Art galleries, dance studios, artists' homes and the private restaurants called paladars swirl in my mind a week after my return from Cuba, refusing to locate themselves on the grid of the real. From the moment we landed and climbed into an air-conditioned, Chinese bus, we were bombarded with images, information and impressions. Slowly the din of perceptions filtered my preconceptions and new understandings emerged.
|Plaza de San Francisco|
2. Cuban art is not "outside." Visual art ranges from works shown in the world's major exhibitions, like the Venice Biennale, to neighborhood mosaics such as these by Juan Fuster, whose Homenaje a Gaudi (Homage to Gaudi) decorates whole blocks of Jaimanitas, a Havana suburb. The upraised hand you see on the far right of the photo below is a tribute to the five Cubans imprisoned in the U.S. since 2001 for attempting to prevent attacks on Cuba launched from Miami.
|Pais Deseado (Desired Country) by artist Tonel at La Factoria|
4. Cuba is not dangerous. It's safer than most U.S. cities and you can eat and drink everything served in paladars, government restaurants and hotels. While the U.S. office of Foreign Asset Control requires you to follow the itinerary for which your tour group is licensed, no one checks, and in fact you can go where you please. Taxis are cheap and plentiful.
5. Cubans have not given up religion. Though most of Cuba's Catholic churches are no longer used for services, there are temples where members of our group attended lay-led Friday services, and Santeria, the Yoruba-derived religion, is alive and well. A million people attended mass celebrated by Pope John Paul in the Plaza de la Revolucion when he visited in 1998.
|Chair art at La Gaurida, a paladar|
6. Socialism doesn't have to mean dreary. Our first stop, the monumental Plaza de la Revolution, is dominated by a tower memorializing José Marti, the 19th-century hero of Cuban independence from Spain. Besides the Mass mentioned above, the plaza is used for big social dances and other community events. Signs for CDF's, Centers for Defense of the Revolution, are ubiquitous (see slideshow below) and recall times when these block groups were used for ferreting out anti-revolutionary sentiments, but now people seem to speak freely. There is no free press in Cuba and many lacks: food, medicine, pencils, paper, and books, partly caused by the U.S. embargo. Posters advocating "free the five," symbolized by the upraised hand in the mosaic photo above, are common. Cubans neither own property nor pay rent, but individuals can improve their dwellings, and the artists' homes we visited were gorgeous: thirty-foot ceilings, elaborate tiled floors, art on all the walls.
Click below to see a slideshow of photos of Cuba with music by Pablo Menendez and Mezcla.
Give it plenty of time to load on your computer.