My previous post presented a set of pictures illustrating my recent stay in Havana, 15 years after a previous stay. You may wonder which societal changes took place in Havana within the last 15 years. Though and complex question indeed. Hereafter follow a few elements of response.
Visually speaking, Old Havana has undergone much restoration work, especially in its northern part. In turn, other areas of the historical centre of the town remain very much dilapidated. Today’s tourism fuels much of the architectural revamp indeed, providing both the Cuban authorities and the normal citizens with the financial resources needed.
The architectural restoration process of Old Havana constitutes arguably one of the main achievements of the country in the last decades. Cynical minds may point out that the contemporary international tourism finances the restoration of buildings and mansions built on slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Never mind, those historical buildings are truly exceptional in their quality and diversity of style. Baroque, neo-classique, art deco, eclecticism are all well represented in Havana and more broadly in Cuba.
The proliferation of street art is possibly one of the most salient features of the societal changes in La Havana. True, street theater and musical performances have always vivified the Cuban capital. However, I find the street painting far more developed and more art-oriented nowadays compared to 15 years ago. To be fair, my own attention paid to street art has also grown considerably during the period.
Life style in Havana has evolved also indeed, owing to the stronger exposure of ordinary citizens to the outside world. As mentioned earlier, access to the Internet is progressing. Cubans interact more spontaneously with foreigners. Inter-cultural exchanges are more numerous and spontaneous, deeper and richer.
Some time ago, people in Old Havana used to nickname the sea front (Malecón) as their “frontier” since there was little hope for them to travel abroad beyond that point. In my recent stay, a post spotted on a wall in Old Havana expresses humourously today’s socio-economic expectations : “I went to eat the clouds and to drink the waters of the Malecón”.
The following coups d’œil (pictures) further illustrate my points.
This being said, Cuba remains Cuba. Cuban people are not exactly famous for their sense of organisation and timing. In turn, their humour is legendary. I was recently invited to a party in La Havana. However, nobody turns up in the meeting point at the said time. The next day, I point out the mishap to my friends to receive the following explanation : ‘La fiesta se perdió’ (the party got lost)…
Shooting portrait pictures constitutes a great experience in Havana, as people are colourful and generally cooperative. I had in mind to experience shooting model photos. I realised then that photo models are not common in Cuba. Socialist economy has little use of advertising which represents the backbone of commercial modelling. Never mind, my dancing teachers proved to be quite beautiful and cooperative ad hoc photo models.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention you my intensive Latin dancing classes in La Havana to refresh my technical know-how and to live my Cuban comeback more intensely. Great experience.
My recent stay in Cuba coincided with the celebration of 2015 Carnival in La Habana and Santiago. So was the Malecón on a carnival evening :
As I feel you Cuban party-hungry, I will report more extensively on the 2015 carnival in Santiago in my next posts.