Sunday, August 14, 2016

Old Havana On The Eve Of Fidel's Birthday

Friday night, on the eve of Fidel Castro's ninetieth birthday celebration.

Having just endured the chaos of pre-birthday celebrations for Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi last May, I steeled myself for massive traffic jams, police barricades, and endless throngs of citizens in full-blown party mode. 

But this is Cuba. Everything is different here. See for yourself. 

The narrow streets and airy plazas of Old Havana were mostly empty and entirely peaceful. We found one old man set up with a laptop projecting a slideshow of Fidel's glory days against an impromptu screen. A small crowd had gathered around to watch, whether in silent adoration or stifled outrage, I'm not sure.

My friends and I, fueled by a pure chocolate snack session at a popular confectionery cafe, wandered here and there, trying to capture photos of the heat lightning and watching the quiet passers by. 

Our only brush with excitement came at the very end of the evening when an enterprising Cuban man tried to market to me with an invitation to a local social club and an offer to show me where to buy cigars. 

"Alright, goodnight," he politely conceded as I successfully brushed him off. "Please enjoy my beautiful culture."

I smiled in return. But as I continued on my way to the car, I found myself wondering which culture he meant - Fidel's original dream of a Marxist paradise, or the fledgling capitalist economy that is slowly developing in the vacuum of his apparent failure. 

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