Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Havana - September 4, 2010

Havana: Colon Cemetery; Ferry Ride; Perfecto Romero; Children's Dance Theatre

Necropolis Cristobol Colon (Colon Cemetery)
There were many interesting statues, tombs, trees, and people in this cemetery -- named after Christopher Columbus.  Photographing in a cemetery can be awkward. For example, I tried to keep my distance when taking a picture of a burial service about to take place.

Some of the gravesites/monuments here are in great shape, others, not so much.
Ferry Ride 
We were able to take a ferry boat across the harbor to an area where there was an interesting church. Many people came to pray at this church, in part we were told, because of the black madonna there.

Perfecto Romero
Perfecto Romero, most well-known for his black and white photographs taken during the Revolution, spoke to the group about being assigned to follow Che Guevara and others during the late 1950s. We were able to see black and white prints from his extensive portfolio.

Children's Dance Theatre
In the evening we were treated to a performance by La Colmenita (the beehive). This group of children of various ages had been on tour, and I believe had performed in the U.S. as well.

Havana - September 3, 2010

The Photo-locusts Continue Their Trek Across Havana

Galerias del Santo Angel
Today we visited the Galerias del Santo Angel (Teniente Rey y San Ignacio, Plaza Vieja), where our photographs would be hung for an exhibit ("Post Cards from California") a few days from now. We discussed organization and set-up options for this show.

Museo del Chocolate
Stopped at the Chocolate Museum near the square (Mercaderes 255), and looked around, at display cases, old chocolate-making artifacts, and a solid chocolate high-heeled shoe, among other items.

Cigar Factory Tour
We also toured the Partagas cigar-making factory, although no pictures were allowed here. Cigars made here are called Habanos. Most of the cigar factories are in Havana, and most the tobacco comes from Pina del Rios area. Stepped through the process of harvesting and drying tobacco leaves. The price is set according to the weight and the quality of the leaves, not just the weight. Level of humidity is controlled throughout the process as well. If leaves are too dry, they might break. They use five different leaves from the same plant to make cigars.

The factory workers put in 9 hours; they had one hour for lunch. There were approximately 800 workers here at this factory, and they make 25,000 cigars per day (30 per day per person?). I smelled a chocolate smell as we were walking through one section. Interesting. It was quite loud in this factory; the factory workers were also being "read to." We were told they are read the news in the morning, and a book (such as a Shakespeare play or other work of literature) in the evening.

They organize cigars by colors -- 8 different colors, but quality inside is the same we were told. We paused at one woman's work area to see her sort a large pile of cigars from light to dark. They make different brands of cigars (Cohiba are the best, most expensive). Also: Monte Cristo and Romeo and Juliet. Some of these go for as much as 500-600 lbs. in Europe (U.K.?). Very pricey.

Our tour guide also talked about the role that Cuban cigars have played in stories reported worldwide, such as the Clinton scandal. We were told that Arnold Schwarzenegger (sp?) smokes Cuban cigars, as do other stars in Hollywood.

It was interesting to note that there was a "No Fumar" (No Smoking) sign on the wall in the box finishing/packaging room -- understandable, given the high value and probably flammability as well -- of the products boxed up in this room. However, there was someone smoking, in this same room, across from where we were standing.

Question: How long do cigars last?
Answer: In a humedor, they'll last up to 6-7 years; if you don't store cigars properly, they may only last 4-6 months.

Question: What would it take to be able to take pictures inside the factory (we were not allowed to take pictures the day we visited)?
Answer: Anyone interested in doing so would have to contact their corporate office (Habanos SA, Playa Miramar), first and make a case to the marketing department, and it might take a few days - 1 week to go through this process. It would probably cost $150.

There was a small/short discussion on cigar factory workers as we were walking to a gift shop type place next door to the factory. Cigar workers have a reputation for being well educated, conscientous. Reading to them helps them "increase their cultural awareness." For example, they might read "Romeo and Juliet" because that's also one of the cigar brand names. The hand rollers have the most prestigious jobs, and are paid fairly well. And if they go over their quota, they get paid more. Workers are not allowed to use strong smelling soap, perfumes, because it might flavor the cigars.

Wifredo Lam Art Center
Wifredo Lam was a famous Cuban painter and artist, who was friends with Andre Breton (father of surrealism) and others. They named the art center after him.

We met the director, curator, of the art center, in a conference room there; he welcomed us, and he talked about the Bienal Habana (the 10th annual biennial took place in 2009) and how it has produced some good works. Their focus at the center is on research and art. Their researchers track trends in art worldwide. He believes it is important to work in different themes. Creators from different regions interact and study across areas in common; they talk about trends. Workshops and work presented is reflected in the bienal (6 themes). Themes include: contemporary art and culture; art, society and the differences; immigration;  ("One Closer to the Other") was dedicated to communications. Urban Dynamics is another thread; as is Integration (and the resistance to that in a global era).

In the scout for new artistic talent, we have 200+ artists; 350 artists from 12 collective projects from all the previous bienal artists. It is an ideal place to do projects. They send invites to artists; they pay their own way? They get some support from institutes. Artists (are?) coming from Africa,
Caribbean, other areas.

He also mentioned the "Polaridad" exhibit that had shown recently in the U.S. (Sonoma County Museum) that Cynthia and I were able to see. This was one of the first exhibits to go out to the U.S. in a long while he noted.  By the way..."Cuban Art" magazine is a publication we might look at for more information. Tony Labat is a focus of an expo that's opening. Tony lives in the U.S., but still has a Cuban accent the director thinks (event though he doesn't speak Spanish). Tony left Cuba when he was 15 years old, and this year he is 50. The name of the exhibit is called: "It is what it is."

Question: What does he think about how the relationship between art and technology plays out here in Cuba?
Answer: It is a very complex relationship. Depends on creation needs, sometimes wider context. It's extremely expensive. It's not censorship by political will, but by price. Shipping and handling of works is facilitated by technology. To be able to make movies is difficult; but newer technologies are cheaper. Limitations exist here: Internet bandwidth (lack of) makes it challening. Everyone has Facebook; it's an interesting phenomenon. The Web provides helps guarantee an audience; artists are working on video games. Luckily, printing of information is decreasing. The catalogs you're looking at, that's a sentimental thing. More people are looking at more things online. This gets into social themes. Young movie producers organization - separate from here. Can see trends of young people from art schools and self-taught artists. There is a great deal of "cross-contamination." We have a young artist coming in here today, e.g. he was working with the theme of a virus that was creating an emptiness zone in PCs - in an art (not a malicious) context. Everything that works in Cuba - works on a PC. PC + Mac issue exists here. Everything in Europe is on Mac. They've had some issues with Microsoft, occasionally getting support is an issue. But, we do a lot on PCs.

Cuatro Esquinas/Market
We paid a visit to the Cuatro Esquinas (Four Corners) area where we were told Cubans purchase items for their religious offerings. We also visited a covered farmers market nearby, where fruit sellers and others hawked their wares.

Printing Workshop
After visiting the market, and before lunch, we visited a taller (or workshop) and gallery that featured works from many traditional printmaking artists. Coming from an area where many artists have gone digital, it was great to see print work being done with stones and machinery. This process also uses a fair amount of water, so if there are any shortages or disruptions in water supply, printing is stopped for the day.

Photography Gallery - Opening Reception for "Eros"
Attended a Gallery Opening ("Eros: Digital Impressions and Platinum Prints") photographs by an Italian photographer, Claudio Marinelli. In the adjoining courtyard, a peacock strutted and posed for pictures.

Los Nardos - a restaurant with good food and a unique and impressive wood/rancho decor in old Havana, located across from the old capitol building, which is now a museum.

Havana - September 2, 2010

ICAP; Scale Model; Foto Habana; Cathedral Plaza; etc.

Today we were up early for breakfast, then headed out on an Amistur bus (with guide Jesus) to attend several scheduled meetings.

The first stop was the ICAP friendship house -- a very grand house, in the Vedado area of Havana -- where we saw one of the first statues of Jose Marti, an early revolutionary hero who battled Spain, and who lived in the U.S. for a time.

One of the most interesting stops was at a large scale model of the City of Havana (Maqueta de Habana) and the Bay the city was built around. The model reminded me of the (San Francisco) Bay Model in Sausalito, California. The Havana model was built on a scale of 1:1000, and was color coded based on when in history various areas of the City had been developed.

While there we met with and listened to a presentation by architect and urban planner who discussed historical development patterns and growth factors, transportation, and many other interesting subjects that provided some helpful background on what we were seeing and photographing.

Later, after a meeting at Foto Habana (a lab and photography shop), and a tour of other parts of the City, we ate dinner at Restaurante El Patio, on the old Cathedral Square, where there was a belly dancing performance going on in the square.

Arrived in Havana, Cuba - Sept. 1, 2010

Orientation Meeting at the Hotel Plaza

Our group drove from the airport to check into the Hotel Plaza in downtown Havana, centrally located near many interesting spots, including: the Malecon (paved section/walkway along the water); parks; museums; old squares; etc. From the top floor of the hotel, after an orientation meeting and before dinner downstairs, we enjoyed the open air roof garden area, where there was a good view of the old Bacardi building (shown) across the street; and, looking down, we got our first glimpse of the many window and balcony scenes of Havana (also shown).

And, yes, on the drive in we caught sight of the old cars, the pedicabs, the people, the fading colors and textured walls, and many other interesting sights in the old Havana (Habana Vieja) area. I can remember not wanting to appear like a photo-taking locust. I can see why local residents laugh at tourists snapping away. There was much to see that was visually interesting.

Cancun to Cuba

Brief Stop in Cancun, Mexico

Most of our group converged in Cancun, Mexico, before taking a  flight to Havana, Cuba. There was just enough time for a trip to explore the Cancun area, and to check out a few chocolates native to Mexico, including some homemade hot chocolate.

Thank you to Bill for allowing me to join him on a run down to Tulum. Lots of interesting iguanas and lizards in the stone ruins there. It was a good warm up the camera day. Others checked out the beaches and hotel strip area in Cancun.

Photographers in Cuba-land

Thanks to a great deal of planning on the part of photographer and Foothill College Professor, Ron Herman, Global Exchange, and several others, a small group of 18 professionals involved in arts, technology and business made their way to Cuba in September 1-13, 2010. 

In keeping with the general license requirements for legal travel (for U.S. residents) to Cuba, a full-time program of meeting, events, and other sites took place. I was one of the participants on this trip, and I can say that it was a fascinating, busy, and almost overwhelming visual feast at times. We met many interesting people, and talented artists and photographers during our stay. And, while we managed to visit Cuba during the hottest time of the year (and also during Hurricane season), thankfully we only suffered from mild dehydration/heatstroke and a few tropical thunderstorms. It was a great trip, and this blog documents glimpses we received of people and places in Havana, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad, Cuba.

Hope you enjoy.
Corinne C. DeBra