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…

girls and boys, continued: havana, part 5

on 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…

girls and boys: havana, part 4

if 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…