Tucked away in a tiny shop on a side street near Old Havana’s Plaza Vieja a small team of women are meticulously assembling an army, entire regiments, in fact, one soldier at a time. While it is true that each soldier born here is a mere three inches tall, dressed in period military costume and made of solid lead, replica armies are created, and recreated, day in and day out. You, too, could own your own platoon of Cuban independence soldiers if you simply drop into the Tienda El Soldadito de Plomo on Muralla Street.
Like most clandestine operations, finding this shop is not easy matter. Hidden just off Plaza Vieja, look for Muralla St. and then walk up to # 163 (between San Ignacio and Cuba). Don’t show up expecting any locals to know where the shop is located – most of them have never even heard of it, so bring the address. However, once you walk through the doors you will be treated to a visual history lesson of all Cuban military engagements right up to the revolution. Part of the fun of the visit is the workshop in the rear of the store where the artisans are hand-painting the soldiers while you watch through large glass windows. The meticulous artist holds each tiny soldier under a magnifying glass as she delicately paints on the applicable uniform. It is very time-consuming work that requires complete concentration. No salsa music in the background allowed!
Out front you can recruit your own army for as little as 7.25 CUC per soldier. I think they take cash only. These figurines make unique souvenirs and great gifts. Each trip to Havana I try to drop by and pick up a few more for my ever-expanding collection and also to have some handy as gifts for both Cubans and Cubaphiles alike. Due to popular demand, some non-military figures have now been added to the repertoire. What self-respecting Hemingway fan can be without a larger than life tiny lead figurine of old Ernest holding a long fishing rod ready to go out and catch some marlin? I mean, really?
If my memory serves, they also stock a handsome Che Guevara figurine and one of José Martí, as well. Hey, the gang’s all here and available for your mantle piece!
Tienda El Soldadito de Plomo Muralla #164 (San Ignacio y Cuba) Hours: Mon-Fri. 9am-5 pm; Sat. 9AM-1:30 PM