Thursday, May 28, 2015

A museum, some buildings and a story

I did take over 300 pictures in Havana, and I'm sure you'd agree they're all simply masterpieces, but I'll round off the show-and-tell today!

On our last day we stumbled across the Museo de las Artes Decorativas.

It was the home of a wealthy Contessa, who we heard later was a mistress of Batista, and who entertained people like the Duke of Windsor in her lovely home and gardens. She fled during the Revolution, probably assuming she'd be back in a year when everything got back to normal. There was a picture of a worker with a metal detector, finding the silverware that she'd bricked up in the basement!

In 1964, the government opened it as a museum, and I think some of the pieces on display are from the house and others may have once belonged to other pre-Revolutionary connoisseurs.

The front hall, with beautiful stone floor, and a table held up by an enslaved woman. 

Ivory details applied to a wooden cabinet. We just get more politically incorrect the more we look, here. 

I do love a good elephant. There was a whole room full of Asian screens, inlaid and painted. 

A floor. The Contessa had nice marble floors, and also some pretty gorgeous carpets. 

A lot of the woodwork on the main floor was painted and had bronze bits attached like this. All the door handles had bronze filigree doo-dads around them. I'm not sure how many "homes" in Havana were this excessive, but one can sort of see why sugar cane workers would welcome a revolution. 

I don't know why this one won't stay rotated; really, it looks better if you just tilt your head to the right... More fancy floor, with a touch of fantastic pink and green carpet to the side.  

This is in the dining room. It was hard to get a decent picture of the dining table; it was covered with these chandelier-like trees, which I think are merely decorative, and so much glassware it was just crazy. This set-up must be just for a wee tipple before the other guests arrive. 

The lights were also completely over the top.

This one is, of course, way up on the ceiling, but each globe has some ancient heroes etched on it. You might not think to put Achilles on your dripping-crystal chandelier, but someone did. 

Another chandelier. You can see some of the drippy bits are discoloured with age, and the ball at the bottom reflects the whole room, upside-down. I do love this and want a gigantic house just to have such a thing. 

Outside. The garden was not so excellently kept up as the inside, and if they were clever they would set up a little place selling cold water. Maybe when the hordes of tourists come someone will think of this. 

We had fun being goddesses. 

A few more stunning interiors, just for fun, like the Museo de la Revolución, the former Palace of the Presidents. The interior of the palace was done by Tiffany, so now you see the glass cases with Che's shoe or pages of Fidel's speeches, with little bits of glamour and glitz hidden behind. 

The central dome, with mosaics, gilding, marble, glass...

The palace even has a Versailles-like Hall of Mirrors, which is being renovated right now. 

This is in the president's office, complete with a bust of José Martí, who is honoured now as a revolutionary along with the modern ones. He fought for Cuba's independence from Spain in the 1890s. 

Although you can't tour the kitchens of the Contessa's house (which made me very unhappy, let me say), you can take a look at the bathroom off the president's office. I was pleased to note he didn't get a seat -- we often found that you could have paper or a seat, but rarely both. 

One more vision of crazy opulence: the Bacardi building. We could only walk around on the main floor, but that little peek was overwhelming enough. 

How many colours of marble does one elevator need?  

The floor! Oh, heavenly! Our shadows look a bit crazy because we were carrying bags and posters and whatever. 

Ah, we arrive at the final evening. We went to a restaurant I had read about, and that was a very clever move on our part. One of the owners (many restaurants are owned by the government, but "paladares," or family restaurants are cropping up all over the place) is a Canadian who has lived in Cuba for over 20 years. He came out to the terrace where we were sitting to and we chatted for a bit about Cuba and Cubans and Fidel and prosperity and government... Very nice, I wish we'd met him at the beginning of our trip! The food was good, but the highlight was the view. The building is on the Malecón, the seawall along the north edge of the city, and the restaurant is on the third floor, so the views of the sunset over the water are magnificent. 

We returned to the hotel (in a convertible Ford from 1953), packed our bags, set our alarm for 5 am so we could get the bus to the airport and all was well... till around 10:45 pm when my friend wanted to go out for a last smoke before bed (she had some funny habits, like smoking and also purloining meat from the breakfast table to feed to stray cats). 

But! She couldn't get the door open. We both turned the knob on the deadbolt, and the handle turned but the bolt stayed right where it was. So we phoned the desk, they told us someone would come.... Guy comes, tries the door, yells through at us to jiggle the handle. We tell him we've done that. 

Guy goes away. Comes back with more guys, a chisel, a drill... They do a bit of shaking of the door, go away, the woman from the front desk calls and tells us to turn the handle.... Finally, around midnight, they break the door frame and set us free! 

photo by T Teskey

I'm glad we didn't have to go through that all at 5:30 in the morning! We would have missed our bus, for one thing. We had to move rooms, of course. It was not soothing, let's just say that. And my camera battery was dead. Time to go home!

Monday, May 25, 2015

More pretty pictures

I'd love to show you all my Cuba pictures, but I'm editing like heck here. We'll start with a few pictures from the hotel. 

The elevator only took children with an accompanist. Tee hee.

And this is the handrail in the hotel elevator. Not much left on the wood. The elevators did work fine, though!

A couple of car pictures. The yellow beauty above was spotted in the Plaza de la Revolución when we went through on a bus tour (on the second day, after walking 26,000 steps on the first day). I assume the fellow with the car will gladly take you for a ride, for a fee, but am not certain. 

And below, just some cars artfully arranged with some of the trees that looked like rhododendrons gone crazy. 

Oh, heck, let's look at more cars!

We were not really driving this baby. The cab driver took about a million pictures of us in the car, waving, standing up and so on. It was a Studebaker from 1951, I believe. 

There was a lot of this sort of thing: parking your nice car in front of a coordinating building. We wondered why a lot of them were painted pink -- to appeal to the ladies? 

Me and another cab. Cheaper, because not as flashy! On our way to dinner on the last night. 

Just a nice old green car. 

Wow, this one was obviously well loved. 

Practically a Cuban Batmobile, from the back. When we looked in the side windows, though, we saw broken windows, missing chrome, cardboard on the seats. Maybe the owner of this does not have a cousin in Miami to send him parts. 

And back to the bus tour and the Plaza de la Revolución. Huge, as you can see. 

You might not recognize this guy, Camilo Cienfuegos. He was one of the big three revolutionaries, along with Fidel and Che Guevara. (I misnamed him in this post: the third man is definitely Ceinfuegos and not Raúl.) 

If you don't recognize Che, I'm sorry to say that you are not alone. When we were in the airport on our way home, someone (who had apparently spent their time soaking up the sun at a resort and not going to museums in Havana) wondered why this one guy was on all the T-shirts. Honestly, I was gobsmacked. 

Some delightful glass in an awning to get away from politics and back to just gawking. 

More pictures from the bus tour: the lovely polka-dot building that could use some care, and a great coloured, curving-balconied, palm-tree-in-front building!

Followed by the building with a lace panel up the middle...

... and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, against a clear blue Cuban sky. 

These three brick towers are outside of the Museo de las Bellas Artes, Cuban collection. And they represent...

yes, indeed, three kinds of screwdrivers. I loved them. 

A funny tree to end off! I think I can manage one more post to round up my Cuba pictures, and then we'll move on. Until I go back...

Friday, May 22, 2015

Four days in Havana

Last winter, when it was cold and miserable, my friend and I started talking about going somewhere hot, where we would have no troubles or cares, and be warm! As negotiations continued, it turned out that neither of us really wanted to just be warm, and we wanted a holiday that would be more interesting than an all-inclusive at the beach. So, heck, let's go to Havana, Cuba!

Then assorted husbands went on assorted trips (Did I tell you about Stephen going to Japan for two and a half weeks in April, right into the middle of the film festival?) and various school things happened, and finally, we booked 4 days and 5 nights away.

Yeah, and I took over 300 pictures... They are mainly of buildings! I will try to give you a chronological whizz through our trip.

This was taken from the hotel room on the first morning. The sun is coming in from the sea; the railing there is around the hotel pool. Already overwhelmed with the colours!

We set out to walk to the old town. I think the fence is up because people are renovating, but it might just have been a fence. The detail of the carving along the top is lovely, but the green of the fence is lovely, too, so you get the whole thing and not a close-up. 

This is a completely odd place. There are something over 100 flagpoles, and a big plaza with revolutionary slogans on the walls, all facing the United States Interest Section, the old American embassy. Apparently they used to hold rallies here, especially during the Elián Gonzáles case; it is called the José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform. I'd love to see it with flags flying. 

We continued our walk down the Malecón. You can see the buildings were once grand, and are now, bit by bit, being restored. Will Starbucks buy one and beautify it? 

I had heard about this seawall-road, and imagined it all wrong! It is a wide sidewalk beside the sea, indeed, but we had to dash across 6 or 8 lanes of traffic to get to it. The view is wonderful and the people watching lots of fun, but it is not a nature-lover's seawall. 

The view westward. The pale, low building with two towers on the right is the Nacional Hotel. The old stone foundations holding pools of scungy water just below the walkway... I can't tell you anything about that! 

Please note, no swimming or fishing. We saw loads of both, though. 

A cute pink Fiat 650. Oh, my, the cars might need their own day here. 

The cars I don't have any pictures of are the several Mercedes sedans that whooshed by us down the Malecón that first day. First a couple of motorbikes came along, sending everyone to the side of the road, then a police car or two and 5 or 6 big black Mercedes, carrying who knows whom? That was the one and only time we saw anything like that.

I can't show you everything in the old town at once, but I'll cover the Cathedral

Voilà, the cathedral. 

Very boring floors, I am sorry to say. Cuba did not have access to a lot of great stone in the 18th century and most of the walls are made of limestone and coral-bearing stone. Nice enough, but wears a lot faster than marble or granite! 

Three little stained glass windows. You can see a palm branch in the middle one. I really liked these simple geometric colourful tidbits. 

Of course we went up the tower. This is the roof of the church. 

Very rickety stairs up, big bells to dodge (not that they were ringing, but they were very large and the tower was made to fit them and not them plus tourists); not for the faint of heart. 

We wandered about town a bit more and found this, which we titled Riding the Chicken to Prosperity. You must click to enlarge. Look at her shoes, if you can. What is going on here? 

This is my friend admiring a doorway. Some things are all fixed up, but look at the sidewalk in front of her. I think it will be a while before Havana is overrun by American tourists. 

I'll end for today with a spot of colour again. We found this little boutique hotel, which I don't know the name of, and we had a drink in its courtyard. All yellow and blue, huge open skylight, plants, all very refreshing.

This is going to take some time. You've seen about half of one day. Yikes.