Thursday, 6 May 2010

La Rusquella, Havana

Calle Obispo has traditionally been one of Havana's main shopping streets and at the height of Cuba's economic boom, the best products from around the world could be found in its numerous shops. Culture was not forgotten, with eight bookshops and publishers, including the famous La Moderna Poesía in a towering 1935 building at the corner with Calle Bernaza. The street's fortunes declined following the triumph of the Revolution but over the past fifteen years or so, Obispo has begun to recover thanks to the influx of tourists and hard currency. However the street's bookshops haven't. Very few books are on offer and quality isn't necessarily very high. There are some excellent Cuban writers but their books are more easily found abroad than at home. Still I managed to find a novel by Daniel Chavarría, a Uruguayan living in Cuba, at La Moderna Poesía (if you haven't read by him El rojo en la pluma del loro, available in English as Tango for a Murderer, I would strongly recommend it). Across the road at the Cervantes I got one by Argentine author Mempo Giardinelli, and finally next door at La Internacional I bought one by Colombian writer Jorge Franco.
It was in the latter that I also found this unusual 1940s doorstep mosaic, which predated the Librería La Internacional: a woman wearing something out of Batman's costume, wrapped in a cloak, her head protected by a winged-helmet, and holding a caduceus.

Bueno sí, caro no [Good Yes, Expensive No]
Compre en Obispo [Buy in Obispo Street]

Even though the upper corner of the mosaic designed by Luis Mion has been damaged and part of the name is missing, there was a big clue by the main entrance to the premises...

Intrigued, I aksed a member of staff if she knew what "La Rusquella" was. Her answer was a tie shop! That was confirmed by a line in a short article about bygone shops in Havana. Needless to say, looking at that mosaic, I would never have guessed!

Location: Calle Obispo, Havana / Pictures taken on: 05/04/2010

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