Vive La Revolution!

As I landed in Havana it seemed like the whole airport was heady with the smell of cigars. Passing the various 'Socialisme ou Meurt' billboards on the way into the city and watching people working the land with ox and plough I really felt that I had arrived somewhere different. Ostensibly Havana is the same as any beautiful old capital city. The buildings, even those crumbling around the edges, are photogenic, the museums are enlightening and we tourists are able to wander happily with plenty to see and do. However, Havana is the only place I have ever visited which doesn't have a MacDonalds. There are no plate glass windows full of shoes and handbags, you can walk for a whole day without seeing an advert and when you go to the bakery the choice is between white bread rolls and, er, white bread rolls.
Since I've been back people have been curious to know what Cuba is like. My standard phrase is that it is a place "full of contradictions". It seems that the hackneyed stories are true: a waiter can earn more than a doctor and while people had just been permitted to buy mobile phones, few would be able to afford them. More than one Cuban I spoke to derided America and Britain as imperialist hell-holes, yet others (mostly the younger ones) cursed the government and paraded around in t-shirts emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes.

I don't know enough to be able to discuss the Cuban political system properly, but I can say that no matter how many individual wants people are willing to sacrifice for the collective; personal enterprise still thrives. Generally speaking, private business is not permitted but people are allowed to make money from their house. This gives rise to various Casas Paticulares (similar to b&bs and much better than the state hotels) and Palandars (restaurants run out of people's own kitchens). The palandars are particularly interesting. In some you literally walk pass the family sitting in their lounge to go to a table in their kitchen whereas in others, particularly the more famous ones in Havana, you are greeted by servers with palm pilots and a reservation is vital.

It is said that Cuba is not a place famed for its food. Wherever you go the menu is invariably the same: pork and rice and beans, chicken and rice and beans or fish and rice and beans. Choice is limited. Our large supermarkets or even our local corner shops are orgies of excess in comparison to the shops and restaurants in Cuba. Compare this bakery to your local:

That said, the quality of the fresh ingredients was excellent:

but I would like to have jazzed them up a bit.

When I think of all the pain and suffering that has been caused in the name of protecting the capitalist world from the evils of socialism, I feel truly sad. Despite it's beauty: and the flower sellers who take their blooms from door to door:I could never live somewhere like Cuba (imagine trying to do a Daring Bakers challenge with the limited ingredients?!). However, it was so refreshing to escape the constant demands to buy buy buy or to see children playing happily without an X-box in sight.

Returning from my two week stay I have started to resent the manipulation of the big corporates and the advertising from which we cannot escape. It seems I need to find a country with a happy medium - if anyone has any suggestions let me know! I have returned with a slightly altered perspective on how I think life should be lived and a fair few bottles of rum to turn into cocktails while I decide. Mojito anyone?

On a completely different note, Antonia at Food Glorious Food has nominated me for a blogging award - Yipeeeeeeeee! The 'Arte e Pico' award is awarded for creativity, design, interesting material and contribution to the food blogging community. It was a real surprise to be nominated for an award and given that I am less than loving my job at the moment, it makes me thankful that I do have something creative in my life. Antonia, a fellow Londoner, produces beautiful recipes, is honest when things don't work out as planned and her writing is chatty, funny and very readable. Go visit her if you haven't already. So, rather than start sobbing and list all the people I'd like to thank, here are my five nominees for other fabulous blogs. Drum-roll please...

1. Tantalising and terrific, it's Tartelette.
2. Food and so, so much more, Pink of Perfection.
3. Inventive recipes and striking photos, Mike's Table.
4. A witty and beautiful blog, Confessions of a Cardamon Addict
5. Another witty lady and a giver of great recipes too, at You say Tomahto...

Go and visit them all. For the rules of the award see here.


jasmine said...

I understand exactly what you are saying about finding a refuge from what certain people deem as "progress." You have some really lovely pictures there.

And thank you so much for the nomination! Quite surprised and happy about it!


sarah said...

Congrats on your nomination, and thank you so much for spreading the love to Pink of Perfection, too! I am so flattered and flabbergasted!

Mike of Mike's Table said...

I really enjoyed seeing the photos from your trip. Its funny how enjoyable vacation to places like this can be while simultaneously having you feel a bit uncomfortable given the more distinct haves and have-nots. I'd love to go one day though. I think these are the kind of vacations that can be the most rewarding.

Also, I just wanted to say thank you for the award and kind words. I appreciate it :-)

Magnolia Wedding Planner said...

that exactly what I believe is the perect holiday..escaping from the pressure you have in your "normal" life..anyway Cuba should have been a great place to visit.
Congrats for the award you deserve it! kiss

glamah16 said...

Great post. Was surprised about the food. I guess Cuban cuisine flourishes with Cubans outside of the country because more options mean more creativity. One day I will get there.

Joy said...

Thanks Jasmine - It's a really photogenic country so I managed to get lots of good pictures. As for the award - you deserve it!

Sarah - I would spread the Pink of Perfection love all over the web. Love it!

Mike - Yes I think sometimes it's good to get out of the comfort zone. You completely deserve the praise Mike.

Silvia - Yes escaping was great but it's hard to come back to reality! I guess the dream is to bring back the holiday spirit with you x

Glamh - I was surprised about the food too. I was expecting lots of exotic flavours but as you say, choice might be something to do with it!

Big Boys Oven said...

such an amazing story to read about your holiday, just amazed me to think ! thanks!