Anna Husarska,

       The two recommendation letters I was carrying with me were supposed to make my entry into Cuba as smooth as if I were the Holy Father himself, and they did. The letters are from the Polish Episcopate and a Kraków Catholic weekly to which John Paul II has in fact contributed. The letters explain that I’m coming to Cuba to look for textos auténticos de autores católicos cubanos, texts I will eventually translate from Spanish into Polish. You see, I graduated from a school of translators at the Sorbonne. My first job was as a translator.
       Hunting for Catholic texts is not what I do for a living now, though. At the International Crisis Group I deal with indicted war criminals around Bosnia–at the moment I’m trying to help prevent bloodshed in Kosovo. I thought that maybe a job description that involved my trying to prevent bloodshed when totalitarian regimes fall in the Balkans would not help me get into Cuba, no matter how much I stressed the Balkan aspect of what I do. So I’m sticking to the role my Catholic mentors assigned me. I’m not panicking. It’s a short visit, and I’m not expected to act like a nun or like a priest. I’m not here to puff on Puros–Cuban cigars–or to drink Havana Rum, but to see what the country looks like before John Paul II gets here in a couple of weeks.
       I have not been here for six years, and Cuba has changed a lot. I grasped the main difference when I arrived at the airport in Paris: tourists. There were four flights leaving for Cuba from Orly that morning alone. On my plane–a huge thing, this was a ten-rows-across kind of beast–some of us were French, and they had the December issue of the French weekly L’Express, “Spécial Cuba,” to read on board. The rest were Italians. They had the weekly Panorama, with the Christmas destination on the cover: Cuba. A few of the American weeklies I work for are also planning special issues on Cuba. It would be an understatement to say that there’s some kind of Cuba mania going on right now. I heard in Sarajevo–it’s incredible what trivia one hears in Sarajevo these days–that cigars are very hip in the United States right now, which probably feeds the Cuba mania but must seriously damage the anti-smoking mania. Some of the French people in my group look like bons vivants who have come for cigars and rum and sun and cheap seafood. Well, cheap by their standards. This morning we had a réunion d’orientation–an orientation meeting–by the swimming pool and almost everyone decided to get the lobster dinner for two for $60. That’s the equivalent of 10 monthly salaries around here. It’s surprising how many French citizens are prepared to take a 10-hour flight just to sit at a table eating lobster à la française with french fries in the company of other French citizens. The non-lobster eaters were three gold-chained and perfumed messieurs who were obviously here on a sex safari.