that not only could the elevator not send guests to the first ten floors, but not even the staircases could take us to those floors – they had been padlocked shut. Given the fascinating history of the Hotel – started by the mafia and visited by my favorite singer, Frank Sinatra – we thought it would be neat to see some of the floors that haven’t been used by Castro’s government. But it seems like those floors have been locked away, keeping their history within them.

Meyer Lansky’s Riviera Hotel in Havana

Alejandro spent the rest of the night talking to us about the history of the hotel, and showing us where the mafia’s casino was. What we first thought was a bar, we later came to agreement with Professor Hollander was the exchange where gamblers could buy chips. We could still see the original carpet and furniture from 1958. I later went outside with a couple of classmates to explore, but we were starting to be approached by a couple of prostitutes, so we immediately walked in the opposite direction. This led us to Meyer Lansky’s pool, which we explored until we were removed by a hotel guard. We were also able to pick up sand and seashells blown in by the massive cold front distorting the Cuban weather.

Adam Alexander photographs a dancer

Today, we said goodbye to Cuba. First, we watched a performance in a local artistic alley and danced as a group with Cuban Santería goddesses. The airport was extremely slow; socialism’s inefficiencies revealed themselves. We eventually left though, and made it safely back to the United States. My experience with Customs consisted of a pop quiz of the OFAC regulations I had first read in August. My answers satisfied the customs agent; he asked me if I had brought any alcohol or tobacco with me, and my answer of “no” won me a ticket back to freedom and capitalism.

This evening, we celebrated Thanksgiving with Professor Hollander’s parents in his childhood home. Although I heard some worries from my classmates, Mr. and Mrs. Hollander came prepared for 14 hungry college men. After we finished our meal, Mrs. Hollander alerted us that there was a second turkey which had not been touched. But with all of the other delicious food that had been provided to us, we were unable to finish off the second turkey. While I was sad to miss Thanksgiving with my family for the first time, I could not have spent it with a better group of men.

Getting to spend Thanksgiving Day in both Cuba and the United States provides an interesting perspective on the holiday. Perhaps most obviously, I am thankful for having the opportunity to attend Wabash and to go to Cuba with my fellow students. But this is not the only thought I have on the matter; going from Cuba to the United States on Thanksgiving Day has shown me how lucky I really am. We have so much to be thankful for as Americans. People in Cuba will do anything to earn just a dollar or two, so that they can feed their children. When the average salary is about $30 per month, people become desperate. But we don’t have much of that in the United States. We are lucky enough to live in a country where most people can live without begging tourists for money. The welfare of the American people certainly is not perfect, but it is far and above that of the Cuban people. And for that, all Americans should be thankful.

I will leave you with a quote from a Cuban to ponder, as I have been doing: “Don’t try to understand my country. Just enjoy it.”