Cuba ……. 2007

Cuba….a historic, adventurous, vibrant, magical, nostalgic, brave, atmospheric island.

The historic revolution has left a socialist legacy of great free medical care and education as well as glimpses of a vibrant sensuous musical culture that I suspect could not have flourished under capitalism. Everyone might have been too busy.

The American embargo meant that a wide disparity in income levels has not been available to the Cuban people; in fact most people live mega modestly. But isn’t this equality part of what the Occupy movement is about?

A visual spin-off is that wonderful big fin 50’s cars roam the streets and ramshackle Grand architecture from the 1870’s to art deco abounds. In the country large old, open backed farm trucks act as buses and memories of the revolution resonate not just with the young people in their solidarity scarves but also in the numerous memorials, especially those to the five martyrs in American detention.

Embargos are relative though. Boatloads of one western luxury, a good Cuban cigar, seem to have no trouble evading customs.

How could ambivalence not pervade this island? Its very own revolutionary hero, the romantic and good Che, started his career in government reviewing appeals and firing squads for those convicted by the revolutionary tribunals as war criminals. The great Che  ruled over capital punishment!!

Other discordant ambiguities –  the USA has its dreaded Quantanamo Bay prison on the island, and we spent a few nights at a Cuban Resort which I have totally repressed. No locals of course; charter flights and chips.

But essentially it is politics, colour, nostalgia, time- warp, architecture, vitality….. a very large Afro Cuban woman oozing out of a short short skirt and a minimalist top with all the joy and confidence in the world; an impromptu jam session in the street that makes you think you have stumbled across the Buena Vista Social Club at home; a daiquiri on a steamy night with the sound of a saxophone in the distance.

Iconic Havana, the French settled Cienfuegos, world heritage Trinidad (although most of the country seems UNESCO heritage listed!), the musical and revolutionary Santiago de Cuba, Venales National Park.  Ah! I could do it all again and again.

The cars alone are woth the trip

  The cars alone are woth the trip

Havana.... music, street theatre, bars, fabulous buildings – many restored. Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky had a plan to turn this town into the sin centre of the world with but were suprised in 1959 when Casto turned up. Hemingway propped himself up in a bar then – the bronze life size replica is all that remains. This is claimed to be the bar where in the 30’s the mojito was born! Drinking was obviously a long term occupation for in the 20’s  a bartender there invented frozen daiquiris and made himself a fortune; the evidence is his great mausoleum in the fabulous cemetery.

Somehow it doesn’t seem touristy… just a way to earn a dollar!

The streets are charming

And so are the parks

 The buildings delight

Who can blame them?

Cienfuegos  founded by the French in 1819 is an elegant city of fine 19th century architecture which now has one of the many Cuban UNESCO World Heritage listings. In this coastal town the pre revolutionary lot were working with the mafia to convert a particularly ornate wedding cake palace into a casino. Now talented artists can be found among the many galleries in the colonnaded square.

Here’s the hotel that was planned to be the Mafia casino.. a speedboat ride from Miami!

                                                               Political sentiment on show –Free the Five

                                                                                           More street art

Trinidad    another World Heritage cobblestone pedestrian town where life of the locals seems to chug along in traditional ways with old people rocking away in their chairs close to doorways to watch the passing parade. Music pervades again. Bands play in the main square to crowds of locals as well as tourists.

 The cobblestone street

                                                             Will it last the distance?

Santiago de Cuba has almost 500,000 people mostly Afro-Cubans. The revolution was launched here with Castro appearing on a balcony in the main Square in 1959.  Music comes from doorways and jam sessions in the happen in the street. Bacardi started the rum business here and you can take a little trip to see the remnants of the sugar plantations with their grand residences and slave quarters.

 Music, music everywhere

And then there is Vinales Valley and the small town there

                                               Another memorial to the Five who need to be Freed!

 The young socialists

 A small country town

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