Cuba’s Signs of the Times

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Used book seller in Havana. Photo: Elio Delgado

In the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and even the ‘50s, Havana had a magazine called Carteles (literally “signs” in English). It circulated with reports, interviews and articles – everything on national and international happenings as well as political and social events. It included among its executive staff Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, the first historian of Havana; and Alejo Carpentier, an extraordinary writer.

Carteles was part of day-to-day life of the modern world at that time, reflecting cultural happenings, business, politics, etc. As occurred anywhere on the planet, it reflected the sociocultural context in which it was created.

In the case of Cuba, this was carried out in an original way, demonstrating the way of life of its citizens, both from the formal point of view as well as in its content.

Taking a walk here in my Havana, I stopped to observe how many present-day signs I come across on my way. Some having been posted for long stretches of time and are barely noticed by pedestrian’s, as I could confirm:

“Chicken on sale to the public / One pound per consumer; Attention, only sold by the household – since they’re large ones, Thank you”;

“Dues collections being taken for the Federation of Cuban Women, and we’re behind. See Karelia or Claudia”;

“Everyone to the Rally at the Plaza of the Revolution. Meeting place: the Capitolio building Leaving: 6:00 a.m. We’re expecting you!”;

“My guarapo (sugarcane) juice has vitamins with PPG. You take 1, you take 3, you make love and you’ll be ready for more.”

Undoubtedly, these are phrases that are as amusing as they are unlikely, a true mirror for looking at folk culture, beyond the incredibly blue beach.

This afternoon, after an arduous day of work, I crossed the street quickly with the hope of catching the bus that would take me home.

Amid the suffocating heat, a poster on the wall of the portico that led to a cafeteria made me run even more quickly: “If they dare, the result with be like at the Bay of Pigs.”

Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.


One thought on “Cuba’s Signs of the Times

  • July 1, 2011 at 11:34 am
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    their seems to be a lot of negativity towards Cuba which amazes me how so many Cubans have no idea of how good you have it. first and most important you have a home land . something no one that lives in any of the G8 nations will ever have. For in a capitalist society every thing is for those with the most money their origin is not important . but if you don’t value this you should open Cuba up to the world for their are more of us from other nations that would give up our lives in a heart beat to support the revolution . The joy of being and supporting the right side is a dream for many us .

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