“Cuba” - During the last few months I noticed that even mentioning this word produces a certain reaction. The emotions passing across peoples faces when you tell them you are going begin with surprised excitement and curiosity, followed by a comment along the lines of “Wow! lucky you. I would love to go to Cuba!”.
So yes, I am lucky. I have recently taken a trip to Cuba. A long-term dream finally realised. I am not sure it actually happened, save for the fact that I have the photos to prove it. Why did I go? To experience a country with a rich and intriguing history; from the slaves and the sugarcane, to the rum and the revolution. The music and the dancing, cars and cigars; I wanted to taste the art and culture. I went for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, I couldn't wait to set eyes on the faded grandeur of the old buildings with their elaborate and varied designs. But most of all, I went for the colour, and I was not disappointed.
From the moment I set my eyes on that first vintage car, I was blown away by everything I saw. Everyone talks about the cars, but I didn't realise how many there would be! On my first walk around Havana I was struck by the difference in front garden greenery compared to England. No foxgloves or hollyhocks here, imagine announcing that you're just popping out to pick a coconut! Abundantly lush palm and banana trees stand right outside front doors, guarded by eight foot cacti, more than a match for any English stately lions. The various shades of green are a striking contrast against the yellow ochre of the crumbling stone buildings. Countless abandoned houses - museum pieces framed by elaborate wrought ironwork, often with trees growing out of them, have a romantic elegance that whispers of a bygone era. The casas we stayed in had a different tile design in every room, high ceilings and doors with coloured glass and shutters leading out to balconies. There was an abundance of art everywhere, and the sound of people and music coming from all directions underlines a powerful sense of community, coming from a country that has had to pull together in order to survive.
I loved the fact that there was uninhibited use of colour everywhere. Nothing clashed, each house a work of art in its own right, whether it exhibited stone, marble, tiles, or lavish, intricate detailing. Not just the historical buildings with their faded pink and blue hues, but the new concrete tower blocks were painted in vibrant turquoise, yellows and reds. It was a colour-junkies dream, the norm for me, and I was possessed by a satisfied calm, knowing that I walked in the company of like minds.
Since returning home, the difference between England and other countries when it comes to colour has become starkly apparent. I feel even more resolute in encouraging the use of colour in whatever form to complement and enhance our surroundings. So why don't we? Are we truly free when it comes to self expression? Our country has a long history of deeply ingrained customs dictating what is and what isn't “proper behaviour”, but also, its fair share of renegades prepared to reject the stiff upper lip. So I put the cat amongst the pigeons once again, and ask those who like colour, why not use it? Rebel against the fear factor; fear of standing out, of failure: fear of what others may think. Life is too short.
Break the mould, and design to complement the beautiful landscape around us. When the time comes to repaint the window frames consider if you really want them to be white again? Mine won't be, but then they never were. Our properties may not have the intricate splendour of Cuba, but England has its own beauty that can be accentuated and celebrated. The exteriors of our buildings should possess character, personality and passion. When I travel around Bridport and the surrounding countryside, it warms my heart to catch sight of expressed vibrancy in whatever form it takes, especially on a grey day when we all need a lift. Cuba is a country that doesn’t think twice about expressing itself, and if there is one thing I have brought back, it is a renewed commitment to refrain from making apologies. When it comes to design, there is no shame in joyful enthusiasm.
Published in the April 2018 edition of Bridport Times magazine: bridporttimes.co.uk