After breakfast prepared by our homestay families, also known as casas particulares, we bused over to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. There, we received a guided tour of the section of the museum containing Cuban paintings that paralleled Cuba’s twentienth century history. The art employed striking textures and colors to explore themes leading up to and including the revolutionary period. After viewing these inspiring works, we boarded our bus and drove down Monserrate, passing El Floridita—one of Hemingway’s old stomping grounds—and Edifico Bacardi—a beautiful art deco building that housed the former headquarters of the rum magnates—before leaving the center of the city to reach Guanabacoa, a center of Afro-Cuban culture dating to the sixteeenth century. Our visit to the Museo Historica de Guanabacoa introduced us to the history and practice of Santeria, a religion based on beliefs and gods brought to Cuba from various regions of West Africa during the slave trade and intertwined with Catholic saints. Talented musicians accompanied dancers dressed as the syncretic deities of the Santerian religion. Their energy and complete dedicatation motivated teachers in our group to join in. We headed back to central Havana for lunch at Cafeteria El-Tren, a small café owned by Jennifer’s good friend Raymer. It was fun to be his very first customers, and to watch the new staff taking orders, baking pizza, and churning out pasta dishes in a very warm and crowded space. After lunch, Raymer spoke to us about his education here in Cuba—he has a degree in electrical engineering—and the difficulties of finding work in Cuba that can meet one’s financial needs. In additon, he touched upon the challenges of entrepreneurship in Cuba and the need to integrate informal and state economies to procure the necessary supplies for a small business, a relationship understood by the state out of necessity. After this busy lunch, our free time at Parque Central was a refreshing change of pace. Some of us ambled about the park, listening to the music or joining locals on a shady park bench, while others explored nearby streets or went shopping. The next point of interest was Callejon de Hamel, an narrow pedestrian alley featurting the works of street muralist Salvador, whose themes emphasized Cuba’s African roots. A short break before dinner allowed us to shop or walk through Havana’s fabled Malecon, or harbor front. Along the way, one could see young people flocked around internet hotspots. We finished our day at Atelier, an elegant resaurant whose architecture echoed Cuba’s Spanish heritage, meeting for group time on the terrace after a sumptuous meal. As if the day were not busy enough, some of us even ventured out to Fabrica de Arte Cubano (www.fac.cu), located four blocks from our casas in Nuevo Vedado, to experience one of the city’s most unique and popular nightspots. Set in an old factory building, the space was filled with modern visual art and featured an open performance space featuring live Cubano-jazz music, which served to arouse all of one’s senses and offered a unique look into the creativity and passion of the Cuban people.
Richard and Lauren