Thursday, February 7, 2013

Day 2 Habana

Our first full day in this city of just over two million people which looks like a cross between a movie set for a war zone and the historic beauty which charmed Ernest Hemingway and other artists in the 40's & 50's.  Our hotel, the Ibero Star Parque Central, is located in the heart of Habana Vieja (Old Havana as the natives say) across a big park from the capital building which resembles the US Capitol building. 

We set off down Paseo di Martí or the Prado as it's commonly called (named after the grandfather of Cuban independence José Martí)  to find elementary age school kids playing games supervised by their teachers.  It's common to find kids playing in whatever public space is near their schools as there are not many grassy parks but many  concrete common areas.  Much of the housing in the old city is multi-family with no yard space.  Many generations are crammed into these small tumble down rooms

We were on our way to the Malecon, which as in Mexico and other Latin American countries, is the boulevard next to the ocean where couples young and old stroll, gaze at the sea or each other or make out.  Since many people in Cuba live in inter-generational groups, unless they're high ranking government officials or hold prestigious jobs, there is a need for privacy which can be found in public.  

On this bright sunny day, we found a fashion shoot going on with a young male model and part of the production entourage using umbrellas, opened up all the way and held at a 45 degree angle so that the clothes hangers could be hooked on the stem - truly ingenious! We saw the remnants of an old fort that used to guard Habana harbor.

We also saw a young amputee doing pushups
It was sunny and hot and we ambled on to a side street to find some shade and refreshment.  In what looked like an old home was an entry way leading into a courtyard where tables were scattered about and an all female band dressed in pink was playing.   There was a small cafe to the side where we quaffed cafecito  (espresso type cup with strong sweet Cuban coffee), waters and beers.  Bought a CD of the band's music entitled "Love of Beer".  

After our respite, we soldiered on to see how the "Habaneros" live in the old city center.  We came upon one house where a woman (Mama) was sitting in her doorway, making pony tail "scrunchies" with her 90 year old blind mother sitting behind her listening to a radio.  Many of the houses in the old section have long hallways and sometimes courtyards with apartments radiating off and at least three levels, sometimes four with no elevator of course.  It all sounds charming which it would be if someone had rehabbed these places.  But as elemental as they are, they are home.  There are very few homeless people in the city thanks to the revolution, at least for people.  Dogs and cats are another story that I'll share later in this missive.

So Mama lives in one apartment, like a studio with a small kitchen space and a ladder that goes upstairs to provide sleeping space.  Her daughter lives with her with her daughter and Grandma lives in the room next door.  Four generations of women living in about 1.5 apartments for the past 40 years.  From there we continued our walk to peek into doorways to see if people would let us take their photographs.  Some were very friendly about it others not so much.  

 We were heading towards Cathedral Square where the church was dedicated to St. Christopher and initiated by Jesuits, who were kicked out of Cuba in 1767 when Spain controlled the island.  It was finished in 1777.  There are rumors that the ashes of Christopher Columbus are interred there, but others believe that the ashes are those of his son Diego.  And I never knew old Chris had sons!  Adjacent to the plaza is  a small dead end street where the Teller Experimental Graphics workshop is located.  It's an artist's coop type deal with many different kinds of old presses in it with a small gift shop on the 2nd floor where one can buy prints from between $30-$300 dollars. 

Might have to fix this one later...we're landing in Portland soon and just hope I can post this

 Of course I bought a couple of prints from two different artists a few days later when I got my bearings and could find my way back there again.  Day two is continued for the next post.  Yes, we walked our asses off, but with stops for mojitos etc., I don't think I lost any weight...sigh.

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