Welcome to Havana/Bienvenido a La Habana

Welcome to Havana/Bienvenido a La Habana

Since I just came back from Cuba after living there for over 5 weeks, trying to summarize my words and experiences is not an easy task. The experience of being in Cuba is so intense, since it is so isolated, different from what we are accustomed to and was not a subject to the fluctuation of technological and capitalist time, that when one arrives in Cuba, one senses that he moved into a different zone of being where the Now is much longer and in that plane things have a long tradition behind them. Where as David Harvey describes in his The Condition of Postmodernity, that in New York for instance, capitalism resulted in a compression of time and space, so that due to the rapidness of ever-evolving technology, time passes by ever more quickly, in Cuba the opposite is true. Due to the lack of commercials, the absence of endless banks and hedge funds, skyscrapers and speedy transportation, time passes by slower, or at the very least one has the mental space to appreciate the present.

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As soon as one arrives in the José Martí International Airport, and actually well before, as one flies over the long island, one senses that he/she is entering into a different time zone, a different way of being. Once one enters, one finds himself in a different zone of reality. Everything is slow, there is no rush. The women working at the airport are wearing traditional uniform, tightly ironed and  appear as if they are uniforms from the 1970s, yet still preserved. People make an extra effort to make sure they appear good, even though the clothes are older. The women and men who walk around the airport, walk around with an attitude and slowly, in majestical gesture, not being fearful about displaying their body, with a touch of drama and yet discipline. You are in Cuba. People flirt, joke, are direct, and always with a sense of humor. Pushy. Hey, amigo. Do you need a taxi ride? People’s lives are not easy, they do not have everything handed out to them. One needs to be smart, cunning, look for opportunities how to make more money. People’s eyes, therefore shift rapidly. People are alert. Cubans are street-smart, not lazy people living in a perfect tropical paradise where they drink pinca-colada. The old technology only enhances the sense of living in the past.

Visiting Havana is a unique experience. One experiences life as a constant uninterrupted flow of the past to the present, where the past can still be felt at every corner, one is both in the past and the present simultaneously.  When one visits Havana for the first time, it seems as if change never takes place. But is it really so? historian Louis  Pérez has this to say in the preface to his book “On Becoming Cuban: Identity Nationality and Culture”: “Change recurs with such frequency in Cuba that it assumes the appearance of a changeless condition. Not exactly like history repeating itself, but rather what the writer Antonio Benítez Rojo alluded to when he imagined Cuba as “the island that repeats itself,” a place in which “every repetition is a practice that necessarily entails a difference.” The novelty of change was normal. But the changes that repeated themselves were necessarily different, if only because the historical circumstances of change were different.”  Havana exhibits many layers of history, and traces from all periods be found in it. Due to the fact that many old buildings were mostly not demolished, history can be experienced in its richness.

Following the Revolution, the state confiscated homes and redistributed them so that housing was provided for all. Poor families could live in the center of Havana in a historical building. These days, the government has not demolished old homes for the sake of foreign investments, as is common in other parts of the world, but it also does it have the money to renovate existing homes that are facing the danger of collapse.

 

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Kristina Rus commented on the picture above that: “In some other countries this would be location for prime real estate, there would be cars along the sidewalks, kids couldn’t be on the street, and families probably couldn’t even afford to live there…There would be shops and restaurants that only tourists can afford. This is like what life used to be in Western countries about 100 years ago or more …”

The slow pace way of life, and the fact that old buildings have remained render walking in the city an unforgettable experience. Cuba can indeed be characterized by lack of violence (as opposed to other countries such as Columbia, Brazil or the US, where violence is far more common) both from drug-gangs (as drugs hardly exist in Cuba) and from the police.

Many Cubans do not, in my view, sufficiently appreciate enough the uniqueness of Havana. They are fascinated by American channels and tall buildings but do not realize that not everyone is rich in the West, that urban gentrification is prevalent, and that stressful lives are common there too. However people also earn very little and the state-offered food is hardly sufficient for the entire month. Some young women work in prostitution since it is easy money. Doctors and engineers earn about $20 per month as everyone else.  Yet money has also been put into preserving historical sites, while most Western cities have lost their souls long ago.

(Please note that among the pictures in the Gallery you can also see an Adidas store (affordable for foreigners mostly), indicating that gradual economic reform taking place along with the permits given to individual businesses. The final picture in the gallery was taken inside the Havana airport.)

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The sea and salt coming in from the sea slowly eat off layers of buildings, and yet this enhances their charm and beauty. Much like socialism in Cuba, the building remains, perhaps worn out by time, but it still stands and exists, despite the constant winds.

(C) Pictures by Joshua Tartakovsky. All Rights Reserved 2014.
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1 Comment

  1. You have a very sensitive look at the daily lives of ordinary people. I like it. In the case of Havana, you added the singular experience of time and space in a society that is not moved by the compulsion of capital valorization processes. Very interesting.

     

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