HAVANA TIMES — I am often invaded by the same feeling described by Ernesto Perez Chang in his recent article for Havana Times (Cuba: On Fences, Walls and Other Demarcations), particularly when I walk around Old Havana, a place in the city frequented by foreign and Cuban tourists, whose cobbled streets and colonial architecture takes us back in time.
Talking a walk around this old and refurbished quarter of the city, where one always seems to find something new, something one missed during a previous stroll among the ancient buildings, is very agreeable experience.
I make a habit of going to the Casa del Chocolate (the old town’s chocolate museum) to savor a hot cup of the liquid aphrodisiac and some cookies. I take my time, trying to prolong the pleasure. When I walk out of the establishment, however, the sense of reigning poverty hits me again.
I see foreigners sitting at restaurants all about, where they enjoy a good meal and a pleasant after-meal chat. Satisfied, they then set out to buy small flasks of natural perfumes at the Casa del perfume (“Perfume Shop”).
You can tell they are not Cuban just by looking at the way the dress: they wear simple but quality clothes. Their heads are covered with light hats. They carry daypacks and small purses, wear comfortable shoes. They are relaxed when they walk.
We, on the other hand, are constantly stressed, full of immediate and anxious plans, beating our heads trying to figure out what we will eat tomorrow or how we’ll manage to pay the bills at the end of the month. These matters torment us and keep us from taking in the wonders of the old town.
There are many stores that sell brand clothing, shoes and other products, which we glance at out of the corner of our eyes, stores we go into only to “have a look.” We content ourselves with the small craft kiosks that decorate every corner, every threshold – even though we don’t buy anything there either, because we don’t need it and, anyways, most of the crafts they sell aren’t exactly cheap either.
We want to enjoy the artworks at museums, grab hold of the city, but the city was taken away from us long ago. We content ourselves with walking, buying the occasional sweet, ice-cream or soft drink.
We want only a small taste of the city, even after we’ve come out of a concert at the San Francisco de Asis convent, even after we’ve enjoyed the works of Cuban painter Servando Cabrera at the Fine Arts Museum. Even if we’ve had a chance to get know the city’s camera obscure, the city remains distant and unreal. We feel like foreigners, strangers in our own land.