Old Havana and its Characters

The snake man.

Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES — Old Havana is like a postcard full of picturesque characters, each with a story to tell. Sometimes, they need only look at us to tell us these stories.

It doesn’t matter where you run into them, they can turn up in the spot you would least suspect. They lie in wait, approaching passersby to see what they can get from them – a bit of bread or some spare change, something with which to mitigate the pain of their daily life.

Old man asking for spare change.

There are the handicapped and dirt-covered old men showing us the empty pant leg where a healthy leg once was; those that dress up animals in uncomfortable costumes, in disregard of the creatures’ rights; those who offer us products of every kind, and those who sell birds, dogs and hamsters (and would sell rats, if they were allowed to).

A living stature of Chaplin.

At the intersection where the Ambos Mundos hotel is located, we run into an elegantly-attired man, wearing a suit, hat and dress shoes, and another fellow dressed up as a police officer from the olden days.

There are old women sitting outside old buildings, wearing big, gaudy flowers or red and yellow bandannas on their heads, smoking (or pretending to smoke) long Cuban cigars.

Young women – white, black and mixed race – walk down these streets wearing colorful satin dresses and carrying knit baskets, smiling at foreigners so they will have a picture taken with them.

The violinist.

Then we have the striking live statues with their melted-cork makeup and all of the paraphernalia their characters require. We see a down-and-out Chaplin, a metal worker, African warriors, Havana’s Caballero de Paris, a violinist…all of them frozen in place, with a basket on the ground in front of them to collect the money people deign to give them and somehow finance their street art.

New street performers, like the man with the snake, have appeared, swelling the ranks of the habitual lot: the people who collect cans, the blind, the paraplegic, the demented…a large crowd that floods Havana’s sight-seeing circuit like a huge, animated postcard whose landscapes could well be part of a surreal novel written by all Cubans.