Thinking Coats as Havana Winter Approaches

Daisy Valera

Winter in Havana. Photo: Caridad

The wind has started kicking up and pounding on the windows of my interim apartment here in Alamar, on Havana’s far east side.

These gusts of cool air always suggest that winter’s on the way, anxiously anticipated but always timid here in the tropics.

The coolness relieves me, like a kind of soothing balm.

Temperatures begin to drop and, as if by magic, the inhabitants of this city are a little less irritated in lines, are little less pushy on buses and they tend to keep the volume turned down on their sound systems when they play reggaeton in the neighborhood.

Havana is presently witnessing an increasing number of smiles.

Those sweat drenched faces are disappearing, as is the labored breathing and dehydration. The only ones who feel bad are the 2-peso Kool-Aid vendors.

Cuba is beautiful in winter. It occurred to me that our sweltering sun is enjoyed by only a few types of people: tourists, photographers, homeowners with air conditioning and homesick Cubans abroad.

I started to go through my drawers pulling out my few winter clothes and I remembered my two coats from my childhood: the blue windbreaker and the white cotton coat with pearled buttons.

Almost all my classmates had similar coats.

I replaced them when I became a teen, wearing one gray one and another green one, both from one of the second hand clothes consignments that were donated to Cuba but which the government sold to us.

Both were a little bit too big for my mother to also wear them.

It was thanks to her working on a medical aid mission in Venezuela that I was able to start at the university owning several coats my size. I still have the jean jacket, though it’s useless against the cold, and a blue raincoat.

In recent years the winters here have been more intense — actually cold — and the aesthetics with which we face them have also changed.

A slow but steady process of alienation in terms of social status and the quality of life in Cuban society are also reflected in this season, though in a rather subtle manner.

What are now fashionable are gloves, scarves and coats purchased at either shocking prices here or sent by relatives from abroad.

We’ve reached a point where private sellers display well-stocked lines of winter clothing that are the envy of hard-currency state-owned stores.

Some people are able to buy the latest fashion, while others — like me — plan to confront the coming cold with second-hand clothes.

The truth is that the recycled clothes aren’t so bad. Two years ago I picked up a beautiful beige coat for only 40 pesos.

It seems I haven’t had too many disadvantages.

But I don’t know if I can say the same thing about the homeless people who sleep under many of the city’s porticos and rummage through the garbage for food.

I only hope then that this will be a mild winter.

One thought on “Thinking Coats as Havana Winter Approaches

  • Daisy, this is a fine article. I want you to know that I read everything you write, and tend to love every word. Through you, we readers are able to travel for a brief moment in the warm soul of Cuba. (Sometimes however you break the reader’s heart.)

    My old submarine navy friend from 45 years ago called me this morning from his home in the state of North Dakota, which is up on the border with Canada. He spoke of a local guy who was freezing in the night and came to a church to escape the cold. The church doors however had been locked, for whatever reason. They found his frozen corpse the next morning. So, while it may get cold during your Cuban winters, it could be a lot worse!

    But, what I really wish to say, Daisy, is that you must write stories and novels. You have the gift, or as it might be said, the muse is with you.

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