Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Would Che Say?

What Would Che Say?
Published: July 27, 2011

OF beautiful people Cuba has many. Any visitor to the island or its
satellite country, Miami, knows that.

CUBA'S GLITTERATI Above, Roselyn Mereno Pérez and Alejandro Castro Soto
del Valle, Fidel Castro's son. Center, Che Guevara's son, Camilo, being
interviewed. Top, Cuban night life. The photos are from "Habana Libre."

But a classless Communist regime officially has no tolerance for
privileged classes, social elites, specially anointed Beautiful People.
And so even as the country moves inexorably toward the political
metamorphosis that is widely predicted after the death of Fidel Castro,
an image persists of a Cuba whose citizens drive vintage cars, wear
faded clothes and generally inhabit the anachronistic bubble depicted in
"Buena Vista Social Club."

There is another Cuba, of course. There is always another Cuba, if
writers like Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, the author of the irresistibly bawdy
"Dirty Havana Trilogy," can be credited. Certainly there is another
Havana, the unabashedly modish and glamorous one populated by artists,
models, filmmakers and writers that the photographer Michael Dweck first
stumbled upon during a visit in 2009.

"My first night there, I met somebody who invited me to a party," said
Mr. Dweck, a former advertising executive and now a photographer, whose
book "The End," about Montauk's surf scene, became a cult object, with
copies now going for as much as $3,000.

Mr. Dweck had no clear idea whom or what kind of scene he would find at
the party. "I expected all the crumbling buildings and used cars, the
usual clichés," he said.

As luck would have it, this chance introduction led him directly to the
center of an exceptional group, one of the farándulas, or cliques, that
characterize a certain sector of social life on the island, this one
dominated by members of what Mr. Dweck calls the "privileged creative

Returning to the island eight times, Mr. Dweck set about documenting
these so-called new Cubans, a group of "very elegant and sophisticated
and talented people" who, as it happened, included characters like
Alejandro Castro Soto del Valle and Camilo Guevara, whose last names
might ring a bell.

Mr. Dweck's resulting book, "Habana Libre" (Damiani editore), can be
ordered this month. "I don't think they'd ever been photographed before"
for a publication outside Cuba, he said, referring respectively to the
photographer and the artist sons of Fidel and Che.

Somehow, perhaps not so mysteriously, the farándula Mr. Dweck stumbled
upon has unusual access to capitalist toys and tools like iPhones,
BlackBerries and Google. Its members stage regular fashion shows and
cocktail parties. It transmits news of coming events with text messages
using the code PMM (for "Por un Mundo Mejor," or, essentially, "For a
Better World"). It maintains an appearance about as fashionable as the
one that you might expect to find across the Straits of Florida in Miami
Beach, despite the reality that in Havana there are no stores. "This
will be the next generation," Mr. Dweck said. "When Cuba opens up, in a
year or two."

While the more intriguing pictures in a book shot in Mr. Dweck's
unchallenging soft-focus black-and-white style ("I didn't want to do
documentary," he said. "National Geographic can do that") are those
depicting the sons of revolutionaries disporting themselves with models
and smoking fat cigars, gotcha shots are not the sole surprise.

"Ultimately, the book is a narrative of this privileged class," Mr.
Dweck said. In its pretty, almost hapless way, the book depicts a
curious warp in a great historical arc. Can it be that the end point of
a violent revolution fomented to create a classless society is a crop of
tropical Zoolanders and privileged "It" girls? The question, though not
on the agenda of "Habana Libre," threads through it all the same.

"Cuba has economic poverty, not human poverty," Viviana Limpias, deputy
representative of Unicef in Cuba, says in one of the interviews featured
in "Habana Libre," drawing a distinction that smacks of an earlier Cuba,
the prerevolutionary one.

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