Thursday, October 15, 2009

Havana Neighbourhoods

I am staying with a Cuban family here in Havana, in a two-bedroom apartment – maybe the same size as mine in Kingston, maybe a little smaller. Louvers for windows. Burglar bars – which I find a little surprising. Glass front doors, which I find even more surprising. The balcony I’m sitting on is painted an aquamarine colour – in contrast to the khaki, grey and white apartment block opposite. Both blocks are about five stories tall, and both look like they are in need of some loving care. Residents have made alterations – this one with glass windows, that one without burglar bars, this one with mustard coloured walls on their balcony, that one with plants.

Some neighbours across the street yell over the traffic to have a conversation with a family on my side of the street. “Oye! Como estas?” the conversation starts, as it starts to rain yet again. Now here they come across the road dodging raindrops and bringing Nestle’s ice cream to celebrate something or other together.

This neighbourhood is called San Agustin, and the apartment blocks look like they were built about 40 years ago – post-revolution in other words. Each block contains about 100 apartments I’d guess. Some of the street is lined with palm trees – a symbol of Cuba. Perhaps some were blown down by recent hurricanes.

I’ve been to a few parts of Havana – Havana Vieja is the oldest part, with bits of the old city wall still visible. A cannon at the Morro Castle across the water still sounds at around 9:00 p.m. every night. Originally this was to warn residents that the city gates were closing, but now the tradition serves to attract hundreds of tourists each night to witness the ceremony, complete with soldiers in 18th century uniform. Its quite a spectacle, and the roaring boom makes you jump, even as you know it will happen. And should it sound at 8:57 instead of 9:00, as it did for me a few nights ago, it makes you jump even more. But if tourists are willing to go out of their way to watch and hear a cannon go off in Havana, then surely they’d be willing to do the same in Port Royal or some of our other forts.

The nearby neighbourhood of Havana Central has the Capitolio, which is a copy somewhat of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. Well, I haven’t actually been to the one in the States, but this one is spectacular and supposedly more detailed. Marble everywhere. A massive statue inside, and a faux diamond under the dome, which is the point from which distances in Cuba is measured.

The next area over (moving East) is Vedado, which means forbidden. Houses were not allowed to be constructed here, so as not to obstruct the view of any oncoming attacking ships. So Vedado developed later, mainly in the early 20th century, and contains many beautiful and ornate homes for the wealthy at the time. Its also home to several bars, restaurants and hotels. Nothing in Kingston really compares – but the closest thing may be the Golden Triangle.

Next to that you have Miramar – where the really wealthy used to live before the revolution – and now the relatively wealthy still do. Some years ago, Argentina’s Maradonna spent some time here recovering from drug abuse. Its where our embassy is along with most others – except of course the American, which does not have an embassy in Cuba. They do have a interest section – which is a bit of a skyscraper on the Malecon (Havana’s famous sea wall) and which looks to be much bigger than the US embassy in Kingston.

San Agustin is not much next to these neighbourhoods. But its real. The rain is really starting to fall now, I better get in before I do some damage to my lap top.

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