HAVANA _ You don’t know a place until you’ve been to a place.
I didn’t know Cuba.
Now I know a little more. And I’ll never do justice to everything I saw and learned. But here’s a little: I was stunned by the cosmopolitan and wealthy. I was stunned by the grand boulevards and mansions. I was stunned by museums and fancy restaurants and how much Havana appreciates and preserves its history in the care and nurturing of its oldest buildings, its books and history – and its art. I was mostly stunned by how stunned I was. What did I think was happening in Havana? Did I expect to find the poor on corners begging for food? Did I not expect upscale restaurants where I ate amazing food every day?
And oh, the creativity!
I visited the gallery of Eduardo “Choco” Roca, who looks a little like Brock Peters, has a voice like James Earl Jones – and is brilliant. He uses crushed cans from beer, soda pop, to capture the lives and faces of Cuba. I’d never seen anything like it.
We dined at the El Aljibe palodar (one of many, many private restaurants in Havana), where the chicken that everyone raved about tasted like my grandmother’s perfectly seasoned, kind-of-stewed, kind-of-baked chicken with rice and beans.
We strolled through Fusterlandia, the wild, wacky and wonderful complex created by painter and sculptor, José Fuster. He tiled his home, nearby homes and neighborhood businesses in a colorful burst of mosaic fun. (It reminded me of what Tyree Guyton did here in Detroit with the Heidelberg Project).
We drank a few mojitos at the Hotel Nacionale; it was the best mojito I’ve ever, ever, ever had.
I had my photo made by a photographer using a 100-year-old camera in Havana’s Central Park. The camera, which featured a jeans pants leg and was put together with mostly duct tape, processed the near-instant black-and-white print in a matter of minutes. The photographer created a negative, put it in solution, then I watched the magic happen.