The Seeds of Capitalism

    Odin is the head chef at a great restaurant in Habana Vieja called Café Rum Rum. I know him through Steve Anchell, who regularly takes his photography workshop participants there. Odin has a fondness for Steve, and invites him to his house for dinner with his family every time we are there. Steve takes me along as his translator and “wingman.” I treasure these dinners, not only for the great food, but because I feel like a I am a member of this wonderful Cuban family. Unlike many popular restaurants in Cuba, Café Rum Rum is privately owned. Odin's brother Osiris and his partner Carlos started the restaurant four years ago, when President Raul Castro began allowing more private business ownership to bolster the perpetually-lethargic Cuban economy.

    When I first began traveling to Cuba in 2013 we stayed at Hotel Los Frailes. We had dinner at the best-known restaurant in Havana, Paladar La Guarida, with its walls covered by photographs of the rich and famous people from around the world who have eaten there. We went to the Hotel Nacional for mojitos on a lawn bristling with cannons pointed north to defend against the expected invasion from the United States. Some went to the show at the Tropicana nightclub. To travel outside the city we boarded a bus emblazoned with the name Transgaviota, or yellow Cubataxi vans. All of these tourist-oriented “businesses” are in fact owned by the Cuban government, with their revenue going directly to support the military.

    But every afternoon a door from a stairway across the street from the hotel opened, revealing inexpensive jewelry, trinkets, the ubiquitous Che Berets, and other merchandise offered for sale by a young woman. There were a few other such souvenir shops, the usual buskers, and some small, privately-owned paladares scattered about. Each time I returned to Cuba I noticed the growth of this entrepreneurship, growth which fairly exploded after the December 17, 2014 announcement of normalized relations between our countries, and the easing of restrictions on travel to Cuba by US citizens.

    We no longer rent rooms at the state-owned hotel, instead staying in a casa particular, a privately-owned home with individual bedrooms, a large kitchen, and a common area. Our host Juan Miguel and his wife Odalys have an apartment and gift shop on the main floor, with the casa on the floors above. Every morning Juan prepares for his guests a great Cuban breakfast of eggs, fruit, ham, bread, juice, and, of course, Cuban coffee. Business is so good that each time I stay there he is adding another room, the last being little cabinas that have been built on the roof with wood harvested from their family farm out in the country...pure Caribbean!

    In June of 2017 Donald Trump declared in a speech to the cheers of the Cuban diaspora in Miami, “I am cancelling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” New rules published late that year fell far short of the rhetoric, of course, but did sow enough confusion to discourage many Americans from traveling to Cuba, and steering most of those who did go toward the larger tour operators. The Cuban businesses who have suffered most from this change in policy represent the seeds of a capitalistic economy: paladares such as Cafe Rum Rum and casas owned by people like Juan Miguel. The antithesis of communism, capitalism had lain dormant for over a half century until the pragmatic Raul Castro permitted a little sun and warmth, allowing it to germinate. Increased tourism from the US gave it the nutrients it needed to flourish. And now, just as the Cuban people are beginning to see capitalism as a path to freedom and democracy, the Republican administration has poured an herbicide on it.


    “To solve a problem, a doubt, a difficulty, decide something or form an idea of what to do.” - RAE

    English is an organic, messy language; any one of us can make up a new word, and if adopted by enough people it becomes part of our lexicon. Consider “bling,” “bromance,” “locavore,” and my personal favorite, one that spellcheck - another made up word - has yet to learn, “Illiterati.” Spanish, on the other hand, uses a much more organized and formal process. Some 300 years ago King Philip of Spain created the Royal Academy of Spanish, or RAE, to “fix the voices and vocabularies of the Castilian language with propriety, elegance, and purity.” In other words, to be the word police.

    But Cubans, being the resourceful people that they are, have reshaped the official definition of the verb resolver to better describe their circumstances. To them it means doing what is necessary to survive. The dissident Cuban journalist Yoany Sanchez says, “we are specialists at finding everything that is censored, prohibited, and rationed.” I learn first hand how resolver works after mentioning to a Cuban friend my failure to find my favorite rum to bring home. He smiles, gives me his phone number, and tells me to call him after 3PM the next day. When I call, he instructs me to meet him in an hour on the veranda of a certain restaurant. Over beer at our clandestine meeting, I give him the agreed-upon price plus 10 CUC for his trouble. Soon, a sketchy-looking guy walks past us and into the restaurant, followed shortly thereafter by my friend. Sketchy-looking guy comes back out a few minutes later, gives me a surreptitious nod, and walks away. My friend then returns with three bottles of the Ron de Santiago that I have been unable to buy anywhere in Havana. I don't know how sketchy-looking guy got the rum, or what his relationship is to my friend, all I know is that they “resolve” my problem of no rum to take home, and theirs of making ends meet. And the adventure makes the best rum on the planet taste even better.

    Alberto and his camera exemplify the Cuban notion of resolver. Most days they can be found in Parque Central, a place frequented by tourists. With the exception of an ancient Kodak lens, the camera and tripod appear to be completely home-made, and to have been repeatedly modified and repaired. He brings his subject into focus by sliding the lens board in and out along steel rods that serve as rails, to which the lensboard is attached with bits of wire. His “focusing loupe” is one half of what I think were once a pair of reading glasses. His exposures are made the way the early photographers did, by removing a (home-made in his case) lens cap and counting seconds.

    His process is even more amazing than his equipment. Having positioned and focused his subject, he reaches inside a cloth sleeve attached to the back of the camera, where completely by feel he replaces the ground glass with a small sheet of photo paper that he is somehow able to obtain from Germany. After making the exposure he develops the paper, again by touch since it cannot yet be exposed to sunlight, in trays of developer and fixer inside the camera. A few minutes later he withdraws the exposed and developed paper with a negative image. He then attaches this negative to a board in front of the lens and rephotographs it on another sheet of paper, repeating the focusing-exposure-development process all over again, this time producing a positive image.


    The resulting picture is of dreadful quality. But the tourists, and in this case me too, happily pay him 3 CUC for the experience, and a unique souvenir of Havana. It humbles me to be in the same profession as Alberto when I consider how much more difficult it is for him to create a photograph, while I use precision made cameras, work in a fully equipped darkroom, and can have all of my supplies delivered to my door whenever I need them.

    For information about traveling to Cuba visit


    The Serenade

    Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life - Berthold Auerbach

    The author of this quote died before the Republic of Cuba was born, and as far as I know he never visited the island. But it crystalizes the importance of music to Cubans. The dust of the place can easily grind a soul down, but music cleanses them so that they can live their lives more happily and joyously and vibrantly than circumstances might otherwise permit.

    Music serves other purposes as well, providing a creative outlet in a place where just surviving can take an enormous amount of work and self expression is not always tolerated; yang to balance the yin of life in Cuba. It is also a means of survival. There are musicians in nearly all of the restaurants and bars frequented by tourists, where they make the rounds to play at every table and present the ubiquitous basket from which self-produced CDs are sold or tips collected. Other performers rove the streets of Habana Vieja to entertain patrons enjoying the tropical night at tables outside those same establishments, while during the day it is not unusual to find a one-man band on a street corner, singing as he simultaneously plays several instruments with both hands and feet.

    But these things do not inspire this man to make music. He plays for love, and he plays for his lover. I encounter them on a blazingly-hot day in Parque Central, a lovely shaded oasis across from the equally beautiful ballet theatre. The park is filled with people, Habaneros enjoying their lunch breaks and mothers watching their children play. A group of men loudly and animatedly discuss the Cuban National Baseball Series currently underway. Entrepreneurs of various stripes work to earn a little of the money in the pockets of the sunburned tourists who pour into the park from the double decker buses parked along Paseo de Martí.

    The couple sit on a bench under a palm tree, oblivious to all that is going on around them. He sings and plays with his heart as well as his voice and fingers; she gazes into his eyes, appreciating every note. I listen and wonder about the connection between them. Are they married and just enjoying a day out together in a special place? Lovers in the midst of a tryst? I will never know. I like to meet, interact with, learn about the subjects of my photographs in order to tell a more complete story. But this time I decide that simply being allowed to observe a few moments in the lives of these people is enough. Perhaps the mystery is the story.

    When he finishes his first serenade the people around them clap in appreciation. Only then does he seem to realize that others have heard his song, and he acknowledges us with a slight nod and smile. As he refocuses his attention on his amor and begins another song, I slip closer, make a few photographs, and move on.


    The Piano Player, Ambos Mundos Hotel

    I am nearing the end of my most productive trip to Cuba. I came here with a specific objective. I am armed with a camera well suited to achieving that goal, and I never leave my apartment without it in my hands, loaded with film, finger in the ready position. I move slowly, stay constantly aware of my surroundings, and respond to people and events that I encounter. The hours and miles of walking that I invest are producing many pictures and stories about which I am excited.

    Today I seem to have hit a wall. I've been working since morning and have exposed some film, though I know it contains nothing interesting. But following the old sports adage I am going to “play until the whistle blows,” so late in the evening I am walking back toward my room, a roll of high speed film in my camera, looking and listening. I hear the sound of a piano and turn to see through the open window of a lounge a man sitting at the keyboard. He has no patrons to entertain but plays anyway, maybe just because he likes to play. Similarly unburdened with clientele the bartender has assumed the quintessential pose of his profession, leaning on the bar and staring disinterestedly into space. I have just enough time to raise the camera to my eye and make one exposure before the bartender decides that he can be bored elsewhere and walks away, weakening the composition. Only then do I notice that I am standing outside the bar of the Hotel Ambos Mundos.

    In the 1930's many artists, writers, and other creatives stayed here, the most famous of whom was Ernest Hemingway who lived in Room 511 for the first seven years of his time in Cuba. Some of Hemingway's work is among my favorite literature, such as The Nick Adams Stories set in another place that I love, Michigan's Upper Peninsula. My wanderlust is partially sated by his stories of Africa, and well, any lover of Cuba must have “The Old Man and the Sea” on their bookshelves.

    I enjoy reading books set in a place where I am at the time, so reading “Islands in the Stream” in Cuba seems a good choice. Like the Nick Adams stories that chronicle a soldier attempting to heal the wounds of war, it is more or less autobiographical. The lasting memory that I have of the book is Hemingway's painfully detailed description of his protagonist, a successful painter named Thomas Hudson, going into Havana after finishing his day's work. Hudson drinks to excess, picks fights with other patrons, and proves himself an unpleasant drinking companion. The book is depressing to me, but it does seem to provide a window into the psyche of the author.

    As I look into that empty bar I envision the place nearly a century earlier; Hemingway loudly and drunkenly holding court at the head of a table filled with other artists and various sycophants and hangers-on. But at least the piano player would have had people for whom to play, and the bartender some customers to keep him occupied.


    Follow the Music

    Photographers are often advised to “follow the light.” It is the quality of light, the ways in which it falls upon certain parts of the composition, that makes a photograph successful. But in a place as sensually rich as Havana I have often found a satisfying photograph by following my other senses, especially the sound of music. The place is filled with it, from Afro-Cuban Jazz in nightclubs, to covers of “Guantanamera” and Buena Vista Social Club hits played by every roving band in the city, to the annoying horns and percussion played by the carnival performers who clog up the streets as they entertain and solicit money from tourists.

    Walking down a street in Habana Vieja one day I hear a single instrument. It is a trumpet, on which a melody is being played slowly, sounding as mournful as the horn of a distant locomotive on a dark, quiet night. I follow the music toward its source, a man named Carlos Confesor Sanchez. He is immaculately dressed in a white suit and hat, two toned patent leather shoes, his tie bearing the likeness of his instrument. He sits on the stoop of a building with a small Cuban flag hung on the door over one shoulder and a US flag over the other, making himself a bridge between our cultures. The moment he notices that I have stopped to listen and watch he becomes as much an actor as a musician. His back straightens, he repositions his legs just so, and his horn goes up at an angle as if playing to heaven, or perhaps for heaven. Since I am concentrating on architecture this trip I am using a large format camera that is too heavy to carry when I am just out wandering as I am today. So I take a few pictures with my digital SLR, leave Carlos a tip, and go on my way.

    The next time I am in Cuba it is to participate in a workshop on Street Photography, recording the lives of people, sometimes in a more formal, portrait-like way, other times surreptitiously as they go about their lives. So on this trip I bring a medium format camera that is more agile and faster to use. I recall having met Carlos and I keep my eyes and ears open, hoping to find and photograph him for the workshop.

    But to my disappointment he is nowhere to be found. I sit at a table outside Cafe Oriente on the busy Plaza de San Francisco to have a glass of rum. Montero is on duty today, as he is on alternating days from before lunch until very late at night. Like many Cubans in the service sector Montero pays attention to his customers, and he knows exactly what brand and vintage of rum I drink. I know that he is attentive to his surroundings as well, so I ask him about Carlos. Montero tells me that he knows Carlos well, they are friends and that he is “around,” but I finish the workshop and return to the US without finding him.

    A few months later I am back in Havana collecting more pictures and stories, determined to include Carlos among them. On my last day there I turn a corner and hear the clear, solo notes of a trumpet and know that my quest has been fulfilled. He sits on another stoop in his perfectly clean white trousers, jacket and hat. I tell him that I have been looking all over for him because I want to photograph him as he makes his art. I show him the picture on my phone, causing him to smile and pull that signature tie out from under his vest. I notice that in the picture he is playing a bright brass trumpet, but his current instrument looks old and dull. He tells me that he was arrested by the police and that when he was released his good horn was not returned to him. But he plays this one just as sweetly as I make his portrait, this time a proper one on black and white film, and I am happy to have been led here by the music.


    In a city so full of life as Havana it seems a bit perverse to visit a cemetery. On the other hand, Necrópolis de Colón, named after the Spanish word for Columbus, is not just any graveyard. It encompasses 140 acres and is one of the largest and most beautiful cemeteries in the Americas, filled with thousands of above-ground tombs, beautiful marble statues, and elaborate mausoleums.

    Many important figures in Cuban history, culture, sports, and politics are buried here. Máximo Gómez, one of the heroes of Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain occupies a prominent place near the main entrance, as does a memorial to 28 firefighters killed in a fire in Havana in 1890. Korda, the photographer who made the iconic image of Che Guevara lies in repose, as well as several musicians from the Buena Vista Social Club. The graves of some of the guerrillas who died during the Cuban Revolution are located here. The US sailors and Marines who were killed in the explosion of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor in 1898 were buried in the Necrópolis before being re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The most famous tomb is that of La Milagrosa, a Cuban woman who died in childbirth; when her tomb was opened years later her body had not deteriorated, which was taken as a sign of a miracle, or milagro. Ironically, Christopher Columbus for whom the cemetery is named, does not reside here.

    The light reflecting from the surfaces of all of the marble and concrete intensifies the tropical sun and is almost blinding as I walk through the place on a cloudless Sunday morning. I notice people buying flowers from stands near the entrance to put on the graves of deceased loved ones, and think this ritual might be more interesting to document than simply taking pictures of tombs. But the idea ultimately proves unproductive, so I decide to do something that often leads me to a photograph: I wander aimlessly.

    Tolkien wrote that “not all those who wander are lost,” and I soon find myself approaching a group of people dressed in white and gathered around a tomb. Not wanting to intrude upon their grieving, I stop and watch from a respectful distance until my presence is noticed and acknowledged. They are practitioners of Santería, a syncretism of catholic and west African religions common in Cuba. I learn that they are mourning the passing of Babalawo Oluo Siwagu, a respected priest who had died four days earlier. His daughter is seated nearby as other family members seal his tomb, I think as a ritual.

    With the daughter's permission I make a few photographs and then leave, grateful to have been led here, and allowed to share such an intimate moment with this family and with a part of the culture of Cuba.  


    Love thy Fellow Man

    On the heights above the town of Casa Blanca, across Havana Bay from the city and visible from many places along the waterfront, stands El Cristo de la Habana, or Christ of Havana. It is shorter and not nearly as famous as Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, but it might be a more tenacious symbol of christianity.

    Funds for the creation of the statue were raised by Marta Fernandez de Batista, wife of then-president Fulgencio Batista. It was sculpted in Italy by a Cuban named Jilma Madera from 67 blocks of Carrara marble that were blessed by Pope Pius XII before being shipped to Cuba for installation. The statue was inaugurated on Christmas Eve of 1958 with the Batistas in attendance; one week later they would flee the island as Fidel Castro overthrew the government.

    The statue could have been viewed as a high profile vestige of the Batista regime that the new ruler might have wanted to erase from the City's skyline. And although Castro was raised as a Catholic, the church soon fell out of favor with the new government. Dictators succeed when people have no alternative institutions such as organized religion to turn to, and so for many years all denominations were ostracized. Parochial schools were closed in favor of a state-controlled education system, and professed believers were not allowed to join the Communist party, thus preventing them from getting good jobs. Yet Fidel allowed the statue to remain.

    Next door to Christo is a lovely hacienda-style house with a spectacular view of Havana. It was probably appropriated by the Castro government from its rightful owner, perhaps a wealthy Cuban who opposed the new regime, or an executive of a US company that had been doing business in Cuba. Fidel gave the house to Che Guevara, whose first job after the revolution was supervising the arrest, conviction, and execution of over 150 former officials of the Batista regime. Che later admitted that the guilt of many of those executed was less certain than were their deaths. The executions were often carried out by firing squads at the La Cabaña fortress, conveniently located just down the road from Che's house.

    My synthesis of these facts is that the shadow of Cristo loomed over Che in the mornings as he walked to his car to drive over to La Cabaña to have people killed, which must have annoyed him. Much that annoyed Che came to bad ends, but when he left Cuba in 1965, Jesus still stood on the hill. Throughout the decades of the Castro regime the repression of the Church slowly eased. Pope John Paul visited Cuba in 1998, and posters of that event are still proudly displayed in many places in Havana. The statue was restored in 2013 by Raul Castro's government, and was this time blessed by the archbishop of Havana.


    Portrait of Alberto Vitamina

    Suerte is the Spanish word for luck, which seems to describe the life of Alberto Vitamina. He lives in a comfortable house in the beautiful and fertile Valle de Viñales. The tobacco that he and other farmers grow in this valley is reputed to be the best in all of Cuba, and the government buys it to make the finest cohibas sold in Havana. Since the early 2000's he has been allowed to keep 10% of his crop to roll his own cigars, which he sells to visitors to his farm...and smokes himself, of course.

    We were fortunate to meet Alberto one hot Saturday afternoon. We had traveled to Viñales for the day, stopped at a street fair, then had a delicious lunch at a restaurant just outside of town that serves its own organically grown food. Before heading back to Havana, Steve Anchell directed our taxista down what seemed to be a randomly-chosen road where we noticed Alberto and his large family gathered outside their house. We stopped, our guide Anay talked to them for a bit, and we found ourselves invited in to talk, tour the farm, buy cigars, and get to know these wonderful people. We also took many photographs of Alberto, his family, and his farm, and I feel fortunate to have made this portrait of him.

    We learned that in addition to growing tobacco, Alberto and his family also own a paladar (a restaurant and bar that is another one of the capitalist ventures permitted by Raul Castro as a way of improving his country's economy.) Alberto told us that he hunts wild pigs that feed on acorns in the nearby mountains, which he roasts and serves to visitors at fiestas at his farm. In the most fortunate turn of events of this day, we will be returning for one of Alberto's pig roasts in December.

    While reboarding our taxi for the return trip to Havana the sliding side door fell off the van. One might think that our luck had just run out, but things like this are just a fact of life in Cuba where the inability to replace, maintain, and properly repair equipment is endemic. When these things happen, I say they are “Going Cuban.” We were unable to effect repairs, so I, as Steve's assistant on this trip, was tasked with taking our group to Alberto's paladar for beer and snacks while Steve and Anay rode the now door-less taxi back to town to find another van.

    They were successful in their search, and, fortune still smiling upon us, returned with a much nicer van for our return. It seems the only person in this story who was not lucky was our first driver, who we left behind with his broken van. But, there was that street fair going on in town, so maybe his luck improved as well.


    You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars? Well, we came across the square from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco Café to get coffee and there was only one beggar awake in the square and he was getting a drink out of the fountain. But when we got inside the café and sat down, there were the three of them waiting for us.

    • To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway.

    If you start where Hemingway's book did, and then walk in a more or less westerly direction, you will pass through a slice of time, and life, in the city. In their halcyon days of the early 20th century the docks welcomed steamships from around the world and ferries full of automobiles and tourists from Miami and Key West. They are crumbling now, in stark contrast to the sleek cruise ships that tie up to them at the rate of three per week. You would have a much more difficult time than did Harry Morgan in crossing the now frenetically-busy Avenida del Puerto. The Spanish Colonial buildings surrounding Plaza de San Francisco, along with the rest of Habana Vieja, sank into disrepair since Hemingway lived and wrote there, only to be renovated in the 1990's to house and feed the vacationing Canadians and Europeans that fueled Cuba's resurrected tourist industry.

    Keep going and the beautiful architecture that the Spaniards left behind begins to become mixed with other styles; fewer sport renovated exteriors and some have collapsed entirely. This is the part of Havana I like best. Ordinary Habaneros live here, many in dark, dirty, overcrowded apartments that were given to them after the 1959 revolution and have been subdivided into even smaller spaces as children grew up and made their own families. Others have more spacious quarters, light, airy, and as clean as any house anywhere in the world.

    Some of the residents of these neighborhoods have found the means to buy and renovate adjoining structures into casas particulares. These apartments are my favorite places to stay in Havana, clean, comfortable, affordable, stylishly Cuban, and now even accessible through AirBnB! Instead of the posher, state-owned restaurants in Plaza Vieja, here you will find paladares, or family-owned and operated eateries with better, more authentic, and less-expensive food. Other entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the recent easing of government control to open businesses from their front doors, selling internet and phone access cards, various types of repair services, ham sandwiches, and my favorite, the places where I can buy a tiny cup of strong, sweet Cuban coffee for a peso (about 4 cents) from a kitchen window.

    These streets are crowded with people going about their lives from early morning until late in the evening, and life happens in the streets and on the stoops in these neighborhoods. The buildings are very close to the narrow streets, and windows and doors to the ground floor apartments are left open, with only wrought iron grilles separating their residents from people outside. It is easy to catch a glimpse of life inside a Cuban house while walking past, and one often receives a warm wave in response, and sometimes even a chance to chat that results in an invitation to enter.

    Habana Vieja is bordered on the west by three busy, gracefully curved streets that run from bay to bay, and that clearly signal a change to another area and a different kind of life. I was walking toward this frontier one evening after dinner when I noticed an unusual street light where Calle Chacón ended at Avenida Bélgica. At first I was drawn solely to the light structure and didn't even notice the taxi parked across the street. When I did, it became part of the composition. Then out of the darkness came the taxista, who occupied himself with cleaning what was probably salt spray from the nearby Malecon. He completed my composition and contributed his own little slice of life in Cuba.


    The Painters

    When I first traveled to Cuba, I thought, like many people I suppose, that every building on the island was losing its battle with gravity, that all of the motor vehicles on the streets had been abandoned by US citizens fleeing the 1959 revolution, and that every Cuban spent much of each day searching for enough to eat.

    Those things are partially true, of course. Especially during the so-called “Special Period” after the Soviet Union dissolved and was no longer Cuba's economic patron, food shortages, nightly rolling electrical blackouts, and the lack of other basic necessities were common. Rationing remains a fact of life for many Cubans today. The island is full of vintage Chevrolets, Fords, DeSotos and other Detroit iron left behind in the exodus depicted at the end of one of my favorite movies, Havana, starring Robert Redford and Lina Olin. But I think that there are far too many for all of them to have been left behind in the exodus, and they are accompanied by a large number of Ladas and Moskviches that the Soviets left behind. And while building collapses due to lack of maintenance have been common in Havana for several decades (the latest one killed four people just two days before I wrote this) many, especially in Habana Vieja, have been restored to their former colonial glory and state of safety.

    I now know that Cuba is a much more nuanced and complex place. I would like to think that the hundreds of thousands of tourists who are flocking to the place right now understand this as well, but I doubt it to be so. Most have only a few hours ashore from their cruise ships to take a walking tour through the touristy part of the city, then queue up for a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio where Ernest Hemingway drank one day.

    But even though these tourists get a view of Cuba too superficial to permit them to understand the place well, they are adding value in one way: by spending money on those mojitos, Che berets, and other tourist offerings. Some of that money is allowing the reconstruction of Havana to slowly make its way out of Havana Vieja and into other parts of the city. This photograph is evidence of that revitalization.

    We spent a morning on my most recent trip walking through the Centro Habana area, interacting with and photographing la vida de la calle, or life on the streets: ordinary Habaneros going about their business, the cacophony of poorly-mufflered vehicles, the smell emanating from shops selling ham sandwiches, sensations that the tourists down in Habana Vieja cannot experience.

    As the sun rose higher and the morning grew warmer, we turned north out of Centro toward the malecon, taking refuge under the portico of an office building. From that shady perspective we watched two painters slowly lowering themselves down the side of a building, applying a tropical shade of green to the wall as they descended. A few years ago this activity in this part of the city would not have been seen, so maybe all of those cruise ships do have some redeeming virtues.