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48 • Vacations

®

Fall 2018

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

stick-figure men.

“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,

on foot.

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

©JENNIFER BAIN

GRUMPY FACE CHARLIE AND HAZEL ©JENNIFER BAIN

KIDS WITH ART ©JENNIFER BAIN

FISHERMAN FOR DONATIONS

©JENNIFER BAIN

HAVANA’S

Quirky Fun,

Fusterlandia

By Jennifer Bain

Vacations® •

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

documentary called

Miracle in Jaimanitas

to watch

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