48 • Vacations
Like Alice eager to cross into her Wonderland full
of fantasy creatures, my kids tumble over each
other in a race to hop out of our pink convertible
and start exploring the art-splashed neighbourhood
of Fusterlandia. They don’t know where to go
first when brightly coloured mosaic tiles cover
everything from benches, walls, and towers to
mermaids, giraffes, flower-headed women and
“What is this place?” marvels Charlie, who’s just five
and trying to process why Fusterlandia looks made
up and not real.
This place is my favourite part of Havana, a once
sleepy fishing community called Jaimanitas,
between flashy suburban Miramar and Marina
Hemingway. It’s a place that I use to show Charlie
and his nine-year-old sister Hazel the power of art.
Promising fresh juice from the coconut vendor and
a souvenir from the shop across the street after our
explorations, I direct the kids to the area’s epicentre
– Casa Fuster, the studio and gallery of visual artist
José Rodriguez Fuster, who calls this living art
project “a dream of mine that came true.”
Fuster wanted more for sleepy Jaimanitas as
he launched his painting and sculpting career
and slowly achieved fame. In 1992, before either
Charlie or Hazel were born, Fuster finally had
enough money to build a monumental wall in front
of his house and cover it in ceramic tile pieces.
Taking inspiration from the likes of Pablo Picasso
and modernist architect Antoni Gaudí, he also
constructed a giant chessboard outside his gate, the
first of many sculptures.
My family visits on Christmas. We don’t even have
to give our pink convertible driver directions since
Casa Fuster is on his laminated map of Havana’s 12
most popular places. We drive to a couple more of
these top spots – a small park that honours the late
John Lennon and the starkly impressive Plaza de la
Revolución square – before exploring Old Havana
and the magnificent Malecón, a seaside esplanade,
In Fusterlandia, the art starts at two bus shelters on
the main road and spills down multiple blocks. Smart
visitors bring translators to explain the popular
sayings, poems, songs, ideas and references to
artists and politicians that lace the art.
Ultimate Family Vacations
Fusterlandia is a folk-art wonderland on the western
edge of Havana and writer Jennifer Bain sets her kids
loose to explore the quirky community.
VINTAGE PINK CONVERTIBLE IN HAVANA
HAZEL AND CHARLIE MACKENZIE
GRUMPY FACE CHARLIE AND HAZEL ©JENNIFER BAIN
KIDS WITH ART ©JENNIFER BAIN
FISHERMAN FOR DONATIONS
By Jennifer Bain
Fall 2018 • 49
We don’t luck into finding Fuster working in his studio,
but he tells me later that Jaimanitas has become
“a protagonist in Havana” – a main character in the
story of this complex, beguiling city.
My kids don’t care (yet) about Fusterlandia’s back
story so they race around while I watch a welcome
video and make a donation at a fisherman statue.
Fuster doesn’t count the growing number of
neighbours that profit from tourists, nor does he
tally Fusterlandia’s price tag, but his paintings, tiles,
sculptures and hand-painted bottles are for sale.
My husband Rick buys a 45-minute, low-budget
Miracle in Jaimanitas
later in our Havana hotel. Hazel and Charlie put
serious thought into each choosing a Fuster original
– a Cuban cowboy tile and a funky fish respectively –
from the ceramic workshop on the second floor.
Children aren’t allowed on Casa Fuster’s precarious
roofs. Mine bond over this small injustice, share a
few giggles at some outlandish sculptures, and then
run up a short set of stairs to take in a new view of
Fusterlandia from beside a giant mosaic heart.
HANDS ©JENNIFER BAIN