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Dreaming of Cuba

Photo Gallery by Monique Dubos –

Last month, I traveled with a friend to Havana, the realization of a lifelong dream of visiting our tropical island neighbor, frozen in time since 1959. Since I’ve been a fan of all things Cuban for so long, it felt like returning to a familiar place, not like an alien land I was seeing for the first time. Thanks to the Cuban people, who embraced us like family, the Cuba of my dreams will forever be the Cuba of my heart.

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1. A lineup of gleaming drop tops near the Capitol. Most of the better preserved cars are used for shuttling tourists around Havana. They are quite expensive to maintain and not cheap to hire, costing about the same or more as a cab ride in Minneapolis. Tour guides earn more than doctors, I heard.

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2. Havana has a small Chinatown, developed by immigrants brought over to work the sugarcane fields after slavery was abolished.

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3. The Hotel Nacional is the jewel in the crown of Havana and the hub of many historical events. It was built in 1930 and its stately elegance has been impeccably preserved. Through the decades, it has hosted countless Hollywood luminaries and heads of state, most recently President Barack Obama during his March 2016 visit.

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4. A celebration takes place every Sunday in Callejon de Hamel, an artist’s enclave in Central Havana created to perpetuate Afro-Cuban art and culture, offering various art and dance classes to children. Rumba drumming and dancing is performed to summon the Orishas, saints of the Santeria religion, which has emerged from the shadows in recent years as religious prohibitions have been lifted.

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5. The bandanas on these school kids indicate they are on a field trip, which they do in the afternoon several times a week, often to cultural or historical sites in the city. All children must attend school until the age of 18 and wear uniforms, which are color-coded, with red worn by grade-schoolers.

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6. A crumbling portico in Old Havana. Because of the U.S. embargo, construction materials, such as cement and metal, have to be imported from far off countries, making them rare and dear. There is some hope (and an equal amount of skepticism) that the American trade embargo will be lifted and improve economic conditions.

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7. Revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara is treated as something of a deity, his image displayed inside and outside homes and buildings, often accompanied by slogans such as this famous one: Until victory, always!

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8. The view from the front seat of a “colectivo,” a taxi that follows a fixed route and picks up as many people along the way as will fit. Many of them are 1940s and ‘50s American cars, few in great shape but kept running through ingenuity and will. Colectivos are cheap to use, a fraction of our Metro Transit bus fare.

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9. Dogs roam freely and seem well cared for. This one is wearing his Cuban pride, which was evident in nearly everyone we met.

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10. Mural or graffiti? The line between art and vandalism is blurred in Old Havana.

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11. Cubans have a passion for chess, which is taught in school. Cuba has produced many chess champions, including Fidel Castro, who beat Bobby Fischer in an exhibition game in 1966.

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12. Police women stand watch at a free concert in front of the newly-established American Embassy, featuring the E.D.M. group Major Lazer, attended by half of Havana, it seemed: teenagers, adults, families with children — and lucky tourists, such as me.

April 26, 2016
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