HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 7 — After long years of trying to avoid looking at the faded and dirty walls in our house, and blushing whenever visitors seemed to notice those dark maps that I could never scrub off, finally we could buy some paint to cover those walls and doors.
We would of course prioritize the “most visible” parts of the home, but I was horrified when I realized that the suddenly clean lines of the walls accentuated the cracks in the ceiling and — oh God! — they made an eye-catching contrast with the termite damage to the doors and the wooden furniture.
At the moment I didn’t even remember that a friend had spoken to me a few days prior about Project Image, thanks to which they’re repairing the apartment building where he lives. This plan, which has been reversing the general visual deterioration of several buildings in the Alamar suburb, includes the repair of damaged stairways, balconies, roofs…
However the “image” doesn’t extend into the interiors of the apartments; the improvements are restricted to painting walls, windows and doors “on the outside,” even the exterior sides of balcony doors (it apparently doesn’t matter if someone notices the violent contrast when these are open).
Residents are complaining about the superficiality of the repairs and saying for example that it’s a waste to paint the large windows when the overwhelming majority of them are infested with termites and should be replaced immediately.
Despite the painting underway, metal blinds were selected in the project… and when these arrive it will be necessary to install them by drilling through the recently painted walls. Then each resident will have to cover the cement marks with the best color they can, and the whole “image” will be one of the most exotic collage.
Although it was said that the lack of resources to paint all the buildings made it necessary to prioritize the most visible ones, the magic wand of this “image” seems to be capricious. In a row of buildings you can see two or three painted and one in the middle that was forgotten.
While this does indeed break the landscape’s monotony of scores of similar buildings, it also highlights the deterioration of the other buildings, those that have been quietly eaten away and have buckets on the floors when it rains or windows patched with cardboard or planks.
Anyone who remembers the ‘70s will recall when the plan for micro-brigade construction was energetically kicked off to confront the urgent demand for housing. Alamar was the city erected by and for “the New Man.” But the strong coastal winds that ravage it, along with the fading of the walls of its buildings and the eating away of its railings have also completely corroded that hope.
But I didn’t get left behind. I’m spending money on painting hollow doors that any day are going to fall off their hinges like dry leaves; I’m covering cracks and crevices that need to be scraped clean and re-plastered; and every morning I sweep the dust that the termites leave as they chew tunnels in the bowels of our furniture.
But after all, Cubans are born improvisers.
A French friend of mine was puzzled when telling me that she knew people here who flaunt gold around their necks and in their teeth while their houses are about to collapse.
What does she know about Cubans? What does she know about this surrealism of carrying a cellphone whose monthly bill is paid at the expense of food (and it doesn’t matter that you have to run to a payphone when you get a call), of making jokes out of frustration, of powerlessness, of keeping silent in meetings while protesting in food lines…? Isn’t this a part of our originality?
So now we are going to conspire with the postcards that are sold in the kiosks, with the glamor of the hotels; with those picturesque streets of Old Havana with parks, gardens, and fountains surrounded by buildings that lack no paint and whose termites are far away.
With a little effort, we’ll do this until we ourselves are able to believe the “images” they show us every day on the news.