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, the upscale, the wealth. I was stunned by the grand boulevards and mansions. I didn’t expect the museums and how much Havana appreciates and lovingly preserves its history through the care and nurturing of its oldest buildings, books, history – and art.
I was mostly stunned by how stunned I was. What did I think was happening in Havana? Did I expect to find extreme poverty on every corner, people begging for food? Did I really not expect the upscale restaurants where I dined every day?
And oh, the creativity!
I visited the gallery of Eduardo “Choco” Roca, who looks a little like the late actor Brock Peters, has a voice like James Earl Jones – and is brilliant. He uses crushed cans from beer, soda pop and other beverages to capture the lives and faces of Cuba. I’d never seen anything like it. The colors and vibrancy were magnificent, and he was so unassuming and matter-of-fact about his brilliance. Knowing there was no room on the walls of my home, I still purchased one of his works to remind me of that great visit. (Perhaps the bathroom?)
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 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.
We strolled Central Park, which was filled with tourists, schoolchildren, couples in love and was surrounded by the magnificent American cars from the 1950s and 60s that roll along every boulevard all day and night.