It outweighs the hype of consumer individualism in US cities

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Photo Feature by HT reader Branson Quenzer

HAVANA TIMES — There is nothing new about knowing that the rhythms of Cuba’s music are distinct and fantastic. They are played nightly for tourists, but what many visitors to Cuba miss are the local sounds of the neighborhoods, and it is on the streets where the real pulse of Havana can be found. Music is free to the ‘barrios’ of Havana’s many enthusiastic residents, and song and dance spill into the streets engaging the neighborhood in a chorus of evening activity.

The days of public music in the US are virtually gone. Speakers have been replaced by earphones, windows and doors are closed and locked because people are apprehensive about strangers, and local noise regulations have stopped all spontaneous events. The result is an introverted individual who carries on his/her day alone, possibly with music, but without knowing how or ever seeing it being created.

On the hotter days when Havana’s air is barely mustering a breeze residents often reduce themselves to letting the stereo blast out tunes from the balconies with open shutters as they relax begging for any bit of Caribbean wind to refresh the air. The Cuban vibes reverberate between the buildings, and the young neighborhood boys with more resistance to the summer swelter gather shooting marbles or playing baseball as if in a popular music video.

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The US has become tone deaf and has turned public culture on mute. US cities are full of people who work to death and close off the world around them by using portable media devices either to tune out or to plug into a 2 cent mind-numbing video game.

A more visual vibrant orchestra of colors with a bit more of a chaotic beat are the markets of Havana. Fruits are still weighed by hand, and prices change and fluctuate requiring shoppers to interact with the product and its seller. There is a sense of vitality in the marketplace where fruits and vegetables are stacked, sorted and displayed… 1 peso espresso bars take root on the periphery of the market giving patrons and sellers alike a caffeine buzz to keep the market hopping even in the summer heat.

‘Super’ markets have replaced local markets all over the United States. Now, there are even super super markets that sell house appliances next to, outdoor grass fertilizers, next to your fruits and vegetables. These massive overstocked warehouses have millions of brand names of consumer goods that really no one needs, but for some reason most people are compelled to buy. Anyone who is working there is doing so silently stacking items and scanning barcodes in a store uniform which is exactly the same as the next guy.

But in Havana, slushy carts are pushed along the markets as they leak melting ice under the shade of an umbrella providing even more color and refreshments to the market. And if you are in the mood for a snack, churros, peanuts or popcorn can all be purchased in conical formed paper envelops that keep food not only on the mind but in the bellies of Havana residents. Not to mention the smiles, jokes and stories that boisterous sellers joyfully tell keeping the whole market alive and stocked with not only produce but laughter as well. Sure they are at work, but since when did work mean that living life needed to end. Rather, in the Havana markets it is a place to begin trading goods and the intricacies of Cuban culture.

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In a culture that boasts ideological individuality as the US does, the individual is certainly lost in the walls of commercial branding. Shoppers smile awkwardly at each other as they pass by pushing their oversized shopping trollies. An aura of uncomfortable silence permeates the store which corporate owners try to nullify by playing top 50 hits. It doesn’t work as the Americans spend themselves into debt.

Most laymen have become aware of over the last decades that hyperbolic rhetoric is more entertainment than political reality. It is increasingly becoming less endorsed and hopefully less tolerated. And what comes of more strait talk in the ever increasingly small world we live in is the realization that common people are more similar than different. Let’s hope that the US doesn’t export more of its consumer culture and begins to learn from Havana’s charismatic streets.
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12 thoughts on “Charismatic Public Life of Havana

  • Number 2 fruit is mango of which there are 26 varieties in Cuba. If there was agricultural competence in Cuba, the country could have a thriving export industry – but with an aging General as Minister of Agriculture pursuing socialist concepts, production only goes down, down, DOWN!
    Quite a few years ago, the Government of Mexico funded a Mexican business to purchase the marketing rights of a well-known banana label for $5 billion. Thus they managed to move production of that brand from Equador to Mexico. The fact is that 99% of bananas marketed are of one variety.
    I suppose that if there were no bananas for a day fewer folks would slip on the skins.

  • In that case, I would direct you to my response to Grady’s comment.

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