Havana has to be enjoyed with audacity and open mind, because there are multiple Havanas. The capital city is plural, like all cities that are big, or all that are old, or those that are big and old at the same time.The first thing you need to know is that, when it comes to strolling through Havana, you have to be daring because there are several Havanas. Havana is plural, like every big city, or old city, or the ones that are both big and old at the same time.
The very best of Havana is the fact that there is always a contradiction. Since it’s the capital, it’s the place where everything converges. There is a flat-shoe Havana and a high-heeled one; a clean Havana, the one that smells like the sea and a gangrenous and dying Havana. Havana follows the rhythm of rumba, reggaeton, bolero, jazz, and there is a small piece of Havana in silence.
It all depends on the Havana we’re looking for.
That’s why getting lost in Havana is not simple. The city is a grid and, like the bolero lyric shows, if you walk for a long time, sooner or later, a rising steam curtain behind a wall announces that you’re near the surrounding seafront.
But within its water walls, Havana is a city of options. There are as many options as Havanas and, in recent years, with the growth of the private sector, the number of possibilities is even higher.
Movie theaters, for example, are public alternatives where different shows can be enjoyed for a low price. Like Havana, there are numerous types of movie theaters. There was a time when Chaplin Movie Theater, located at 23rd and 12thstreets, championed the claim for a committed and Latin American art to stand for the resistance against industries and screen high-quality works. It’s no longer the same, but Chaplin still stands out as a facility that brings to mind senses of past times and its program does not aim at big audiences, but those who love exercising their mind.
There are other movie theaters for other publics. Yara is one of them, as the place to premier famous movies that attract the crowds. Its notorious corner (23rd and M) are a meeting area for most of the Cuban LGTBI community at night, escaping from high temperatures.
That community is also fond of King Bar. While many people understand this name as the bar of the king, a significant number of Cuban people think that this name refers to a wild sexual intercourse. Anyway, both King Bar and Reverse are some of the most popular gay-friendly private properties in Cuba, although they are not advertised as such.
State-run Las Vegas is also very popular, with its renowned cross-dressing show that stand out due to the sexual education work. The elegant and singular divas in Las Vegas show a different transvestitism, closer to the feelings and in constant interaction with the public that loves them.
Those who prefer less-diverse areas, go to BolaHavana or Sarao Bar. These private clubs are frequented by Havana’s nocturnal show-business people. You can usually find the reggaeton singer of the moment. Places like these are characterized by the high price of tickets and offers, so they are not usually chosen by students, intellectuals, artists.
They actually prefer such premises as Diablo Tun Piano Bar, which is very popular among Cuban university students that follow artists and troubadours like Ray Fernandez or Frank Delgado, famous for their reflexive and critical music. Pepito´s Bar and Buda are other spaces for those who go against the tide.
In the same breath, there are several cafés, like Fortuna´s Joe or Mamá Inés. These properties are great to have a conversation and enjoy a bohemian and artistic environment, while tasting a delicious infusion.
When it comes to pleasing your palate, Havana features options that range from popular Guarida, the set where Cuban movie Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry & Chocolate) was filmed, frequented by members of the European royal family, internationally acclaimed artists and boldface names from the business realm; or the place that was recently visited by US president Barack Obama, San Cristobal, or El Floridita, where writer Ernest Hemingway used to enjoy his daiquiri; all the way to more modest and intimate initiatives like D´ Lirio restaurant, right in front of the national Capitol, or elegant Mimosa, a pizzeria nestled in Chinatown.
As for those who decide to walk and pay for nothing, Havana its parks, squares, wonderful buildings (due to their beauty and the capability to avoid gravity), its boulevards and avenues. Two of them, Obispo Street and Reina Avenue, are perfect allegories of the multiple Havanas. The first one, paved, crowded by tourists, stores and boutiques, maraca and guitar sounds, paintings on classic cars, secondhand books and coconut water, the elderly wearing guayabera, old carriages (modern transport cooperatives); and the second one is quiet, with dirty streets, crossed by buses packed with souls, it features made-up facades, in a miraculous statics, with fried food, tamales, sweat and flattering comments, visits of all popes that have arrived in the island.
Last but not least, Havana has its seafront. The place mentioned in all boleros, where footsteps come together, the giant sofa, which is neither public (there are areas where you can’t fish, swim or park your bicycle), nor private (people fish, swim and park their bicycles), with old sections and other areas that have been retouched with cement and art, a place of decisions and proposals. This is the only place where all Havanas come together to take a break after a long walk.
Written by Yerisleidis Menéndez / PanamericanWorld – Havana