La Habana is the kind of city that a visitor can try to understand by walking down one of two main streets and then venturing into the heart of the city through side streets. Although in its appearance and customs it is broken and old, in its energy it is vibrant and young. There are no signs on the walls of the city, leaving the eye free to follow the color and symmetry of the architecture. Many of the buildings are falling apart, leaning on each other like un-loyal comrades who could at any moment pull away their support. Zealous teals, lemon yellows, bright pinks and clean whites have been wrecked by the youth and neglected by the State. The streets are in ruins, leftovers of an old empire that will never be rebuilt. The people are of mixed ancestries and color, with elastic skin and defined Spanish and West African features. We met many locals and heard their stories. Some are disillusioned and weary, others are hopeful. Most have accepted their fate. Someone here said to me that Fidel once promised each of his citizens a cup of milk. How can there be milk, when there is not even water? The electricity shortages, along with the ration cards and famines continue...
On the Malecón, when it is cold and windy, the waves overthrow the stone sea wall and sprinkle passers-by all the way on the far side of the Avenida de Maceo. Continuing down towards the mouth of Havana Harbor, past three parks and two castles, there lies a small alley which leads down to the Plaza de Armas. On Sundays, there is an antique market full of little treasures. Small books filled with Fidel's speeches, magazines depicting pre-communistic styles and ideas, cameras and watches perhaps left from old Soviet comrades. The vendors wear gloves and try to laugh about the strong gusts of wind. They have caramel brown skin and clear eyes, like maritime sailors, with deep wrinkles. Their Spanish flows in the wind and their eyes float around as they tell me their prices. When I speak Spanish with them, they ask me where I come from. They tell me of the apples they used to import from my country, large and round, bright yellow and so delicious. They say the tourists don't buy anything. I tell them their prices are too high. They smirk and explain that the market is no longer open all week. Then when is it open? Domingo, Martes y Jueves. Since when? Since Raul said so. But why? Why what? Why can't you work all week? They smirk harder. No one knows why, they say.
Words written by Vivian Horvath