How does it feel?
It feels familiar and not. It reminds me about the old majestic buildings in Europe that have been abandoned or unattended since the times when they shined glorious. I can almost imagine how people looked like, how they acted and how they were dressed back in the days. Gangsters as well as high society. It must have been really beautiful. Inspired by the countless Hemingway novels that you can find at every street corner, I can almost see papa smoking his cigar and taking passionately over rum with his quite unique friends. I surely understand why he liked it as much as he liked Spain.
Old Havana is still quite beautiful right now. One of her most interesting features is the contrast between the old fascinating look and the vitality and bright colours of the Cubans, populating its streets, nowadays. Somehow it works. Cuban salsa music pouring down the alleys, bright sun and welcoming shades, beautiful old American cars cruising around, art shops at every corner, uninviting communist style cafeterias where all cakes taste the same and where the coffee is either too strong or too weak.
Sometimes I feel like I am the first tourist to wonder around. There is a perpetual dust settled in the walls, paintings, chairs, tables and plates on the table. The mugs are chipped and most look like something my grand mother would serve coffee and whipped cream in. I close my eyes for a minute and imagine how it would feel like if she were around. I open them again and see beautifully curved black women chatting and hurrying around and feel enchanted of how this place appeals to my senses. Street level windows show you glimpses of day to day life. You imagine waking up in one of those apartments, watch TV with your family, see countless people walking down the street and hear all its rumours and talks. You also imagine living in one of those beautiful decadent Art Decos, on top floor and wonder if the whole edifice isn’t going to collapse while you fry chicken and rice or hang the clothes to dry outside.
There is no corruption in Havana’s looks. It has not been transformed to suit the travellers and their needs. You find yourself working at the Hotel President with a scratch card and limited internet. You have booked the biggest apartment you have ever seen in your life and cannot help wondering who lived in an 8 room home. Things do not make a lot of sense. You walk around endlessly to get the most basic needs such as water or food. If you do end up in a restaurant, your food is going to be plain. If you do wear your smile, people are going to thank you for visiting their country, they are going to offer you rum and cigars and tell you Havana’s most peculiar secrets.
There is a certain liberating pride in their words, together with a deep appreciation of their culture, history and ethnical diversity.
It will be very hard to find again a country where everything feels so real, so unspoiled and so unpretentious and where the new accepts and respects the old in harmonious co-living. I would love to come back to Havana in 20 years time and see all those grand buildings, restored to their glorious elegance. Meanwhile, I will fill my heart with the unique sensations and emotions, that only a place aware of its past, growth and transition can trigger.