Spiderman in Cuba

Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES — Imagine my surprise when I discovered Spiderman himself climbing up a wall in front of me. On Monday I found him scaling the symmetrical and imposing facade of the Habana Libre Hotel in Havana.

Minutes later, thanks to information from an excited policeman (who seemed to enjoy giving the details to passersby), I found out that this wasn’t the American comic-book character in his blue and red tights. Instead, it was a French daredevil who travels the world pulling off such feats.

This Spiderman began his climb at around 1:00, but an hour earlier, hundreds of Havanans were waiting anxiously at the foot of the 27-floor building. The sidewalk in front of the hotel and the balconies of the surrounding buildings were full of onlookers.

Each person was giving their opinion of the event, most with the typically Cuban jocular tone that minimizes the importance of things to make them more bearable. In all that commotion, nobody was talking about the elections that concluded on Sunday, or the appearance of Fidel on TV, or the flying to Sweden of dissident Eliecer Avila in the crowded skies of the planet.

I don’t know how they found out. I, for one, was unaware of any televised promotion of the attempt. Many of them were probably just wandering past and stopped to watch. Lots of them were students at the University of Havana, located just two blocks away.

What was for sure is that when the guy appeared, a tremendous shout rang out from the throng of homogeneous spectators. It was as if they’d witnessed some kind of revelation.

The expression “bread and circus” was what first came to my mind, though I softened that a bit shortly later. There was nothing wrong with this display in which a person — without nets or harnesses — was going to climb the inaccessible exterior of the Habana Libre Hotel.

Human beings love to rise to challenges that are beyond the limits of the imagination as much as they are beyond those of the body. Plus I liked this guy, especially the naturalness of his feat, without much scaffolding, using only his bare hands powdered with gripping chalk, wearing his distinctive green choker and his long hair.

Just yesterday I was thinking about how some adults lose the ability to do things for the simple reason of doing them – things like throwing a stone or climbing a tree.

At some point they stop attempting these little adventures. They start looking at the world from the boring perspective of the average Jane of Joe restricted to the sidewalk of life.

Take it from me, seeing Havana from the top of the Habana Libre is a true spectacle. I went up there in 1998 to install an antenna when Pope John Paul II visited us. It was awesome. It seemed like I could simply dive off and land on the dome of the Coppelia ice cream parlor, though it’s over 200 yards away.

Alain Robert, the name of the daring French athlete, seemed to be losing his grip or slipping off the rails at several points, but he explained in an interview that it was all part of the show he has perfected after nearly 40 years of climbing up buildings like a lizard.

He prefers to be compared to a reptile rather than “Spiderman,” a nickname he doesn’t like. Nonetheless, Hollywood has found fertile ground in these parts, so everyone referred to him as “Hombre Araña,” or Spiderman.

I took a few photos and walked away content. After all, it’s nice to see people come together without first being formally summoned or having to be evaluated as to their attendance in order to get a future bonus.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

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One thought on “Spiderman in Cuba

  • Nice article and great photo of the climber. He has a beautiful nimble body. I don’t encourage daredevil behavior, myself having been a climber as a child (up tall trees, to the second floor bathroom window whenever I was locked out of the house, and through the third floor bathroom window to gain access to the roof).

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