Unlike many other western cultures, life in Cuba is very open. Walking down the streets of Havana one will find laundry drying on the porch rails, haircuts on the curbside, children playing in the plazas and dance practices on the verandas. It is the lively, colorful and transparent nature of the Cuban culture that makes it such a desirable place artists of all kinds.
Fototeca de Cuba
Fototeca de Cuba is Cuba’s national gallery of photography. We met with Fototeca's director, Nelson Ramirez de Arellano Conde. Ramirez spoke frankly with our group about Cuba’s beauty and its flaws as he traced the history of the art and science of photography in Cuba using slides from the gallery's collection. As an artist, he uses photography to criticize and celebrate the Cuban condition. According to Ramirez, photography as a medium can be in conflict with itself as either an objective documentation of reality or purely art.
The next stop on our busy schedule was the Soledad Street home of Lazaro Salsita an artist who has transformed his ground-floor apartment into a studio and community classroom where he encourages children of all ages in his after school program to to recycle with art.
Salista showed off his home to our group as the children outside worked quietly and patiently on their own art projects.
Recycle With Art
There was hardly an interior or exterior surface larger than a postage stamp in Salsita's dwelling that was not covered by newsprint.
Maquina de Escribir
Salsita's medium of choice is paper maché and he uses the state newspaper Granma for both its raw paper material as well as its headlines.
As we were leaving, the children came running carefully though the apartment with drawings they had made as gifts for each member of our tour.
After spending a half hour at Salista’s home, we packed back onto the Yutong bus for a destination in the landmark Miramar neighborhood, which is home to pre-Revolution upscale homes and embassies. On a quiet block behind a tall security fence lay Abdala Studios, one of Cuba’s premier music recording facility and the home of the Unicornio and Presto record labels. Inside we met Adolfo Costales, a music producer, who was working on final mixes with a sound editor.
Propped up on the somewhat dated mixing console was a new Mac Pro which had been bootstrapped into the system for digital mastering. Costales said that most of the musicians that he works with prefer the sound of analog recording but the convenience and cost effectiveness of digital mastering means most sessions at Abdala eventually pass through the hard drives of this Mac.
A ride along El Malecon, Havana’s seaside esplanade, in a classic taxi sounded like a good way to spend the precious few off-tour hours we had at the end of the second day. Our driver Sergio's 54 Chevy was in immaculate condition inside and out. After a short driving tour and a sunset photo shoot, his Chevy bounced through the streets of Miramar to the waterfront Paladar Vistamar one of the top dining options in Havana.
Recent changes to the Cuban economic model have allowed private citizens to open their homes to the public as small dining rooms known as paladars. These paladars serve a variety of foods from traditional to exotic and cater to tourists who, prior to the existence of paladar, often had difficulty finding variety in food on the island.
Buena Vista Social Club
The Hotel Meliá Cohiba hosted the legendary Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. This famous act grew out of the 1940s music club in Havana that gave rise to traditional Cuban music such as the mambo and the cha-cha-cha as well as Afro-Cuban styles such as son and rumba.
Buena Vista Social Club Drum Solo
Soon after the Cuban Revolution, the Buena Vista Social Club itself along with most nightclubs were shut down in an effort to curb gambling and organized crime. Music in Cuba changed radically in the years following the revolution.
Buena Vista Social Club Guitar Solo
The mambo gave way to the salsa and pop music and through the years, the traditional sounds of Cuba have yielded to the march of time. It wasn't until the release of a 1999 documentary film named for the Buena Vista Social Club that the BVSC's music experienced worldwide resurgence.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba lost 80% of its trade, plunging Cuba's economy into a deep crisis and making necessities like food and petroleum scarce. Know as Periodo Especial or Special Period, the time since the end of communism in the USSR has been particularly difficult economically in Cuba.
Organico Vivero Alamar Urban Farm
In 1997, motivated by a shortage of fresh produce Miguel Salcines a former agronomist for the Ministry of Agriculture and his team organized an 8,600-square-foot garden in the Alamar housing development just outside of Havana. Today Organico Vivero Alamar has grown to 25 acres and feeds 50,000 people each year with organic vegetables, fruits and herbs and spices. The organic farm provides jobs for 160 people.
Unidad Base de Produccion Cooperativa
Vivero Alamar is a Unidad Base de Produccion Cooperativa (UBPC) a Basic Unit of Cooperative Production. UBPC land is owned by the Cuban government but farm workers can share in the the profits from the crops. The government also allows farmer's markets to sell crop surpluses after quotas are met. UBPC's were designed to create a stronger relationship between agricultural workers and the land they farmed.