When I look back on my time there, and what I learned, a few things stand out: beautiful people, classic American cars, interesting architecture, organic food, intoxicating rum, and Cohiba cigars.
I'm going to make a connection here that may not seem logical at first. To be honest, it took me a while to figure it out.
Photographers tend to think of craftsmanship in terms of cameras and lenses, and rightly so. These instruments are marvels of technology and skill. But when I learned about the art of Cuban cigar making, I saw a few parallels.
I won't detail the entire process (although you can read about it here), but a top quality cigar takes years to produce and involves great skill and patience. The wrappers are grown in the shade, other types of leaves cultivated outside, and every step, from harvesting, to curing, to assembly are a model of time-tested precision.
Yet, when we strike a match and push the flame against the wrapped leaves of sweet tobacco, we may not fully appreciate the very item we're about to enjoy.
This sort of thing happens daily. Whether it's the complexity of flavors mingling in the wine served with our meal or the marvel of components puzzled together in our mobile devices, we typically don't realize how high others have reached to create these works.
I'll admit, it's asking a lot to understand the melding of rare earth metals and silicon that result in a phone. But all of us can wrap our heads around seeds planted in soil, nurtured to maturity beneath the sun, then carefully harvested and cured to perfection. That is, if we care to do so.
I've finally discovered the haunting feeling that has followed me home from Havana. It has to do with reaching one's potential. I have much more than seeds and soil. But I haven't perfected anything.
The more I learn about the craftsmanship of a Cohiba cigar, the more I want to grow as a writer, interleaving words and ideas into a seemingly simple work of art. And to do so lightly, like smoke carried off on the heels of a breeze.
It doesn't matter what I have to start with. It's what I do with it that counts.