trip to cuba
december 25, 2000 - january 3, 2001
Cassandra and i visited Cuba for 11 days with my father, Paul, and his SO, Ann.
We brought with us an enormous book on Cuba (the Moon 'handbook', 800 pages) which proved to be an amazing source of information. We learned a ton about Cuba - it's people, culture, politics and history - from reading the book, reinforced by actually being there. Our base, the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana, in the old part of town, "Habana Vieja". One of the oldest hotels, supposed to have funky charm, but was kinda overpriced. Lots of huge stone buildings, many of which are finally being renovated - lots of scaffolding. Book sellers in a plaza. Selection was dismal - apparently very little makes it through the bad exchange rate, poor economy and political barriers. This castle was full of art exhibits, part of the Havana Biennale... in fact, the whole city was full of good art, not just museums but all around town, sculpture, murals, paintings in restaurants and houses, everywhere. Sadly just across the harbor to the east was a large industrial area, oil refineries and the like. Reported the harbor is incredibly polluted. We saw almost no birds at all. The narrow streets and abundant balconies reminded me of the French Quarter of New Orleans, but the buildings are larger and made from hugs blocks of limestone. A very cool scale model of the old city, "Maqueta de la Ciudad" A close-up showing the amazing detail in the model. The area is the plaza next to our hotel. Bought a friendly local a drink, and got to ask lots of questions about life in Cuba. His name was 'Hanoi' and he made $5 a month working retail - doctors and lawyers make $15-$20 a month. Exploring the castle across the harbor, looking back toward old Havana.
The climate was mostly warm, amazing if you consider that a short distance away on the US mainland it was snowing.
My father, in a restaurant whose walls were covered with graffiti. Nearly all the food in Cuba was bland at best, and those that took dollars were quite expensive as well. One of the strangest buildings i have ever seen, the Soviet Embassy in western Havana. I was surprised at the number of marginal countries, like Laos and Palestine, which all had embassies there. I really like this picture of a plaza with banyan trees, beautiful in dapped shade. A yummy dessert: shredded coconut in syrup, accompanied by cheese slices. Yes! A Santeria church. It was clearly the most common religion - although officially an atheist country, Santeria was everywhere. Very old cars were very common on the streets. On the eve of the Millennium, the only cab we could find happened to be a 1936 Chevy! On the eve, we visited with Ann's friend Sara. Sara was originally from San Francisco but had been in Cuba for a long time, doing cultural exchange work. Isn't it strange how we unconsciously emulate the gestures and mannerisms of our parents? A houseful of international student types that we met. Afterward, we went to the house of a Santera ('priestess') named Barbarita and saw the new millennium in with a ceremony to the Santeria gods. A street in the 'Vedado' neighborhood, every square inch decorated as a community art project. I suspect the rabbits and pigeons were awaiting involvement in a Santeria ritual. More amazing detail from the art street. Front of the enormous Havana university. Curiously, there was nothing like a 'college cafe' anywhere around it. Although Cuba grows great coffee, most of the coffee we had tasted strange, and is reportedly commonly adulterated with 'filler'. The good stuff is only for export, under the 'Cubita' brand. On the last day, we visited a funky pottery studio which made nifty ceramic drums.