Contemplating Havana’s Malecon…

The Vedado end of the eight-or-so kilometre Malecon in Havana has a very different feel to it, from the more grandly built-up and fortified stretch toward the harbour mouth. Crumbling apartment buildings face across the dual carriageway, and the sea that crashes coldly into the rocks seems a metaphor for isolation and banishment. People sit on the battered sea-wall, or stare in vain at the horizon, as if waiting for something – the future? – to appear.

Here is a final set of images.

Out and about in Habana Vieja

I thought I was done with my Havana portfolio, but I’m not – at least not yet. I had planned, this morning, to pull up a final set of images of the Malecon for processing, but decided to go through the complete file, just in case – and came up with these photos instead, which I hope you will agree deserve a life of their own.

After this past ten days in South Africa – a midnight reshuffle of the Cabinet, two ratings downgrades to junk status, by Standard & Poors and Fitch, after protests against Zuma all across the country (followed by wooden-headed declarations from the ANC Youth League and Women’s League, to the effect, ‘who needs the ratings agencies anyway – we love our President!’- as if that’s an argument) I  can’t help thinking, this is what South Africa could look like, if the tenderpreneurs, the state capture crowd, the ‘a looter continua’ brigade, have their merry way.

Roll on 2019, I say – we still have democratic elections, so let’s throw the bums out.

Enjoy the photographs.

Modernity bypassed…

Another Sunday, another post. Once again, Havana – a few images, this time, a sampling, of some of the marvellous Art Deco and modernist architecture that flowers, unexpectedly, amongst the colonial ruins of old Havana.

Their homage to the airplane, the machine, jazz and the cinema, a striving for escape velocity. How ironic, then, to see them stranded.

I’ve chosen, on this occasion, to present the photographs in colour – I’ve a feeling they might work as well, or better, in black and white also.

The dark side of Havana

Once more to Havana….

So far, I’ve tried not to fall into the trap that the English novelist George Eliot described more than a hundred years ago: seeing other people’s misery as ‘picturesque.’

I’ve described, and shown, the Hotel Inglaterra, posted images of the magnificent Grand Theatre and other architectural triumphs, monuments and renovations, and avoided overt comment on – well, on the dark side of Havana.

By which I mean, not its flawed grandeur, or its magnificent decay, but its political system. In a word: communism.

Because one of the things you can’t help noticing is the drab, dreary, official lexicon of ‘the Revolution.’ Everything in Havana tracks back to the one brief, heroic moment of glory, a moment frozen in time, historical but without history, in the sense that nothing, evidently, appears to have happened in the half-century since then.

The hard-as-nails old men who rule Cuba appear, still, in the public iconography, as long-haired, gorgeous, romantic revolutionaries, uncorrupted and incorruptible, while everything you see – crumbling infrastructure, a quarantined, impoverished but somehow still resilient people – gives the lie to their lies.

Yes, the American embargo has done enormous damage. Yes, the regime has delivered education and health-care. But the regime, let it be said, is the author, also, of Cuba’s misfortune.

Failed economic policies, incompetence, repression – not to mention Cuba’s long alliance with and dependence on the Soviet Union – are visible everywhere in the streets and on the faces that you see in Havana. The tools of dictatorship – the cult of the leaders,  cult of the Revolution, the ideological instruments of the schools and the radio, not to mention the ‘repressive apparatus’ of police and the prisons – are there, too, if you choose to see them.

Here are a few images: the primary school, touchingly – or cynically – named after Camilo Cienfuegos: like Che Guevara, a hero of the Revolution who fell out with the Castros and died – would you believe it? – in mysterious circumstances.

And then you stumble across a simple memorial – on a street corner, lost, almost tender, standing in deep shadow beneath the leaves and branches – to Ethel and Julius  Rosenberg.

 

From Havana, with astonishment

Havana is like no other place I have been to, too layered, complex, brave, catastrophic – too much human experience compacted into one decaying, living, breathing city – to write about or photograph easily. And now that we are back in safe, sane, organized, clean Toronto, we are back also in the mode of ‘planification’  – preparing for tomorrow’s farewell party, preparing for my departure for South Africa on Wednesday – and in a place where meditation, thought, writing, and the making of images – not to mention figuring out what to even think about an astonishing city – must await a quieter time and another day.

Which is a long, roundabout way of saying, we are back, we are fine, we had an amazing time – and there will be photos and commentary to follow.

In the meanwhile, just one – fairly benign – image as a teaser: the famous Malacon.

The Malacon, Havana.jpg