By Sandra Jamieson ~
This afternoon we leave Cuba, and so we leave what I fear may be a dying art in the Cuban hospitality industry: towel and blanket sculpture. I have seen these before in other state run hotels in Cuba, but not in the either of the Casas Particulares I have stayed in nor in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. The relatively new Casas Particulares, a cross between a bed and breakfast and a European boutique hotel, may be the future of Cuban tourism. Stay in someone’s home but (mostly) with a private bathroom and a few other guests, eat breakfast with the owner, join him and his family for drinks at the end of the day as you ask questions and learn more about the country. Both of the Casas Particulares were I stayed in June 2015 were clean, quirky, and far more comfortable than any of the hotels. Breakfast was freshly prepared and washed down with endless Cuban coffee. The owner of the first arranged for us to be picked up from the airport by a relative, gave us a map and suggestions about what to see and do and how long each might take, suggested the very best paladares and jazz clubs, and let us sample various Cuban rums as we watched the sun set over the Malacón. The second was filled with books, resources, and the most beautiful tiles, and the roof garden where we ate breakfast included chairs and recliners shaded with billowing net and lit by romantic lanterns in the evening.
But the towels were neatly folded in the bathroom every day when we came home.
I have come to think the quality of the towel art in Cuba’s hotels may be an inverse indication of the quality of the hotel. In January 2016 our beds featured particle board where the springs should be, some of which collapsed overnight. Guests were greeted with intermittent water and several of the group got food poisoning the night we ate in the restaurant. And towel hearts, butterflies, and swans greeted us when we returned each day (see Chris Ceravolo’s post for January 9, 2016). In May 2017, the beds were fine, but we were awakened several nights by crashing from above that sounded as if the roof was caving in, large chunks of the ceiling had fallen in the lobby, and potted plants were strategically placed between the chairs to catch the constant drips from still intact areas of the ceiling. But the towels were spectacular! I was greeted every evening with not just hearts and swans, but whole tableau of swans and hearts, butterflies and flowers, an elephant, and figures that even had cut out eyes and mouth. One wore the hat I had left on the counter and another had a jaunty paper hat.
How many hours did Mainelys and the women who cleaned the other rooms spend making this art? And how many of them would be employed if the hotels had to turn a profit? I wonder how long it will be until we return to these hotels to find comfortable beds, fixed ceilings, a spare blanket folded in the closet, and a neat stack of white towels in the bathroom. I will appreciate the repairs for sure, but there will be much less joy as I enter my room at the end of each day.