Photographer Haven Havana, Cuba Wins
Hanging out in Havana, Cuba is getting easier every year.
Rustic, historic, charming and crumbling, Havana is a city of contrast. Take architecture, ranging from every era since Columbus landed over 500 years ago. Streets marching out European colonial, Art Deco and mid-Century modern, deteriorating gracefully as locals eke out a living in a world caught in the past. And then, there is transportation for every speed from horse pulled buggies to “American cars” and variations in between. Vestiges of the flight of owners who did not agree with leftist rhetoric of the mid century coup. And the people, except for the odd hustlers who usually take the first “no” as a definitive answer, Cubans are “mind your business” and “make do” kind of people.
And here lies the contrast. When Cubans have access to colour they apply it with a heavy brush…youth meandering down the Prado (a wide boulevard built in the late 18th C) in sexy, current, bright attire- chatting vigorously, they dress as well as they can. Where paint is desperately lacking in the architecture vivid colour is applied liberally in the recycled cars, the street costume/attire and the street art. And the rest have been making do as best they can. Cubans are the ultimate recyclers. Most travellers expect interesting sites, activities that miles of sandy beaches will satisfy, friendly people, good food (well, 3 out of four isn’t bad). Cuba offers what a lot of developing countries offer but they don’t have …, well, almost all, the cuisine is sketchy. Havana deserves more than a daytrip for those willing to slip down a few side streets, take in live Cuban music at the Café Paris.
The traveler to Havana has something to learn resourceful.
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She Stands Alone In Sao Bento Train Station
The Power of One
The masses scuttle by. A single one whimpers to a halt.
Pondering, then mesmerized. Engrossed. Halting amidst the train station rush. Meditation battles helter and skelter. Calm fights confusion.
Why the hesitation? Embarkation or journey’s end? Burdened only with a purse and small bag she is not destined for a long trip. Should she board or retreat from Oporto station? On to her ticketed destination or home?
Her body language suggests a calm reluctance to venture forward.
At a crossroad with no immediate direction. Why the pause? She has time to gaze, reflect while the crowd hammers by in military formation. Organized haphazard marching. No one else is tempted to gaze at art and be late for their meeting.
A train station populated with haste and removal, absorbing nothing beyond one moment in time. All else delineated as before and after, early and late.
Lunging lurid locomotives. Panicky passengers. Agitated agents. Engrossed conductors. Whimpering children. Transportation chaos spews amid organized
Sao Bento Railway station, Oporto Main Terminal. A dead artisan’s lifework seeps into the meditative. A cavern of white and blue porcelain. Azulejos flickering in the daylight that has wandered into the station bowels. Artistic juice has been splayed on the walls, a two dimensional history lesson.
She scours the Portuguese porcelain walls, a frozen focus on blue and white. Glazed fragility commands and art from the past speaks. Artistic admiration invites a pensive mood to sideline her focus and invite a change in schedule. Old world murals become a history book standing vertical on the station walls. The record of Portugal in 20 thousand pictures, each one inspired by a Carlos, master of a long extinct kiln. The entire country in two dimensions lies before her. Crafted, creative, cultural icons of a colonial superpower. She hesitates in the light and shadow falling from the skylight, her limbs straddled between yin and yang. Hesitant in the blazing light, wavering in the foreboding darkness. Tracks lead everywhere from central yet she has been disabled, unable to move on without examination. And then, she moves on.
For more on Portugal, Oporto and on the Power of One, see also:
The Power of One
Alone In Madrid
High and dry and chilly. That is Madrid.
If it is people watching you are after you can find local crowds in the markets (Mercado de San Miguel, Mercado de la Pas) and tourists in the squares (Plaza de Espana, Plaza Santa Ana, Plaza de Paja). Wander the market or try to find a seat and take in the worldwide observational pastime of people watching. Noting body language, relationship interactions, facial expressions, curious attire, in the moment documentation while you sip on a latte or Madeira. But if you do not want an audience you can easily find singles in the corners and the crevices of this plateau city. After working the historic centre, museums and requisite landmarks, widen your scope into the side streets where subtle human stories reside. Loners refine their craft, hone their schedules, and some hardscrabble existence.
What do the flea market vendors thrive on, camaraderie among other collectors or the solitude of watching passersby? Would they rather you stop and chat or do they hope you pass them by, uninterrupted? Would the antique collector be happier if truly alone with their hard sought goods? Do they cry inside when parting with a long sought collectible?
Madrid may chillier than its Mediterranean sea level coastal cousins, Valencia and Barcelonia, but not in people watching, whether it is crowds or singles. Keep your wraps handy and your eyes open.
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