tobacco: havana, part 7

in viñales, we visited a tobacco plantation one day and a cigar factory the next. the tobacco barn the farmers hang the leaves to dry them tobacco seeds are very small the process for rolling cigars is fairly straightforward: cut a leave to size, put other dried leaves into it, roll it, glue the edges down with a flavored glue, wrap it in another leaf, trim the ends – done. it all looks very artisanal and romantic, but when you go to the factory, you can see that the work is a little more monotonous. what we saw were rows…

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…

work and play: havana, part 3

since raul castro began to liberalize the cuban economy, many people have opened small businesses that they run out of their apartments and the stairwells of their buildings. manicures, bicycle repair, tattoos – all are home businesses in the truest sense. of course, the traditional occupations are still well-represented. there aren’t many parks in the inner neighborhoods, so sports and games are also very much a localized affair.  

up on the roof, down in the street: havana, part 2

there is something to be said for seeing a city from above. not only are the views great, but you get to see some action that you don’t see at street level. a photographer i met before i went to cuba told me that the views from the rooftops in havana was great, and that many of the buildings were open to the casual wanderer, so i tried to go up to the top of every building that looked like it had a decent view. most of the time, i couldn’t reach the roof because there was a grill across the staircase leading…

havana, part 1

recently, i visited cuba with a group of photographers. with more than 3,000 photos to review, it will take me a while to complete my blog posts on this trip, and longer if i want to actually write something perceptive about the experience … the travel restrictions are still in place, so we were there on a general religious license, which required us to visit churches and charities as part of our activities. i was eager to go, because i wanted to see cuba before the travel restrictions are lifted and planeloads of american tourists overrun the island. this seems…