Along the Canopied Sidewalk

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Havana's Capitolio Building. Photo: Caridad

When I finished seeing my Swiss friends off, at around midnight I went to wait for the bus at the stop in front of Havana’s Capitol Building.  I hardly ever hang around there at that hour, but I this time had no choice.

Today, everything has changed along that stretch of sidewalk.  As I leaned against one of the portico columns on the street, my look strayed toward each corner of this spacious area.

I even peered into other dimensions, like those of the 1980s, when there were canopies set up here under which anyone could buy a mug of beer for the moderate price of 60 centavos in domestic currency (about two cents USD).

But that’s not the scene today.  Instead it’s a dark landscape, with lots of people milling around waiting for a bus; plus there was a surprising tide of transvestites there showing off their looks.

Meanwhile, a group of gay guys on the corner were being questioned and warned by the police as they sat in front of the plate-glass window of a business.

“How strange,” I told myself.  Years back those kids would have been arrested by the cops for the mere fact of displaying their exotic getups in public.

Suddenly, right in front of me, two of them met and hugged.  The hands of one of them traveled around the other.  The whole thing seemed to be a challenge to the times and to authority.

I thought that maybe it was just me who was refusing to accept change.

“Look at this!  Years back, a spectacle like that wasn’t allowed.  The police would have come and carted them all off.  Today they hang around all over the place,” commented a man who was also waiting for a bus.

So there I was, in the center of an exclusive parade, like in another capital of the world.  The night seemed to be truly decked out.