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March 2016

You’re Invited to Havana

Before we get started, open a new browser tab and search for a flight to Havana. Hover over the “book it” button for a few seconds, and then come back to this post.

You had some reasons for not clicking the button; throw them out of the window. You really should go, soon… like later this month. You’ve been invited, and now’s the time.

I traveled to Havana at the end of last year. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I encourage you to consider it (or don’t think, just do). A half-dozen of my friends are going this year, so you’ll be in good company. Here’s some of what I’m telling them:

Buying your ticket is the hardest thing you’ll do, and it’s not even that bad. I imagined a self-guided architectural research trip, a description basically applicable to every trip I’ve ever taken, including walking around the City and looking up. So I claimed “education” and that was honestly the most difficult part of planning my trip. Come up with your reason… you’re reading a blog on an architecture firm’s website, so you could probably claim “education” and “architectural research” too. Of course, don’t lie. Just know that there is likely an applicable reason for you to visit now.

Being there was like being with family. I stayed in a guesthouse and my host, Odalis, treated me and my friends like her own family. And that’s not just an expression. She invited us to her family’s New Year’s Eve party, in her apartment, with her kids and her best friend’s family. We sang karaoke (I didn’t know any Spanish songs on their machine so I was offered Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson. I sang both), dumped water on passersby from her balcony at the stroke of midnight, and drank a healthy amount of rum, by Cuban standards.

Havana has an incredible art university, a diverse group of artists, and almost no professionals in the art sector. Most creative types work for agencies and their government. On the side, their creations are lovely, loyal and reflective of the energy of the island: colorful, rhythmic and surprisingly moody. Art is also very accessible; from what I gathered, since almost everyone has a “job,” almost no one needs to make a living off of his or her art. I purchased more art in a week than I have in years, even with my limited budget – and I’m pretty selective. When you go, budget what you can for art, and visit Experimental de Grafica and El Ojo de Cyclone.

And, of course, the architecture. Almost every vacant building is being renovated to become a hotel, restaurant or other entertainment & tourist-focused space. So, if you live in San Francisco, you’ll feel at home. And like SF, it’s not all for the best. But people are enthusiastic, designers -and some developers- are thoughtful, and seemingly everyone is invested in their place. While meandering, you’ll be transported to 1950’s America, the colonial era of every former Spanish colony in the world, and at night, a dimly lit, yet eerily safer version of the TL.

I swear I’m not a US Ambassador to Cuba (those don’t exist again, yet), or a travel agent (those still exist, I think). I just really loved being there, and I think their ever-inflating tourist economy would benefit from a visit by you.

OK, switch browser tabs again and let me know when to meet you there.