Viva La Revolucion!: The Streets of Havana

Havana may have gotten the best of me; or at least my digestive system. I should have listened to The Dave Matthews Band’s advice: “Don’t Drink the Water”. Little can be done now but ride out a few sick days and try to take solace in scanning the photos I braved Cuba’s food and water for. The classic car shots seem to be the major focus of this series, and they was endlessly photogenic, so it make perfect sense. The DeSoto above was close to Hemingway’s old hotel, Ambos Mundos. The vibrant teal/aqua paint on the background building makes the shot for me. I am shooting this entire series with a Hasselblad film camera and an 80mm f.2.8 lens, which allows me to shoot quite low to the ground naturally to good effect.

After leaving the National Cuban Bellas Artes Museum, we came across this stunning rhinoflymachine grafitti with a motorcycle parked in front. There was not much street art beyond Revolution images of Marti, Che, and Casto, but that is probably because paint is so expensive and generally hard to come by. Still, what one does see is far more than simple name tags – it was the imagination twisted.

On the way to the Partagas Cigar Factory tour, we came across some pretty worn out areas that reflected a patina and character simply not available anywhere else that I have been, except maybe India. I preferred Havana though; its rainy pavement, humidity and candy colours made it come alive through the heat and dust. I would have loved to take photos in the factory, but that was impossible due to bag restrictions that they take quite seriously. The tour itself was superb and a true experience, even if the rollers of big cigars no longer read to each other from old newspapers and they smoke cheap cigarettes while they roll instead of cigars. Just do not go to the rum museum…it was one of the worst tours I have ever been on.

The shops within Habana Vieja were not for tourists, but we braved a few odd looks and took some time to try to snap a few exposures before the occupants posed or shooed us away. I was always impressed with the calm, happy nature of the people, who never really got in our face or hassled us. Certainly, there were a few drunk men whose reach I needed to avoid without hitting them back  hard, and there were the unavoidable “cigar montecristo cohiba, sir?” scams, but it was relatively serene.

I am not sure how much these stores stocked, but their scales, chalkboards and signs were timeless. I especially love in the above shot how a picture of Jose Marti is carefully blended with the random cds and bags of coffee.

The architecture is crumbling. The decay is pervasive. I loved the vibe and the edge Havana held for me. I could imagine a hundred stories being written about the lives and loves lived to the throb of a bass line and rusty coronet. If Anne Rice ever recovers from her Christian novels, then Havana would fit the vampire and the witch beautifully. I am still looking for a proper humidor to store the 25 Vegas Robainas Unico cigars and 25 Upmann 48 magnums I procured in the city, so those are tightly wrapped in the vegetable crisper to keep them fresh. I will have to write about my experiences with both cigars and rum in their capital city soon. Until then, it will be lots of water and bananas to ease my poor tummy.

Don’t drink the water.

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