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R&K Insider: Trump does Cuba edition

Trump put his reverse Midas Touch on Cuba policy this week, and we have feelings about it.

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Hello, all! I’m Alexa, R&K’s senior producer, filling in for Cara on this week of good and bad Cuba news.

First, the good: we published Colombian journalist Luis Gallo’s dispatch about his experiences using the gay social networking app, Grindr, in Havana. It’s a great insight into how Cubans navigate getting online in one of the least internet-connected countries, but it’s also a hopeful update on Cuban attitudes to the LGBT community, which are changing for the better. It’s an optimistic piece that makes this week’s less-good Cuba news, courtesy of Trump, all the more frustrating for us.

R&K has a long history with Cuba. Our editors have reported there, lived there, played baseball there, performed music there, spent an afternoon watching goats get slaughtered there—and been detained by the authorities there. So naturally, we have feelings about Trump putting his reverse Midas Touch on Cuba policy this week by re-affirming the failed embargo and restricting Americans from traveling to the island outside of guided group tours. It’s not just that being able to travel freely, talk to people, and tell their stories is at the very heart of what we do here at R&K. Preventing American visitors from traveling independently within Cuba—and reducing American visitors to Cuba, period—is an incoherent, bad policy that will hurt ordinary Cubans by denting their private businesses. It will pretty much strangle the “people-to-people” contact that Trump says he wants to preserve. It should anger all Americans that a holdout faction of ‘freedom-loving’ senators are congratulating themselves for restricting the freedom of U.S. citizens to create their own experiences in Cuba, all because some greying anti-Castro hardliners in Florida can’t stand the thought of Americans kicking back with a tetra-pak box of rum on the Malecon, unsupervised. But the real kicker is that shunting people back into group-only travel puts visitors under more Cuban government control, not less—and group tours bring the Cuban government more revenue. Congratulations, Marco Rubio and Mario Díaz-Balart, you played yourselves.

So, let’s look back at our brief golden age of Cuba travel. Here are our hard-won Havana travel tips. Here’s chef José Andrés’s gonzo-style diary about conjuring a Cuban-style feast out of raw determination, leftover chicken stock, and illicit crustaceans. A young Cuban-American reflects on her embargo-divided family on the island. Don’t buy the white rabbit at Bar Silvia in Havana. Finally, check out our friend Edel Rodriguez’s surreal account of his return to Cuba for the first time in 34 years after fleeing, aged nine, in the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. (You may recognize Edel’s work from his “meltdown” Trump heads on the cover of TIME and Der Spiegel, so there’s some rather neat synchronicity here.)

Speaking of Cold War relics, this multi-part investigation of 14 suspected Russia-linked assassinations on U.K. soil could spawn a half-dozen John le Carré novels. Also, this chapter sheds some light on something I’ve been dying to know for seven years: what the hell happened to the British spy who ended his days naked inside a North Face sports bag—zipped up from the inside? (“Probably an accident,” British police said at the time.) Who among us, right?

In other news, RIP Helmut Kohl, Germany’s chancellor for 16 years, architect of German re-unification—and a man of legendary gastronomic excess who got through contentious debates on the Euro by stress-eating several plates of pure butter. (He lived to 87.)  We are pleased to note that we can now add milk sommelier to the list of potential careers. Meanwhile, in Portland, this feud between a vegan strip club and the steakhouse next door is getting out of hand. In case you were wondering, mezcal distilled under a raw, skinless chicken doesn’t taste like chicken.

Finally, some better news for London: the city’s favorite fancy feeding-trough, Borough Market, reopened after an 11-day closure following the London Bridge attacks, which involved several of the market’s restaurants. Here’s an insider’s guide to the market’s bewildering stash of food and drink, compiled by Financial Times journalists, who are lucky enough to work next door to London’s finest mackerel pâté and Monmouth coffee. (My tip: if Borough Market is too crowded, escape to Maltby Street Market in nearby Bermondsey instead.)

Cara will be back next week. In the meantime, send her your travel and food questions at advice@roadsandkingdoms.com.

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