FALL VACATIONS 2018 FINAL

Ultimate Family 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 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.”

FISHERMAN FOR DONATIONS ©JENNIFER BAIN

HAZEL AND CHARLIE MACKENZIE ©JENNIFER BAIN

HANDS ©JENNIFER BAIN

GRUMPY FACE CHARLIE AND HAZEL ©JENNIFER BAIN

KIDS WITH ART ©JENNIFER BAIN

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.

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.

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. HAVANA’S Quirky Fun, Fusterlandia By Jennifer Bain

48 • Vacations ® • Fall 2018

Vacations® • Fall 2018 • 49

VINTAGE PINK CONVERTIBLE IN HAVANA

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