Beautiful tree lined boulevards with with well cared for sidewalks.
Behind the manicured trees and sidewalks stylish mansions are on display, most dating back to the early 20th century, some ornate and grand
some sleek art deco.
A few are now impressive embassies but many are still privately owned. We could be anywhere in the world but we are in Miramar, a district of Havana. This was not what I was expecting in Cuba, which I presume is why the lovely Raidel and the dangerous Oscar are driving us through this neighborhood.
Oscar’s pile of junk, the vulgar Volga, seems out of place on these moneyed streets, although it’s Russian origin does make me consider whether it is the luxurious mansions that are out of place and not the car.
We had asked Raidel to show us the School of Fine Art designed by two Italian architects and a Cuban in the early sixties. It’s purpose was to create an entirely new style of architecture to celebrate the revolution. It had the backing of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, but as Soviet influence took over and brought its own stark architecture, this style fell out of favour and was largely forgotten.
Today, with its brick domes and colonnades, it is recognised as an architectural masterpiece outside of Cuba, but still mostly ignored inside.
Raidel was excited to take us there as most tourists haven’t heard of it and don’t ask to see it. He is hoping to talk his way inside the school using the fact that Gordon was once an art school lecturer. He tells us that he will say that Gordon still teaches……… then he looks at me. I tell him to say that I am Gordon’s assistant. He laughs. I tell him that my role in life is to be Gordon’s assistant. The hands fly to his face as the uncontrollable giggles flow. He tells me that the Cuban word for assistant translates to “Dolphin”. We both start laughing and from that moment on he calls me Dolphin. Even the dangerous Oscar is laughing at this point.
Sadly he cannot get us into the school. We are stopped at the front gate and told that there are many forms to be filled out and submitted before we will be considered for a visit. Welcome to Cuba.
From there we drive to see one particular artist and his incredible life’s work.
The artist is Jose Fuster and the neighborhood that he has transformed into a tribute to Gaudi, is called Fusterlandia. Nowhere near as much imagination has gone into naming the neighborhood, as went into the art.
It is another area that Raidel rarely gets to go. Following Gaudi’s example Fuster has covered everything in broken tiles.
The heart of the area is a large house on three floors with strange structures built in the garden, all of which are covered in tiles. The Fabulosity Meter was designed for just these moments.
The area is not only reminiscent of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona but also of Watts Towers, another tribute to Gaudi built in the Watts suburb of Los Angeles, this time by an Italian immigrant, Simon Rodia. And like the area in Watts it has spawned an artists’ colony with many of the houses converted into artist’s studios and galleries.
The dangerous Oscar, who up to this point has not left the car, choosing instead to sit broodingly in the driver’s seat listening to extremely loud music, gets out of the car and starts taking photos with his phone. He has never been here before
We could spend a day here, but it is time to see the real Havana.
In Old Havana it is not the tiles that are broken, it is the buildings, the streets and the people. It is a beautiful part of Havana which dates back several centuries. The narrow cobbled streets, the beautiful colonial buildings and the ornate churches were all built by the Spanish
and inherited by Castro over fifty years ago. In the time he and his brother have been in power little has been done to preserve them.
Once beautiful buildings now crumble in disrepair.
Piles of trash and discarded cars are dumped everywhere.
Hundreds of cats, unwanted, thin, dirty, and frightened search for food scraps, as do many of the people. The locals, unwilling to spend any more time than necessary inside their crumbling homes drag chairs onto the sidewalk and settle in for the day, newspaper and beer always at hand
But somehow the area retains its charms. Many of the streets painted in Caribbean colors, are fun stylish and inviting. Here and there properties are being restored.
But behind every appealing exterior, the truth about Cuba lurks. This fabulous hotel lobby suggests style and luxury
But look more carefully at the furniture and you see reality
Welcome to Cuba