Cuban Creativity

By June 3, 2015Travel


The artist who sketched my portrait was so fast that I didn’t know I was a subject. We had stopped to gaze at some of the rehabilitated buildings in Plaza Vieja, Old Havana, where they stand waiting for tourists to appreciate their splendorous arcades and sunshine color palette. (Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)

Gary paid the artist and handed me my portrait. “Looks just like you,” Gary said.

“He gave me big boobs and took away part of my brain. Is that the trade-off?” I compared my caricature to the fine lines and love note on Gary’s picture.


The artists don’t ask. They just sketch and then hand you your likeness assuming you will pay.

The Cuban government pays all workers at the same rate — engineers, construction workers, and bus drivers all make the equivalent of $20 per month. With food ration cards and free health care, this may be just enough to get by, but not enough to live well. Cubans who work catering to tourists in hotels or in restaurants or with their 1950’s era cars they use as taxis can make more.

In Havana, all of our taxi cab drivers were engineers. Education, at all levels, is free in Cuba, but there are few engineering jobs. And, as one driver told us, “I can make more money driving than working as an engineer.”

“You’re an entrepreneur,” said someone in our tour group.

The cab driver looked over his shoulder. “What’s an entrepreneur?”

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