Interviewing Massoud Abbasi
Havana Streetview approaches Massoud Abbasi (Entrepreneur, philanthropist and writer) to talk about his short story “A Hotel Room in Havana” which has been translated into Spanish and included in our literature section (Dossier)
It was a huge surprise to approach your work and find reminiscences of a city like Havana. In this case, where did that motivation come from? Did it come from well-known stories? From experiences? From local people? From the city itself as a physical space? What exactly?
I’ve had Havana on my mind for a long time and from a young age. People forget that as early as the 1950’s, it was one of the most prominent and influential jet-set cities in the world. I think I first came across Havana on the screen in the 2nd Godfather movie where Michael Corleone visits, and in the letters of Ernest Hemingway. When I got my first real job at 22, an internship at a bank, I spent a week alone in Varadero, but not being much of a beach person, I got bored quick and I took off to Havana for 3 days. I fell in love with it immediately. The spirit, the warmth, the soul of the place, its undeniable. Its people are genuinely kind. Its spirit is irresistible. Havana is pure soul. Even in its poverty and present state, its land and its people are richer than many places I have visited.
We know you visited the city briefly a long time ago, and you visited the emblematic Ambos Mundos Hotel. On your short story you mention a hotel in Havana. Was the choice unplanned or symbolically sent because it is a place closely linked to the literary world?
Absolutely. I am a huge fan and admirer of Hemingway and his work so I had to visit the hotel, and experience the room. In fact the layout of the room in my story is drawn from the layout of the very room Hemingway stayed in himself. For those that have been, they will know, especially the double, green, wooden doors that leads onto the balcony, from which he would often look out over Havana. It was both symbolical and planned. The girl in the story, who has a hard time getting the right notes on the piano, represents a writer who is experiencing the same thing on the paper or typewriter, writers block. Something every writer, including Hemingway, has to constantly battle. As old Ernest himself once said: “There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.”
A blushing quote from A Hotel Room in Havana: “Havana has soul. It is soul, if nothing else and for this it’s more than most places on this planet”. Creators from all over the world have visited Havana, and have decided to incorporate it to their works. From your personal perspective and knowing many other places of the planet. What makes Havana such an inspirational place?
I think geography has something to do with it, and of course history. We are talking about a little island that is right under the big giant, America, but nestled in the middle of the ocean, like a pearl inside a jewel which is the bay. Then you look at the design and colonial influence of Spain on Cuba and Havana itself. It’s everywhere. So you almost feel like you’re in Europe, except you’re in the middle of the Caribbean and the ocean. And of course the people. There is something truly unique about Cubans. They are as warm, kind, honest and genuine a people as you will find anywhere in the world. Maybe it’s the rum, maybe it’s the cigars, I don’t know, but something about the land and the people sets one at ease in Havana. You feel comfortable, you’re at home, life is pulsating through the streets. It’s infectious, and mixed with the sound of the ocean, the warmth of the sun, it’s simply intoxicating. It is pure magic. Long live Havana!