Cuba: Old Havana
Old Havana is a city still suspended- for the moment- in time, so I urge you to go NOW before the changes brought on by a bourgeoning tourist trade and foreign investment by China and India in property development begins to be seen and felt. It's crazy fun to wander around and take in the friendly, local life and the colorful, faded glory of the architecture as well as explore the cultural centers and private art galleries that are popping up. Our group arrived a few days after Castro had died so the country was in a state of mourning with no music or dancing allowed, which must have been very difficult for the Cubans who take their salsa and music very seriously. Thank goodness rum (and tequila for me) was still served at our hotel and all the restaurants we visited (all surprisingly yummy btw.)
My company were fellow members of the Design Leadership Network, an association of designers, architects and vendors devoted to the highest practice of their crafts. Organized by Soane Travels and Academic Arrangements Abroad (same folks who organized Beyonce and J-Z's recent visit), the itinerary with its emphasis on the arts, history and architecture of Cuba proved educational and inspirational and perfectly tailored to my curious and game travel mates. Below are snapshots and descriptions of some of the highlights of the tour. (Thanks to Chas Miller of Soane Travels for much of the detailed information and text below.)
Our first stop: the famous National Arts School (ISA) created in the 1960's by Castro on the Old Havana Country Club grounds. Seen above, the school buildings were designed by architects Vittori Garatti, Roberto Gottardi (Italians) and Ricardo Porro (Cuban). We explored the School of Arts, visiting their print making, ceramics, painting , and metalwork studios. Then most of us lined up to buy various pieces that had caught our roaming eyes. See the film "Unfinished Spaces" about the creation of the school.
After lunch at our lodgings, the all new Hotel Saratoga, we headed to the 1920's mansion known as the Catalina Lasa House (pictured below) to explore the interiors by Lalique before making our way over to Fabricade Arte Cubano (pictured below)- a former peanut- oil factory which has been converted into a vibrant complex for artist exhibitions, performances, and more, including cocktail and coffee bars that serve multi-generational locals looking to come together as a community in an artful setting. Unfortunately, due to the period of mourning, we were unable to experience this hip, cool spot in full swing.
Al Fesco Cubano!
Our last day included a stop at the Art Deco Barcardi Building (pictured below) to view the stunning, polished marble lobby and exterior details, including the Maxfield Parrish plaques. Our next point of interest-the Casa de Jose Miguel Gomez Mansion (which now houses the Alliance Francaise)- is located on the main drag of Paseo de Prado and held several delights including the faux marble detailing on the entry door surrounds (using the "scagliola" technique of mixing plaster with glues and dyes, which is then painted to look like imitation stone and finally polished for full effect (pictured below).) The spectacular, sky-lighted inner courtyard is especially beautiful and memorable as it provides natural light to all the adjacent rooms and hallways upstairs and down. Plus we had good photo ops for all from the second floor as we gazed from the interior windows opening out into the courtyard. Speaking of capturing instagram- able moments, while exploring the Vedado area of town near the Hotel National (pictured below), we stumbled briefly through the lobby of an apartment building that showcases a lovely almost Venusian statue (pictured below) in its' great circular atrium... a real find and a must-see!
331 Art Space in Playa