The handsomest cars in Cuba: a reader reports curbside

1959 Pontiac Bonneville. Photo by Lydia Bogner.

One of the nicest things about writing a book is having readers pop up out of the woodwork and regale you with their tales of retracing your steps, doing it better, faster, slower, weirder (and even enthusing about some of the same obscure obsessions as you...)

Lydia Bogner, who hails from Massachusetts, discovered the Handsomest Man after taking a "lazy, 5 day cruise for my daughter and I, via Miami."
Finding your book at the library was pure serendipity and truly has strengthened and magnified my memories of our one day in Havana. Reading it enhanced both my understanding of the Cuban people and my memories. Having been to San Salvador 3 years ago, I can't help but compare the survival instincts of these 2 different cultures. Salvadoreans must survive the gang violence, and Cubans must work and eat one day at a time... 

Love me, love my Cuban car

So what was the first thing Lydia went looking for in Cuba? Not the handsomest man, but handsomest cars!
I looked for cars like those that my father owned in the 50’s but never saw a '58 black and white Chrysler New Yorker, or a '56 black Mercury coupe. That quest and my love of Cuban coffee might be reason to return.

1957 Green Ford Ranch Wagon. Photo by Lydia Bogner.

The owner of this 1949 red Chevrolet convertible told us that his cousin lives in Miami and restores the upholstery of cars damaged by hurricanes. The interior of this car was showroom fabulous!
1949 red Chevrolet convertible. Photo by Lydia Bogner.

1956 Dodge Lancer convertible. Photo by Lydia Bogner.
Last but not least, an amazing 1959 Cadillac Eldorado, 4 speed automatic with a “curb weight” of 4700 pounds (car factoid from an envious friend).
1959 Cadillac Eldorado. Photo by Lydia Bogner.

Fusterlandia: a ceramics kingdom in Havana

1950 Chevy sedan outside Fusterlandia. Photo by Lydia Bogner.
The first stop on our bus tour was Fusterlandia, an ongoing community ceramic project, the best part of which was some amazing crafts for sale.
Lydia visited a place that I never saw back in 2000: the rambling, mosaic-tiled neighborhood called Fusterlandia [thank you havana-club.com for a great page] ruled by artist Jose Fuster. In hindsight, I think the ice cream parlor I describe in the opening chapter of my book might have been the handiwork of Jose:

Nearby, the angular concrete silhouette of the Coppelia icecream parlor rises from the shrubs like a misplaced sphinx. In the ensuing weeks I will see different architectural incarnations of Cuba’s premier ice creamery, each one a brutal confection resembling one of the triple-scoop specials stuck with wafers, studded with nuts, and melting. It looks like the architect was given uncharacteristically free reign, perhaps gleaning his inspiration from black-and-white footage of the Sydney Opera House, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, and Battlestar Galactica seen on Cuba’s only television soap opera channel, all the while deeply inhaling the illicit weed. 

Inside, however, the experience is distinctly watered-down vanilla. An overstaffed counter dispenses mushy scoops of something cold and clammy in little steel cups to the smattering of patrons seated at the metal tables in wire chairs. The flavor of the day is melon. For the adventurous there are also strawberryand chocolate. Häagen-Dazs it’s not, but we agree that the place has a unique flavor...

Cuban architecture

The deterioration of the terminal building is very sad to see, only one quarter of the building is open and functional
Photo by Lydia Bogner.
A brief conversation with a young man in front of one of the big hotels led us to dinner in a paladare, a private home where the living room had been converted into a part time business (and very delicious grilled mango chicken):

"The paladare on O'Reilly Calle was fabulous." Photo by Lydia Bogner.
The majority of homes in Havana are bare concrete, which must be pre-Fidel concrete as these are the buildings that still stand. Some houses are being painted bright, happy colors:
Photo by Lydia Bogner.
Photo by Lydia Bogner.

However, it is sad to see many skinny, malnourished dogs roaming the city. They do not bother tourists or citizens. The hundred year old architecture is amazing: 
Plaza de San Francisco. Photo by Lydia Bogner.


Have you read the Handsomest Man and have tales to share here?  Tell me about it - I'd love to share it here.


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