CUBA TRIP - SATURDAY to SATURDAY
Arrival in Havana after our flight from JFK
Sunday & Monday, - Havana
*We will walk part of the way from our hotel to the Old City and talk to Cuban youth, sitting and/or walking on the Malecon, the broad esplanade along Havana's coast. Cubans tend to spend a long time contemplating life on the waterfront. With the assistance of our guide/translator, we will exchange ideas about life in Cuba compared to the US. We will begin to explore Cuban history with a guided walking tour of Old Havana, designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Havana is one of the oldest cities founded by Europeans in the Western Hemisphere and it is in the Old Colonial City where that history is most evident. Moving on to more recent Cuban history will take us to the Revolution Museum, formerly the presidential palace of the Batista era, where we will learn the history of the Revolution and the US involvement before, during and after.
*At the homes and galleries of Cuba’s renowned artists we will exchange ideas about art in the US and in Cuba, discussing the status of artists in each country, the role of symbolism in the arts, and the comparative limits to freedom of expression accorded artists in each country.
*Art and architecture provide some of the most stunning experiences in Cuba. The wonderful Museum of Fine Arts presents an entire history of Cuban art from colonial times to present while contemporary art and sculpture fills the homes and galleries of Cuba’s renowned artists in whose work we can delight and with whom we can discuss the art scene in Cuba and the United States.
*Havana has often been described as an open air architectural museum and we will experience that when we see the many wonderful buildings throughout the city: *The extraordinary Bacardi Building, designed in 1930 by Cuban architects; *Manzana de Gomez, occupying the first entire city block built in Cuba in the early 20th century completely for commercial use; *the former Centro Gallego, built in 1915 by Belgian architect Paul Belau that now houses the Gran Teatro de La Habana, home of modern dance companies. We will also see important examples of Art- Deco style architecture such as: *The House of Catalina Lassa, Havana’s first art deco house built in 1926 by Juan Pedro Baro; *the America Building, a theatre complex designed in 1941 by architects Fernando Martinez Campos and Pascual de Rojas; and *the Lopez Serrano Building. built in 1932 by Mira & Roisch and strongly reminiscent of American skyscrapers; *Capitolio Nacional, designed by Cuban architects and built by the American construction company Purdy & Henderson and many more.
*At the American Interest Section we will hear a briefing about U.S.-Cuba relations and a Foreign Service Officer's view of Cuban life from the State Department perspective. We will have the opportunity to discuss the new market economy in Cuba and how these changes may affect Cuba's future. We will visit a fruits and vegetable market (agromercado) and see how small businesses have begun to flourish in Cuba. With the assistance of our guide/translator we will exchange ideas with the farmers and shop owners about self-starter and small businesses in Cuba and in the U.S. and also talk to local shoppers about their daily struggle to make ends meet.
*We will meet with Professor Juan Triana and his students at the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy and discuss their analysis of the existing Cuban economy and Cuba's plans to move from Socialism to "Accepted Capitalism" by offering the Cuban people incentives and allowing ownership of small businesses. This will allow for an exchange of ideas about topics such as entrepreneurship, the challenges of taxation, real estate and doing business more generally in both the US and Cuba. We will invite guests from the destinations we visited this afternoon to join us and continue the discussions begun earlier.
Wednesday, – Cienfuegos and Trinidad
*We head east to Trinidad de Cuba by way of Cienfuegos, a city with a European flair that was settled in the early 19th century by French citizens from New Orleans and Bordeaux who endowed the city with a wonderful array of neoclassical buildings. We will be guided on this visit by the City Historian and architect Iran Millan Cuetara. Highlights include the Palacio de Valleis an architectural jewel that originated as a modest home for a trader and was enhanced by later owners who added to it in a Mughal style with carved floral motifs, a stunning Carrera marble staircase, cupped arches bulbous domes and delicate arabesques. Lunch at a stunning mansion in neoclassical style - the former home of a wealthy sugar baron - will provide another glimpse into the Cuban past. Our walk through the center of town with its crafts market will provide the opportunity to meet craftsmen and other citizens of Cienfuegos and at the Tomas Terry Theatre (another extraordinary building built in 1895 and named for a sugar baron) we will have an introduction to the performing arts in Cuba past and present through conversations and exchanges with Cuban performing artists.
*We continue on to the beautiful Iberostar hotel in the center of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where we will stay for two nights. Trinidad’s historic center is a stunning relic of the early days of Spanish colonialism and the rise of the sugar industry that resulted in the beautifully preserved streets and buildings with barely a trace of the centuries that followed. We will have many opportunities to talk with historians and preservationists who are charged with maintaining this historical jewel. On our walking tour of Trinidad we will be privileged to have one of the City Historians as our guide. We will also meet the artists and craftsmen whose galleries line the cobblestone streets. One of these galleries is in the beautifully restored home of the Mata family filled with antique clocks and chandeliers along with the work of Carlos Mata with whom we will discuss the arts scene in Cuba as well as his unique technique for creating night time scenes of Trinidad.
*One of the delights of Trinidad is the music you find everywhere - on the street, in restaurants and at the Casa de la Musica in one of Trinidad’s main squares where we will enjoy the local music and meet the people of Trinidad. We will see historic buildings and have free time to wander the streets and craft markets of this extraordinary town, meet its friendly people and talk to the owners of the new small private enterprises about the economic changes in Cuba. We will also stop at a mirador (lookout) over the Sugar Mill Valley (another UNESCO World Heritage Site), where the sugar barons used to have their countryside mansions and mills, a remnant of the colonial period that had great consequences in Cuban history. As we begin our return to Havana we will have the rare opportunity to stop at a rural school where we will speak with teachers and at a local community medical clinic to discuss the system of community/family medicine in Cuba.
Friday & Saturday – Havana
*On our way back to Havana we will meet with Dr. Lazaro J. O. Quintana, director of Jardín Botánico de Cienfuegos and his team to discuss and exchange ideas about maintaining botanical gardens in the U.S. and in Cuba as well as the American founded E. Atkins & Company to learn how it has been maintained from its inception at the end of the 19th century by the Cuban government with professional help from Harvard University staff and volunteers.
*As the Sabbath approaches we will go to the Patronato Synagogue to meet with Adela Dworin, President of Cuba’s Jewish Community and her deputy David Zilberstein to learn about the history of the Jews in Cuba before and during the revolution and exchange ideas on Jewish practices in both the U.S. and Cuba. We will tour the synagogue, community center, and a library that houses an impressive collection and is a vital resource for reference and education for many throughout the island. The community center is called El Paltronato and it helps to run a pharmacy alongside the JDC Cuban Jewish Relief Project, to serve those in need in the surrounding Vedado neighborhood. Those interested will be able to attend services with the community and participate in Shabbat rituals.
*We will participate in an educational exchange with famous artist and ceramicist Jose Fuster at his home in the neighborhood of Jaimanita. Mr. Fuster has created a mosaic fantasy in an otherwise downtrodden section of Cuba using brightly colored ceramic tiles and has covered local homes with Picasso-like paintings and playful figures. We will discuss with Mr. Fuster, his staff and neighbors, among other topics, living in poor neighborhoods and the effect of public art on these neighborhoods and compare this with public murals and street art in the US.
Sunday - Return to New York
For more information about this trip to Cuba, click here!