A Visit in a Havana Courtyard
One of my favorite Cuba Photo Tour activities is our annual photowalk with local photographers. Walking with Leysis and Claudia in the densely packed barrios of Havana Vieja is an opportunity to see the world through their eyes, listen to their experiences and understand just a wee bit more about the resiliency of Cubans today.
Walking through an ornate doorway in the old city opens up top a world of life and improvisation. The materials and craftsmanship speak of an era of wealth and extravagance. Tall, heavy mahogany doors with custom carvings are surrounded by ornate patterned sculptural decor, leading into a large courtyard with multi level balconies. Today, these once magnificent single family palaces are divided into many apartments. The buildings themselves are victims of decay and neglect, yet their once graceful design is still evident in columns, arches and ornate iron and woodworking.
A very different life happens in the courtyards today. Life spills out from the apartments with drying laundry, running children and in the case of this visit, a working plein-air beauty salon. These women had no objection to being photographed. As a matter fact, they enjoyed the focus of five North Americans with cameras bearing gifts of eye glasses, over the counter medicines and soaps. I loved the white cap with pom-poms on the beautician that dangled and bounced when she moved her head.
One unusual item in my bag was a crochet hook. I gave this to her, thinking with her new glasses she might take up a new endeavor. But no, she pulled out a shower cap poked with holes and pantomimed how this crochet hook would now help her apply coloring to client's hair. In Cuba, this is an example of resolving; solving challenges with whatever materials are available.
Before leaving I took her photograph in the diffuse interior light. At first she was unsure of how she should pose. It was her smile and graciousness I wanted to capture and Leysis was so helpful in diverting her attention until the right moment presented itself.
As with all I photograph, I promised to return next year with a picture from our visit. I could not leave without giving and receiving a hug and kisses and the continued impression of Cubans as warm, open and friendly.