From hand-rolled cigars to Hemingway… Havana, the much-celebrated capital city of Cuba, has become a legend rooted in the past. Fueled by classic films, my favorite Cuban restaurant, and memories shared by those who fled when Castro came to power, the Havana of my imagination revolves around, Spanish Colonial architecture, hip-swaying music and spirited cocktails.
Only 94 miles from Key West, the United States’ southern most city, pre-revolution Havana was regarded as the gem of the Caribbean. It’s unique architecture, beautiful beaches and anything goes lifestyle made it a popular destination for tourists, rum runners, movie stars and gamblers.
Whether a city resident or a fisherman, the sea is never far from sight or mind of the island’s residents. The heart and soul of Old Havana, the four mile long seaside boardwalk called El Malecon remains a favorite place to escape from the summer heat. Strolling past the architecturally diverse buildings painted in sun-washed pastels at sunset is a treasured ritual for locals.
Another ritual cherished by many is savoring the locally distilled rum. Quaffed straight or mixed into one of the island’s iconic cocktails, the expertly aged fermented sugar-cane beverage is a well-deserved source of pride. Rum also has a more serious side as an ingredient in the annual pilgrimage to one of Cuba’s most revered icons. Revered by both Catholics and Santeros, followers of the indigenous Afro-Cuban faith Santeria, Saint Lazarus attracts thousands of pilgrims each year.
Santeros, for whom Saint Lazarus also symbolizes the deity Babalu-Aye, frequently bring offerings of rum and cigars to the church. Catholic penitents, many dressed in burlap garments, arrive with candles, flowers and coins. Many also arrive with bloody feet or knees from walking barefoot or
crawling the 15-mles from central Havana to the shrine dedicated to the saint.
While Cuban rum, cigars and burlap cloth have long been considered the best in the world, today’s finest spirits, smokes, and burlap’s are crafted outside of Cuba by Cuban immigrants. In Puerto Rico, the exiled Bacardi family follows the family’s age-old distilling recipes. In Miami the Habanos Y Hermanos company sells premium Cuban style cigars.
Another Cuban immigrant, Antonio Cueto, founder and president of Premier Table Linens, proudly offers the world’s finest burlap at his online shops (www.premiertablelines.com and www.burlap-tablecloth.com).
In 2005, Tony helped his mother organize a reunion in Key Biscayne, Florida for her side of their family. “I’ll never forget the expression on the banquet hall director’s face when my mother insisted that the table linens were to be burlap,” he recalls.
Filled with traditional foods, the retelling of long forgotten stories and the beautiful burlap linens, the reunion was truly memorable. “The town’s mayor presented our family with a proclamation that hangs in my office at Premier Table Linen’s Florida headquarters,” Tony says.
Although many Cubans associate burlap mainly with religious observances, in America this humble fabric is one of the top choices for rustic weddings, environmentally friendly home decor and casual entertaining.
His recently introduced Havana Burlap is a fabulous faux that looks like the real thing but with a softer touch and easy care convenience. Woven of high quality polyester it’s machine washable and like the finest cigars and rum more durable for long lasting enjoyment.
The new Havana Burlap comes in both natural and white. “We’ve been pleased with its enthusiastic reception by party rental companies, event planners, banquet halls, resorts and brides,” says Tony. “We now have a very large amount in stock and are manufacturing gorgeous tablecloths, overlays,burlap runners, chair covers, sashes and drapes with a 48 hour turn around,” says Tony. “Six Cuban textile artisans hand-fringe all of our burlap products.”
Although travel restrictions from the USA to Cuba are still in force, if you are planning a party, conference or other event, my advice is to “take it to Cuba.”
Set the mood with beautiful Havana burlap table linens, listen to Placido Domingo’s dreamy rendition of ‘Siboney’, the live at Carnegie Hall recording of the Buena Vista Social Club or Frank Sinatra’s classic version of the famous Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s ‘Siempre En Mi Corazon’ (‘Always In My Heart’.)