Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Cuba: Architectural dreamscape, Havana

Havana's architecture was breathtaking.  For all kinds of reasons!  There is so much to admire and so many styles reflecting different periods of the city's flamboyant history and culture.  We found ourselves awed but also deeply concerned.  Street after street of imposing buildings revealed themselves in all their beauty but also their decay.  Sometimes it felt like being in a surreal dreamscape or on a troubling film set.  And we wondered how all this devastation had come to be.  As any kind of artist - painter, photographer, writer - you could find a romance in the decay, in the fading colours, the crumbling balconies and the whispers of the past.    

Who wouldn't want to paint this art deco (I think) balcony?  Or place a lonely figure on it and write a poem?  The architectural landscape was inspiring and part of its attraction was the melancholy of its decay.  Plots of moody novels chased me around the streets as I walked in wonder.  But these buildings are not fiction, many are people's homes.  How on earth do they live and stay safe in some of them?  Cubans must be resilient people.

Not every building in Havana is in this terrible need of repair.  There has been a lot of restoration, dating, I believe, from 1982 when Old Havana was made a Unesco World Heritage site.  The large squares - Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de Armas and Plaza de la Catedral - are beautiful and would grace any city.  It is a joy to spend time in them and the surrounding streets.  Currently the Capitolio and the Grand Theatre (home of the National Ballet) are also under restoration.  As a tourist, I like to think that tourism is a big driver for this; I'm sure it must be.    

But there are so many crumbling buildings and some of them are clearly beyond repair, home, in some cases, to nothing more than dusty ghosts, tortured tree roots and feral cats and dogs.

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