Cohen first visited Cuba in 1961, not long after his sister, who had honeymooned there, returned home raving about it. His timing, alas, was hardly propitious:
Cohen grew a beard in tribute to Castro’s co-revolutionary Che Guevara and wore khakis. He told a biographer he “thought maybe this was my Spanish civil war,” though it was “really mostly curiosity and a sense of adventure.
But as the revolutionaries shuttered the nightclubs, Cohen found himself “the last tourist in Havana.” The month after he arrived, the U.S. led the Bay of Pigs invasion. One night Cohen was summoned to the Canadian Consulate. There, a secretary told Cohen his mother had called, and she was very worried.
He later channeled his brush with the Castro regime into a poem about Canadian politics (see above). In “Field Commander Cohen” he imagined himself a spy “urging Fidel Castro to abandon fields and castles.”
Cohen’s trip made him realize he wasn’t a revolutionary, but rather, he “was exactly the kind of enemy the Fidelistos were describing: bourgeois, individualistic, a self-indulgent poet.” The two men met in real life only decades later: Both were honorary pallbearers at Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in 2000.That part where Cohen's anxious mom back in Montreal phones Cuba--priceless! It shows that even a brooding "ladies man" who fancies himself a globe-trotting poet/troubadour cannot escape the ambit of a worried Jewish mama.
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