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Posts Tagged ‘Havana’

I read the news today, oh boy…

Fidel Castro, Leader of the Cuban Revolution Dies at 90.

Sitial Moncada museum, Havana -- April 2016.

Sitial Moncada museum, Havana — April 2016.

The revolutionary’s achievements in the face of US meddling made him a powerful symbol of resistance against hegemony.

Terminal de Omnibus de la Habana -- April 2016.

Terminal de Omnibus de la Habana — April 2016.

Cuba Declares 9 Days of Public Mourning to Honor Fidel Castro.

"As long as there is a man or a woman with a gun in hand the country can not be occupied."  On a street in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana -- April 2016.

“As long as there is a man or a woman with a gun in hand the country can not be occupied.” On a street in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana — April 2016.

And, from the personal poster collection of my friend, archivist and librarian, Lincoln Cushing, Castro’s Revolution, Illustrated.

Farewell Fidel and thank you for standing up to US imperialism.  May the Cuban people continue to stand strong.

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Back to Havana… and the colorful and captivating Callejón de Hamel, in Barrio Cayo Hueso.  (For a more in depth and fascinating history of this neighborhood, see Neighborhood as Refuge: Community Reconstruction, Place Remaking, and Environmental Justice in the City  by Isabelle Anguelovski.)

It was our first full day and serendipity and synchronicity brought us Dayan, an enthusiastic guide with boundless energy and pride.

Without hesitation, Dayan immediately made a beeline to this alley  — the creation of self-taught artist, Salvador González Escalona.  It is a living, breathing gallery and studio, where artists were welding and painting as we stopped to watch and wonder at their creations.

The cultural character of this community cannot be separated from its religious traditions and practices — a syncretism of African religions brought by slaves and Catholicism brought by the Spanish conquerors.  Salvador Gonzáles Escalona explains, “I am talking about the religion known as Santería, which comes from the Yorubas; Palo Monte, which comes from the Congo; Abakuá, which has to do with Calabar [the Cross River Delta in Nigeria]; and maybe some manifestations of spiritism, a cultural expression of working class people, the ordinary folks in our country.”

Callejón de Hamel is also home to a vibrant musical scene.  “In this alley many years ago, in the 40’s, a cuban musical movement was born, known as ‘filin,’ songs of feeling, with our friend Angelito Díaz and his now deceased father, Tirso Díaz. There were figures such as Elena Burque, the late Moraima Secada, aunt of Jon Secada, Omara Portuondo [featured in Buena Vista Social Club], César Portillo de la Luz, and many others.” — Salvador Gonzáles

On Sundays, around noon, the street comes alive with musicians, dancers, and the sights and sounds of Cuban rumba.  Alas, around that time, we were in the midst of changing hotels.  Next time, for sure!

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A week and a half ago, we were strolling Havana’s Paseo de Prado.  It was a sunny, blue-sky, already hot and humid Saturday morning.  Amid the backdrop of crumbling, but not abandoned, buildings, vendors had set up their stalls…

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and were ready to sweet talk a tourist or two into buying a tchotchke or three or four.

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Locals walked purposefully down the uncrowded promenade.

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All was tranquil, save for those gathered on one of the blocks (middle of the image below) to buy and sell properties.

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The scene and the people were a far cry and a world apart from the glitz and glamour of the Chanel fashion show staged along that same paseo yesterday.  The average monthly wage in Cuba is the equivalent of $20 (US), thus I find the spectacle of European haute couture prancing down the Prado, in the center of Havana, deeply troubling — never mind the exploitative use of stereotypes.   Here’s what local Cuban designer, Idania del Rio had to say:

“I think that catwalk is going to be more for Chanel than for Cuba. I don’t know whether the people here in Cuba are ready for this type of product.”

Nevertheless, as a fashion designer she was curious: “I want to see what $40,000 clothing looks like,” she said.

Afterwards, the 33-year-old was not entirely impressed: “It was very interesting and maybe too nostalgic. A lot of Cuban cigars, colours and hats from another era. It represented a Cuba that doesn’t interest me right now, because today’s Cuba is another, more contemporary Cuba.”

I’m glad we weren’t still there; I don’t think I could stomach the over-the-top excess versus the real need we saw around every corner.  I don’t know…  Does Cuba really want to return to it’s decadent pre-revolutionary role of being playground to the world’s wealthy?  Trickle down economics has an abysmal track record, so I’m not sure that it’s the best model for Cuba to follow

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What can one say about a country that celebrates a poet/essayist/philosopher/journalist as a national hero?  Granted, José Martí was also a fierce fighter for Cuban independence from Spain and died in battle on May 19, 1895, shot by Spanish troops in Dos Ríos, Cuba.

However, it is his writings that appear to be his most powerful and lasting legacy.  Exiled from Cuba due to his political activity against Spain, he spent many years in the United States and while there, he wrote a passionate report following the 1886 execution by hanging in Chicago of the Haymarket martyrs.  And so, let’s commemorate this May Day with words from José Martí…


Every human being has within him an ideal man, just as every piece of marble contains in a rough state a statue as beautiful as the one that Praxiteles the Greek made of the god Apollo.  — José Martí

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Memorial José Martí, Plaza de la Revolución, Havana

To educate is to give man the keys to the world, which are independence and love, and to give him strength to journey on his own, light of step, a spontaneous and free being.  — José Martí

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Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Men are like the stars; some generate their own light while others reflect the brilliance they receive.  —José Martí

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Display at the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Man can never be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns us with the same light that warms us. The sun has spots (stains).  The ungrateful only talk about the spots (stains). The grateful talk about the light.  — José Martí, La edad de oro

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Courtyard of El Sitial Moncada, Havana

In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.  — José Martí

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Bookseller stall in the Plaza de Armas, Havana


I have a white rose to tend
In July as in January;
I give it to the true friend
Who offers his frank hand to me.  — José Martí

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Dagoberto, our waiter at a bar on the grounds of Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, Havana — the white rose he made and presented to me

If translated back into Spanish, those last words may sound familiar to you…

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

This Playing for Change YouTube video may refresh your memory, then there is Pete Seeger.  The above is one of four stanzas from Martí’s Versos Sencillos that are often used as lyrics to Guantanamera.

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In a time long ago, in a land far away, my mother bought a 1955 red and white Ford Fairlane convertible with red and white leather upholstery and a V8 engine.  What a car!  With top down, several road trips from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles ensued.  And, “Betsy” even bumped along dirt roads and forded streams on camping trips up to Mount Lassen.  We had her for ten years before repeated repair trips had my mother saying, “Enough!!!” and trading her in.  It was a very sad day.  What almost 16-year old wants to learn to drive a big boring pale yellow 1965 Ford Fairlane station-wagon?!

However, Betsy lives on the streets of Cuba!!!  Last week’s Havana vacation had me seeing her and her older and younger Ford brothers and sisters everywhere — even Edsel!

Also there were her cousins.  Most of the vintage cars, known as almendrones in Cuba, are taxis and, once destination and price are agreed to, they ply the streets taking passengers from point A to point B.

Though often they just cruise up and down the Malecón seeing and being seen enjoying the sea breeze and spectacular setting.  It’s an especially popular pastime among tour groups and wedding parties.

The Stills and Young wistful elegy to Neil Young’s first car, Long May You Run, keeps playing in my mind.

Long May You Run

We’ve been through
some things together
With trunks of memories
still to come
We found things to do
in stormy weather
Long may you run.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes
have come
With your chrome heart shining
in the sun
Long may you run.

Well, it was
back in Blind River in 1962
When I last saw you alive
But we missed that shift
on the long decline
Long may you run.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes
have come
With your chrome heart shining
in the sun
Long may you run.

Maybe The Beach Boys
have got you now
With those waves
singing “Caroline No”
Rollin’ down
that empty ocean road
Gettin’ to the surf on time.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes
have come
With your chrome heart shining
in the sun
Long may you run.

To the vintage cars of Cuba, long may you run!!!  And, for those concerned, as we were, about collectors coming in and sweeping up many of the 60,000 old American cars, according to a couple of articles I’ve read, that might not be the case.  Because of their age and the US embargo, “the cars have jerry-rigged modifications” that make them undesirable to collectors.  Then there is the pride owners have in their cars…

Cristian Paez, 40, said he has no intention of letting go of his 1956 purple and beige Bel Air convertible, purchased long ago by his grandfather. ‘Not possible,’ declares the burly 40-year-old, not for any price. ‘I love driving this car.'”

Stay tuned here and on Oaxaca-The Year After for more on the Havana adventure.

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