Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cuba: A Kaleidoscopic View - Habana

Waitress at el Bar Neptuno: Best mojitos in Habana
Of the all the places I visited in Cuba, it was Habana that stole my heart. It is full of history, music, culture and colorful people. It is so wonderfully photogenic that my camera jumped out of my bag without warning and started clicking away. I have decided to make this entry more of a photo essay because, as the old adage goes: A photo is worth ......... Please forgive the formatting, it is a nightmare to deal with on this site.

The waitress above works at el Bar Neptuno. As we were walking down Calle Neptuno I heard a voice calling: Tenemos los mejores mojitos de todo Habana, y los más baratos también". And the best and cheapest they were. I watched the bartender make mine and deliver it personally to my table. It was so good that I had another!

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Walking the streets of Habana was full of colorful scenes and unexpected surprises. The old balconies that look down upon the city are dilapidated and alive at the same time. What appear to be condemned buildings have tenants living inside them. And if no one is in sight, the signs of occupancy are obvious.

Cigar lady with flowers
Life is lived outdoors for the most part. Chess games take place on doorsteps and makeshift tables in the street fill the air with the lively clacking of dominoes on wood. As you walk down the streets of Habana vieja, music invites you from the smallest of bars with music worthy of big time venues. It is as if each neighborhood has their own "Buena Vista Social Club" playing a private gig for those passing by.

Alga Marina & Osvaldo

And thanks to my new friends, Alga Marina and Osvaldo, Habana took on a personal touch. They invited us into their home, shared meals with us, and set up some photo shoots for me. They were a window into the true Cuba, the way people live, their joys, their frustrations, their daily lives. I am forever grateful to them for opening their home and their lives to me.

I met people on the street that also opened their lives to me. Doña Graciela Perez Rios, a ninety one year old artist of recycled materials who invited us into her home to share her work. She makes dolls from milk cartons, plastic bottles etc. The photo to the left is a self portrait of herself as a doll at age 80. She seems to have gotten younger! 

Alberto Pays
Alberto Pays is a portrait photographer that works in the Parque Central de Habana with a 1913 box camera. He charges two dollars for a portrait which is developed inside of his box camera. When I asked what I could bring him in return for an interview, he told me photographic paper as it was extremely difficult to find in Habana. I will bring him some when I return next year.

Marta Aguila
And on our way to el Callejon de Hamet to listen to AfroCuban Rumba we ran into Marta Aguila. We struck up a conversation, she invited us into her home, and she shared her life a bit with us. She is a medium of sorts who is very involved in Santería. She also reads cards. She is a beautiful woman who did not hesitate for one moment to open herself to a couple of foreigners walking through her neighborhood. 

Schoolgirls at Rumba High School

Raúl Corrales with Fidel
I am seriously considering going back to Habana for a month next winter to photograph. Thanks to Alga Marina and Osvaldo, I have a wonderful connection in Norma Corrales, daughter of Raúl Corrales, one of Fidel's personal photographer. She has offered me a place to stay in her home in Cojimar, Hemmingway's old hangout. It is a very tempting offer. 

 So let's all hope that Obama's visit to Cuba will bring the two countries back into a  relationship of amistad and that the blockade and other restrictions will be lifted. Let's also hope that Cuba's infrastructure can successfully deal with the enormous influx of American tourism without losing its integrity and charm. I fear this is a real danger. May the good things that came out of the Revolution remain intact, and the change and growth that may follow be in Cuba's best interest.


Lisa Ede said...

All I can say is wow on so many levels, from the great photographs to the connection with Norma Corrales. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing!

Unknown said...

The last two blogs were so great to read and hear about Cuba! Especially since the Obamas AND the Rolling Stones have been there and back. I agree. I cringe to think of the materialistic impact the US is going to have on this culture. So glad you are getting there before it is totally altered. It is so fun living it all through you. Thanks for traveling, exploring and sharing your photos and thoughts with us all. you are a gift!