It was a shock to return to Santiago earlier this year post Hurricane Sandy; the city has been denuded. The cathedral has lost its twin crosses and much of the roof is under renovation. Parque Céspedes looks extremely forlorn without its trees and its much sought after shade. Up the road, Plaza Marte has been shorn of nearly all of its trees and palms. Whole vistas of the mountains have opened up everywhere you walk in the city where previously plump, leafy trees had obscured the views. Inspectors were travelling house to house asking if people still needed repair materials, and new licks of tarmac had unfurled along whole roads in the historic centre. The human cost and the roofing disasters are still all in evidence. The absence of greenery is shocking and will take years to rejuvenate.
The Guardian publishes my picture story on Havana’s Art Deco heritage ahead of this week’s World Congress on Art Deco held in Havana for the first time:
Luis Andres Henao (@LuisAndresHenao) of AP wrote a piece last week on embalming President Hugo Chávez:
Like Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Chávez’ burial wish is about to be ignored.
Here’s an extract from my Footprint Vietnam guide on the embalming and display of President Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi:
The Vietnamese have made the mausoleum housing Ho Chi Minh’s body a holy place of pilgrimage and visitors march in file to see Ho’s embalmed corpse inside the mausoleum (Lang Chu Tich Ho Chi Minh). The embalming and eternal display of Ho Chi Minh’s body was contrary to Ho’s own wishes: he wanted to be cremated and his ashes placed in three urns to be positioned atop three unmarked hills in the north, centre and south of the country. He once wrote that “cremation is not only good from the point of view of hygiene, but it also saves farmland”. The embalming of Ho’s body was undertaken by the chief Soviet embalmer, Dr Sergei Debrov, who also pickled such Communist luminaries as Klenient Gottwald (President of Czechoslovakia), Georgi Dimitrov (Prime Minister of Bulgaria) and Forbes Burnham (President of Guyana). Debrov was flown to Hanoi from Moscow as Ho lay dying, bringing with him two transport planes packed with air conditioners (to keep the corpse cool) and other equipment. To escape US bombing, the team moved Ho to a cave, taking a full year to complete the embalming process. Russian scientists still check-up on their handiwork, servicing Ho’s body regularly. Their embalming methods and the fluids they use are still a closely guarded secret. In an interview, Debrov noted with pleasure the poor state of China’s Chairman Mao’s body, which was embalmed without Soviet help.
The mausoleum, built between 1973 and 1975, is a massive, square and forbidding structure and must be among the best constructed, maintained and air-conditioned buildings in Vietnam. Opened in 1975, it is modelled closely on Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. Ho lies with a guard at each corner of his bier and visitors march past in file to see his body.
From my friend Grete Viddal who has worked closely with Santiago’s Casa del Caribe:
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Hurricane Sandy wrecked havoc in many locales, but the city of Santiago de
Cuba was particularly hard hit. The storm unexpectedly veered course during
the evening of October 25th and slammed into the coast of eastern Cuba,
causing damage in several provinces. Santiago de Cuba, the island¹s second
largest city with a population of around 440,000, suffered horrific
destruction. Virtually no structure in the city escaped unscathed. It is
estimated that over 130, 000 buildings were damaged. Around 15,000 homes and
structures were completely demolished by hurricane Sandy, the city was
virtually denuded of trees, and many residents were without electricity or
water for over two weeks.
I lived in Santiago between 2008 and 2010, conducting field research for my
doctoral dissertation about the influence of early twentieth century
migrants from neighboring Haiti on identity and society in eastern Cuba. The
wonderfully active and intrepid Casa del Caribe‹Santiago¹s premier cultural
research institution‹sponsored my studies, and I maintain close ties with
friends and colleagues there. The Casa organizes the annual Festival de
Caribe as well as other colloquiums, performances, festivals, and events,
and its wonderful museum and library have been an important resource for
scholars and students in the region.
In a telephone conversation with Orlando Verges, the Casa¹s director, I
asked him to enumerate the most pressing needs. He explained that aside from
severe damage to the Casa del Caribe¹s two buildings, many scholars, staff,
and performers who collaborate with the institution suffered roof damage or
lost their homes completely, including the librarian, the co-editor of the
institution¹s journal, and several associated researchers and performers.
Computers, furniture, windows and infrastructure were also wrecked.
I am starting a relief fund to help in the reconstruction of the Casa del
Caribe¹s buildings and to assist the people who work for the institution.
The director and staff of the Casa will help me ensure that all funds raised
are spent where they are most urgently needed, and I will supervise the
delivery of all monies. The institution itself, per local regulation, cannot
solicit funds, but it can accept donations gathered by friends and
To donate to the project, please contact me at email@example.com.
Attached are recent photos of the damage to the Casa del
Thank you so much for your help!
Department of African and African American Studies
Thank you so much.
Gabriel Kuperman // Founder & Director
I appreciate the time and effort you are putting into making this campaign, and the Luang Prabang Film Festival, a success.