Darcy Lewis Design

Adventures in "Good Enough" Design

Archive for the tag “art”

Overrated Sights and Secret Gems in Havana, Cuba

Overrated Places You Should Just Skip:

  • HEMMINGWAY – Unless you are specifically going to Cuba on a Hemmingway quest to follow the man’s footsteps, anything associated with him is going to be a packed madhouse of tourists and not very interesting.  This list includes El Floridita bar and their daiquiries, La Bodeguita del Medio and their mojitos, and Hemmingway’s House (it’s really just a house…).
  • FAC –Hear me out before you jump on me for this one.  What they are doing at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano is great and very important and interesting.  But what we did not realize was just how long the line was.  It is possible to stand in line for hours and still not get in.  People in line told us they’d been in line for over an hour and expected at least another hour-plus wait.  There is a VIP line and some AirBnB experiences promise a direct entry, but if you want to go, plan on going at least an hour before they open and just hope you get in with the first wave of admissions.
  • Coppelia – The favorite national chain ice cream shop, every guide book we saw touted it’s incredible ice cream.  No one we talked with agreed that it was incredible.  It’s not bad, but it’s perfectly ordinary ice cream.  If you go to Parque Coppelia for it, be aware that there a number of small Coppelia shops scattered through the park, each with a slightly different flavor list.  So if you don’t see what you like, go on to the next one.
  • SHOPPING – El Quitrin‘s selection of linen guayabera men’s shirts is not very good especially if you go  beyond a US medium. We did not find a good alternative.  Habana 1791 is a little perfumery.  They have pretty bottles in a lovely little shop, and scents can be custom mixed for you (about $10 for a small bottle), but the scents were all pretty conventional, even their own house blends.  Most of the shop people speak little or no English (an odd choice for a shop whose clientele is primarily tourists), and they just let you select your choices and mix them – they don’t really advise or help you find a good scent for you.
  • Almacenes San Jose – This is a huge covered ‘flea market’ in an old shipping warehouse on the waterfront.  There is 1 shop with leather goods (they really favor patchwork and not great quality materials), 1 with funny and rude quotes printed on things, 1 with linen and crochet clothes, 1 with wooden toys, and 1 with Che t-shirts – each times 100.  Yes, you basically have the same half dozen stalls just repeated over and over with only a few variations to make things interesting.  Around the perimeter are art stalls.  There are a couple very talented and interesting artists doing their own thing, and the rest are churning out the same images as half the artists in Havana because that’s what sells.  I had fun picking out a piece I loved and then walking around to see the imitations – very different qualities of skill and technique were clear as they all copied the same picture.  This is the place to go if you want to get cheap Made-in-China crap printed with CUBA or Che’s face.  There are a couple gems buried in here, but not enough to justify the hunt.

HIDDEN GEMS YOU MUST SEE!!

  • Fusterlandia – This oddity was not in any of our guidebooks nor did any of the hotels or tourist information people want to discuss it or have any pictures of it.  In fact, our only hint that this place existed was a tiny labeled dot on our map.  Fusterlandia is the result of one artist’s passionate dream to cover his whole neighborhood in mosaic tiles.  The result is totally insane and looks like Chagall’s brain on drugs, but is definitely worth a visit!!!  Located at the far end of the luxe Miramar neighborhood, there isn’t much else out here, so try to get your cab to wait for you since getting a ride home will be tricky. There are other tourists here, but they mostly come on buses.  30-45 minutes is enough time to rush through, without much lingering.  Entrance is free.

 

  • Cafe Escorial – This little cafe is tucked into the corner of Plaza Vieja in Habana Vieja.  Known for their excellent coffee and drinks, this cafe does a bustling trade at all hours and you may have to wait for a table.  It’s totally worth it, and I highly recommend their Cafe Helado Escorial – a marvelous treat of coffee, ice cream, and whiskey whipped cream.  They do sell their ground beans, but tend to run out by afternoon, so if you want to buy coffee beans go early!
  • Hotel Saratoga – Across from the capitol, this nice hotel has incredible view from their rooftop bar.  The drinks aren’t very good, but the view is worth checking out – a 270-degree view over the city! (See my previous post – A Half-Day Plan for Havana )
  • Military History – If the Cuban Missile Crisis is your interest, the palatial Hotel Nacional still has cannon emplacements and trenches from those days.  There is a small exhibit in the underground trenches.  If you look sufficiently interested, the guide might just lock the doors and take you on a private tour through the narrow trenches.  Though he didn’t really speak English, we managed to get the gist.  The grounds are nice to stroll and the outlook over the water is delightful, so anyone in your group not interested in trenches can relax and wait.
  • Performing Arts – Cuba has a very strong and vibrant performing arts scene and it’s definitely worth taking in a show if you can.  We caught a dance show at the Centro Cultural Bertold Brecht (next to the largest synagogue in Havana), and a concert that set up in Habana Vieja randomly one day.
  • Jardin Ky19 – This is a tiny nursery run out of one woman’s front yard.  In the back she has very cute ceramics and wooden carvings.  Her prices are excellent and the merchandise runs the gamut from art pieces to kitsch.  Whatever your taste, you will probably find something you like that is unique and nicer than the same-old-same-old souvenirs you’ll find everywhere else.  (Calle K, between 19 & 21, #354. No posted hours, you can call to ask – m. 5 253 3784).

 

A Word on Housekeeping…

First, let me start by reminding everyone that today is Election Day in the US.  Living in a democracy places certain obligations on us. In exchange for having a say, we must speak up.  In exchange for a trial by a jury of our peers, we must serve our peers as we would wish to be served.  So please, recognize the privileges we have and turn out and vote! Vote for the candidate that you feel best serves your interests, your vision for the future, or if none of them, than the one you think is as close to the center as possible since it’s the polarization of the extremes that divides us so much.  When you are summoned for jury duty, show up and don’t try to get out of it, and do your honest best!  Remember, there are many other systems we could be living under that wouldn’t place such obligations on us but would also not give us the kind of freedoms we claim to cherish.  Thank you.  *Stepping off my soap box*

Ok, sorry about that – I get very excited by civil obligations and how we can build a better society.

On to housekeeping!  I recently realized that while my house is always messy, my soul craves organization and neatness.  I keep buying storage bins and organizers in the faint and illogical hope that if I own the right bins, then my life will be magically organized.  Since I don’t actually know what to do, I end up with a pile of empty bins and a messy house…  I invited a friend to help me hang art (since I SUCK at hanging art – I can make art, but then I put it in a pile.  My notion of hanging art seems to be limited to one piece per wall.), and since she’s SO organized, I asked her for advice on my mess.  She looked in astonishment at the disorder and told me that I was very organized already, I was just trying to over-organize!!  Well!!!  That was a bit of a revelation. When I started thinking about this, I realized that I spent my childhood arranging the kitchen spice drawer alphabetically, but at the same time kept losing things because I would put them away in the wrong boxes…  So I began pondering the psychology involved.

My parents’ home was messy with stacks of books and papers.  They knew where everything was, and it was certainly livable (and clean!), but there was a very thin layer of papers on most surfaces. My mom loved a certain Chinese friend who would enter our home and survey the papers and smile with pleasure, “Ah, the home of a scholar!”.  It’s true, my parents were artists and scholars, and so was I.  Thus my eternal desire for order was confounded by both a lack of models and the inevitable mess that being an active artist and scholar creates.

I’ve started offering to host events and meetings at my home to ensure there is an incentive to regular housekeeping.  But the day my friend came over and created a gallery wall for me and told me I was OVER-organized, I realized that I feel deep down that if it can’t be perfect why bother trying (total violation of the Good Enough Philosophy!), and so I never do anything and have no energy to even tackle anything -I get almost no housework done in a day, I’m perennially exhausted and stressed by the mess.  Since my friend came, though, I’ve had so much more energy!!  The public areas of the house fell into perfect order in just a couple of days, and the mess is properly put away and organized, not just shifted to the private areas!! The private areas are next on my list!!

I’m not sure how long we will be able to keep this level of perfection up, but it’s an amazing feeling to have things starting to fall into place!!  After more than 5 years of upheaval, it’s ASTONISHINGLY freeing to look around the house and have order.  To be able to have people drop by without notice and they can have a welcoming space to walk in to.  My husband and I both love entertaining, and are so excited to have a space that allows for that!  I have more energy and a better outlook on life – I’ve been struggling with depression for the last few years, and a huge part of it was the damage caused by the first movers and the trauma of living in broken chaos for 2 years while we fought our way through the courts.  This really helps!  This is Good Enough living!!

So, if you are struggling between mess and order, consider inviting an organized friend over to help and advise. Sometimes you just need to find a way to break through so you can help yourself.  Mental illness is real and requires professional treatment – this is not dismissing that!!  However, when you are making yourself sick by something you hate in your personal life and/or surrounding environment, sometimes fixing it (or getting a friend to help you make serious progress) can dramatically improve things!  My friend spent only a couple of hours and only helped me lay out a gallery wall (something I couldn’t even conceive of despite having seen photos and advice on Pinterest), and hanging the art was such a minor, teeny tiny, little part of the mess, but OH MY GOODNESS what a tremendous difference it made!!!  All of sudden, the house went from looking like an unfinished house to a warm home and that’s what made all the difference.

I have to share with you my AH-MAZING gallery wall!!!  (Thank you SO MUCH, dear friend!!) (In her opinion, it’s still missing a small picture, but it’s more than Good Enough for me! 😉  ).  So looking forward now to hosting holiday parties!!

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Sideboard Rehab

When we moved into the new house, we needed more space for kitchen gadgets and dishes.  So I found a suitable sideboard on Craigslist, but it was this terribly dated boring piece (upper left corner of the picture), that desperately needed a new life.  Since I was missing Colorado, I saw the ‘bars’ on the doors and immediately thought ASPEN TREES!!!  So here is my sideboard/dresser with its fall aspen leaves!

This is a great example of my Good Enough philosophy.  Conventional wisdom says I must strip, sand, etc. first. But I didn’t.  Instead, I primed – using a top-quality primer, sprayed a stain-blocker to prevent any discoloration from the base bleeding through, and then painted, and sealed with several coats of a Minwax Poly sealer.  I then gave it owl, bird, and dragonfly handles in antiqued bronze.  I’m quite happy with this piece, but found that after all that, it doesn’t fit in with the house.  So it’s for sale, if anyone wants this lovely piece…

sideboard before and after

aspen-1

 

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