Our blogger, interior designer Carey Maloney, and his partner Hermes Mallea, an architect, are principals in the M (Group).
We have spent a fair amount of time in Cuba these past three years…lots of time, in fact, as Hermes is working on a book, so we (legally) return every few months.
We’ve made lots of discoveries, but the best so far is ‘discovering’ Adrian Fernandez, a very talented young photographer who has been invaluable to our project. We bought Adrian’s still lifes in Havana, loved them even more when we got them back here and hung them, and wanted to bring the series to the States, where our brilliant buddy and gallery owner, Carrie Haddad, in Hudson, agreed to show his work.
So Adrian Fernandez is having an exhibition at the Carrie Haddad Photographs. Hermes and I will be there on Saturday evening, July 17, insuring that the Cuba Libres are flowing to get those red dots glowing…
Young Adrian (as we call him) is talented. He’s just completed the very competitive master of fine art program at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. The work he sent to Carrie Haddad is his newest—a group of still lifes using objects from the homes of the ‘bourgeoisie’ of Havana. Treasured antique vases and containers hold plastic fruit or fake flowers—very Cuban. Every flight I’ve been on has featured armfuls of fake flowers among the tons of luggage everyone schleps—one guy last time was checking four tires. Big tires. Before you judge them on their taste, cut ‘em some slack—a real apple hasn’t been seen on that island in 51 years, decades before Young Adrian was born.
Adrian started out with the exteriors of the houses, and the ubiquitous fencing, as his subjects. He moved inside to do room portraits, and then tightened his vision to the omnipresent centerpieces. We love them—modern and bright, fake and real—very Cuban.
I hope you’ll stop in and see the show. If you can’t see it in person, check out his work at Carrie Haddad’s website
or at Adrian’s website
Like I said, above, El Jefe—as I call him in his Cubano mode—is writing a big fancy coffee table book, Great Houses of Havana: A Century of Cuban Style
(Monacelli Press, 2011). So we’ve been back and forth to Cuba mucho times over the past few years. Mucho mucho times (and anyone who hablas Espanol
will know from my misuse of mucho that I am not mucho help, language wise…) In my mind, my role is Yanki Eye Candy; in Hermes’s mind, I’m more the petulant Idiot Savant. “Who was that odd woman and what was she droning on about in Spanish for two hours?” “The Minister of Culture…” “Oh.”
Or the time a friend introduced me to a man, “Yadda Spanish yadda yadda Spanish yadda vice president yadda” “Encantado. Please tell me, what are you ‘vice president’ of?” Stunned pause. “Cuba.” If looks could kill, that host woulda done me in. Hey, it was a little lesson in humility for the guy because I’ll bet most people he meets know what he is vice president of…
The book will be mucho interesting. Because of friends of friends (thereby proving my mother’s refrain to me, in my post-college job search, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”), we have gotten unprecedented access to lots of very swell houses that very, very few people see. Only one place was almost denied us—La Finca de los Monos—the Monkey Farm. We were told by the secretary to #3 (after #1 Fidel and #2 Raul) that “only Fidel can give permission.” As I was backing out of the room muttering, “Oh, please, don‘t bother him,” El Jefe was still badgering away. And damned if we didn’t get in…
FYI, the Monkey Farm was owned by a primitologist lady who kept 180 primates (aka monkeys) at this Venetian style villa. She was way rich and personally funded the revolution of 1898. (There were lots of revolutions in Cuba—practicing for 1959?) There is a subtle war/revolution motif throughout the house—very cool. Later in life, she took the veil (but not a vow of poverty). After she was maligned by a society lady for having holes in her nun’s stockings, she had $1 million strewn on the floor of the ballroom, invited the unsuspecting woman over, and announced her stockings might have holes but she walked on money. Urban lore? Probably, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Bear in mind, nothing was torn down in Cuba post 1959 because there was no money to rebuild. Everything was recycled. Grand mansions (ok—trust me—palaces isn’t overstating it…) are now schools, ministries, diplomatic residences, museums, day-care centers, multi-family squats, or official Casas Protocolos—and in the case of the grand country house at right, an old folks home. Some are still private homes—beautiful relics lived in by the same families for hundreds of years (FYI, if you stayed in Cuba, you could keep your house and a weekend place. We have friends with lovely, albeit decrepit, houses in town and fun beach houses in Varadero. If you left it, you lost it.)
Most books on Cuban architecture focus on the exteriors and leave it at that. Hermes is writing about the people who created the houses – the patrons, the architects, the decorators – and the lives they lived before the Triumph of the Revolution and the lives of the houses in the post 1959 years. Lots of vintage photos and lots of new photos. This house was built by an American socialite who broke her leg jumping from her bedroom window to tryst with Papa Hemingway. It is now the Canadian ambassador’s residence.
Havana was hugely wealthy and important for 400 years. The rich used French decorators (Jansen had an office there) and American architects (my favorite house was done by Carrère and Hasting of The New York Public Library fame). The modern gem below was designed by Swiss master, Richard Neutra. The Cubans spent with abandon—don’t you love that? And they had fun. I really love that!
Don’t worry (you were worried, right?) there will be lots of warning before ‘The Book’ comes out. It’s gonna be huge.
Mayra Montero is Hermes’s favorite contemporary Cuban novelist (he reads her in Spanish—I opt for English). Her most recent book, Dancing to Almendra
is a page turner and an education about pre-Revolutionary, Mafioso-run Havana.
I thought Isabelle Allende’s new “Island Beneath the Sea” was a treat. It starts in Haiti, before the Revolution of 1781 and follows the French nationals and Haitians as they escape to Cuba and on to New Orleans. A great tale and lots of very interesting social and political history about slavery in the Caribbean.
If you want to go directly to the source, check out Granma
, the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party. You can read Fidel’s latest screed (he calls them “reflections") on Yanki imperialism. Fun!
I love foreign papers and news – Link TV, Television without Borders
, has a great nightly show called “Mosaic” that distills news from the Middle East. You get to watch the actual newsreader from Iran or Kuwait or Israel. The outfits!!!! A weather girl ululating in a full burqa sort of thing in front of a map of Iran…Works for me.) And of course, “Democracy Now,” the Lefty “Newshour” is on Link…
The Cuba Libre was ‘invented’ when Coke first arrived on the island in 1900 and American troops became mixologists. Back then, Free Cuba
” referred to centuries of Spanish rule.
1 part White rum
2 parts real Coke (Otto’s Market
in Germantown carries the true, Mexican sugary blend, not the American fructose stuff) over ice with a wedge of lime.
Playboy’s Host and Bar Book
from 1971 should fill in where this recipe leaves off—you’ll be blending Mojitos in no time.
July 15 - August 15
Carrie Haddad Photographs
318 Warren Street, Hudson
Opening reception, July 17; 6 - 8 p.m.
For the complete archive of past Wandering Eye blogs, click here.