Cuba's digital destination
by Ricardo Alberto Pérez
When in 1999 Gilberto Valladares Reina, known in his Santo Ángel neighborhood as Papito, started a project he called Cortearte, I’m sure there were very few people in Havana that could fully understand the scope of his undertaking. Almost 17 years later, reality speaks for itself. In an area that takes up around 100 meters in Old Havana, life has taken on a completely different dynamic that has surprised even his neighbors.
Energy plus creativity gives birth to enterprise. And this enterprise which is based on lots of hard work does not only net profits, it comes accompanied by improvements to the human condition. We need to examine the essence of this project, one that reaffirms the historically social importance occupied by hairdressers and hairdressing salons in Cuba.
It is almost impossible not to stop and admire the unique design of the sign posted on the walls of 10 Aguiar Street: Artecorte, Casa Museo de la Barbería (Hairdressing Museum). Cross the threshold, climb the stairs and you will discover that the walls have been turned into a fascinating gallery with allegorical drawings depicting the art of cutting and looking after hair. And in this bewitching way, we are drawn up into the inner sanctum. Another thing that calls our attention is that close to the alley there is a replica of the appointment of the first barber in the ancient villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana: his name was Juan Gómez, and the year was 1552.
Over the years, Gilberto Valladares has evinced his ability to bring people together and show them how they can be successfully useful. He has drawn into the enterprise a group of young unemployed school dropouts, teaching them the secrets of the trade of cutting hair. These days the project has also benefited a group of mute girls who have been able to learn a greatly valued profession.
This private initiative has been multiplying spontaneously and harmoniously along the short boulevard, endowing the alley with a certain charm. Others have joined the undertaking: Roberto González inaugurated his Studio/Art Gallery, designer Pedro Pérez set up a shop selling traditional clothing such as the well-known guayaberas, and Luis Carlos Benvenuto, owner of the Artists’ Café, has joined the small community contributing to the cultural liveliness of the place with activities related to urban cinema. As a follower of the outstanding Cuban filmmaker Humberto Solás, he hopes to promote the love for the cinema by carrying out community improvements actions.
At the far end of the Callejón is the La Farmacia Bar-Restaurant. It restored the building’s original uses in the 1940s when it was first a restaurant and later a pharmacy. It’s the ideal place to stop by for delicious tapas and drinks, the establishment’s hallmark.
Some of these places in the alley also collect and rescue old objects such as cash registers, typewriters and barbers’ chairs, thereby providing us with information about the past life of the city and that of its inhabitants. But more importantly, it aims to participate in the future, something that is very positive and speaks highly about the city to come.