Among many areas, Cuba is especially notable for its unique and distinct culture that is not replicated anywhere else in the world. From the food and drink to the arts and dance, Cuba has illustrated itself as a one of a kind nation that is extremely passionate about its own identity, with the city of Havana being a hub for this passion. Today, we witnessed first-hand Cuba’s distinctive culture by visiting the Gran Theatro de la Habana, or the Great Theater of Havana, the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market in Old Havana, and the Havana Club Rum Museum.
The Gran Theatro was an old and opulent theater with grand staircases, marble floors, and elegant chandeliers, and could seat approximately 1100 people for its shows. The most popular performances are flamenco ballet, opera, and especially classical ballet, for which they were in the process of setting up the stage for an upcoming seasonal performance of The Nutcracker. There was also an exhibit celebrating the Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, who is revered throughout the country, and the rest of the world, for her dancing talents and determination to keep dancing even after she lost her sight.
The top floor of the theater was comprised of various art galleries, with one in particular being devoted to an artist named Moisés Finalé. Many of the works of art displayed in this gallery were painted within the past year and utilized unique methods to illustrate certain underlying meanings. For example, one painting contained layers of canvas sewn onto one another in a stack in the shape of a person as a visual depiction of how societies have developed and changed over time. Many other paintings in the exhibit were created with a combination wood, woven fabric, and canvas that blended together to create the inimitable Cuban art that can be seen throughout the city of Havana.
This great interest in the arts was also observed when we visited the Artisans’ Market later that day. There, we saw numerous Cubans selling various paintings and hand-made items enclosed in an enormous warehouse along the Port of Havana. Each person that we spoke to showed great passion in their work, especially the Cuban painters. Some of these artists were even in the middle of painting their next work of art to sell when we approached their stalls. Although there were multiple stalls with paintings of the same iconic scene of a colorful car from the 1950’s on the streets of Old Havana, each painting contained each painter’s own artistic touch. Supplementing those iconic images were paintings of scenery in Havana and other areas of Cuba, figures of women dancing ballet, and portraits of famous political figures in Cuba’s history, such as Che Guevara and José Martí. Each work varied from artist to artist, with each using different painting methods and canvas materials, including some that were painted on pages of the Cuban newspaper The Granma. Other stalls were filled with hand-made wooden cars, planes, and statues, leather wallets and purses, and jewelry made from all kinds of metals. Each stall owner was very vocal when you walked by, trying to entice you to look as and purchase their wares. The market was a unique experience to see the type of artwork that is created everyday by regular Cuban citizens.
Moreover, the Havana Club Rum Museum displayed Cuba’s passion for drink and the art of creating their prestigious rum. In the museum, we were taken through a guided tour of the entire process of creating the Havana Club rum, from harvesting and transporting the sugar cane all the way to the essential distillation and aging steps. The aging process is the most significant stage because it is the determining factor of the rum’s distinct aroma, taste, and more. This process can last anywhere from three years up until 50-60 years, and requires a specific oak barrel in which the aging takes place. One type of rum made by Havana Club even changes in taste and aroma every year. The devotion to the craft of producing rum stood out as we learned the level of attention to detail each process requires and the amount of pride these Cuban citizens have for the exceptional quality of rum they are crafting.
Havana is a city with a population that unanimously displays their passionate attitude in all facets of their daily lives and culture. From their unique ways of creating artwork to their patience and devotion to producing some of the highest quality rums in the world, this Cuban passion can be seen and felt wherever you turn in the city. However, this passion is not only limited to Havana and is expressed throughout the rest of the nation. Reflecting on this day, I believe that I will start to put the same amount of passion into my own hobbies and interests, hopefully exhibiting the same intense pride that the Cuban people have and continue to display.