June 2011 Vinales, Cuba
I’m sitting in the kitchen of Heraldo and Senora Clara’s turn-of-the-century farmhouse in Viñales, Cuba, with a view of limestone karst formations that rise dramatically above some of the oldest tobacco farms on the island. A good friend of my guide Milan, Clara graciously invited us for a cup of home-brewed café Cubana. I hear her crushing the beans on a wall-mount grinder while Flavio, her husband, arrives from the orchards with just-picked juicy mangoes, pineapple, pink guava, and finger bananas complete with buzzing bees.
At night in open squares street musicians played Cuban rumba music while children and white-haired seniors danced freely in the cobblestone streets. From tiny cafes, hotel lobbies, restaurants, local homes (paladars) – even at petro stations – foot-tapping, shoulder-moving, Creolized Cuban music was intoxicating.
The scope of Cuban art is astounding, from Eduardo “Choco” Roca’s embossed lithographs to José Fuster’s oil paintings (he’s called Picasso of the Caribbean) to poster, cloth, metal, and recycled art to realist oil paintings by aspiring artists in Havana, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos. Prices range from $30 for a Fuster ceramic to $300 and up for a textured lithograph by Choco. You could spend days just wandering from one artist workshop to another, even outside Havana. I met renowned watercolorist Jorge DuPorte, who specializes in Cuban flora in Las Terrazas just a few hours’ drive from Havana. Artisan markets brim with beaded jewelry – look for the Afro-Cuban orisha bracelets, embroidered tablecloths, smocked dresses, car-art (miniature Chevies), and handmade guayaberas cotton shirts.
Kathleen Zurich Fung
Founder, Far Fung Places LLC