I wasn’t certain what to expect when I visited Havana. I presumed (correctly so) that Cubans didn’t hold me accountable for the politics that have divided our nations for more than 50 years, but I hadn’t realized how much I would enjoy talking to them. The Cubans we met were fairly open about their frustrations with their government but proud of all they had accomplished in terms of public health, education and contributions to culture and arts. They live in a society plagued by chronic shortages due to the ineptitude of their government and the US embargo. Despite those barriers I couldn’t help but notice all the trendy Cuban men and women strolling down Avenida 23 and along the Malecon. We were told that consumer goods make it into the general population from family members and friends who live abroad. It seemed like nearly everyone either has a relative or a connection with someone living in the United States or Europe who sends back currency and consumer goods. It made me realize while our embargo has put a great strain on Cuba it hasn’t stopped the flow of goods nor squelched their appetite for them.
While I thought much of Havana appeared to be crumbling all around me. I did like it’s shabby-chic vibe. It has that romantic charm and sexual energy all larger Latin cities possess, but it seems more romantic and in some cases tragic with the backdrop of decrepit buildings and 1950s American cars zipping by you.
Public art is plentiful and we met and talked to a few artists while visiting. I was surprised that I saw very few images of Castro while in Havana; Che Guevara, cigars, 1950s American cars and pop icons are nearly everywhere you look.
If you visit Havana, I recommend checking out the Arts & Crafts Market located along the port in Old Havana. Sure, its is tourist trap and you’ll likely bump into more than a few Americans while you’re there, but it is a great way to see how Cubans are interpreting the world around them before setting out to explore Old Havana.
Blog posts from this series:
Post 1: An American in Havana
Post 2: An American in Havana: The Cuban people
Post 3: An American in Havana: The architecture
Post 4: An American in Havana: Old Havana
Post 5: An American in Havana: The food
Post 6: An American in Havana: The cars