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What price equality?

Every colonial building in La Habana is a potential gem, but sadly, only some of them have been restored to their former glory. A work in progress….. But occasionally you come across something so exceptional, it stops you in your tracks. In the courtyard of one such building I was stopped in my tracks by this exceptional marble carving of a mother and her child

….and seen from above, the expression on the child’s face tells its own story of their close relationship…

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On my way out of La Habana, returning to my casa, I prepared to do battle with the queues for the bus….it is a chaotic experience, and those who survive it have to be battle-hardened. I approached the queue and asked ¿el último?….who’s the last?

A gentleman told me he was at the head of the queue, but told me to stand next to him….I was puzzled at first, but we got talking. I gained his confidence, and he slowly gained mine. When I asked eventually what he did for a living, astonishingly he told me he was a cardiologist, but he had a second job supervising infants in a nursery…..I was struggling to fully appreciate what he was telling me.

One of the few people I’ve heard say anything negative about Cuba, he told me that he was not allowed to earn more than $50 per month, and that the average wage for most people was $15-20 per month. It was then I understood why he was fighting the unruly queues to squeeze into the state-subsidised buses……but even more astonishingly, he slipped me the 40 centavos (2p) for the fare, got me into the bus, and grabbed a seat for me. Quite bewildering, really…..

And before I leave Cuba, I wonder if anyone could enlighten me why the Irishman O’Reilly should be honoured with a street name? On a plaque it said “Two island peoples in the same sea of struggle and hope: Cuba and Ireland”.

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La Habana

In all its crumbling magnificence, La Habana has not changed at all in the 15 years since I was last here. It is still crumbling away, but scaffolding around its Capitolio suggests they are trying to do some restoration. Sixty years ago, before the revolution, the city was the richest and most lavish in the Caribbean, but lack of money and expertise since the revolution quickly saw it deteriorate in succeeding years.

The Capitolio was built by Machado, a dictator in the 20s who most obviously ‘sucked up’ to the Americans by building a duplicate copy of the Capitol building in Washington, but somehow it’s architecture doesn’t quite fit the Carribbean context. But despite the flaws in the environment, La Habana is very much a partying city. The sounds of salsa come out of every bar and restaurant, street dancers troupe through the streets in their regalia…

…while one of the museums celebrates a Cuban interpretation of Mexican papier mache art…..note the Habana cigar in the dragon’s teeth….

…and, of course, one of the city’s many defining characteristics are the fleets of lovingly restored American classic cars, many of which got into Cuba via Venezuela.

A vibrant city, a honeypot destination for people from across the world, but as I sat on an overcrowded bus on my 5 centavo journey to the suburbs, the faces of the people betrayed history’s ethnic melting pot that Cuba is. Every thing from black Congolese to the purest white Caucasian is evident in Cuba’s racial mix…..but never once have I been aware of any racial tensions. It just doesn’t seem to figure in their thinking…..

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