Cuban Casa

As I had hoped, Casa Particulars provided a memorable glimpse into a segment of Cuban society.

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Throughout my travels I stayed in Casa Particulars, which are similar to B&B’s in the US. Staying in private homes gave me a glimpse into lives of Cuban families that could be considered middle class. Villa: Tres Hermanas is the house of 3 sisters near Las Terrazas.

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Anabel & Mario & multiple generations of  family live under 1 roof. He built the home on land owned by his father & not seized after the revolution. He added an apartment on the roof for one daughter. When the room I stayed in wasn’t rented various family members sleep there. His parents cook many of the meals, do laundry & maintaining the chicken & pigs. While sharing small living spaces has challenges it reinforces a common history, provides a support group & creates esprit de corps within families.

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In urban areas those that don’t own a home live in government owned apartments void of character. Many live on meager wages & pensions that can pay the state controlled rent & expenses. Due to a shortage of public housing there are waiting lists to get into these buildings. Although they provide people basic shelter at an affordable price, these buildings exemplify a basic flaw of Communism.

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Just outside the center of Vinales is a street lined with tropical colored Casa Particulars which are licensed by the state. It leads to the Valley of Silence & has quite a bit of local & tourist traffic. The region has many natural attractions making it a popular destination for visitors to Cuba. This influx of travelers allows homeowners in this community to participate in the growing opportunities for small businesses.

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The Caribbean weather has a significant influence on the design of courtyards & terraces as a part of the living space in old & new buildings. Windows & doors are large to allow daylight in. Timber is scarce so concrete is the common building material. Beautiful mosaics are abundant. The architectural style & detail of Spanish plantation homes, which are now mostly museums, are spectacular. However, understanding the inequities of the wealthy owners compared to the slaves/workers dampened my appreciation.

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An initial reaction to some living conditions might resonate poverty. However, the needs of people are simple & often the places they live in reflect that. The humble furnishings are a source of pride for this man whose son & grandson are putting a roof on a home he & his wife own. The most common deficiency I saw in these neighborhoods was inadequate infrastructure. The living conditions are far below the standards we expect. However, Cubans have pride in ownership of their Spartan dwellings.

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The overall consumption of electricity for average Cubans is low. Per capita they use 5% compared to the US. A few homes I stayed in had AC for guests but beyond that & refrigerators they had few electrical appliances. On many levels the services supplied by the government is lacking. But as with many problems, the people innovate a way to get it done. I am not an electrical engineer however; I do believe the tropical sun & low demand could be an opportunity for powering the entire nation with solar power.

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This is the kitchen of my driver Ricardo where he lives with his parents, wife & son. His father is a doctor & his mother is a nurse at the local hospital. His father recently returned after working 2 years in a remote village in Brazil. Volunteering for that position the Cuban government raised his salary. Ricardo’s routine job is a programmer for the government. He works on the side as a driver earning .5 CUC per km. Their home is not luxurious but as a family they earn money outside the structured regulations to raise their standard of living. I asked why refrigerators were a few inches above the floor. Since most Cubans are meticulous about cleaning. The platform keeps the refrigerator dry during the daily moping of the floor.

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In the Valley of Sugar Mills outside of of Trinidad a farmer has a small cozy 4 room home tucked into a shaded grove of trees. It sits a few hundred yards from the former plantation home of wealthy landowners from the 1800’s that is now a museum. The inhumane artifacts of slavery the farmer has uncovered while plowing the fields are displayed on the side of his home including leg irons, metal collars & handcuffs.

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In the urban center of Camagüey, & other cities, the centuries old narrow cobblestone streets have no room for parking. The entry room of many homes also serves as a garage for two wheeled vehicles.

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The openness & light throughout the homes enhanced soft tropical colors. I discovered wooden accents like the corner wall mounts. Those will be added to my wood shop projects.

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All the places I stayed were comfortable, clean & used attractive outdoor areas & rooftops as part of the living space. The aesthetics varied in each city & my experience was unique to each owner’s casa. The breakfasts were enough to get me to dinner although I think the start of my day was a bit early for most hosts. As I had hoped, Casa Particulars provided a memorable glimpse into a segment of Cuban society.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.

Distilled Goals for Cuba

On The Road with Charles Kuralt is an example of how a simple well told story could be inspiring. In the CBS Lillehammer Olympic phone book my name was listed above his in a humbling alphabetic honor. During an all-to-brief conversation he told me how rewarding it was to go to small towns & hear the stories people would share with him. My trip to Cuba is an attempt of emulating his examination of the simple things in life. The work of others can be a strong motivation to push personal limits.

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On The Road with Charles Kuralt is an example of how a simple well told story can be inspiring. In the CBS Lillehammer Olympic phone book my name was listed above his in a humbling alphabetic honor. During an all-to-brief conversation he told me how rewarding it was to go to small towns & hear the stories people would share with him. My trip to Cuba is an attempt of emulating his examination of the simple things in life. The work of others can be a strong motivation.

My goals for my Photo Essay are focused on people. I hope to turn my lack of Spanish into an asset via my guide/interpreter. I’ve worked on interviews via interpreter & they slow the exchange giving time for reflection.

I’m anticipating the camera will become a conduit to get involved with persons I meet. My wide-angle ambition is to document individuals in their daily lives & interview them. As much as possible I want to observe objectively without preconceived judgment.

My photography goals are to get formal portraits in natural settings & candid shots of their routines. I also want to get unguarded images of daily activities that reflect life in their communities.

The interviews will deal with family/history, inspiration, school, happy/sad memories, & day to day activities . I’m looking to explore subjects common in most cultures. I will also inquire about the future. Since the Internet is not a dominant part of their society, I want to discuss their perspective on how it will impact their lives.

Originally I was planning on departing on 11/30. By the time I was ready to book the flights those dates were no longer available. Initially, I was disappointed. In hindsight I’m glad it was postponed. If I had arrived as per my original plan it would have been 4 days after the death of Fidel & it would likely have dominated conversations. Hopefully, now that 2 months have past, other topics I am curious about can be discussed.

If during our conversations they bring up Fidel I will respectfully listen. If they bring up the history of the US government & its dealings with Cuba I will do the same. If they ask about the new US administration…I don’t know what the fuck I will say. I don’t want to dwell on politics. Individuals aren’t defined solely by their government or their leaders.

As is my nature, I like to go places off the beaten path so I will not be going to Havana. With no disrespect to the city or people, I want to experience smaller cities & towns. I fly into & out of Cienfuegos with stops in Pinar del Rio, Vinales, Santa Clara & Trinidad. Of these Santa Clara, with a population of 250 K, is the largest.

Some subjects/locations I will be working with my guide to coordinate are: Farms, cigar rolling, boxing, dancing studios, fishing village, musicians, art, rum, families, dominoes, religion & a barber shop. These ideas are a starting point & I will leave myself open to unexpected opportunities. Since I am fond of street photography, architecture & the natural world I will be keeping my eye aware for these subjects.

Many photogs have done fantastic work with classic cars & also because I’m not a car guy I won’t be looking for vintage cars. Although, there are some road trips in my itinerary.

The one profession that is my dream interview is a “Reader”. I’m not sure if this job exists outside of Cuba. I will do the Snoopy dance, with a few salsa moves, if I am lucky enough find an individual that has done this.

Another aspect of the trip I’m looking forward to is staying in Casa Particulars. As I understand these places are a cross between a home stay & a B/B. I want to interact on a casual basis with the families I stay with. This is one of the few private business the government allows individual Cubans to operate. I look forward to the challenges my minimalist Spanish will create with my hosts.

I have a philosophical challenge within my motivation. While change is constant, the perceived pace in Cuba is more dramatic & I would like to document that. However, still photography only captures a brief moment & doesn’t represent more than the instant the shutter was snapped.  I hope to be aware enough to capture juxtapositions that show the evolution of everyday people.

A still image captures emotions better than documenting culture. Upcoming posts on this blog will blend multiple images & writing to share my experiences. The stories will not be told in real time. Rather they will evolve in the months ahead on bi-monthly postings.

Thru photography & interacting with people I aim to get a first-hand view of Cuban culture. I now know some history of their struggle for freedom. I’m curious if this fuels their national pride. Since this blog is about motivation I want to tap into their inspiration. I want to get a grasp on how they deal with the challenges of daily life.

To those I meet, I also want to be an example of what a friendly neighbor looks like.