Dec 15, 2017 - Harmony V

The ocean light wakes us up. Even though we are not yet on board the Harmony V, we are facing a calm (for today) Atlantic from Hotel Nacional, and its bright blue waters presage another great day of intercultural exchanges.

Part of the group headed to the “Museo de Bellas Artes”. Expert Omar Diaz reminded us that the visit was going to be about art, but about history as well.

It is impressing that such a small island, apparently isolated from the world was at the same time so open to different schools of art. Early in the 20th century several artists broke with the Academy, and along the decades they have created new forms, challenging prejudices and traditions.

We are impressed by the transparency in the paintings of Carlos Enriquez, and by the colors of Amelia Pelages, Picasso student. Tropical cubism appears in the work of Wifredo Lam, who portrays the African gods and reveals the religious syncretism that has been part of Cuban life since the arrival of the Spaniards. One of his students, Rene Portocarrero, added sensuality to his canvases. The list of artist we got to meet is pretty long. We may forget the names or the colors or the forms, but we’ll always remember the enthusiasm and passion of Omar, our expert, while taking us through the history of Cuban art.

By eleven we were visiting the office of OnCuba magazine, a pioneering venture for independent Cuban journalism. We met its communication director, Claudia Garcia, who explained that one of their goals is to become a link in between Cuba and the United States. Their “platform” which is how they call it now, produces not only the magazine, but an on-line paper that changes on daily basis.

This began five years ago as a project of Hugo Cancio, music producer today, a Cuban who emigrated to the US at the age of 18, from Mariel.

We met then Monica Rivero, in charge of the on-line paper. Guests asked her several interesting questions. They wanted to know if the magazine has the freedom to cover any subject from any perspective.

 -We try not to be polarized, we try to be journalistically correct, which means writing not about passion, but about facts. We don’t always get it; we have a heart too- answered Monica with a smile- The red line is not always at the same place. It moves forward but also backwards. It isn’t only that the rules of the game have changed, but the game itself has changed-

It’s time to leave, with more questions than answers, eager to read this magazine which can only be bought in the US, not in Cuba.

For lunch we reunited with the other group of guests. They had visited Cuba’s most famous organic farm, which helped spearhead a green revolution in the 1990’s.  We ate at a Paladar (privately owned restaurant) called Casa Abel, where Abel himself and his wife served the meals with a smile and gave away small cigars.

Then we visited Habana Compass Dance Company, where with percussion instruments, being the biggest of all our human hearts, dancers, all women, displayed a powerful show.  This was about syncretism again (as the paintings that we had seen in the morning); a syncretism that has made this island so rich in its cultural heritage.

Back to the hotel we had the official tour of its building and gardens, to then get ready for dinner at the roof of Hotel Parque Central (Edificio Moderno), where we had a private performance by one of Cuba’s most celebrated and historic bands El Septeto Nacional.

As the musicians explained, it was seven of them but all in one heart, playing since 1926. They had a lot to tell, but what a better way than with their music. We joined them, together with the hotel staff, professional dancers and our guides for dancing underneath the stars.

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About the Author

Paula Tagle

Expedition Leader

Paula grew up in Guayaquil where she obtained an undergraduate degree in geology from the Polytechnic University of Guayaquil. She enjoyed many field trips all around Ecuador and during her vacations traveled in Central and South America in the hope of learning more about her people and culture. The last year of her studies she worked at a mine looking for a more ecologically responsible way of recovering gold. Interested more in volcanoes than in raw materials, she came to Galápagos, a mecca for geologists, in 1992. She was bewitched by the other wonders of the islands and became a naturalist guide for the Galápagos National Park.

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