Ah Cuba! A Country Frozen In Time does not begin to cover it.
The varying architecture of neo-classic is next door to art deco and Spanish moorish influences through mid-century modern is amazing in its unique beauty. It is also in sharp contrast with the appalling decrepit state so many of those same structures that is Havana. Crumbling exterior walls, layers of peeling paint it is like viewing photos of beautiful old abandoned; haunted buildings, only the people still live there. There is no homelessness per se as everyone one has a solid roof over their heads. However, the state of that roof and the rest of the structure varies from completely renovated and structurally sound, through passing fair, to just barely habitable depending on the finances –or lack thereof- for the home dweller. So much of Havana reminded me of the initial squalor of the squatters who took over abandoned buildings in the late 70s early 80’s. And very much like those squatters maintain and rebuild the best that they can, with whatever skills, funds and/or ingenuity they can muster to do so. And that spirit is also Havana’s beauty. What has held them together during this Cold War and embargo with the US.
Cienfuego and (almost typed “y” instead of “and” there), Trinidad are unique beautiful places unto themselves. While still poor, they almost look more affluent than some parts of Havana because they do not have the massive amounts of three – four hundred years old architecture
The Cubano view of Americans is mixed. Most seem to like that we’re finally coming back. Others have said to our faces “I hate America”. And though they toe the party line and deny it to a person, like America, racism and classism rears its ugly head here as well.
Believe me Cuba is colorful and vibrant and so very much alive. There is art everywhere; plazas and parks with sculptures, and beautiful murals along walls. You turn a couple of corners and there is something to capture your attention. Of course there are bars a plenty and I had to visit Floridita, a favored haunt of Ernest Hemingway and birthplace of the frozen daiquiri. Nearly every restaurant had live music, every plaza had something to sell, and every other street had something to buy.
As such, you can already see where the beginning of capitalism is rearing its head. Iberostar has hotels in Havana and Trinidad, Cuba. A Four Point Sheraton is being built in Havana as I type. There are several fancy hotels in cThere is new construction or buildings being renovated throughout. Showy restaurants whose owners clearly have access to foreign –read American- coin dot the calles, alongside the more homespun dining fare. Citizens having private businesses have only been a recent advent in Cuba, creating a pseudo middle-class of sorts. I am praying Cuba will not go the route of some of its sister Caribbean islands where there will be tourist only places and/or areas of affluence, while the average citizen lives far below the poverty line.
Oh! And let’s not forget about the vintage American cars. After decades of mileage and eco conscious cars here in the states seeing a fleet of huge, all metal, shiny classic American cars still running the roads is indeed a sight to behold! Talk about they don’t make them like they used to?! These things are tanks. Painstakingly restored and maintained they are things of beauty. It is more impressive when you consider they do not have easy access to parts for these cars. If something breaks they have to fabricate much of what they need to repair it. Many are privately owned and used as tourist taxis. Even so, they have fun with the vehicles as the bubble gum pink Hello Kitty taxi I saw attests to.
I have taken a ton of pictures, but not nearly enough. I have seen some of Cuba, but not nearly enough. I’d like to return in a few years to see the differences.