Splitting into smaller groups to walk and photograph is a definite advantage.
One of our group of four found a home with a pottery sign in the window. Inside the doorway was a small room where some of the art pieces were displayed. The lady of the house greeted us and offered a tour of her home. We climbed a narrow home-made steel staircase (more like a stairway found on a ship, but fabricated with re-bar and thin plate) to the second level kitchen and living area. From here we then climbed a set of concrete steps that were no more than one foot wide to the bedroom.
After returning to the ground floor, we passed four hombres sitting around a table drinking rum and were led to the pottery work area. We were then offered a pottery making demonstration. I thought the woman was the potter, but she called to her husband (who was one of the hombres). He put down his rum and started up the pottery wheel by plugging two bare wires into a socket. A clump of clay, a pot of water, and two gifted hands produced a beautiful vase in just a few minutes.
Old Havana has a distinctive odor. It’s worse in some places than others. It’s a combination of auto exhaust, mold, mildew, garbage, urine, and sewerage. The streets of Old Havana have damp areas that don’t dry because something is always oozing from one old building or another. Overflowing trash containers regularly sit for days without being emptied. Street sweepers (men with brooms) are everywhere. They help with the trash problem, but not with the smell. The infrastructure is falling apart and it’s the fault of the government. After all, the government is in total control.
Laundry hangs everywhere in Havana. Indoors and out. It hangs from railings and balconies and from lines tied between any sturdy posts. It doesn’t matter that the air is filled with 1950’s auto exhaust or that the city air has its own unique odor. Clothes must be washed and dried. I doubt the average Cuban could afford to buy a clothes dryer even if one were available to purchase. So women practice the time-honored tradition of hanging out the wash. I remember my mother doing the very same chore.
Of course its different in Cienfuegos, Cohimar, or Trinidad where the air is fresher, cleaner, and the population is not so dense. It’s not so obvious, but it’s there. It’s the laundry.
The Prado is a raised, wide marble and granite promenade that splits the Paseo De Marti’s one-way traffic into two northbound lanes and two southbound lanes. The Prado is also the commonly accepted divider between “Old Havana” to the east and “Centro Havana” to the west, although the difference is not readily apparent. The Prado begins at Parque Central and ends at the Ave. De Maceo (the Malecon).
It’s approximate eight block length is a natural gathering place for all kinds of people. Children play with soccer balls, climb on the statues, and push home-made skateboards. Old people gather to sit and talk. Beggars gather to make conversation with tourists in hopes of being offered a CUC. On the weekends a wide variety of artists set up stands hoping to sell their sketches, paintings, carvings, jewelry, or beadwork. Of course there’s always a hip younger guy who wants to sell you some cigars … cheap! He’ll whisper to you … “my brother works in the cigar factory” … you want Cohibas? … Monte Cristos?”
The Prado is still in very good condition, but it’s dirty with soot from car and bus exhaust and when wet, it’s dangerously slippery. But that’s another story.
Olivia just turned 90 years old. She lives in abject poverty with her 75-year-old daughter in Trinidad, Cuba. When I met her last year she was sitting on the curb outside her home cleaning a plate full of rice. In Cuba rice is sold in bulk and purchased by weight, no neat and clean packaging. In fact, the rice that is grown in Cuba is dried by spreading it out on one lane of the nearest asphalt roadway while traffic shares the other lane. Any dirt or foreign matter is carefully picked out before cooking.
I found her by showing the pictures I brought with me to people in her neighborhood. Everyone knew her and was eager to help. She graciously invited me and my fellow travelers into her home. I couldn’t help but notice that she had on the same clothes as she did a year ago. I hoped it was just a coincidence. Her home was sparsely furnished. There was a couch with a thin cushion for the seat, but no cushion for the back. It was not the least bit comfortable. In one corner there was an old nineteen inch television set with rabbit ears. There was also a table top bookcase where her daughter placed the pictures I gave them.
Olivia seems full of life, but her daughter indicated that her mind was starting to go.
They were both pleased that someone remembered them and took the time to revisit.
It was my pleasure.
Food is scarce in Cuba. It’s a function of Communism, central planning, and collectivization. The food that is available is not visually appealing. Fruits and vegetables are small, bruised, and appear to be unripe. They would never sell in the United States. Meat does appear fresh, but loses its appeal when seen hanging unwrapped and fly covered in the heat of the Cuban day. If the Cubans can afford food, they are happy to have whatever is available.
Some Cubans are able to sell a few food items out of their homes or from push carts.
Rice and grain are sold in bulk.
The rice must be picked over and cleaned.
Fresh pork with butcher in the background.
Her name is Regla (don’t forget to roll that “R”). Her husband is Thomas and their daughter is Caroline. They live in Trinidad, Cuba on the edge of the city, away from the tourist areas, away from the fresh paint being applied for the upcoming 500th anniversary of the city. Like most Cubans, they are dirt poor.
Regla speaks some English which is an asset in this tourist destination. She supplements her government allowance by working for a restaurant near the city center. She approaches tourists and attempts to steer them to a meal at La Cieba, for which she receives a commission. With her engaging personality she is easy to communicate with.
I know her from my previous trip to Trinidad in 2013. We had a jovial and boisterous conversation then. One member of our group made the remark about Caroline … “What a beautiful girl”. Without missing a beat Regla responded “like her mama”. We all laughed and repeated the phrase over and over again.
On this past trip I went to find Regla to give her some photos and give Caroline some gifts. When I found her and showed her the photos I said “just like her mama”. Her face lit up and we both laughed. I was amazed that she remembered our 2013 conversation and she was amazed that I remembered it as well.
It was another special moment.