Throughout the day we trickled in to Miami from various places in the United States and Canada in anticipation for our charter flight to Havana the following day. The trip to Cuba is usually a multi-day process in order to accommodate the particularities of taking a charter flight from Miami. You may wonder where I fit into this trip. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in this study tour as the Student Fellowship Recipient. This generous fellowship allowed me, a Ph.D. candidate in art history at the University of Illinois – Chicago, to take part in what proved to be an incomparably enriching experience. This trip is of particular relevance to me as my scholarship focuses on architecture and urban design in Cuba and Puerto Rico. More specifically, my work investigates how the architecture of tourism played an important role in shaping national identity and international relationships, and was tied to the spheres of culture, economics, and diplomacy. This SAH Study Tour was going to take me to see sites and architecture in Cuba that I had never experienced before.
In the evening, we all convened for an orientation meeting to help prepare us for the days ahead in Cuba. After we covered the logistical details of our upcoming travels, our knowledgeable and charming study tour leader and organizer, Monty Freeman (Belmont Freeman Architects), treated us to a fascinating overview of Cuban history and architecture. Monty, an American of Cuban descent, has been traveling to Cuba for many years, and has also been researching, speaking, and publishing on Cuban architecture for some time.
Monty’s lecture provided us with a wonderful context for the buildings and sites we were going to experience in the next thirteen days. He painted a broad picture of the history of Cuba while also pointing out details related to the financial and political history that played an important role in shaping the built environment of Cuba. Equipped with newly acquired knowledge related to the Spanish explorers, the coffee and sugar industry, the age of U.S. influence, and the hopes and realities of the country after the Revolution in1959, we drifted back to our rooms at the hotel. We were all eagerly anticipating what tomorrow would bring when we took the short flight (less than an hour) to Cuba—an island so physically close to the United States, yet worlds away in many respects.