Postcards From Havana

25th January, 2016
Cuba1

This Christmas we visited Havana, hungry to experience a fleeting piece of history.

Like so many American travelers — for whom Cuba has been a destination verboten for the past fifty years, thanks to a trade embargo established in reaction to the country succumbing to communist control in 1965 — I’d been yearning to make this trip for ages. The island’s allure was intoxicating in the way that only forbidden fruit can be.
Cuba2The experience defied all expectations, and is difficult to describe except to say that I felt all the feelings. It must be understood that there is no context in my own cultural reality for the alternate universe that is Cuba; it operates on a system that is completely confounding to the way of life I know back home.

There’s a bewildering absence of any sort of infrastructure, no GPS or Wifi, let alone common cells phones or even basic things like street signs. Lower your expectations, then lower them again; leave all privileged ways behind. Traveling to Cuba — an option only recently opened up to United States citizens — will be one of the most frustrating and challenging, yet exciting and rewarding, travel experiences of your life.
Cuba3The capitol city of Havana is quaintly colonial, but badly decaying. One can easily see how, in its heyday, it must have been like the tropical paradise version of Paris; today it is only a romantic ruin. Communism has a pretty bad track record for success across the world, but the U.S. embargo has certainly made things worse for everyday Cubans than the regime could have done on its own. That embargo is slowly being lifted, which means development in Cuba will begin to expand as quickly as it can in a country where a few flights a day is already too much for one airport to handle. Fifty years of living in a time capsule doesn’t make it easy to fast-forward into the Internet age overnight.
Cuba4But one senses how Cuba longs to be part of a larger world. They have cause to be fearful too, for there is a great risk when people have been cut off for so long, that they will perceive anything ‘outside’ as ‘better’ — to mistake the ability to purchase t-shirts and televisions from U.S.-based brands (which are actually manufactured in Southeast Asia) for economic opportunity.

While Cuba has been excommunicated from the U.S. for 50 years, we have made great advances in technology and speed. I’m not sure that it’s always made us better. We live in a culture of unreality – of plastic and screens and digital dreams. We have lost our ability to perceive value in simplicity, slowness and humanity itself. To reappropriate the words of Andre Leon Talley, our modern world suffers a famine of beauty! We’ve become extremely quantitative, while the Cubans remain more qualitative. Our ways are as quick as lightning; theirs are slow as molasses. But it’s sweet and it stings a bit, peeking into this living, breathing postcard of what used to be, what might have been.
Cuba5ABOVE RIGHT + BELOW| wearing Tasya Van Ree x Stetson hat, Christian Dior sunnies, Love Adorned scarf, WANT Les Essentials backpack, Carolina K dress, Club Monaco shoesCuba6 Cuba7Their culture today is as fragile as a bird’s nest, and it pained me to know that a great storm is blowing in from the north, promising to topple it — and nothing can be done to stop that. Maintaining the status quo wouldn’t be the right answer anyway, which is why these confounding moments in globalization are so layered, controversial, and complex. Like I said, all the feelings. I wept every day we spent in Havana, and yet I smiled, danced and laughed a lot too.
Cuba8 Cuba9For the moment at least, Havana’s magnificent old buildings still stand — albeit near collapse — where in most other economies they would have long been demolished, falling victim to developers’ greed. Encouragingly, many of them are now being restored by internationally renowned architects. People still sing in the streets. Pre-1960’s vintage cars are the norm, not a novelty here — Havana has not yet endured the inevitable ‘Disney-fication’ of its core truths. It’s not yet a theme park.

The Cuban government has sorely failed its citizens on the central promises of breakfast, lunch and dinner, and yet life in seclusion has protected them from common scourges like drug abuse and crime, and the country is a world leader in science, medicine, and music. Theirs is a labyrinthine conundrum. To quote the truest thing I’ve yet read about this pivotal moment in history, “Cuba today is like one of its blushing quinceañeras, a teenager on the cusp of freedom from an overbearing father. But how will she mature?”

The path is not yet clear. The only thing I know for certain is that I’ll be back as quickly as I can — because Latins do soap opera better than anybody, and I don’t want to miss the last chapters of this historic telenovela.
Cuba10 Cuba11ABOVE| Zach wears Satya Twena hat, WANT Les Essentials backpack, Moscot sunnies, Osklen blazer, Hartford shirt, Comme des Garcons pants, Maison Margiela sandalsCuba12 Cuba13ABOVE| music remains integral to the culture of Cuba  BELOW| this backpack makes for the best camera / travel bag!Cuba14Cuba15 Cuba16 Cuba17 Cuba19 Cuba20 Cuba21 Cuba22 Cuba23 Cuba24 Cuba25 Cuba26 Cuba27ABOVE| wearing Tasya Van Ree x Stetson hat, WANT Les Essentials backpack, Rebecca Taylor dress, Isabel Marant shoes (trusty travel companions that they are)Cuba28 Cuba29 Cuba30 Cuba31 Cuba32 Cuba33 Cuba34 Cuba35 Cuba36ABOVE| Ernest Hemingway made Cuba his home from the late 1930’s until the 60’s; this desk still lives in his infamous crow’s nest writing hideaway  BELOW| Zach stands in the front drive of Fina Vigía, Hemingway’s house in the suburbs of Havana; royal palms fill the backyardCuba37 Cuba38 Cuba39ABOVE| vintage stalls line the lively town squares; the most common shopping options include antique Fidel Castro and Che Guevara propaganda, books on Afro-Cuban tradition (much like in Bahia, a version of Yoruba is widely celebrated here), clunky old cameras and romantic salsa CDs  BELOW| visual inspiration at Taller Experimental de Gráfica speaks to the vibrancy of Cuba’s arts sceneCuba40 Cuba41 Cuba42 Cuba43WHERE TO STAY| A casa particular — basically a bed & breakfast inside a local home — is the way to go. They’re often more comfortable than the government-run hotels and give a truer look into what everyday life is like for the locals.
Cuba44GETTING AROUND| is easy; negotiate a fair rate with practically anybody in a vintage convertible. Don’t get mad when your driver gets lost — stopping for directions is an intrinsic part of the local culture. You’ll eventually get where you’re supposed to go. (In Cuba, as in life, right?)
Cuba45PLANNING A TRIP TO CUBA?| Buy this city guide — it’s tailor-made for the design-minded traveler. Beauty abounds when you know how to look for it.
Cuba46

  • http://www.cherry-mag.com CHERRYMAG

    beautiful photos!

    xx

    http://cherry-mag.com

  • http://itsonwithyvonne.blogspot.de/ Yvonne

    Ever since you posted on Instagram, that you’re in Cuba, I have waited for this post! As always it is beautifully written. I won’t bore you again by telling you how much I adore your use of words.
    Cuba is on the travel list of a lot of people, including mine and judging by my timeline on various channels, I will see a lot of posts about this great place all through this year. Which just makes sense, as I believe in order to experience Cuba the way you did you need to go soon! No wonder Hemingway lived there and if I ever write a book I want to do it on an old typewriter in Cuba, where the sound of the typewriter and the ceiling fan keep me company (I live in clichees, I know!).
    A few weeks ago I saw a documentary here in Germany about Cuba and the reporters interviewed a small group of Americans, who turned out to be real estate agents. I truly believe now that the gates to this countries open, there will be a lot of change. Hotels will open and the appartments in Havana will be renovated and sold. For a high price I’m sure.
    It will bring money into the country and that is good for the Cubans. However I also dread the day a Starbucks will open there….

    As much as you inspired my trip to Beijing last May ( after your post I wanted to take the ski lift up the Great Wall and down with the slide!) I would love to take a drive through Havana in one of these iconic cars!

    Exited where you go to next!

    Yvonne

  • http://theoccasionalindulgence.blogspot.com/ Naomi A

    I’ve so been looking forward to your thoughts on Havana! This post made for an excellent read and a treat for the eyes. Also, thank you for your tips on where to stay!

  • http://lindaloves.de Linda Seel

    Beautiful pictures and I love your dresses! I felt a bit like time traveling when we went to Cuba about 2 years ago, really amazing and partially really frustrating to understand what is regulated and what is not, what is possible and what you should avoid…

    Great post!
    Best
    Linda

  • http://www.afternoonglow.com Heather P.

    I’m so glad to see that you got a chance to visit Cuba so shortly after the travel ban was lifted! After reading this and watching Anthony Bourdain’s episode about it on CNN, both of your experiences really drive home the idea that Cuba is really on the brink of some major changes, and to see it in all the decayed, old glory, one must go soon!

    I hope to visit there someday…alas, I fear by the time I do, it’ll be a very different place. I hope not.

  • http://www.adinaandgem.etsy.com/ Lia

    This was just amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. I wish I could go.

    L
    http://Www.adinaandgem.etsy.com

  • Aul74

    I want to go to Cuba so badly. Could you please share some pics of Cuban food, I’m curious.

  • Rousspétée

    THANK YOU! I must say I started reading you quite reluctantly because I’ve had the feeling there was such a rush to Cuba from the States lately and I was afraid you’d have seen (or wanted to see) only the postcard. But in fact, you felt what I felt when I first came to Cuba. What I feel whenever I go back there. I found it so beautiful and sad. Had the feeling like I could almost touch the wings of that butterfly but it was already flying away. I hope Cubans are finally given the opportunity to build themselves a nicer future, away from “empires” influence, without ever forgetting who they are and how important their solidarity was in the bad days.
    (For the record : I’m French and my boyfriend is Cuban.)

  • http://www.jet-lag-trips.com/ Christel

    Oh my god ! Your pictures are amazing ! What a pleasure to discover this new destination where I would like to go. The light seems so beautiful ! Thanks

  • http://www.christinelovestotravel.com/ Christine loves to travel

    I’m a Canadian who has visited Cuba a number of times. I really love that going there because I can unplug from technology and enjoy the slower pace of life. The beaches are amazing and people are super friendly.

    I am now dreading the changes that will happen in Cuba. I hope it does not lose the “Cuban flavour” that I love. I want the improvement for the Cuban people but I hope it does not get too commercialized i.e. mcdonald’s and starbucks in every corner. I would love to see Old Havana restored to it’s former beauty. I love the old buildings and the vintage cars. I just hope that the changes will benefit the people more and not just business who want to take advantage of Cuba.

    Great photos and you definitely captured the Cuba we all love 🙂

    -Christine
    http://www.christinelovestotravel.com

  • http://monica-aguinaga.com/ Monica Aguinaga

    I am simply in love with your writing.. The way you use words is just mesmerizing.

  • http://rebeldescent.blogspot.com Daria Zems

    Such amazing photos! Breathtaking!

    X, Daria

    rebeldescent.blogspot.com

  • Lavinia Făt

    I have read a lot about Cuba and I am still shock of the way they live there, I am not sure I would ever intend to visit it for various reasons
    http://loving-evelyn.blogspot.ro/2016/02/three-ways-to-wear-fur-coat.html

  • http://fistfulsoflife.com Daisy | Fistfuls of Life

    Wow Kelly, this is gold writing! You say at first that it’s difficult to describe, but you’ve given us a clear picture of how Havana is like with your words & photos. Thank you for sharing with us! (& the outfits are gorgeous as usual!)

  • Enrie Scielzo

    Thanks for these “postcards” from Havana, it makes me dream of going there someday because it’s so beautiful and fascinating!

    Enrie Scielzo, The Ladyboy
    http://www.enriescielzo.com

  • http://www.adelaacanski.com/ Adela Acanski

    Amazing post! Love them

    kisses Adela Acanski

  • judyac71

    I must say the pictures are beautiful, as are your words. I appreciate your honest description of what you experienced, and though I understand you I don’t necessarily agree with everything you say. There are many things about Cuba that cannot be understood unless you are born and raised there, unless you experience life from within. Once you come out to the “outside” world you realize how this “paradise” was more like a prison than anything else. It seems unfair to desire for a country to remain unchanged when change is truly what most Cubans desire. It’s almost selfish to think this way. But I won’t accuse you of this because you are only speaking from within your own reality. In the American reality for example you can choose whether you live a life without technology, but sadly in Cuba you don’t have a choice. Something that did bother me was this specific statement “and yet life in seclusion has protected them from common scourges like drug abuse and crime,” because one thing is to share your opinions, but this is simply false. Crime and drug use might or might not be comparable to those in the United States and other countries, but they are present, very present, and who is to say how present when the limitations on press and free speech make it seem as if they did not exist. That is truly sad. The worse thing about Cuba is precisely those limitations imposed by the regime. They are far worse than the embargo, than technology, than anything else. Lack of freedom is damaging to the soul.

  • Sophie

    Those photos have spirits! Love all of them <3

    http://arganlifeherbalshampoo.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.dreamsinhd.blogspot.com/ Molly {Dreams in HD}

    Absolutely stunning photos and words Erin. I love the way you are able to capture the beauty simultaneously with the authenticity of a destination, and I (like so many other Americans) am dying to go to Cuba!

    Molly {Dreams in HD}
    http://www.dreamsinhd.blogspot.com

  • Michelle K. Lee
  • Roxana

    Speechless ! Amazing photos! You caches the essence and the spirit of the Havana!

    https://asparklingjourney.wordpress.com/

  • aspiringsocialite

    Looks like amazing place!

    xo,
    Vicky
    http://www.aspiringsocialite.com/

  • http://wedigtech.com/mobile-apps-development-india.html Byron Lee

    One word: amazing!
    Nice post and your pics are really amazing!
    Like your outfit!
    Have a nice day!
    and dont miss out to check bespoke tailored suits

  • http://www.jet-lag-trips.com/ Christel

    Thanks to you, I wanna get there… Amazing pictures as usual I would say ! Thanks

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TheGlamourai is a webzine produced by Kelly Framel, a multi-media creative director based in downtown New York (but constantly bouncing around the world). Part fashion blog, part glossy mag, part fantasy travel portal, it's your ultimate online destination for stylish daydreams. Tune in for inspirational editorials, beauty tutorials, outfit ideas, DIYs, jet-set travel tips and more!
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