Our Idea of a Fine Afternoon’s Outing

Cuba book feast
By Circles Robinson
Feb 3, 2007, 12:05

Cuba is a country of avid readers and since 1982 its annual International Book Fair attracts people from all walks of life and ages. It’s a chance to expand home libraries and have a good time as well, in a nation where literacy is a given.

This year’s event, spotlighting Argentine authors, publishers and culture, runs in Havana from February 8 to18 before extending island-wide to 40 cities and concluding in eastern Santiago de Cuba on March 11.

A visitor from the United States, who had to violate his country’s travel ban on Cuba to attend the fair in 2006, said “Seeing so many people interested in literature restores one’s faith that books can hold their own in the electronic age, at least in Cuba.”

The fair begins at the 18th century San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress that the Revolution turned into a permanent museum-cultural center. The facility has a breathtaking view of the Havana harbor and skyline and has large, well-kept grassy areas where people picnic and children get a first glimpse of their new books.

First time foreign visitors are stunned by the huge daily turnouts —more like crowds that one would expect for a soccer game or a salsa concert— to attend book launchings, lectures, poetry readings and make purchases. The large number of activities for children including dance, clowns, theater and readings make the outing a family affair.

Entrance tickets, still costing the equivalent of 8 cents US, are on sale at numerous Havana bookstores that will also be selling titles from the fair at the same discount prices.

The selection from dozens of Cuban publishing houses will run from a few cents for children’s books to 25 cents to a dollar for thicker volumes of poetry, fiction or non-fiction. Cuban’s reading tastes are varied but children’s literature is always of greatest demand at the fair.

Express buses take people for free or close to it from several of Havana’s municipalities making it possible to attend despite the city’s transportation difficulties. The Capital Building on Prado Promenade in Old Havana, a replica of the building on Washington’s Capitol Hill, is a central place where many catch the bus that crosses the east bay tunnel to the fortress fairgrounds.

Read the rest here.

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