Cuban Diary Day 5: Society, Art, and a Micro-brewery

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Caridad got up at 6 am again, but Lazaro was up frequently in the night. Something from yesterday did not agree with his stomach. Caridad is not optimistic that breakfast here will help. Just before leaving the room, Lazaro banged his head on the towel rack in the bathroom and we had to clean up the blood and bandage his head before leaving. On the way to breakfast, Lazaro exchanged $40 USD for 34.80 CUC.

The breakfast buffet appeared to be replenished. The baguettes were only slightly stale, and there were complete rows of cheese slices. We stuck with boiled egg, baguette, dates, pineapple slices (the tough core had not been cut out), orange juice (not bad), and coffee (good). It was also easy to find a table for two inside the restaurant.

We were ready for the bus well before 9 am, but the bus was late. This morning our first stop was a 90 minute workshop (discussion) with Dr. Marta Nunez on “Education and Cuban Society Today.” She is a PhD sociologist (retired) and she spoke at length on homophobia and other sexual identity problems in Cuba. She also spoke about women’s problems, specifically, that women are still expected to keep house and raise children in addition to their full time jobs, even though the Cuban marriage vows specify that husband and wife will share these family tasks equally. Men, on the other hand, are raised to be macho and never trained how to do housework. The birth rate in Cuba is slightly over 1 child per family, partly because women have no time for more children and partly because abortion is legal and prevalent as birth control. She answered questions thoughtfully. It was a good session. (The photos above were taken on the main level of the building where we met.)

One of our group asked what would happen if she walked into a men’s room, assuming she self-identified as male. The guide said she would be escorted to a ladies’ room, because that is what she looks like. Cuba does not yet have a law that would allow her to use the men’s room. 

On the way to our next scheduled activity, we made an unplanned stop (at the request of a tour group member) at the government-run Marina Hemingway, Cuba’s largest marina. (The only relationship to Ernest Hemingway is the use of his name.) This is the marina that foreign pleasure boats must enter, rather than Havana harbor. Originally, the marina, named the Marina Barlovento Complex, was built (beginning in 1953) with docks for the yachts of resident property-owners. However, the marina was nationalized as part of the revolution in 1959 and renamed Marina Hemingway. Hosting many nautical events, the Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba (HIYC of Cuba), founded on May 21, 1992, also holds races here.

Next we took the bus to the home of the acclaimed Cuban artist Jose Fuster. He has filled his small house and yard (and his neighbors’ walls) with ceramic sculptures and murals. We were welcomed by his oldest son. There were other artists-in-training there, also. The best mural, in Caridad’s opinion, was on a second story wall and represented Noah’s ark. After we looked around for about 20 minutes, lunch was served in a small pavilion in his front yard. The lunch consisted of bread, squash with onions, salad, chicken, fish fillets, rice, black beans, and a flaky pastry (resembling a moon pie, except square) for dessert.

Following lunch, we toured the National Bellas Artes, a museum of Cuban Art. We were taken around by a young woman who described many rooms of art. We saw works by several artists as their styles evolved over time, as influenced by the revolution. There were two artists who (according to the guide) were representing their repression as homosexuals. In Caridad’s opinion, one of these artists had just painted plain old pornography. The tour ended abruptly (our time was up), so we tipped the guide and headed back downstairs. Caridad looked in the gift shop for a postcard with a painting by Pedro Pablo Oliva, who, she thought, had the best paintings, but there was none. Maybe Caridad can find out something more about that artist when she gets back home. (Photography was not permitted in this museum. Also, we were not permitted to view the pre-Revolutionary art, which supposedly includes works by Rubens, Murillo and Goya.)

Line of 1950s cars

Heading back to the hotel, the bus stopped for 10 minutes near a long line of old cars so that we could get off the bus and take photos. We two sat in a 1952 Chevy convertible while the owner took pictures of us. He said it had the original engine.

The bus then took us back to the hotel to freshen up. After blogging, it was nap time.

Ship in Havana Harbor

Around 7:15, the bus arrived to take us to dinner. Driving past the Havana Harbor, we saw an interesting ship (pictured above). This is where the first cruise ship to visit Cuba was anchored last week.

Our dinner was at Antiguo Almacén de la Madera y el Tabaco, a micro-brewery. (We did not tour the facility,  but the large vats and other apparatus were clearly visible.) The restaurant placed two two-liter tubes of beer on the table (one light, one dark) and diners helped themselves from the taps. The dark variety seemed to be more popular. The appetizer was a salad of shredded cabbage with a few very thin slivers of cucumber and a few toothpick-sized pieces of carrot. The entree was a mound of white rice (more than a cup), about a quarter cup of a cooked cabbage mixture, and perhaps 3 ounces of shredded beef. Dessert was shredded coconut in sweetened milk, followed by a tiny cup of espresso (though twice the volume of espressos we have been served elsewhere). The food all tasted good. While we ate, a band played Cuban music, and after the performance they sold CDs of their music to several group members.

On the way back to the hotel, the bus dropped six of the group to go to a bar that Hemingway frequented, where there would be music and dancing. The rest of us continued back to the hotel. We have an 8:30 start tomorrow, the earliest yet. Lazaro is still trying to get over what appears to be food poisoning from yesterday and needs a good night’s sleep.

The smell of cigarettes is very strong in the room tonight. One group member thinks that someone is smoking in another room and the smoke travels from that window into hers and ours. The windows do not close all the way. She also is sick from something she ate yesterday.

And so to bed.

Stay tuned for more of our Cuban diary. If you want to catch up on the first days, read:

Eight Days in Cuba: an Introduction

Cuban Diary Day 1: Arriving in Cuba

Cuban Diary Day 2: Squares of Old Havana

Cuban Diary Day 2: Views of Old Havana

Cuban Diary Day 3: Cigars, Salad and Salsa

Cuban Diary Day 3: Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigia

Cuban Diary Day 4: Religion, Restoration, and Revolution

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