Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Cuba and its Cars

Habana, Cuba. Have always wanted to come here and it's an interesting time to do so. Obama met Raul Castro last April (the first US-Cuban leaders meeting for half a century) and the US Embassy re-opened in August (again, after a 50 year gap, in-between which their interests had been represented by the Swiss). But it's still a 'Communist' country and although nowhere near as weird & isolated as North Korea, has not gone down the free market route in quite the way China has done. 
Still, there's tourism, some entrepreneurism here and there, a UNESCO heritage old town, great music and of course those fabulous American vintage cars. They are everywhere, all dating from the 50s. Buicks, Chevrolets, Fords, Pontiacs - mostly in tip-top condition, lovingly maintained by a thriving mini-industry of dedicated mechanics. They are truly things of wonder and every taxi ride opportunity that came along was in a 50s dream car as opposed to the slightly less ancient and utterly dull Ladas or the brand new Toyotas which are beginning to establish themselves. There's something about those huge wide plastic covered seats, the steering-wheel gear-stick, the massive headlights and acres of chrome, and just the sheer tank-like bulk of them. Cruising along the Malecon esplanade in a 1958 Chevrolet convertible is sheer Hollywood. (I'm trying to imagine what it would be like if the same thing had happened in Britain. Somehow Morris Minors, Ford Populars and Standard Vanguards aren't quite the same). 
Anyway, here to work and work we did. Colleagues from across the Americas, and some from the UK, planning programmes for 2016. All good, interesting, useful stuff. 
In the evening we visited a fairly new art space, Fabrica de Arte Cubano or FAC for short - a very cool gallery-cum-performance space with an excellent restaurant and two bars. Almost inevitably it's housed in a former factory complete with huge chimney.
One drawback - or advantage, depending on your point of view - is the almost complete lack of internet access here. The hotel has a business centre in which, for a cost, you can just about get online, and I was able to get a package for my phone before I left Mexico but it ran out after day one. After a while, though, it was quite liberating. And soon I managed to do what I never do back 'home': put my phone away and, for hours at a time, ignore it. Actually, not true, for a new obsession took over. Taking endless photographs of cars. 

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