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!

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