Virtuoso Life - July/August 2018 - 96
Like the rest of the world, they're unsure
of what the future holds as the Castro
era ends after 59 years of rule (Miguel
Díaz-Canel recently became president,
replacing Fidel Castro's brother Raúl) -
but they persevere.
MEET ME IN MIAMI
We kicked things off at the 169-room Faena
Hotel Miami Beach, a glamorous, sexy hotel
that set a festive mood for our party. By day,
hit the pool or Tierra Santa Healing House spa.
Come cocktail hour, sip a rose-scented Faena
Spritz in The Living Room, then order sharing
plates of high-style modern Asian in the shadow of Damien Hirst's gold-leaf unicorn at Pao
by Paul Qui. Later, see a show at Faena Theater
or retreat to Saxony Bar, a swank speakeasy.
With standout red-and-teal decor, guest rooms
are as richly appointed as the hotel's public
spaces. Doubles from $525, including breakfast
daily and a $100 resort credit.
V I RT U O S O L I F E
ONE AFTERNOON WE WANDERED
the picturesque squares of Old Havana,
with a photographer arranged by Lee
documenting our day as we navigated
narrow cobblestoned streets, peeking at
courtyards and balconies for a glimpse of
everyday life. A deluge forced us to duck
into a covered café patio on a sixteenthcentury plaza and wait out the rain with
rounds of mojitos, Cristal beer, and daiquiris while a live band played traditional
Cuban music - setting the mood for
private salsa lessons later that day.
We ate and drank well the entire trip.
Though Havana's culinary scene is evolving, practically every menu included
Moros y Cristianos (black beans and rice),
and most meals weren't as memorable
as the settings themselves. Eschewing
state-run restaurants, we dined exclusively at privately owned paladares.
La Guarida is the most famous one in
Havana, located in a former colonialmansion-turned-tenement, with ornately carved stone columns, a sweeping
staircase, and an aging mural that pays
homage to Fidel Castro. (The building
was also the setting for Strawberry and
Chocolate, Cuba's only Oscar-nominated
film.) Statement-making art covered the
walls of the second-story dining room,
and a warm breeze wafted through the
open balcony doors as we dined on tuna
tiradito, smoked duck with Brie, and beef
tenderloin with pepper sauce. The whole
experience was a collision of trendy and
historic, then and now, high and low.
Those walls gave us a taste for Cuba's
flourishing art scene, which we explored
more in depth with private appointments
at galleries showcasing emerging artists.
We even met Fidel Castro's photographer son, Alex, and his business partner,
Ramses Batista, at their studio. Art and
entertainment merge at the Cuban Art
Factory, a former peanut oil factory that's
been transformed into a sophisticated
contemporary nightclub and gallery
space, attracting a bustling late-night
crowd with rotating exhibits, video installations, and a concert venue.
Our final night, we took in a show by the
Buena Vista Social Club, the acclaimed
ensemble known for their romantic, oldfashioned ballads. As we danced onstage
with the band (hey, it was my birthday),
I was warmed by a "life is good" feeling
of gratitude for my life, my friends, and
my terrific fortune to be there.
Even though I probably picked Cuba
initially for the buzz factor, it turned
out to be so much more than a passport
stamp, impacting me - and my friends -
far beyond the usual birthday bash. I've
been lucky enough to travel the world,
but Havana stands out as a place that
demands you pay attention, where every
interaction makes you hyperaware of the
past, present, and future. It's much like
the introspection a milestone birthday
begets: Learn from yesterday's mistakes,
celebrate the moment, and be hopeful
about what tomorrow holds.
Kitschy and cool: Performers with Buena
Vista Social Club put on a show.