19 Nov IV. Down the street in Havana
“It’s a difficult situation”. Papito’s words inevitably reverberate in my head as we round the corner of Calle 15 and head towards downtown Havana. We can hear the noise of the battered Chevrolets and of the undying Ladas cruising up and down Calle 23, the air ubiquitously filled with the smell of burned heavy-lead fuel which Cuban cars are running on. One’s first time in Havana is bound to be memorable. Even after travelling rather extensively across Latin America and the Caribbean, I cannot recall a feeling quite like the one assailing me upon darting the first glances around the streets of the Cuban capital.
This straight-out-of-the-time-machine wonderment is impossible to shake off: the frailty and pitiful state of once sumptuous buildings, the shoddy paintwork of cars, all the nuances of shapes and colours resulting from the negligence and the levies relentlessly imposed by time on every thing material exert almost an aphrodisiac effect on one’s imagination.
Marco and I are Sicilians. We are islanders. I am not sure this would be classifiable as an epistemological stance in itself. Yet, I suspect islanders are bound to be bestowed with a common trait: an elective affinity with contrast. Islands are surrounded with sea, exposed to its caprices, its mitigating effects on winter’s chills as well as its fury as one season takes over another. An island’s watery boundaries expose it to outside invaders; as a result, their population is often of mixed origin and the melange of a somewhat ungraspable complexity.
Such are islanders’ souls too. At this point in its history, Cuba is a place of contrasts. As the old economic model convulses in its death throes, the regime’s grip slowly untightens over a society in ferment. When we walked past the building in the picture, I could not help noticing both the contrast in colours and the sameness in shape and position of openings on the façade. It looked to me as a metaphor of the current state of Cuban affairs. Over a monochromatic ideological backdrop stands the prismatic image of Cuban society, a mosaic destined to change in ways which cannot be anticipated. Within that mosaic, the most apparent contrast is that between the old and the new, which is also the foremost token of a changing Cuba.
Photo by Marco Crupi.