Sunday in Havana

By Alexa Coveney

Today is our second day in Havana. We met with Cristina Escobar Domínguez, a Cuban television broadcaster and journalist. She is the host of a weekly television talk show, “Once a Week,” which focuses on Cuban art, science, economics, politics and popular culture.

Cristina Escobar Domínguez, a Cuban television broadcaster and journalist, speaks to journalism students. [Photo credit: Rick Ricioppo.]

Cristina Escobar Domínguez, a Cuban television broadcaster and journalist, speaks to journalism students. Photo by Rick Ricioppo.

Domínguez said that Cuban journalism has been in crises for about 10 to 15 years and that there should be more news networks for Cubans to choose from. She said Cubans should tune into a program because it has the best coverage, not because it is their only option.

She said some of the challenges Cuban journalists face are that institutions don’t feel that it is their duty to give journalists information. Domínguez said the relationship between industries and journalists need to be reworked.

There are three major problems for cuban journalists. One is there are there are not enough resources. Television stations run on the state budget and since there is no advertisments stations don’t make a lot of revenue.

A second problem is the model of communication in Cuba. In the 1960s communication was stronger because of Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union left Cuba lost its strong media model.

Another problem is deciding what is newsworthy. Domínguez said that nearly every story in Cuba is exaggerated.

In order for there to be a change, Domínguez said there needs to be an increase in critical content. A change in power by the younger generations and a change in official vs. public media. Stories should be covered for the people not for the officials.

After the meeting we took a small ferry across the Havana Bay to the town of Regla, known for Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion. The ferry had no seats and the windows were covered with iron bars. The packed ferry took only a few minutes to cross the bay and dock in Regla. Several of us got our palms read by the local Santeras, Lourdes Nussa and Maritza Semanal.

Lourdes Nussa read my palm and told me that my gypsy was an old man who played the guitar. She told me I would be married twice, and that I would have a daughter and adopt my second child. She also told me I was a women of the sea and my house would overlook the water.

As we boarded the ferry to head back towards Old Havana for lunch, it began to rain. The thing to know about Cuba is that it can rain at any point, even when there’s not a cloud in the sky.

We ate lunch at El Templete, a restaurant overlooking the Bay. There was a few things that stood out to me about this restaurant — the first was that the floors were so slippery from the rain that I nearly ice skated across the entrance of the restaurant. Note to self, wear sneakers.

The second part that stood out to me about this restaurant was that not all of our entrees came out at once…or at all for that matter.

Photo Credit: Alexa Coveney.

Abby’s lunch, or lack thereof. Photo by Alexa Coveney.

Abby Del Vecchio never received her lunch and only after dessert did the waiter realize this. Professor Ricioppo and our tour guide Chris Cloonan, on the other hand, ordered steak but were given fish at first.

Little did we know that the day was just about to get a whole lot more interesting.

We visited Callejon de Hamel, where we met our guide Elias Aseff, a Cuban scholar. He explained to us the role of African religion and culture in Cuba and the importance of Santeria in everyday life.

When we arrived in Callejon de Hamel, it was still raining. As we made our way down the streets, which were covered with art that reached from the cobblestones beneath our feet to the tops of the buildings, we soon realized we weren’t in Havana anymore.

We were brought to a place of worship that posed as a home from the outside. We walked up several flights of stairs until we reach what looked like a prayer room. As we made our way to the main room we walked through a narrow hallway, where we passed a headless pigeon lying in a pool of blood. In the corner of the room there was an altar with food, a cup of blood and other gifts left for their saints.

The room was hot and there was a strong potent order that seemed to make its way in and out of the room during our meeting with Aseff.

After the meeting, Aseff lead our group back down to the streets of Callejon de Hamel. As we made our way back down we were greeted by a group of dancers, representing their different gods.

As any group of journalists would, we pulled out our cameras and began to record and snap photos of the performance.

Following our Santeria adventures we made our way back to the Hotel Capri. The entire group was exhausted from the day, and with a few hours left before dinner, we decided it was best to head back to our rooms to rest.

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As the lights came back on we ended the night with a few quick photos sporting some traditional Russian and Ukrainian hats. Photo by Rick Ricioppo.

Half of the group stayed in for the night, while seven of us went to eat dinner at Nazdarovie, a Cuban-Soviet Inspired restaurant on the Malécon. We were joined by Gregory Biniowsky, a Havana- based Canadian attorney. Biniowsky moved to Cuba from Canada over 20 years ago. He and his wife opened the restaurant to pay homage to the Soviet women who settled and established families in Cuba.

The food at Nazdarovie was delicious and was probably one of my favorite restaurants we went to. The walls were covered with Soviet inspired memorabilia and artwork.

It wouldn’t have been a Cuban outing if the lights didn’t go out at least once. The lights were out for what seemed like five or 10 minutes. We finished our dinner in the dark, and our only source of light came from our cell phones.

As the lights came back on we ended the night with a few quick photos sporting some traditional Russian and Ukrainian hats.

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