More Havana: Art, anti-Americanism, and Automobiles

Tuesday morning we returned to the Jose Marti Center for another lecture. It was probably our first exposure to a strict “party-line” account of U.S.-Cuban relations during the Cold War. The lecturer showed a rather one-sided Cuban documentary on American policy after Castro came to power. Students had a chance to ask questions, but the answers were long and unresponsive, and tended to repeat the points in the movie. The second lecture, unfortunately, was missing all the things that made the previous day’s lecture so good: enthusiasm, a spirit of inquiry, and respect for the audience.

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After the lecture we went to lunch. I hadn’t noticed the day before, but the restaurant had a poster showing the “Cuban Five.” One of them had apparently dined at the restaurant a couple of weeks earlier, shortly after he was released as part of the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations.

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Our next stop was the Havana Museum of Fine Arts. On the way there we passed the Jose Marti statue on the Malecon. The statue points at the U.S. Interests Section. Nearby is a memorial to Cuban victims of terrorism, particularly those Cubans alleged to have been killed in American operations. Cubans apparently demonstrate at the memorial to show their opposition to American policy, such as during the Elian Gonzalez dispute. A little further down the road we saw this mural of Che Guevara. Taken together, the lecture, the memorial, and the Che mural showed that opposition to the U.S. government is still prevalent in Cuba. Nevertheless, the personal encounters we had during the trip were almost all friendly and warm–even when people knew that we were Americans. The Cubans we spoke to often pointed out that they had problems with the American government, not the American people.

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The Museum of Fine Arts was great. Unfortunately pictures weren’t allowed in the exhibit halls, but I was able to take this photo in the courtyard. We spent most of our time looking at Cuban painting from the 20th century, many of which seemed heavily influenced by Picasso and other Cubist painters.

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After the museum we stopped at a local market. The students shopped for souvenirs, including hats and jerseys from the Havana Industriales, the local baseball team. The adults decided to go next door for a cold beverage. Then we all headed back to La Habana Vieja for some more sight-seeing–and a little bit of contemplation.

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Before heading back to our hotel we stopped to look at some of the old taxis parked near the Malecon.

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Professor Pajakowski had been hoping we’d see some Studebakers, which were manufactured in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana. We didn’t have any luck, but then he spotted a bright pink car about a hundred feet away and we walked over to take a look. There, parked away from the Chevys and Fords, was a lone Studebaker. I think Professor Pajakowski had to resist the urge to ask to take it for a spin.

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