With the opening up of diplomatic relations and the ensuing easing up on travel restrictions, more and more of my friends have been asking about what to read about Cuba.
I have accumulated quite a few books on the subject, so here you have a quick review of several that I have read and enjoyed, all of them pictorial and most of them about the architecture and interior design of my native country
CUBA THIS MOMENT EXACTLY SO – Lorne Resnick – Insight Editions (San Rafael, CA, 2015)
250 full-color plates evidence the author’s love affair with the island Columbus called “the most beautiful land that human eyes ever beheld.”
But make no mistake, the author does not make any concessions to tourist sensibilities, showing instead the natural beauty of the land side by side with the raw reality of urban decay in a five-centuries old city – the second oldest in the hemisphere – that has not seen much TLC in the past fifty years.
Resnick’s eye manages to extract beauty with his camera lens from the most unlikely places: a young gymnast working out in a derelict patio seems to levitate right out of the print. An old lady reaches out from her balcony to loan an egg to a neighbor, so vivid is the image that one has to keep from reaching out to help her accomplish her goal. Ballerinas and boxers, bikers and cabaret dancers keep company with kids learning to box and old faces of every possible race.
This is a visual feast of a book that now sits prominently near my desk.
GREAT HOUSES OF HAVANA – Hermes Mallea – Moncelli Press (Random House), 2011
Subtitled, A Century of Cuban Style this book more than vindicates the wrong impression that many visitors to the Cuban capital often receive, when given only a partial view of the city once called, The Paris of the Caribbean.
Mallea’s 25-chapter, 272 page book is a visual repository of the finest examples of Cuban architecture, accompanied by a detailed, exhaustively-researched narrative.
The overall impression the book makes is not one of nostalgic recollection of times gone by, but rather a record of the earnest effort on the part of the historic preservation community in Cuba to preserve these homes as part of the national patrimony.
Some of the homes have been repurposed as embassies and consulates, some are now museums, and others are still occupied as residences by the same families who lived in them before 1959.
The architectural styles range from the 18th century Episcopal Palace, now the residence and offices of the Archbishop of Havana to the stunning art deco mansions in the El Vedado neighborhood.
HAVANA – Michael Eastman – Prestel Publishing (NYC), 2011
In contrast with other books about Havana’s architecture, Eastman’s concentrates on the faded glory of the city’s streetscape and interiors.
With an incisive eye, the author focuses on the beauty still to be seen in rapidly crumbling homes and buildings.
This is a sad and yet beautiful book to ponder one photograph at a time.
CUBA: 400 YEARS OF ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE – Rachel Carley (text) and Andrea Brizzi (photography) – Cartago Publishing (London), 1997
Carley and Brizzi take the reader on a journey through the island, traveling back in time to the remaining buildings from the 17th century still standing in Havana and in the interior of Cuba.
Written and published in the mid-1990’s, the book devotes its final chapter to Cuban post 1959 architecture, in an attempt to validate the efforts of Cuban architects at work during the difficult “Special Period” of Cuba’s recent history.
Overall, this is a beautifully illustrated book accompanied by a well-informed text.
HAVANA FOREVER: A Pictorial and Cultural History of an Unforgettable City – Kenneth Treister, Felipe J. Prestramo and Raul B. Garcia – University Press of Florida, 2009
Giving equal importance to text and illustrations, this is a part-scholarly, part-impassioned valentine to the city that stole the hearts of the three authors of this book, along with those of so many of us.
Not only public buildings and private residences but parks, cinemas, boulevards and monuments are visually documented and discussed in depth, with the accompaniment of memorabilia, magazine illustrations, modern and vintage photographs, in fourteen chapters that provide fascinating insights into the history of the city of Havana.
CUBAN ELEGANCE – Michael Connors – Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2004
In 185 full-color illustrations accompanied by a scholarly but eminently entertaining narrative, the author provides an exhaustive history of Cuban interior design from its Colonial beginnings to the eye-popping mid-century design successes and excesses of the Havana nouveau riche mansions.
LIVING IN CUBA – Simon McBride and Alexandra Black – St. Martin’s Press, NYC. 1998.
This pictorial book is both a visual and textual salute to the resourcefulness of people who manage to refurbish their living environments and make do with the minimum of available materials and a surplus of imagination.
Mc Bride’s and Black’s work provides a fascinating tour through the dwellings of a people with an eye for color and a love of life, even when living in the poorest of circumstances.