Havana melds time and culture to captivating and somewhat dizzying effect. It has the old elegance of Europe, the passion of Latin America, the rhythms of Africa, the heat and colour of the Caribbean, and the revolutionary fervour of the New World. It’s a place you can imagine populated in turn by pirates, gangsters and revolutionaries. There is a stubborn survival here: Cuba has stood up to the might and authority of the United States for 60 years, and its revolution still thrives.
The time capsule nature of the place is intoxicating. Majestic, old buildings crumble on grand avenues everywhere, but a dash of imagination paints them afresh and fills in the gaps created by the intervening years of hardship and deprivation. The Art Deco resides next to neoclassical and Spanish colonial, and all demonstrate the hope and excitement of the early 20th century. Here too you can see the subsequent changes brought by the Revolution when vast mansions were claimed by the government in the name of the people and the impact of the long embargo or “bloqueo,” as it’s known in Cuba. Mammoth American cars from the 1950s ply the streets as collective taxis, passed from generation to generation as treasured family heirlooms. Tiny Soviet models dart among them, the contrast in cars representing different eras and different Cuban influences.
The people are diverse and demonstrate an intensity for knowledge, relationships and conversation one rarely encounters at this level among strangers. Music and dance are ubiquitous, lending the streets a rhythm and melody that is uniquely Cuban.
I spent 8 weeks in the Cuban capital in March and April of this year, studying International Relations generally and US-Cuba Relations specifically. In the coming weeks, I will post about a variety of my experiences there: including my thoughts on the long relationship between the US and Cuba, what it’s like to grocery shop in Cuba, President Obama’s visit, my own visits to several other cities elsewhere on the island, and many other things. Join me for a whirlwind tour of this intriguing place.
Title quote: Jose Martí, the father of Cuba who died in 1895 at the Battle of Dos Ríos in the Cuban revolutionary struggle against Spain