Havana: starting at the shallow endPosted: January 6, 2012
What do you see when you first arrive in Havana? How accurate are first impressions? Here is the setting for a few days in Cuba’s capital city.
The apartment in Centro Habana is in good order: living room, bedroom, kitchen and shower room, plus balcony overlooking the street, all about 15 minutes walk from the university. There is air conditioning (which I don’t plan to use because of the noise), and a large fridge. Luisa and Pedro, who own the apartment, are hospitable. A mimicking parrot lives two balconies along and livens up the day. Last night about midnight a man in the street below yelled long and loudly to be let in to one of the houses. I wonder how many people he woke up.
I’ve been out for a walk to get a feel for this part of the city. The streets form a grid, roughly north to south and east to west. I walked along Neptuno, San Francisco, San Lazaro, Aramburu, San Miguel, Calle L and several more, past houses and apartment blocks in widely varying states of repair and disrepair. We are on the western side of Centro Habana, the densely populated district between the old city, Habana Vieja, and 20th century Vedado.
Buildings are tightly packed and there is little in the way of green space. There is a park between San Miguel, San Rafael, Hospital and Aramburu streets, but it’s not very green. A few yards up Hospital is a tiny Tienda Panamericana supermarket, with a few packaged food items such as a litre of UHT milk for 2.45 CUC (convertible pesos), which is £1.63 or double the cost in the UK. It’s not self-service, you see an item in the display cabinet and ask the assistant for it.
The pavements are tricky because of broken slabs and holes. Lots of people repair cars in the street, or leave them there when they have broken down. Boys play baseball in the street, men set out tables and chairs to play dominoes. The uneven surfaces and the obstructions make getting about tough for old people and those with disabilities. I saw one blind man with a white stick tapping slowly and gingerly along Calle 21, trying to locate the broken slabs.
There’s money, too, for a fortunate few. One time I walked past, a shiny red MG sports car was parked outside the Canal Habana TV studio near the top of San Miguel, as a group of musicians carried their instruments in. Also parked outside, for a lot longer, was a wreck incapable of any motion at all.
This noisy and run-down but vivacious quarter is the location for my short stay in Havana.