Images and Storytelling

   Promoting a portfolio of images using some of the images themselves seems like the logical way to do it, but there is another way that might also work for you. Here's a text-only story I told about a trip to Cuba, with lots of links to images that support the story. It's not nearly so pretty as a post with lots of pictures, but it does read much more smoothly. Maybe there's a place for both types?

   Monday, March 15

   We were all supposed to meet at the Parque Central (Central Park) at 9 AM to begin the tour. Elisabeth was the other tour member staying at my casa particular, so we hopped one of the ancient cabs, which sputtered us there... where we found no one, to begin with. Julio soon arrived, but by half past nine, most of the group were still missing. Unbeknownst to us, Daylight Savings time kicked in the previous day and most had not yet adjusted their watches. But the morning light was beautiful, so I couldn’t wait... I had to start shooting.

   Here’s the Hotel Inglaterra across the street, and the statue of José Martí that is the centerpiece of the square. Horse-drawn taxis gathered around the edges of the square. These are not the normal tourist carriages. Rather, as I would later discover, they’re as common a means of transportation as the ancient cars that made up the gasoline-powered taxi fleet. Hay and grass, obviously, is much cheaper fuel than gasoline. There was a third type, too... the tiny Cuba Taxis which, if I recall correctly, were also called Coco Cabs... presumably because of being shaped approximately like a coconut.

   The rest of the group arrived just before 10, thinking they were early. We stepped out of the square towards the Gran Teatro de la Habana. We bought our tickets then headed inside. Our young tour guide arrived a few minutes later, suggesting we tour the theatre first before heading upstairs to the grand hall.

   The theatre is a grand multi-tiered space. The stage was empty except for a lone individual just sitting there for reasons I couldn’t fathom. Here’s the view from Fidel Castro’s seat and from the side of the same balcony. As we left, I got one more shot of the entry hall. Next stop was the lobby of the grand hall we’d originally entered. This time, we stepped in further and looked up... stunningly beautiful, as you can see. The grand hall above did not disappoint... classic 21st century Cuban in that it’s deliciously gorgeous, but sadly tattered, if you look closely. Here’s Julio at a balcony overlooking the Capitolio, which was our next stop.

   The Capitolio was designed in the early 20th century based on the US capitol, except narrower. Arguably, this building has more iconic proportions as a result. I love this shot of the Capitolio with one of the ever-present classic cars. The horse-drawn cab at the front steps seems like an even larger displacement in time. Strangely, it seems that the Communists don’t use this building. Could it be because it reminds them too much of Washington? I, on the other hand, find it to be quite excellent. The two bronze statues flanking the entrance are said to represent labor and virtue.

   Inside, just across from the dome you’re greeted with an immense statue of a creature that seems to be a goddess, but who is the symbol of Havana. She is reportedly the third-largest indoor statue in the world. Halls stretch out to either side towards the two chambers of the legislature, which now sit empty most of the time. Outside again, Julio explained to Elisabeth, Truls, Benedicte, Gisèle, Geir, Carmen, and Venke one of the attributes of good urbanism: it allows many uses, so long as the buildings behave properly.

   The building beyond Benedicte and Truls is a cigar factory, and it’s sitting just across the street from the Capitolio, the edge of which you can see beyond Venke. How wretchedly inappropriate would it be to put a modern factory across the street from a national capitol? But because the building behaves properly in that it doesn’t look like a factory, it obviously works here.

   Just across the street is the Parque de la Fraternidad, or Park of the Fraternity, the centerpiece of which is the Fraternity Tree of the Americas, a now-immense ceiba tree planted in the early 20th century with a spadeful of dirt from the homelands of each of the representatives of North and Central American nations who attended. Just across the street to the left, situated as the centerpiece of a roundabout, is the Fuenta de la India.

   From that point, we turned north alongside the Capitolio, past the enfronting buildings, towards the beginning of the Paseo de Martí. I told the others to go ahead, and I’d catch up after getting some shots along the way. Big mistake. When I shoot, I’m completely focused on catching the beauty of the moment, so when I turned back after a few shots, they were nowhere to be found. I’m a fast walker, so I figured I could catch any tour group with a guide, as they tend to move more slowly.

   The Paseo is a grand thoroughfare similar to a boulevard, except instead of an island between the lanes of traffic a paseo has a broad walkway instead, lined in this case with stone benches where people can sit and watch all of la Habana go by. So I walked fast and shot, but by the time I’d nearly reached the end at the ocean, I still hadn’t found the group. Clearly, I’d missed them somewhere while shooting.

   Problem was, US cell phones don’t work here, so if I didn’t find them, I’d miss the rest of the day... so I retraced my steps. The real reason getting separated was a big mistake was because I’d forgotten how miserable my shoes were when walking fast. I’d bought them just before a trip to Madrid (Gallery 1Gallery 2, and Gallery 3,) Toledo, and Segovia late last fall. By the time I’d found the group halfway back down the Paseo, I had massive blisters that would haunt me the rest of the trip. I’ll never wear those shoes again!

   We stopped at the Hotel Sevilla; Julio had promised that their upper ballroom (here’s its entrance) had some of the best views of the cityHe was rightHere’s the view along the Paseo to the sea. As you can see, repeated hurricanes prune trees closer the waterfront back to not much more than stumps, whereas the ones further inland grow to full stature. Our lunch was at the excellent Art Deco Edificio Bacardi, the former headquarters of the Bacardi rum company until all of their property was confiscated after the revolution, forcing them out of Cuba. After lunch, we all caught taxis down Calle Neptuno toward the Universidad.

   The grand staircase up the hill to the gateway building is flanked by narrower stairs with overhanging trees to keep you cooler in the heat of summer. The library is a fascinating fusion of classical bones and Art Deco detail, while the science building has a wonderful colonnade as a portal to the tree-filled central courtyard. We left the Universidad how we came, past the seated Alma Mater at the head of the grand staircase.

   From there, we filtered back through adjacent neighborhoods to the Vedado neighborhood where we were staying. Along the way, there were many reminders of the grinding economic consequences of the revolution. Even the modern buildings are falling apart.

   Late in the afternoon, everyone dispersed. I went out for a walk along the Malecon (the broad drive along the seawall) which is legendary for its thundering surf far above the top of the wall when the waves are stormy. Unfortunately, it was a calm afternoon. Along the way, I found the USS Maine memorial, another display of the many embedded wrenching ironies of Cuba and its relationship with its neighbor to the north.

   I walked less than a mile along the Malecon until my feet were hurting so badly that I turned into Centro Habana and headed back. By now, I was limping, and the limp aggravated a several-weeks-old running injury, exacerbating the situation. I was happy to rest an hour or so before meeting everyone at one of the nearby casa particulars where some of our group were staying.

   Audun found a place for dinner that reputedly had great local music and local food that was inexpensive, so after hanging out on the terrace of the casa particular several floors above the street as the sun set, we grabbed taxis and headed back for la Habana Vieja. Audun’s place was Bar Monserrate, not so far from the Capitolio. You likely recognize Truls at our table in front.

   After dinner, we headed back, but this time on foot. The path we took back was probably two miles, but it’s amazing how annoyances like blisters that bother you when you’re alone are hardly noticed when you’re with friends. We got back to our neighborhood around one in the morning, but only Elisabeth was ready for bed, so Truls offered to walk her to her nearby casa particular. The rest of us trooped up to the terrace again, where it seemed like our discussions had solved many of the world’s problems by the time we all headed to bed a bit after three.

   Note: I’ve only linked to a fraction of the Havana images from Day 2 of the INTBAU tour. If you’d like to see them all, please check out the full gallery. Be sure to click “Show All” at the bottom of the page, because there are several pages of images. Also, if you’d like high-resolution versions of any of these images, open any image and mouse to the left side of the image where the “Add to Cart” button will pop up. They’re also available as prints, if you prefer... Zenfolio reputedly does excellent print work.

© 2012 The Guild Foundation Press