Havanna is unlike any other city I've ever been to, my head spinning with images and ideas as I try to type fast, because using the internet (which is legal only for foreigners, not Cubans) is incredibly expensive and as slow as it was in the mid-90s and I have only eight minutes left of my half hour time allotment after dutifully emailing my mom.
On our first day here, M and I scored a fifth floor apartment from the sweet tobacco-and-domino-loving Rolando, which looks out over the Centro Historico, Havanna's beautiful crumbling center. Despite the dog poop on the sidewalks, the little kids peeing in gutters, the rank dumpsters, and the sad disrepair of the gorgeous old buildings, the Centro pulses with a ferocious heartbeat. Music spills out of cafes all day and night; little rowdy packs of shirtless boys play soccer on any available patch of pavement; girls hold hands and eat ice cream cones and break into spontaneous dance; we feel safe and cushioned, anonymous, though the edge of economic sanctions appears to cut deep.
We were thrilled to have a kitchen until we took a trip into a grocery store, where fifteen people waited in line for a pint of yogurt or a hunk of cheese, which are kept in display cases and doled out according to ration cards. The shelves are not stocked. Long lines snake down the sidewalks, people waiting for fresh bread, eggs, and a turn at the bank teller.
Yikes! Time is up.... what else? So much! The mojitos run sweet and strong, the night-time rain last night as locals danced in the streets to the tunes of the bars that they can't afford to drink in, polished and preserved for the tourists, was surreal and enlightening. I can't believe this place.