Havana: A Moving Feast

Colonial Treasures, Culture and People Beckon Travelers to World Heritage City

Havana: A Moving Feast
Havana is a veritable moving feast. Beautiful, friendly, engaging people. Magnificent modern and colonial buildings. Wonderful restaurants. Superb night life. A busy, busy, busy world-class city. Noisy as all hell. Delightfully noisy. Never annoyingly so but rather noisy with the contagious rhythm of the ever-present palm trees gently swaying to the pulsating beat of Havana's warm Caribbean breeze.

Havana moves incessantly. With indescribable passion. Much like her sensuous music. In exhilarating sync with the horns of vintage automobiles. In unison with dancing feet. In absolute harmony with the megawatt smiles of her delightful school children.

Founded in 1519 Havana beckons locals and traveler alike. Incessantly. Lovingly. Havana seduces with her eyes. With her gestures. With her stunning sounds. With her astonishing culture. With her predilection for good rum, strong coffee and better cigars.

Her love of ballet, jazz, baseball and rock concerts appears everywhere. Life-size bronze statues of famous musicians and personalities such as Mother Theresa, Antonio Gades, John Lennon or Compay Segundo dot the landscape. Theaters, stadiums, plazas and night clubs such as The Tropicana fill to capacity.

In June 2010 members with the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble traveled to Cuba. Our group included Toronto Star respected art critic and raconteur Michael Crabb and Veronica Tennant, one of the most accomplished Prima Ballerina in the history of the National Ballet of Canada. Now a producer of film documentaries, Veronica directed Vida y Danza Cuba, a winner of international awards featuring Lizt Alfonso's Ballet Cuba.

Naturally, our quest to research Havana's cultural offerings for small Canadian groups would take us to the studio of the world-famous Lizt Alfonso Ballet Cuba. Nothing, however, prepared us for the surprise that Lizt Alfonso, the company's founder and choreographer, had for us. After a presentation illustrating the company's history Lizt invited us to watch a private, outstanding performance which combined elements of classic ballet, Spanish flamenco and modern dance. It was a memorable event, a unique showing of Havana's spontaneity and its love of music at its very best.

Later on the group went to Havana's magnificent Gran Teatro, founded in 1838. We attended the premiere of The Legend of Mighty Waters, a ballet inspired by Brazil's Iguazú Falls and brilliantly performed by the Cuban National Ballet, hailed by critics as one the best five ballet companies in the world. Every seat had been sold out for days. Nothing, however, prepared us for a second, mind-blogging surprise in one day: we were about to witness a heart-stopping manifestation of Cuban affection. The instant Cuban diva and Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, the company's legendary 90 years-old founder and artistic director, entered the theatre the audience went absolutely wild. Ms. Alonso's presence was greeted with a deafening roar. The standing ovation and sustained applause transformed the evening into a magic journey.

This is precisely how Havana brings joy to the eyes, to the ears, to every human sensation, to every human emotion. And Havana does it while coyly displaying her coquetry like nobody else's business. She flirts with the ancient elegance of the nearly 500-year-old courtesan she truly is. With the passionate seduction of a modern, wily, bewitching female.

Make no mistake about it: Havana is female. The feminine article in La Habana, her full name in Spanish, firmly establishes her gender. Havana is definitely, unapologetically female. Take a good long look at her streets. Adorned with exotic trees and brilliant flowers, the streets Havana bend and twist at will. In sensuous compass. In voluptuous harmony with her colonial buildings. With a hint of a mischievous smile, Havana struts her stuff in deliberate, calculated, enticing abandon until it grabs your attention. Like so many free swinging hips moving rhythmically under the stare of many a suffering mortal male watching the sensuous procession going by. See ... but don't touch, chico.

Today Havana is truly a living metaphor of the legendary Phoenix. It proudly rises after years of economic hardship, human neglect and considerable damages by the elements and natural disasters. In 1962 UNESCO designated 444 of its buildings as World Heritage sites, and in 1982 UNESCO confirmed Havana as a World Heritage city. Ever since the city has been engaged in a most ambitious, careful and successful restoration of its treasured landmarks.

Visitors may now leisurely stroll through Old Havana's living, unparalleled wealth of historical sites. Where else would you find a venerable Rum Museum, an astonishing replica of Washington's Capitol building, built in 1929 and housing today Cuba's National Museum, the imposing 18th century baroque Cathedral of Havana and, just steps down the road, The Floridita and the Bodeguita del Medio, lively bars where American writer Ernest Heminghway held court and immortalized Cuba's daiquiris and mojitos?

This is noisy, intoxicating, eternal Havana, a love affair constantly in the making. A city of engaging, friendly people, astonishing cultural sites, art and crafts centers and a treasured throve of architectural wonders best enjoyed when walking.

Our group took a strolling tour of the extraordinary sights and sounds of Old Havana. It was a most rewarding experience. Without exceptions, all the Canadians -experienced world travelers- were bewitched by its Old Havana's colonial beauty. They fell in love with the city. They plan to return. Everyone agreed that charming Havana is worth repeat trips. Everyone agreed that on their next visit they would need sensible, comfortable shoes. Havana is a seductive, walking city but your feet definitely deserve a break.
Publicado: 13 de Julio, 2010
Reportaje y Fotos: Pastor Valle-Garay - Senior Scholar, York University
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