Photos: Michel Aguilar and Alain L Gutiérrez
A long time ago, more than sixty years, the illustrious and somewhat forgotten chronicler Eladio Secades pondered this: "Among us, an honourable secret? Is Havana truly joyful?"
The fact that the tourist posters continue selling the image of a refreshing city, with maracas, palm tress, coconut milk, and a sculptural mulata in every corner; it shows a lot of things. That tourism advertising has little imagination. That tourists appreciate this idea of Cuba barely changing. And the clichés are unbeatable. Another mystic, for sure, can not be asked for. Each city exercises its myth and attracts parishioners to its cause. The poetic Paris, the ghostly London, the strong Vienna, the Imperial Rome, the proud Buenos Aires, the exuberant New York, and the joyful Havana are just some examples.
But any city is its face and back. Therefore, we know, with the same force that Havana explodes in a colorful carnival, it can sink into the longest of silences. Every city that respects itself should some character, and not behave the same all the time. Tourism advertising that flirts with the picture that is best for it, it is not a sin, but that as Cubans we believe it, that definitely is.
I would even go further. In Havana, these small samples of euphoria are given by its people, but it isn’t an intrinsic virtue. If Varadero were to be emptied out, it would seem as something minor, without the slightest importance. Its narrow strip of hotels and crowded shops express exactly the same than a forgotten model. In other words, nothing. Neither good nor bad. Neither nostalgia nor optimism.
An islet, or some of those keys that are so hot now, perhaps, if they were not too overrun, and could maintain certain natural purity, some freedom of light.
But Havana, when you say Havana, if left uninhabited, it would be a sad city. You only need to see its illustrious places: the colonial fortifications, the intricate arrangement of the streets in Old Havana, the promptly rundown bourgeois Vedado, the folkloric Cerro, of an aristocracy that never let it be.
However, what really makes the rhythm of a city is not its architecture.
What really defines its character is geography. In Havana there are no peaks, no depressions, no plateaus, no lakes. But it has the sea. A sea, if we look closely, from where it some small beaches emerge. And where, interestingly, only a few days a year the sun dominates. Although perhaps the sun, sorry, does predominate. It would be sacrilege to say otherwise.
What no one could argue is that the sea of Havana looks better, and more impressive, when the grey spread over its waters and waves, exhausted, burst on the coast like clouds of salt.