Postcards from... Cuba – 2 – Back to the 1950s in present day Havana

March 03, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

As you read this article, I suggest you cue Camila Cabello's Havana song as a suitably atmospheric background soundtrack 😉
Incidentally, you may want to read my first article on Cuba, in which I share my impressions and some of my favorite pictures, before this one.

[Version française de cet article ici]

At first blush, Havana, seen from carefully chosen angles around its Capitolio building, looks stately, grand and exotic. Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

Look across the street from the steps of the Capitol building, and you feel transported into a scene from the 1950s, blending colorized colonial architecture and vibrant signs of life.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

Just to the side of the Capitolio, the beautifully elegant Gran Teatro would not mar the nicest European avenues ...

Cuba – Gran Teatro – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Gran Teatro – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018A few carefully maintained and renovated buildings, still demonstrate the grandeur of the colonial era Havana, like the Gran Teatro.

... and its neighbor the once prestigious (and still pretending to be) hotel Inglaterra reinforces this feeling of old-world stylishness.
Cuba – Hotel Inglaterra – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Hotel Inglaterra – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Even its neighbor, the once prestigious (and still pretending to be) Hotel Inglaterra, is showing signs of decrepitude. However, turn the corner, and, still in right in front of the Capitole, another reality emerges – quite litterally, like this tree sprouting from the ruins of another once grand theater...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018In the same block as the Gran Teatro, another theater had a much sadder destiny, and nature is starting to take center stage...

Turn the next corner, and you find yourself immersed into very real Cuban life, on the edge of the Havana Central neighborhood.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018In the street just behind the Capitolio (Havana Central side), real life starts, away from tourists.

Most tourists however, typically have a more sanitized experience of Havana.

Some arrive by boat, distant echo of the explorers who first set foot here toward the end of the 15th century (including Christopher Columbus, who reportedly exclaimed "No man has ever seen a more beautiful land!") and of the many slaves subsequently brought from Africa. What a contrast.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Rather than slaves, the boats arriving in Havana now bring tourists eager to spend hard, convertible currency

Tourists typically focus their attention of the small carefully restored area of Old Havana, where atmospheric plazas are reminiscent of Southern Europe, like the Plaza de la Catedral.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 Cuba – Plaza de la Catedral – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Plaza de la Catedral – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

Street musicians play for them / us around the leafy Plaza de Armas ...

Cuba – Plaza de Armas – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Plaza de Armas – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Although nature is scarce in Havana, the Plaza de Armas offers a welcome oasis.   Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Some street musicians feel more authentic

... and proud owners of 1950s American cars are eager to take us for a ride around the city.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Their drivers sometimes try to act the part too...

The dazzling glitter of the freshly painted bodies tends to eclipse the harshness of the neighborhoods they cross ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018They have been maintained with tender loving care for the best part of a century, and sometimes updated with modern metallic paint, disc brakes, and modern (and loud) sound systems...   Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018As you move a bit further, tourists start fading, and real life starts...

... as they cruise the legendary Malecón seaside avenue (which I personally found rather underwhelming) ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018I found the Malecon - Havana's large sea-side avenue - a bit disappointing - but maybe I didn't go there at the right times.

... and as they rush to take snaps of the main sights, like the somewhat megalomaniac effigies of Fidel Castro and the Che on Plaza de la Revolución ...

Cuba – PlqHavana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – PlqHavana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

... maybe also getting a glimpse of one of tallest – and possibly the ugliest – building of Havana: the Russian embassy!

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018The Russian embassiy in Cuba is one of the tallest - and ugliest - buliding in town...

I much prefer the grit of the back streets of Havana Vieja, where the scenes exude energy ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018   Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

... joy ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

... determination ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 ... emotion ... Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 ... vibrance ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

... and faded grandeur.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

This is where real life takes place. In the absence of "regular" stores, most of the shopping is done in the street, in specialty outlets ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 ...  or in transportable "supermarkets" ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 ... and locals rush to the back of trucks offering hard discount deals on freshly arrived products.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018selling tins "au cul du camion"

Communication takes place, over cable ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 ... or on the most advanced wireless technology. 😊

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

Cars get their washed ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

... locals watch the world go by ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018   Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

... cool dudes hang out...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 ... or get their hair cut ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

... then play baseball with broomsticks and bottle caps.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

All this intensity is sometimes hard to take!

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

Fortunately, a bit further afield, the Colón cemetery (Cemeterio de Colón) offers a haven of peace ...

Cuba – Cemeterio de Colón – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Cemeterio de Colón – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 ... conducive to devotion.

Cuba – Cemeterio de Colón – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Cemeterio de Colón – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Religion is important - but often "syncretist"

It also hosts rather grandiloquent art.

Cuba – Cemeterio de Colón – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Cemeterio de Colón – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

 

Back to the center of Havana, one more, for the road 😉 : Havana has the most beautiful traffic jams I have ever seen!

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018In Havana, even the traffic jams are amazing...

Stay tuned, more to come! (Next: the Cuban country side, with Viñales and the Cayo Levisa island) - and of course my first impressions of Cuba are already online. 

You liked reading this article? Please share it! Thank you – and comments are always welcome.


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