A Market, Santería, & the Malecòn
We are back from Cuba, once again, with reliable Internet access. That provided the challenge of purging my mail program of well over 1,000 messages, many junk ones, to be sure, but still in need of being tagged with a filter block. And then, there were messages I had sent out that I knew had been received. No need to keep them, either!
I don’t care where you travel, the markets are always great for photographers. Sure, there are the vegetables and fruits, photographed a gazillion times and looking essentially all the same, but there are other things to explore. After helping our participants, we went into another building. There, the round skylights made wonderful patterns on the walls and floor when the sun came out. This was just about the only shot I got, as the sun went in and did not return until we left (naturally).
In Cuba, kids play in the streets. Just as they used to do in the US. They can skate board, play baseball, and push each other around on dollies. They know how to entertain themselves, and they have fun.
It was time to head to the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba for lunch. This is where the Mafia headquartered and hosted writers, actors and actresses, gamblers, and prostitutes. Great music was played there, as it was one of the major entertainment centers of La Habana. There is a hall lined with photographs of the famous and infamous. Some of us preferred to sit outside in the shade of Royal Palm trees (the national tree) at the foot of the sweeping lawn, look out at the Straits of Florida across the Bay of Habana, and chat over Mojitos made with rum añejo oscuro (dark, aged rum). The standard mojitos are made with white rum, but when our group tasted what I love, they all instantly converted!
It was time to move on …
The Santería religion, in its most simple explanation, is a blend of the Yorùbá religion that came from West Africa and the Roman Catholicism of the islands. It is strange to see a shelf in a priestess’ house with items from both cultures, to say the least. Even stranger to see fish drying in the window so the house cats cannot eat them and bright underwear drying on a line outside.I never did find out what the dried fish were all about.
After vising two priestesses’ houses, our host, a scholar of the Santería religion and its place in Cuban culture, took us to a special presentation, a dress rehearsal done by teens for an upcoming Santería show. I looked up into a balcony, and saw two of the girls dressed and waiting to come down. To me, that was — with permisison, of course — an invitation to go up and photograph them. This girl had a particularly expressive face.
Once the rehearsal started, one of the characters really stood out … the Prankster. He was a non-stop bundle of energy and made us laugh with his antics.
The Malecòn is a place we love. It lures us back time and time again. This seven-kilometer-long boulevard is where the late-afternoon action happens. Musicians strum guitars or play brass instruments. Lovers twine themselves around each other. Families gather to scatter the ashes of a loved one. Older couples nestle close and laugh about this and that. Children dart here and there. Offerings are thrown into the sea for the Yorùbá gods. It is a mish-mash of life in Cuba. And always, we see kids, mostly boys, down by the water.
The light fades and so do the sounds of the Malecòn. People head home for dinner or cross the busy boulevard to sit at a café. A man stands on the sidewalk, hoping to entice visitors to the restaurant upstairs.
Crossing the boulevard is exciting, to say the least. The trick is to run across the near three lanes, screech to a halt on the very single yellow line in the middle, then wait until it is safe (more or less) to finish crossing to the other side. As people who have traveled to Cuba know, people do not have the right of way unless it is in a cross walk, and there were no cross walks here!
Cars whizz by, many from the 50s but also modern cars such as high-end Audis, Bimmers, and Alpha Romeos. Taxis pass in all forms. I particularly like the three-wheeled Cocos, so named, because they resemble a coconut.
It was a good day, filled with a variety of cultural exchanges, all of which offered ample opportunity for photography.
Next: An Amazing Restoration School and the Streets of La Habana
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