The Loneliness of the Grey Buildings


View from the hotel.

As sometimes I’m a little slow; it took me a few months to realize what was bothering me.  I knew that I didn’t like the balcony a lot at the apartment where I’ve lived for five months.

The fault could lie with the ubiquitous mountains, enormous walls that hide the sea from me.  They are like a big green eye that doesn’t stop looking at me, almost taking my breathe away.

But a few weeks ago I found out what my biggest problem was.  In front of my hotel there’s a small freeway; just after that there’s another hotel, and beyond that the buildings begin.  They are enormous and grey (the ones in Cuba are grey and small).

One of them has a side terrace on which —suddenly —I saw a boy running.  Then I knew it.  This was the real reason for my anxiety when leaning over the balcony.  The buildings possess an almost futuristic loneliness.  In Havana the structures might be about to fall down, but even so they have life, or at least a trace of life.

When I saw the boy running —almost like a ghost, the kind you’re obligated to believe in but in fact never see— I understood the terrible loneliness that emanates from the buildings in this area of Caracas.

Windows with dark glass, balconies without people who want to look at the clouds or the evening; devoid of any plants…  Maybe a couple of lights in the evening are the sole signs of life.

Among those buildings there is one that —so I’ve been told— some previous government left unfinished due to its expensive design.  And so it has remained, like a soul in limbo, unable to ascend to heaven or return to earth.  Slowly it has been filling up with families of the homeless.

I sometimes I’ll see a drum fire that they get going to warm themselves or to heat something to eat.  That fire and the deafening noise of the freeway are the only signs of human life that can be seen from my balcony.

It’s not difficult to sometimes imagine that I’m in one of those places after the city’s been devastated by a nuclear catastrophe.

But I look toward the nearest hotel.  There I’m able to see, through the semi-tinted glass, the shadow of a person who has sat down to watch TV.  It’s only for a second, but sometimes that’s almost enough.

6 thoughts on “The Loneliness of the Grey Buildings

  • Many younger Cubans, just like the younger folks everywhere, yearn to travel, to see the world, before settling down. And many, once they have traveled to the States, Canada or Western Europe, will be unable to readjust to the lower standard of living and lack of consumer culture of Cuba, even if they have to adjust to the deadening spiritual atmosphere of most Western cities. Still, I think it a mistake that government policy makes such travel difficult. (And now foreign governments as well make it as difficult to visit their countries–requiring all sorts of income guarantees, sponsorships, etc.) Such yearning to see a bigger, broader world is natural. After all, Che Himself sought to leave what he considered the parochial world of Buenes Aires in the early 1950’s to visit the rest of Latin America via moto. In the end, the best and the brightest, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” will realize that “There’s no place like home!” They will return home, or, failing that, at least return home from time to time, and keep sending those remittances in divisa.

  • I agree with you that Cubans are unique but Cubans will continue to be unique independent of any external influences to a mayor degree this should be their own choice and not one chosen for them by a paternalistic state.

    Helen, I am not sure how much you know about Cuba but is sad to think that many people in Cuba dream of abandoning their homeland. Because of the static system there that does not change, the impositions from above from the all mighty in power. I am not sure if you have lived in Cuba and have been able to talk and communicate with all kind of people, Those that support the regime and those that oppose it. That will give you a real perspective of the full human drama in Cuba!
    Yes, Cuba is a beautiful place full of wonderful people that deserve the right to make their own choices. They have the same right to Freedom that we all have.
    Freedom is something you and I and many others take for granted and is the best thing that any human can have.
    I would not even mind been poor if I am free.

  • Even if my words and advice don’t mean anything, Yordanka has now seen some of it – I hope her impressions carry greater weight. She is going back to Cuba, no?

    I don’t deny that the right to travel is fundamental, as is the right to achieve what your own efforts and talents can accomplish. I do feel that many Cubans will be disappointed with ‘elsewhere’, that the 52 years of isolation/reolution/whatever has contributed to a special personality – a need for other people in their lives in order to survive, ‘inventar’, the duty to support family – that simply isn’t there in the West. Second generation Cubans out of Cuba will become Westernised, inculcated. In the West, it disgusts me that the value of a person is what they have, not what they are.

    I have lived (for a minimum of 2 years) in 6 countries, and visited around 25 others. Spending time abroad has sharpened my understanding and criticism of my own country, and helped to increase my comprehension of different cultures and qualities – Cubans are unique. No question about that.

  • Helen that’s just it.
    That right that we all have to come and go as we please from any country. One of the fundamental human rights and that Cubans do not have. Because their government wants to keep them tied and anchored to the homeland. When it should just be their own choice and not someone’s else’s.
    One is able to understand more the day when one knows about nights and vise versa. So Cubans need to spread their wings open and fly to know the world and if they later want to fly back home let it be it.
    But a the same regime that opposed to them flying away also is opposed later with the same insistence to their return!

    Very Sad is like once you seen the world and discovered it again you are too soil to enter back again!

  • Yordanka,

    ‘In Havana the structures might be about to fall down, but even so they have life, or at least a trace of life.’

    You have no idea how much Havana, and Cuba , LIVES in comparison with the rest of the world. Maybe there are many Cubans who are fine living in the selfish and soul-less West (or East), but you have noticed that there is something missing, that there is a gap between what is right about Cuba, the people, the connections, the daily struggle maybe, the LIVING, and what is wrong about Caracas, the West, the rest of the world – the loneliness, the separation of individuals, the self principle that leads to greed, self-centredness, being ‘out for all you can get’.

    I hope more people read this, more Cubans, that is. Because I wish more Cubans could see it, before they try to leave and end up being unable to return to the comfort and connections of ‘home’.

  • Le Corbusier’s reconceptualization of ziggurats as modern day residential and office towers seemed like a good idea in the 1920’s; as has been demonstrated by both reality and mythology, however, the gods are jealous, and are displeased when their creations try to climb up to, or build towers towards, their domains.

Comments are closed.