Havana Laugh

Observatory

Havana-Floods

Don’t worry – the shot above is not mine; I can’t access my photo cache (or much else) from here.

It’s stormy in Havana. There’s a restless buzz in the air; dogs are fighting, the rains have brought torrential waterfalls from gutters and flooding in the streets but the bands, sheltering in the corners of the open air bars, are playing on. The glamorous fifties saloon cars are putting up their roofs and doorways are filled with Cubans illuminated by their phones, but still everyone seems on the verge of singing.

There’s plenty of propaganda about to tell you that la revolucion was a crucially successful experiment, but the place feels caught between communist principles and entrepreneurial capitalism. The smoky classic cars that bring to mind Havana’s key historical date may be conducting city tours for rich tourists doing ‘exotic poverty’ photo essays, and the bar bands may be arranged along the tourist trail, but that doesn’t make the place any less enthralling. How many other cities have such a history of wealthy decadence and political ideology? How many have a forest in the centre and a sea wall that symbolises its social mix? How many others have an in-built gene that constantly creates art and music?

If revelling in paradox makes you queasy, Havana is probably not the destination for you; those Che Guevara T-shirts are doubtless made in China. Free healthcare and education it may have, but the crumbling buildings are propped up with wooden scaffolding poles and despite the propaganda posters exhorting freedom, the locals have stopped believing change will happen, so they’re aggressively chasing hard cash.

The arrival date of American money, ever a mixed blessing, has been curtailed by Trump. US citizens have to meet the 12-point criteria for travel to Cuba, and the locals I’ve spoken to imagine it would have a deleterious effect, even though they badly need to stave off the collapse of the city’s infrastructure. Huge in sections of overseas money could easily rob Havana of its uniqueness. One thinks of Prague before the arrival of the Big Mac and shudders at the one-sided trade-off.

At the moment there are literally miles of incredible architecture – some the best I’ve seen in the world. The next thing you notice? No advertising, anywhere. No retail therapy to speak of. Nobody takes credit cards. ATMs occasionally work. Wi-fi is all but non-existent. And you might as well have a neon sign saying ‘Rich Person’ over your head as you stroll through town. But there’s the music and the rum and the people, there’s the Buena Vista Social Club and Floridita and Sloppy Joe’s (although I’d avoid anything connected with Hemingway) and it’s easy to see why some are seduced into staying.

7 comments on “Havana Laugh”

  1. Tony says:

    Apologies for dumping this comment in here but I’d desperate to get hold of a copy of Secret Santa and keep coming up against brick walls. Could someone point me in the right direction? (In the UK)
    Many thanks!

  2. Brooke says:

    told ya…and you probably haven’t been outside Havana to hit the beaches yet.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    The Buena Vista Social Club! Never mind the beaches, try the roads up into the mountains. I think there are buses. By isolating Cuba the US created a desperate enclave on its doorstep because countries need to trade and small places like Cuba particularly. Cuba wouldn’t be poor if she could sell her sugar and other products to the US and the tourist trade wouldn’t hurt either. Communism isn’t bad in itself for heavens sake and it provides a corrective to our North American greed.
    Oops, that was a little too revelatory, I imagine, but I’ll post it anyway.
    Poor Cuba, having to survive a Chris Fowler vacation. What will Mexico do?

  4. Brooke says:

    Well said, Helen.

  5. admin says:

    I agree absolutely. It could have been mutually beneficial without wrecking the joint – but everyone I spoke to in Havana says Trump has shut the door firmly now.

  6. Brian says:

    @Tony,

    I assume that you are not seeking any of the children’s books by that title so are possibly looking for Kati Wilde’s Christmas romp. If so, you will find that Book Depository online has it currently available.

    Merry Christmas!

  7. snowy says:

    Tony, if what you seek is the B&M e-book it appears to be ‘out-of-print’. [A slightly odd state of affairs for something that has no physical form.]

    Your last and possibly only hope in the UK would be ‘Overdrive’, a service you can normally access through your local library. [Big building, full of books, used to very popular in the 20th century.]

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