A New Day in Cuba

Cuba1I know I know this was supposed to be a post on life in scenic Ladakh. But I am just back from an exciting trip to Cuba and given the recent news that Cuba and the US are about to turn a page in their relationship (which was made public one day after my return), I thought it would be a good first blog post for the New Year. (Though I know this change in policy is controversial I, for one, am thrilled by the news of a rapprochement between our two countries as I think the Cuban people can greatly benefit from more access to the rest of the world at so many levels.)

So it will be Cuba for now (and Ladakh eventually, maybe next time, and if not soon, I promise). Our journey took us to the eastern part of the island, an area where few tourists go, especially Americans, given the challenges of traveling in Cuba for US citizens. Our small group of photographers flew from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, headed east to Guantanamo (which is sadly famous for its U.S. prison, but should be famous for its inspiration of Cuba’s most well-known song, Guantanamera) and drove back following the northern coast. Cuba is a beautiful island and Cubans are warm and welcoming people. But as most people know, life is hard for most of them, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We all have heard that visiting Cuba is like going back 50 years in time as modern technologies have not been allowed in, or are too expensive for most Cubans. For example, it is not rare to see cassette tapes used to listen to music. But a more accurate way to describe the experience is to say that it is like being in a place where most things have been allowed to deteriorate for 50 years since there were not enough resources to maintain them and no access to the material or parts necessary to do so. Though the government provides free healthcare and free education, Cubans earn little money, an average of only $30/month.  And until the recent changes implemented by Raul Castro in 2010, it was very hard for Cubans to earn extra money other than what was sent by family members living abroad. So the buildings that were once so wonderful are now dilapidated, often occupied by multiple families.   Old cars are kept on the roads with ingenuity but only the ones for tourists are bright and shiny. Most disposable income is used for food though family gets a “ration”  book (Libreta de Abastecimiento) that allows them to buy a limited amount of basic staples at a discount price. There has even been a return to the use of horse carriages for transportation of goods and passengers and oxcarts for farming.

But despite evidence of hardship, things are slowly changing in Cuba as Cubans can now go into business for themselves and more private ownership is allowed.   And since the recent change in the US policy is giving me hope for a new day in Cuba, I have decided to post primarily images of what was my favorite time of the day while we were there: early morning. Every day we got up at dawn and ventured out to experience the beautiful morning light and the awakening of whichever place we were in. Every town has the same early risers: the street cleaners, the bread sellers (who come to your home to deliver) and the little “cafés” consisting of someone on a balcony or on the street with a hot thermos selling small cups of their delicious brew. Then, suddenly streets get busy, with people going to work, going to the market or the “ration” shop, and with a throve of children impeccably dressed in their uniforms heading to school.

Happy New Day Cuba and Happy New Year to all.

France

PS: This time of the year is an anniversary for me. It has now been about two years since I began sharing thoughts and images from my travels on this platform.   That seems like a good occasion to thank everyone for reading, commenting and sharing. My heartfelt thanks to all of you.

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30 Comments

  1. Alison Armstrong January 11, 2015 at 15:41 #

    Superb inspirational photographs. Thank you. This is the second time in only a couple of weeks that Cuba has been brought to my attention. Perhaps we will head there next (northern) winter.
    Alison

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 12:24 #

      Thank you Alison. A visit to Cuba is well-worth it, and the sooner the better as things may change quickly. All the best, France

  2. Bob Newman January 11, 2015 at 15:50 #

    Nicely done France!!

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 11:43 #

      Thank you Bob, Looking forward to see your images.

  3. Lisa January 11, 2015 at 16:00 #

    Well done, France. Love the gent with the birdcage! Lisa

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 11:44 #

      Thank you Lisa. I know Cuba is a special place for you.

  4. Kathy Hornsby January 11, 2015 at 16:02 #

    It is always with delight that I see a new post from you in my InBox, France. Your photos are, simply put, exquisite. Your images perfectly capture that warm early light and the lives of people as they start about their days. I especially love the images of the children walking with shadows on the wall, the adults buying their coffees (cuartinos? I’m trying to remember the name) and the headlight of the car with dew, with shallow DOF. All fabulous and glowing. I share your hopes of US rapprochement with Cuba, feeling it will benefit a most warm, giving and resourceful people. Well-done!!!!!

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 11:48 #

      Thank you Kathy. As always, we see things the same way. I really hope things improved for the Cubans. And the world needs some good news!

  5. Elise January 11, 2015 at 17:14 #

    Lucky you! Did you travel there on your Canadian passport?
    Stunning use of reflected light, natural light. I love classic cars. The photos of the two cars are great! Another favorite of mine is the woman with the fruit and pineapples in the background, the sunlight delineating the profile of her face and neck, the staff as the sturdy counterpoint.
    They are quite photos. Hushed photos. Stillness, people alone in contemplation or with a few friends. No noisey marketplaces, messy street scenes, dance venues. A somewhat different side of your vision. I like it.
    Glad you are well!

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 12:30 #

      Thank you Elise. You can travel to Cuba on a US passport as part of a “people-to-people” program authorized by the US Treasury Dept. The goal of the program is to provide Americans the opportunity to interact with Cubans and exchange about art, culture and more. But I am hoping that the travel ban will be lifted sometimes this year. This may be optimistic but I am hopeful. All the best, France

  6. michele zousmer January 11, 2015 at 19:25 #

    Beautiful images. You captured Cuba perfectly in your blog and in your images.

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 12:32 #

      Thank you Michele. Cuba is a beautiful island with warm, welcoming people.

  7. Jura January 11, 2015 at 20:00 #

    Beautiful shots as always. It seems you had great light!

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 12:35 #

      Thank you. Yes, the light was fabulous. Congratulations on the new addition to your family. All the best, France

  8. Yvonne Roussel January 11, 2015 at 20:10 #

    Your images are truly beautiful, France. You have really captured the essence of Cuba and the wonderful people there. I am looking forward to returning to Cuba next month, after falling in love with it last January. Your post made me even more anxious to go! Thanks for all the interesting posts and wonderful photos! Hope all is well in Chicago.

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 13:00 #

      Thank you Yvonne. You are so right, Cubans are wonderful people. Hope you get to go outside Havana a little. Have a terrific trip. Warm regards, France

  9. Joan Meyers-Levy January 11, 2015 at 21:15 #

    Loved the pictures, France. I went to Cuba a year ago and your photos brought lots of memories back. I too really hope that the thawing of relations with the US will bring changes and new opportunities for the Cuban people. It will bring some (probably help them to renovate many of the abundant beautiful old but totally dilapidated buildings), but the entire and fundamental system that affects every aspect of people’s lives there is in need of change, and I’m skeptical that Raul will allow many of these fundamental changes. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Thanks for bringing back so many fascinating and wonderful memories.

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 12:48 #

      Thank you Joan. I am glad you like the pictures. I absolutely agree with you that the current change in policy is not enough but I think of it as a first step. And Raul is not running in the next election. So I am hopeful. But as you said, we’ll have to wait and see. Warm regards, France

  10. Anne-Marie Bernier January 11, 2015 at 21:18 #

    Just beautiful France. I saw Tewfic’s comment on fb and came here to see your photos. I will be in Havana in a few weeks, you have inspired me. Merci!

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 12:38 #

      Merci Anne-Marie. Thanks for visiting the blog. Havana is a great city with a lot to explore. Early morning is a special time there too. Enjoy. France

  11. Michael Kaufman January 12, 2015 at 09:40 #

    France, the light you captured in some of these pictures is amazing…it is well worth it to get up for the early sun! Thank you….

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 12:51 #

      Thank you Michael and thanks for visiting the blog. Agree, it is well worth getting up for the early sun…and you would know 😉 Warm regards, France

  12. Lew LIvely January 12, 2015 at 09:58 #

    Very well done. Great light and “moments”

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 12:52 #

      Many thanks Lew. Looking forward to seeing your images as well. All the best, France

  13. Sally Bucko January 12, 2015 at 10:26 #

    What beautiful photos and incredible light! I esp like your lead photo, but they all all wonderful. Has the young girl used rolled paper for her curlers? Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy your posts.

    • franceleclerc January 12, 2015 at 12:56 #

      Thank you Sally. It looks to me like this young woman used plastic curlers. I have a few pictures of women with curlers. I’ll take a look and see if rolled paper was used 😉 Warm regards,
      France

  14. emilie January 15, 2015 at 07:00 #

    Happy New Year to you and Cuba
    Yes Cuba has been in the news and fabulous to see your delightful photos from this trip.
    The colour you captured in the early picture of the street scene of the sky…stunning
    Free health and education but so little money to live on.
    Cuba was one of the first countries to help out with Ebola which really impressed me.

    • franceleclerc January 15, 2015 at 12:37 #

      Emilie, So nice hearing from you again. Thank you so kindly. Yes, the morning light in Cuba is pretty amazing. And yes, they have highly-trained medical professionals. They just don’t have access to all the drugs that are available in the rest of the world. And most are willing to go abroad to help out as they get additional money from the government to do so. All the best, France

  15. Emilie January 27, 2016 at 17:18 #

    Hi France
    I came across this recently..thought you may possibly find it interesting …I did !
    500 Postcards from Cuba, beginning about 1900 http://merrick.library.miami.edu/cdm/search/collection/chc0359

    Hope you are well.

    • franceleclerc January 30, 2016 at 12:00 #

      Wow, what a find! The ones that amazed me the most are the ones from Santiago de Cuba where I spent a fair amount of time. Things look the same just quite a bit older (and somewhat decrepit). It is a bit eerie. I wonder where these are from, what a collection! Thanks for sharing.

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