Until the day when the Kardashian sisters take over a country, Fidel Castro will be universally regarded as the most blabby leader in world history. “My job is to talk,” he once said, which was really a nicer way of saying he could not be shut up. He has given a 12-hour speech. He has given a speech on cow udders. He once granted an interview to Boys Life Magazine.
But when it comes to his personal life, Castro turns taciturn. He kept his marriage to teacher Dalia Soto del Valle so secret that the CIA didn’t learn about it for years. His son once struck up a conversation with another young man at a Havana gym and was befuddled to learn that they were cousins; Castro had never mentioned that his brother Raúl had children.
So it has been nothing less than astonishing that, over the past six weeks or so, the Cuban government has been releasing photos of the 88-year-old Cuban leader in his heretofore never-seen living room, greeting a series of celebrity guests.
The photos are clearly intended to dispel rumors, touched off by a lengthy period in which Castro did not appear in public, that he was dead. But they’ve also given Castro-watchers their first peek ever inside his home. Their conclusion: “It’s tacky,” says Miami radio host Ninoska Perez. “All those colors, blue and green and orange and a different blue — it’s just tacky, dictator-tacky.”
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To be fair, nothing visible in the photos is remotely as embarrassing or disturbing as, say, the witchcraft tools or the giant portrait of Hitler that invading U.S. troops found in the home of Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega; nor as downright weird as the mural of bikini-clad women enslaved by trolls discovered in Saddam Hussein’s townhouse after his overthrow.
But the discordantly clashing colors, mismatched furniture and overly ornate bric-a-brac scattered across what seems to be Castro’s den — well, let’s just say the enthusiasm he displays for central planning in economies does not extend to interior decorating.
“Let’s be kind and call it ‘eclectic,’” says Joe Fava, who owns Miami’s Fava Design Group and is about to begin hosting the show Living In Luxury on WSVN-Fox 7. “Maybe ‘collected,’ in the sense that he just added things he liked as he found them. Definitely ‘hodge-podge.’”
From multiple shades of paint (the walls toward the back of the photo are lilac-blue, those toward the front powder-blue, while paintings are garishly yellow and red) to the tubby Asian ceramic figure (it looks a bit like an overfed Confucius) to a randomly hung plant (“it looks artificial and it’s definitely a major dust-gatherer”), Fava couldn’t stop his eyes from ping-ponging around the room.
“It seems like there’s no rhyme or reason to any of the touches,” Fava says. “There’s no rhythm or balance to any of it.”
Though, Fava noted, one man’s chaos might be another’s careful scheme. For instance, look at that rectangular panel in the upper left of two photos taken with Castro and members of the so-called Cuban Five, the spies released by the Obama administration as part of a deal to resume normal diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.
In the upper photo, the panel is blank. In the lower one, it bears an image of sunflowers. “It might be an illuminated image,” Fava says. “But it really looks to me like a two-way glass, like somebody might be standing on the other side, looking through.”