Alfredo Fernandez Rodriguez

Restored inner courtyard in Old Havana.

HAVANA TIMES, March 31 — Several days ago, while walking through Havana with a London photographer, he told me he didn’t like the restored part of the city because it appeared too much like just another European city.

For this friend, what was different was capturing the municipality of Centro Havana in his lens, an area where the restoration work of the Office of the City Historian has yet to arrive.

“Here is what’s interesting about Havana,” he said while photographing buildings in poor condition and crammed with people.  He also took shots of the horrible posters located all over the city advising us of just about anything.

Without too many hitches, my friend photographed some of the last museums of socialism, though on more than one occasion his pleasure turned into dismay when confronted with the deterioration.  Still, he didn’t cease snapping photos of this part of the city.

Colapsing building in Centro Havana. Photo: Caridad

Although I tried to be explained to him —hoping not to seem overly sentimental— he never completely understood that I would love to see Havana totally restored, without the slightest worry of the city ended up looking European.

His pictures were taken in places where thousands of people’s daily lives are characterized by living packed together in properties lacking the basic infrastructure for ventilation, drinking water, lighting, or elevators, and which are consequently deficient of proper hygiene.

I find it extremely unjust that for a city to be shown unique in the lens of a photographer it has to remain indefinitely submerged in deterioration and abandonment.

I would be thrilled for the residents of Havana if the city appeared the most European possible – especially if that meant the disappearance of its deplorable housing condition, which fills the souls of all with despair.

I don’t know, but if there occurred some miracle and the Cuban capital was restored to the point that it seemed First World, I’m sure that the gift of being born in this part of the Caribbean —plus the intense dynamism of Cubans— would save Havana from seeming like just another city.

Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.

9 thoughts on “Havaneurope?

  • For those interested in seeing for themselves, are just nostalgic, there are several nice video walking tours of Centro to on YouTube and CubaJunkty (Potato’s Centro Tour, Parts 1 through 4).

  • Alfredo,
    Your readers are clearly missing your point, that, if the photographer were objective, he’d have taken pictures also in Vedado and, better, in Holguin, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, etc. Centro and Habana Vieja aren’t “museums of socialism.” I think you mean they are museums of the Batista era and ancient history, kept by modern socialist Cuba for reasons that you don’t share. I agree with you. These areas needed to be razed in 1959, so misguided tourists would stop equating them with Cuban socialism.

  • There is a serious and chronic defficiency in building materials, and that really is because of the embargo. But ya, they get to some buildings and not to others before they crumble. Makes some of the waste you see everywhere here such a shame.

    The programs mostly don’t work, like where you volunteer to build homes for “7 years” and get your home built, can take a lot of years of (if any) volunteering before your home is really built.

    I don’t know, it’s a hard call. If you commodify , especially of something as basic as housing, then you gotta be bringing back fetishism and a capitalist perspective. That would lose the soul of the true gains that were made in the Revolution. Centro is a rough district, I’ve spent some time there, but it is also beautiful, full of beautiful, whole human beings, and agreed, most of the buildings are in semi-reasonable repair. I mean hey, La Habana is a world class city. No one can deny that. In so many ways it holds the most special place…

  • I agree with Sami, that decay and gross living conditions cannot be beautiful, but I do love those grand buildings, the Opera House and others, that are a little sad looking but somehow all the more lovely for being there, for being resilient, ornate, and full of character – Cuban character.

    I feel for the people living in some of the dreadful conditions, and there is no way in the world that some of the restored buildings in Plaza Vieja, etc. look European to me. There is a Cuban style that is unmistakeable.

    While I loved Havana, I know I would love it more when it is a little more cared for. I hope there are changes (that everyone can accept) that will bring this about.

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