Revolution and Inspiration in Havana

By ext212
This post is part of a series called Cuba in 2003
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Our next stop is Plaza de la Revolución, the site of the largest Che display in Havana. Hasta la victoria siempre is one of the many revolutionary slogans we will see posted around the country. The plaza is disappointingly empty. However, we were told Cubans congregated here during the Revolution and still do so for commemorative events. The rather phallic memorial dedicated to José Martí is across the street. There is a lift to access the highest point in Havana but because it is Sunday uniformed guards stop us from ascending the ramp and entering the premises.

The first of many Ches in Cuba
The first of many Ches in Cuba

Havana’s Chinatown, El Barrio Chino, is notable for the complete abscence of anyone who looks remotely like us. We get a fair share of inquisitive stares and guesses at our nationalities: Chino! Japon! Corea! Perhaps the irony of being the only Asians in the immediate area is not lost upon the people around us. We’re approached by waiters seeking to lure us into their restaurants for lunch. Strangers put their arms around us and tell us they know the best place to get cigars for cheap.

What Chinese is to Cubans
What Chinese is to Cubans

While Chinatown’s streets are littered and cramped, it’s immediately apparent that La Habana Vieja, Old Havana, is where most restoration efforts are concentrated. Naturally this is where the tourists are and there are small galleries, gift shops and cafes to service us. The Castillo del Morro, built to protect Spain’s fleets from pirate attack back in the 16th century, is on the harbour side. It is illuminated at night as is the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana, the fortress Che took possession of upon his triumphant arrival after the dictator Batista fled in 1959. Every night the cannon is fired to commemorate the closure of the city walls to protect Havana during the war.

Capitolio in Havana, Cuba
Capitolio in Havana, Cuba

We also go to the Capitolio which was built during the era of the dictator Machado. It is styled after the US Capitol in Washington DC. Ask any Cuban and they will tell you that yes, it is inspired by the US Capitol “but is higher and even more grand.” We rest and sit on what used to be the Senate’s steps. It is now the National Library of Science and Technology. I eat my US$1 ice cream while watching the many bicitaxis and cocotaxis, mopeds encased in yellow round domes, puttering by.

Before we head home we pass by Miramar, the residential area where wealthy families lived before the Revolution and is now occupied by embassies and government offices. The buildings here are all gated. They’re absolutely beautiful and well kept. Security guards are all over place. Mercedes Benzs and Audis roll around here. We walked around trying to match flags with the countries. The Philippines and North Korea were two notable sightings.

We planned not to have dinner at Señora Aleida’s house that evening. While waiting to leave for the Jazz Café we play a game of Scrabble with her son, Alejandro. He studied computer science in college and is now working as a programmer. The lights go off for a couple of hours but we continue our game with charged fluorescent lamps while eating popcorn Señora made for us. When the lights return, Alejandro and his girlfriend join us to go to the Jazz Café where US$10 covers dinner and drinks. A live jazz band played some standards while we ate our paella and spaghetti. We drink mojitos and Cristal, Cuba’s national beer, while swapping stories about our respective cultures.

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