| © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
Walker Evans (1903-1975)
|Walker Evans (1903–1975)|
People in Downtown Havana
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1952, 52.562.7
Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Woman on the Street
|Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana|
Broadway Books, 2002
Isadora Tattlin, the nom de plume of a diplomat’s wife from an unnamed country, lived with her family in Cuba in the early 1990’s and kept a diary of her experiences. This book basically depicts the daily lives of a privileged family in an underprivileged country. Tattlin’s primary job as a diplomat’s wife was caring for her two children and running her home with a lot of assistance from her Cuban household help. Tattlin was obviously sympathetic to the plight of the Cuban people and paid her employees well, but the Cuban government took a large portion of their salaries. Foreigners in Cuba could also expect that some of their employees were reporting to the government about the household.
Tattlin detailed complicated shopping excursions as she and her employees searched for necessary goods and foods unavailable to the average Cuban, or even to foreigners with money, unless they had contacts in the right places. Everyone had to deal with complicated laws, which changed frequently, about who could sell products and who could shop in designated stores. For example, state-run dipolmercado markets had exorbitant prices, often inferior products, accepted only dollars, and were for foreigners living in Cuba. Agropecuarios or fruit, vegetable, lamb and pork farm-to-market stores accepted only pesos, but anyone could shop there. Farmers were allowed to sell in the agropecuarios a certain percentage of what they raised, but it varied year-to-year whether these markets were allowed to open. The state ran pesos-only bodegas were for Cubans only. Cubans were given ration books in order to buy staples from the bodegas, but the products were often unavailable.
The one thing that Tattlin seemed to love about Cuba was her house. It was huge with garden areas for outdoor living, quite a contrast to many Cubans who were living in apartment buildings with no running water. They got their water from tank trucks, then had to carry it to their homes.
This book was just as the title says—a diary. There was no narrative structure in the book. Tattlin described many daily experiences in detail and some entries were quite interesting and entertaining, while others were boring, just as life is. Tattlin met some interesting characters in Cuba, and on one occasion she and her husband entertained Castro in their home.
The diaries weren’t what I had hoped they would be, or perhaps it was Cuba that wasn’t what I had wanted it to be. I probably won't be traveling there any time soon.