By Irina Echarry
No, don’t get scared; I’m not going to ramble on about the collapse of the socialist camp, or the love-hate relationship that we Cubans have with the Russians. I’m speaking of an emblematic site of Cuban geography located just to the east of the capital: Russian Beach.
“I’m going swimming!” screams an exuberant Pepito in his language of a four-year-old, an age when everything is wondrous.
What Pepito doesn’t know is that at one time this was a place ideal for kids and adults alike. He doesn’t know, because it was almost two years ago, that his family moved to this district.
If this were a story tale, there’s no doubt we would hear from the only beach umbrella left standing near the sea: “At one time we were many umbrellas, we were hardly enough to bring relief from the sun. As the area began to be built up, more people came to take dips in the afternoons and weekends. Since then, we’ve seen a lot of things.
We’ve seen children grow up who are now poets, doctors, lawyers and carpenters. The fishermen would return from the sea and clean their fish in our shadows. We’d have to console grandmothers who’d almost have heart attacks seeing their grandsons tossed from coastal rocks down into the surf to learn how to swim.
“You could hear the air seeping out of soccer balls that were thrashed against the razor-edged reef; and we’d see one or another drunk on the breakwater, trying to balance himself to show that the alcohol could do him no harm.”
Or maybe one of the rocks that remain on the beach since time immemorial should tell us what it knows: “The district filled with foreigners in the 1970s. They came from the socialist nations to advise our country on various technological and military matters.
“Many lived in Zone 1 of Alamar, close to this beach. They acquired the habit of waiting for the sun to sink into the water before they’d join it, seeking relief from the unfamiliar tropical heat. That’s why the residents of Alamar gave the beach its name; it was always full of Russians, though they were often Bulgarian or Czech, but we lumped them all together. They were of every age; and in addition to the sound of the sea, we could hear their shouts in the strange language that we soon began studying in school.”
But it’s not a story tale.
Surrounded by reefs and urchins in the depths, Russian Beach saw how many of its regular Cuban visitors left on improvised motorboats, rafts or truck inner tubes toward distant lands in 1994.
It’s been a refuge for the daily frustrations of people who go to the coast to escape their worries. They sit to look out at the sea for hours, the air slowly clearing their minds; though when they later return home, the shortages again plague them.
I’ve been coming to the beach since I was three, almost the same age as Pepito. I’ve seen it destroyed with the passing of time. They no longer sell sodas or hot buns as snacks, and you can hardly bear the ruthless sun that bakes the reef. Likewise, you can’t wait around here to watch the sunset anymore, for a long time it’s become a gathering place for exhibitionists and the sexual frustrated, who don’t seem to have a need for privacy.
However, it’s nice to see the green moss on the stairways that lead you down to the water, and I still believe that Pepito is right for being happy when he comes to this spot; the sea is most beautiful here.
Loved by many, hated by others, that’s our Alamar beach.