Monday, May 22, 2017

MUCHAS GRACIAS CUBA



           We loved our trip to Cuba.  I have traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, India, Mexico and Canada.  I can honestly say that Cuba was the most enchanting place I’ve ever visited.  We fell in love with the country.  We loved the flowers and tropical drinks (you've never had a Piña Colada until you've had one served in a pineapple!)

.  We loved the music.
video

We loved the mixture of old and new; the new buildings nestled in the shadows of older, European styles; the old cars with new diesel engines from Russia and Japan. 



We loved all of that, but we loved the people the most.  They are proud to be Cubans and they are happy even though life can be difficult.


            The cities we visited were incredibly busy, especially Havana. In a country where cars are so expensive it was surprising that traffic was so hectic.  Cars, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, taxis jam the streets. 

The pedestrian does not have the right of way and there are lots of them.  Fortunately, in certain parts of town, many streets are restricted to pedestrian traffic and they are packed.



            People were everywhere.  Regardless of where we went, they were sitting on the stoops or the curbs.  The benches in public parks were always full.  They were doing what people all over the world like to do.  They visited with friends and family doing the things that make us happy to be alive.





            It was with a bit of sadness that we had to draw our visit to a close.  We had to since we were out of cash and US credit cards have no value in Cuba—yet.  So we finally had to say, “Hasta la vista, Cuba.”

Monday, May 15, 2017

ALL AROUND TOWN


­            Havana is composed of neighborhoods and districts.  The “new city” is home to Revolution square which is surrounded by government offices.  The square itself is huge and is the site of major speeches by government luminaries. 


Fidel once gave a speech there that was seven hours thirty minutes long.  He was well known for giving long speeches and gave the longest speech ever given at the United Nations, four hours twenty-nine minutes.

            Then, there is Chinatown where street signs are written in Chinese and Spanish.



  In the 1850s, slavery throughout the European world was in decline and created a labor shortage in the Cuban sugarcane fields.  This was serious since Cuba’s economy was almost entirely dependent on sugar.  Needing laborers to work the fields, Spain looked to China where cheap labor was found.  Many Chinese were hired into indentured servitude or, sometimes tricked into de facto slavery.  By the 1870s there were 40,000 Chinese in Cuba.  Many of them intermarried with the local population. However, miscegenation laws prohibited marriage to Spaniards.  Today, there are no Chinese left in Chinatown and only one Chinese restaurant remains.


            The Malecón which runs along the waterfront provides fishing opportunities for the city’s residents.  It’s a broad esplanade that stretches for 8 km along Havana Bay.  It is a popular promenade with businesses, restaurants and street entertainment.

            Like big cities throughout history, la Habana has its poor sections.  Poorly maintained buildings are found in nearly every section of town but are much more common in certain areas.  Residents in one rundown neighborhood decided to beautify their street and La Callejon (little street) Hamel is the result.


  Buildings on both sides of the tiny street are covered with colorful murals from rooftop to the sidewalk.  Whimsical sculptures crafted from recycled materials line the streets.  Benches are made from old bath tubs cut in half length wise.

Okay, so these next two sculptures were not found in the Callejon de Hamel, but they are interesting and we found sculpture to be a very popular medium everywhere we went.



            Most Cubans are Catholic and churches are common but there is a small population of Muslims that maintains a tiny mosque in the old city.


            One could easily spend a week in the city and not see all it has to offer. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

La Habana, Old and New


Havana is one of the oldest continuously occupied European cities in North America.  Euopeans have lived on the site since 1515, 50 years before St Augustine Florida.  Of course, Taino Indians live there for hundreds of years before that.  In fact, the city may have derived its name from the name of a Taino chieftain, Habanaguanex.


Today, the ancient Spanish fort, El Morro still overlooks the harbor.  Its full name is Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro or castle of the Three Magi.  From its ramparts one can see modern buildings and skyscrapers and new construction.




  Throughout “La Ciudad Vieja,” the old city, are reminders of its often glorious past; massive stone buildings, plazas flanked by churches and baroque European buildings.




Then modern, featureless apartment buildings poke up at the clouds while abandoned buildings fall into sad states of disrepair.



  Even those buildings, their top floors open to the sky attract occupants in a city with a housing shortage.  Neat apartments occupy space over street level shops.  Regardless of where you look, everyday seems to be laundry day.  Washing hangs from lines stretched across the façades, balconies and windows.


There are fine turn of the century buildings, courtyards that transport you to Spain, Streets in la Ciudad Vieja are lined with souvenir shops all selling the same things made from bamboo, leather, and straw.





La Habana has clearly seen good times and bad times.  Most people I talked to believe that things are getting better today and the future will be even better.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

HEMINGWAY IN CUBA



            A few miles from Havana is San Francisco de Paula, a small town.  Heminglway and his wife Martha purchased a small home there and dubbed it “Finca Vigía” or “Lookout Farm.”  He loved Cuba, especially Havana, and lived there for 20 years.  He is a revered figure in Cuba, honored alongside José Martí, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.  He spent a lot of time fishing and writing.
           Sloppy Joe’s was a fixture there at the time.  The original restaurant was located in Key West site of another famous Hemingway home.  The Bar/restaurant fell on hard times during prohibition and its owners opened another one in Havana. 
After the Revolution, the bar there fell on hard times since 90% of its patrons were American.  It closed in the 60s and reopened in 2013.
It was in Cuba that he got the inspiration for one of his most famous and endearing stories, “The Old Man and the Sea.”  The book received both the Nobel prize for Literature and a Pulitzer prize.  The old man was a real person, Gregoria Fuentes. 

 The story was actually written while Hemingway was in Bimini, another of his favorite haunts.  He stayed at the famous Compleat Angler Hotel there from 1935 to 1937.  It burned in 2006.
            Hemingway loved Havana but his wife wanted to be away from the frenzy of urban living so they bought Finca Vigía.  She had a tower built so he could look out over Havana while he wrote.  He never used the tower though, preferring to stand at a typewriter in a quiet room of the house.

            He was an avid big game hunter and took trophies while on African safari.  Many of them can be seen throughout the house.