Reflections from the Busboys and Poets Travel Tribe’s Cultural Exchange trip to Cuba (July 6-13, 2022)

By Andy Shallal (@andyshallal CEO/Founder, Busboys and Poets)

Jose Fuster aka the Picasso/Gaudi of Havana is a bundle of energy. At 70 something he is charming. Engaging. Full of life. And a brilliant artist and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Fusterlandia. The name was given by a Dallas Morning News journalist who visited the site years earlier. It is a whimsical wonderland of mosaics. An entire neighborhood. Block after narrow block of artwork. Reliefs. Statues. Complete structures. Cartoonish animals. Elephants. Giraffes. Dogs. Goddesses. And otherworldly shapes. There is even a restaurant and bar under construction.

There are benches with mosaic hearts. Beautiful arches with mosaic peace signs. Birds. More hearts. It is selfie heaven. At the entrance to Fuster’s home, sits a canopied table surrounded by benches. A small oasis away from the heat. This is where he receives guests.

At one intersection there is a large mural depicting The Granma. The boat that Fidel and Che sailed from Mexico to Cuba. With about 80 other young revolutionaries. Triggering the overthrow of Batista in 1959. There is an image of Frida Kahlo standing on a map of Mexico waving at them.

I stood under the mosaic canopy to escape from the unrelenting sun. Within moments. Fuster appeared. His face is red. Sweaty. A dozen or so tag alongs at his side. He is never without a gaggle of friends and admirers. By all appearances. He loves the attention. And presides over his kingdom with ease. We exchanged bear hugs. He pretended to remember me from my previous visit. I was thrilled to see him again. We toured the entire space. Climbing up the narrow metal staircase to the roof. From there, the panoramic view fills the senses. Colorful buildings. Swaying palms. Clothes lines. A bark of a dog. In the distance is the lapis colored sea. It twinkles like tiny diamonds. An enormous mosaic with VIVA CUBA interrupts the view.

Inside the main gallery there are no lights. Natural light will suffice. Electricity can be spotty in Cuba these days. More signs of the embargo. Fuster’s son. A mini version of Fuster sans talent stood next to him. He is the business part of Fusterlandia. He will be in Miami sometime in August. Meeting with art dealers. his father has become somewhat of a legend in the art world. Aside from his mosaics Jose Fuster also paints. His oil paintings sell for thousands. It’s art that is easy to like. Lots of colors. Funky shapes. Convoluted faces. Palms.

I tell him that I am an artist. I admire his work. He tells me through a translator that we should do a project together. The next time I am in Cuba. I am excited at the idea. We hug once again. And before leaving Fusterland I start making plans to return.

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Everest Base Camp #12

“Hey Dude” I finish my communing with the majesty of this wild, magnificent slice of earth and head to the other side of this narrow metal wonder of a bridge. My legs are still noodles but a bit more steady. My face is flush. My body is intact. My mind is calm. And I am … Continued

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