Cuba is having another “revolucion,”but this time it is Cultural. Everyone is excited about Cuba opening up to Americans but nowhere is this more apparent than in the Art World. So as travel restrictions lift and embargoes soften, 26 invited gringos from the Aspen Art Museum headed to Havana to witness a new era on Cuban soil.
We hit the ground running as our Heidi, fearless director/leader, keeps her lemmings very busy from morning til night. The first thing we learned is the F word in Cuba does not mean the same as it does in America. As our guide Lazaro romanticized his country, he emphasized that it’s important to understand Flexibility as the F word here.
In fact, we would all be better off if flexibility were our middle names. Just a 40 minute flight from Miami, Havana is a tropical landscape of greenery with astounding architecture and an unfortunately crumbling infrastructure.
Our first stop was lunch at Rio Mar paladar, a term the cubans use for family run restaurants. It was a perfect introduction to the country in that the view is of the mouth of the Rio Almendares , the river that separates Vedado from Miramar. We watched the fisherman catch sardines while we ate and drank the first of our Cuban “welcome mojito for gringos” and felt the lay of the land before being inundated with art and culture. After all, we were there for the 12th Havana Biennial and to feel the energy that this event brings to Cuba complete with over 50 installations by local and international artists lining the Malecon oceanfront.
There were sites to visit scattered around town with the newest being Fabrica de Arte Cubano in a former cooking oil plant. Evidently, this is the trendy space open from 8p.m. to 3a.m. and I understand it gets pretty wild into the wee hours. I tried to round the group up for some late night partying…HA. Another stand out site we visited was a former bicycle factory with installations that were raw from artists that we were familiar with but certainly needed some explanation from Heidi which always puts things in perspective. Just walking through the streets hearing the sounds of music coming from the storefronts and homes was exciting. You can feel the vibrancy and even the hope that the Cubans have for the future. We visited several art galleries and studios of working artists that seemed to really embrace the culture not only politically but socially. We were “Culture Vultures” enjoying a private concert of the Institute of Superior Art then scurrying across the way for a dance performance by Irene’s flamenco troupe.
Watching those flamenco dancers lock eyes reinforce the belief that eyes are windows into the soul. The fun line continued as we celebrated our Katie’s birthday all day with non stop Carlos surprises complete with a caravan of 1950’s Buick convertible rides to dinner. Absolutely thrilling. La Guarida restaurant where they filmed Strawberry and Chocolate (which i must see )was a huge celebration complete with hired dancers on the rooftop…above and beyond. It was crazy fun and a perfect last night in Cuba.
Growing up in Miami Beach 56 years ago, I was close to the Cuban revolution in that I went to school with many friends who we affectionately called Jewbans that defected to Miami to enjoy a better life. But that being said, the Cubans that I met on this journey certainly don’t think life has passed them by…YET! I can’t help but think that they will be resentful when they join a world that has moved on without them. I will leave you with this thought coming from our expert foreign relations speaker on our final morning for those of you who showed up after our night of debauchery…”don’t fight life cause life is more stubborn than you”. And this brings me back to the F word. It is always a privilege to travel with AAM and this particular group of old and new fast-friends was incredibly warm, fun, and flexible! Did I mention that there was no internet or phone service and American credit cards do not work. I actually embraced being disconnected for 4 days. Now is the time to go to Cuba so put it on your bucket list before the tourism business ends that “step back into the ’50s”.