Cover 2ABF4XE Old colorful American cars in streets of Havana , Cuba

Assouline takes us on a visual journey through the vibrant Cuban capital in its latest book Havana Blues

Like its pastel-coloured streets and vivacious music, Havana, the capital city of Cuba, reverberates with a pulsating energy and a seductive charm like no other. The occasional unforgiving hot weather is outplayed by a kaleidoscope of architectural styles; of structures that beautifully blend the past with the present; of vintage cars that ply the roads like the bustling Paseo del Prado; of Habaneros dancing the night away to the beat of mambo, rumba or salsa.

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Condé Nast Traveler’s former editor-in-chief Pilar Guzmán describes it as “a place where art and music not only prevail, but are irrepressible. Beautiful and tragic, elegant and crumbling, hopeful and destitute”. To which the French journalist Adolphe Granier de Cassagnac agrees, “No other city I know can compare to Havana. Havana has a look, a colour, a sound all its own: seen by day it has a rare grandeur, seen by night it is mysterious and poetic.”

It is this same vibe that captured the heart of Pamela Ruiz, a former fashion shoot location scout, who fell in love with Cuba when she came to visit in the Nineties. “When I finally arrived in the city, I was struck by both the grandeur and the tropical decay, blaring music, overwhelming humidity and the surreal feeling that everything was somehow on pause,” writes Ruiz in Havana Blues, Assouline’s latest 296-page coffee-table book that highlights over 200 breathtaking illustrations depicting Cuba’s largest city. Ruiz eventually settled in Cuba with her husband, the artist Damian Aquiles.

Havana’s provocative approach to art, cuisine and entertainment and the eclectic blend of African, French, Spanish and North American influences make the city legendary, so much so that it has earned the love of several artists, writers and designers from all over the globe. The iconic mid-century American writer Ernest Hemingway called Cuba home for almost two decades. In a quote, he said: “Any time I come to [La] Floridita I see Americans from all over. It can even be closer to America in many ways than being in New York. You go there for a drink or two and see everybody from every place.” La Floridita is a historic restaurant and cocktail bar in La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), a Unesco World Heritage Site inscribed in 1982 due to its unique Baroque and neoclassical architecture that dot the 300- square-mile city and its historical significance as a stop en route to the New World during the galleon trade.

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In 2016, Karl Lagerfeld—then Chanel’s creative director— orchestrated the French house’s epic show in downtown Havana to launch its resort collection. It was a remarkable show with 47 models, 700 guests including actress Tilda Swinton and Giselle Bündchen who flew in for the event, 170 vintage convertibles parading the 8km Malecón. “Here you can smile whenever you want. It is adorable,” said the late designer. To date, the Malecón remains a playground for more than two million Habaneros. “There’s a thing here in terms of style that reminds me of clubbing in the Eighties. There’s no internet, no one’s photographing themselves, it’s just that general coolness and relaxedness of being well put together. There’s standardisation of style here,” says Swinton in a quote from Havana Blues.

 

To this day, one can savour a meal at an authentic paladar (family-run restaurant) like La Guarida, one of the pioneers in the city where Cuba’s first Oscar-nominated movie about same-sex romance, Fresa y Chocolate, was filmed in 1994. From its original 12-seater restaurant, it has now expanded with a rooftop to accommodate a hundred guests, where Beyoncé and Jay-Z reportedly dined, and where music legend Madonna had her 58th birthday bash. As you flip the pages, Havana Blues triggers your imagination with curated vintage and original images that put the spotlight on Havana’s cultural richness and energy.

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Discover more about the vibrancy of Cuba through one of Assouline's latest travel books, Havana Blues. Visit Assouline's website to know more. 

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