My Lovely Havana, City of Many Paradoxes

Lenin Ledo Galano

Havana Malecon sea drive and Centro Habana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — If you go to Havana, you may find that things are not what they seem.

If you go to Centro Habana or Old Havana looking for a room to rent, you may well find a sparkling new hotel suite on a grimy street, behind the façade of a dilapidated building – or you could walk down a spotless street and find a room that has gone to seed, behind the façade of sparkling new building.

You may see a 1950s Plymouth with a beat-up bodywork and, after lifting the top, come across the accessories of a modern vehicle.

You may run into a black woman with pronounced African features who turns out to be the granddaughter of a Caucasian, or come across a woman with pronounced Caucasian features who is the granddaughter of a person with pronounced African features.

You may meet a taxi driver or barman who’s an engineer, or with a bachelor’s degree, or a manager who didn’t even go to university.

You may see a black man who’s a freemason or a Catholic, or a white person practicing an African religion such as Yoruba or Palo Monte.

You may see a clear, blue sky and find yourself under downpour within minutes, or find yourself under the rain and see the sky clear in seconds.

You may hear someone praise the government and then see them do something to undermine the government, or hear someone deride the government and then do something that benefits the government.

You may see people looking for food the entire day – like lions in the jungle, or fish in the sea, or ants on land – but you will not see any malnourished people.

Facade. Photo: Juan Suarez

You may see someone acting courageous, and it could just be a way to hide their fears, or you may see someone who’s very calm, concealing their courage.

You may see someone dancing happily, and that person could be full of sorrow.

You may see a product with a cheap price, and it may just be quoted in hard currency.

You may see people protesting, and they could turn out to be government agents.

You may hear that the economy is growing while doing worse every day.

You may see dirty streets and very clean-looking people.

You may run into extremely vulgar people at the city’s most renowned cultural centers, or come across highly educated people in the worst neighborhoods.

You may see a ramshackle home endure a hurricane and remain standing, and watch a building collapse after a simple rain.

You may see the most democratic place in the world, or find that no more than four people decide even the most insignificant of things.

You may be walking along a newly-asphalted street and suddenly stick your foot in a pothole.

Someone may offer you something to eat when they have nothing to offer.

El Gran Teatro de La Habana (1920).

You may catch a glimpse of the 21st century at luxury hotels, only to step out to the street and see a city intent on keeping the 20th century alive.

You may see a medical doctor upholstering his own furniture, and then see an upholsterer paying someone else to upholster his furniture.

You may see a talented man suffer misfortunes, and then a vulgar man enjoying good fortune.

You may see a doctor asking a healer for advice, or see a healer asking a doctor for tips.

You may hear people speak of the United States with a hate-filled tone, and later see them leave for Miami.

You may see workers at a factory stealing products to re-sell them, or see restaurant employees bring in their own food to sell to the patrons.

You may see a foreign worker staying at a luxury hotel as a tourist, or see a foreign millionaire lodged in a bad neighborhood.

You may see a person who has a degree in chemistry running public transportation, or see a transportation engineer who’s a high executive at a chemical products factory.

You may run into many Fifth World things while coming across many First World minds.

You may be surrounded by the sea while eating imported fish.

It may be winter and feel like summer.

You may come to believe there are no homeless people in the city, or you may have a long chat with one of them.

You may see many people in the same place, and feel that very few actually get together.

El Capitolio. (1929)

You may run into many people who like to visit Havana and find very few people who’d want to stay there.

You may hear a lot of people say that there’s no place better than Cuba to live in, and many other people say that Cuba is the worst place to live. Some may say there are countries where life is better and others will say life is worse there, and those who say such things may have never been out of the country.

You may see people who have an aggressive look and are actually peace-loving Christians.

You may be celebrating a national holiday festively, and, on studying the history behind it, find that it was actually a day of death.

You may see people walking down the middle of the street and see the sidewalk overgrown with tree roots.

You may hear beautiful speeches and see far from beautiful prospects ahead of you.

You may hear people speak ill of capitalism while using several capitalist devices.

You may hear someone say that this article derides the city, and that someone may love Havana less than yours truly.

The truth is that Havana challenges the old Biblical proverb of “seeing is believing.”

9 thoughts on “My Lovely Havana, City of Many Paradoxes

  • Will Havana change with cruise ships ?
    From the March meeting in Miami :::
    Cuba Potential

    Looking at the potential in Cuba, Del Rio, whose brands include Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises
    and Norwegian Cruise Line, was perhaps the most eager, although Arnold
    and Fain also said they wanted to include Cuba when the U.S. government
    lifts the embargo on trade restrictions.

    A proud Cuban American, Del Rio told Travel Agent a
    year or two ago that he had itineraries already made up and in an
    office cabinet, just waiting for the loosening of government
    restrictions on U.S. trade.

    the embargo is lifted, “yes, we’re ready,” said Del Rio, snapping his
    fingers and noting “just like that.” He says that the wonderful thing
    about the cruise industry is that it brings along its own

    “So yes, we’re ready
    and I would bet all of us in this town are ready at a drop of the hat.”
    He said many lines already go to places across the globe that are less
    developed than Cuba, and points out that Cuba is only 220 miles from

    Quest asked the same question of the panel and said, “Are you ready?”

    “I’m not sure any of us are ready,” Fain said, hesitated a bit, then
    adding: “Cuba is such an amazing opportunity.” Yes, he said, his lines
    will be there but companies still have a lot to learn about every
    country they enter. Cultural and infrastructure elements come into play,
    but, he acknowledged, “part of the beauty of the cruise industry is
    that it does adapt.”

    Arnold agreed with Del Rio on many of the points and also said his
    group will be headed to Cuba too, but that “wherever we go we have a
    responsibility not only to assure that guests are safe and have a great
    time, but that it’s a great experience for the destination as well.”

    Vago got a laugh from the audience when he said “I’m European. We’re
    already there,” as MSC as a foreign company is not subject to the U.S.

  • Some of the paradoxes to which you allude in your wonderful article I witnessed first hand two weeks ago when I spent a week in Habana, Cuba. It was enriching and “mind blowing” at the same time! I do plan to return and to spend a much longer time there.

  • I’m a US give me a chance…we’re not all ‘ugly’ 🙂

  • Lenin, you’re an excellent writer and am sure storyteller as well. Thank you so very much!

  • All true.

  • been there many times and this post is spot on! The Pearl of the Caribbean is the way it is and nothing more. Please Americans don’t screw it up!!!!!!!!!

  • Interesting post. All very true.

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