Beneath the Poplar Foliage in Havana’s Plaza de Armas

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Photo: Ihosvanny

It had been a while since I’d sat in Plaza de Armas. I’m always racing here and there in the daily agitation of work and home. But today I made a parenthesis in my life. I stopped to contemplate the atmosphere of that historical park, whose layout possesses almost the same romantic vein of the time in which it was built – close to half a millennium ago.

Many people pass through there — to fall in love, or simply to relax for ten minutes — and then they continue their march toward whatever destination. Only ten minutes in the plaza can have a very eloquent effect on your day-to-day routine, seated on those regal marble benches beneath the foliage of the poplars.

A roaming street vendor of pirated movies went by hawking Habanastation, the latest Cuban film, one which has created great expectations among movie lovers on the island and around the world.

The woman dressed in bright colonial clothes allowed her picture to be taken with a foreigner – in exchange for two dollars.

A portrait artist went tagging behind a group of tourists offering to sketch caricatures of any of them.

A haggard-looking trio of musicians rehearsed in a corner of the square, while at the same time scanning the area for any candidate who might want to hear a Cuban song from the old musical repertoire or one by them – also in exchange for a few hard-currency pesos.

I listened to their lyrics. “Watch out for the snakes, they’ll bite your feet,” they crooned. So truly terrorizing, I couldn’t keep from laughing. The songsters then went up to a couple who apparently spoke some Spanish. However — without allowing them to sing another verse — the foreigner reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple coins. He handed to money to them saying “Thank you, thank you.”

The couple continued on their way, smiling, and the trio returned their attention toward their next mark. I looked down at the time on my watch…I’d forgotten about the work waiting for me at the office.