These days I work, not in downtown Toronto, but in Pretoria, Gauteng – administrative capital of South Africa, a small city with Boer Republic roots and an African feel, a place of substantial Anglo-Dutch architecture from the nineteenth century commingled with brutalist Afrikaner buildings from the 1970s, and the litter, taxi mayhem and crumbling sidewalks of Maputo or (who knows, since I haven’t been there) Nairobi. I go there, most days, by Gautrain, the gleaming Bombardier-built high-speed commuter train that links Johannesburg with Pretoria and the O.R. Tambo International Airport. Most days, since I try to travel outside of rush […]
The Vedado end of the eight-or-so kilometre Malecon in Havana has a very different feel to it, from the more grandly built-up and fortified stretch toward the harbour mouth. Crumbling apartment buildings face across the dual carriageway, and the sea that crashes coldly into the rocks seems a metaphor for isolation and banishment. People sit on the battered sea-wall, or stare in vain at the horizon, as if waiting for something – the future? – to appear. Here is a final set of images.
Sunday in Jo’burg. The weather unsettled. Breezy, cool, the sky laden with clouds. In another ten days, Rob arrives from Toronto. The house has been found, the movers booked, tomorrow I will go look at a car. Piece by piece, the architecture of this new-old phase of our lives is constructed. To brighten the weekend, here are some more images of Havana’s old cars, this time in colour.
Your upcoming post this weekend will feature the cars of Havana – cars which are not just cars, but markers and expressions of a society, an economy, a particular history. This Chevy truck is not a car, obviously – but deserves a place, perhaps, as a kind of precursor or foreword. No matter how glamorous, how retro, the car in Havana – like the truck, the motorcycle with sidecar, the crazy coco-taxi – is a workhorse. Keep an eye on your inbox.
Cuba’s history, of course – by which I mean only its modern history, which we can date back to the first Spanish warships, sailing off the island in the late 1400s – long predates the Revolution. As Richard Gott explains, in his dry but absorbing Cuba, A New History (published in 2004) there has always been trouble: privateers, conquistadores, slavery, wars and coups, poverty and excess, rebellions and the mafia pock-mark the narrative like bullet-holes in a wall. Visiting Havana, in this sense, means descending into an archeological dig. At the surface is the Revolution, with its heroic moment, followed by […]
Once more to Havana…. So far, I’ve tried not to fall into the trap that the English novelist George Eliot described more than a hundred years ago: seeing other people’s misery as ‘picturesque.’ I’ve described, and shown, the Hotel Inglaterra, posted images of the magnificent Grand Theatre and other architectural triumphs, monuments and renovations, and avoided overt comment on – well, on the dark side of Havana. By which I mean, not its flawed grandeur, or its magnificent decay, but its political system. In a word: communism. Because one of the things you can’t help noticing is the drab, dreary, official lexicon of […]
You stand in the grand lobby – gilded, ornate – waiting for the lift-doors to open. Off to your right, behind the wrought-iron grille, a pair of well-heeled diners sip at their coffee, eyeing the menu, while an unctuous waiter in starched shirt glides by. At any moment the lift will arrive and Bogart will step out, a laughing Bacall or Bergman on his arm…. You don’t go to the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana for its service (we left without eating, even though we were starving) but for the elegance, the ambience, the colours and scent of the corrupt and gorgeous neo-colonialism of pre-revolutionary Havana. There is […]
Nuevo Vedado, Havana. It is New Year’s Day, 2017. We drift towards wakefulness, in the blue room at our casa particular or homestay, on a raft of sound. The ring of a bucket as it’s set down on concrete. A man’s voice, and a woman’s, greeting the new year in Spanish. Water splashing, a dog barking. The rumble of a truck or car in the street outside. Screech of a parakeet. The noises are right inside here, in the room, amplified. We were greeted on Saturday, on the eve of the new year, at Havana’s Jose Marti Habana airport, by […]
The documentary series on Netflix, The Story of Cuba Libre, tells the deeply engrossing story of Cuba’s long struggle for freedom, first against the Spanish, then the Mafia, the Americans and their own dictators. Along with our guidebooks, our investigations into cigar purchases, talk of rum and mojitos, music and sightseeing, Rob and I have been watching the series as part of our homework. One of the things borne forcefully home in the early episodes, of course, is the painful impact of Spanish colonialism on Cuba’s people and history. It was only a few short weeks ago, after all, that I was […]
A good deal of what we loosely think of as ‘travel photography’ is of the Facebook-posting or family album variety – ‘this is where we went, this is what we did, this is who we were with.’ It’s straightforward, innocuous, innocent even: ‘my hols’ as a diary in pictures or travel journal. Then there is ‘travel’ as genre, an altogether more complex, and comprised (compromising?) form of photographic endeavour. Its most familiar format is the travel magazine or travel article, and its premise is promotion – promotion of destinations, scenes, peoples, cultures. Its intent is to impress, to amaze, to […]