Cohn17

November 24, 2015

housing: havana, part 6

one of our projects involved a visit to an apartment building known as a solár. soláres are buildings that were owned by a single family before the revolution, that were then taken over by the state and split up into apartments. the state provides the soláres to the residents for free: free of rent and, apparently, largely free of maintenance except for what the residents do themselves.

the solár that we visited, on calle san ignácio, had been owned by a member of the aristocracy, the duque de pinar del rio. the duque’s slaves and servants moved in after the revolution, and their descendants still live there.

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in addition to the soláres, there are regular apartment buildings, also owned by the state. while in the san ignácio building, i met a woman named zoraida who had recently moved out of her apartment because the ceiling had collapsed. she gave me a copy of an inspection notice from the city’s housing agency, dated december 2013, which recommended that the units on the second floor of the building be demolished because they were structurally unsound. the order was later extended to the entire building, but before any work commenced, her bathroom ceiling fell in while her grandchild was in the bath. the baby died, and the remaining 14 (!) members of the family relocated from their two-bedroom apartment to an empty industrial building that they found with their friends’ help.

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kitchen area part of the sleeping area zoraida and two of her children
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zoraida’s daughter shows a photo of the child who died in the roof collapse zoraida’s sewing machine. she works as a tailor zoraida shows an example of her work in a letter to the city asking for help that she wrote prior to the ceiling collapse, zoraida reminded the authorities that she was a revolutionary in obedience to Fidel and Raúl

subsequently, i visited her old building and was invited in by some residents who showed me their apartment and zoraida’s next door.  with my rusty spanish, i couldn’t understand all the details they shared, but i understood two things: they were at pains to say that the state did provide them help in many ways; nonetheless, as regarded their housing, they knew that their building was in bad shape.

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next: cigars!

November 7, 2015

girls and boys, continued: havana, part 5

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 4:41 pm

20151007_cuba_335on an earlier trip to cuba a few years ago, our group leaders met a transvestite called barbara, with whom they developed some kind of a relationship. during this visit, they thought they saw her on the street, and – if i understand the story they told us correctly – their conversation went something like this:

group leaders: “barbara?”
transvestite: “cerveza?

apparently, it wasn’t barbara, but rather a transvestite who called herself yalorde. in short order, thatcher and kirsten arranged with yalorde for us to come photograph her and her friends – in exchange for beer and money – so we could study how to work with natural lighting.

one day before we were scheduled to go to yalorde’s apartment as a group, a few of us went down to check out the lighting and take a few practice shots.

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yalorde (in and then out of the magenta shirt) was the queen bee, and very dramatic, but also very much in charge. raquel (left) and aruaca (right; i can’t vouch for the spelling) were far more quiet. when it came time for the scheduled photo shoot, however, they all “brought it.” tyra banks would have been impressed.

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Granted, it wasn’t always pretty.

after the shoot, we were invited to the drag show, and then it was out to the street to get us cabs. a typical thursday in havana.

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next: housing

November 2, 2015

girls and boys: havana, part 4

Filed under: general — Tags: , , , , — cohn17 @ 5:17 pm

20151010_cuba_243if you want to see glamorous girls and stylish boys, you have to visit the tropicana club in havana. the tropicana, opened in 1939, was flashiest cabaret and casino of its day, seating 1,700 patrons and featuring the “sequin and feather” shows that were subsequently copied in paris and las vegas. josephine baker, paul robeson and carmen miranda all played there, and stars like sammie davis, jr., maurice chevalier, and marlon brandon were frequent visitors. the tropicana also was the haunt of famous wiseguys santo trafficante, jr. and meyer lansky, if you know what i mean.

alas, all good things come to an end, at least somewhat: after the revolution, the government closed down the casino and nationalized the property. still, the tropicana continues to operate, and today it caters primarily to tourists.

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what if you want to see glamorous girls in colorful costumes, but you can’t make it to the tropicana? in that case, you can always catch a local drag show. which we did. we couldn’t photograph the performers on stage, but we were allowed into the dressing rooms, and we shot the goings-on beforehand.

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next: how we ended up at a cuban drag show.

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