Fierce notes from a rusted trumpet wail and dance through the dry, salty Havana air that whirls along the Malecón at sunset. The trumpet player with his frayed fedora hat and cotton pants is one of the only people sitting on the stone wall by himself, but the love he has for his country is enough to fill his heart.
The seemingly endless, curving stone wall that separates the pronounced city of Havana from the daunting ocean waters below it is populated with lovers, friends, and family who gather each night to talk casually over some cervezas, and enjoy time with each other. No cell phones, no internet, just each other. Because in Cuba, that’s what matters the most, just like in the good old days.
That’s the thing about Cuba — it’s a living time capsule where romance prevails and there’s a general appreciation and respect for each other. The classic cars and architecture are all the same as they were in the 1950’s, as are the traditions and Socialist way of life. But what comes along with the beauty and preservation of a time capsule is also the harsh reality of unchanging times. While the rest of the world changed over the past fifty years, Cuba remained the same as it was when it was frozen in 1958, except time took a toll on the aesthetics.
Pasar tiempo. A term that is perfectly descriptive of Cuba — to pass time. It’s what everyone seems to be doing, and they’re doing it right. They live, love, laugh, and cry, just like everyone else, but there’s a beautiful appreciation for this indescribable place that gives love a greater meaning than to just be with someone.
The people are happy despite their hardships. Life seems easy-going…even if it isn’t easy. People are passionate and proud, and they live and love boldly with every ounce of their hearts.
It’s somewhat strange and ironic to see everyone so happy, for behind them are the decrepit, crumbling buildings of Centro Havana that they live in.
The shrill of the trumpet sends a shiver down my spine as I watch around me as if my life is a movie. Sultry hues of pink and tangerine-orange paint the Caribbean sky for the staggering amounts of couples who come for a romantic night with their loved one along the Malecón. Sometimes that is all they can afford for a night out, sometimes that is all they desire. It is a tradition that has existed for decades that lives on in this beautiful time capsule.
The sun is melting down towards the horizon, and the Havana sky turns its kaleidoscope to a pale peach, strewn with tufts of fuchsia-tinted clouds. I look past the newly restored buildings that face the Malecón, and into an empty lot where a team of kids are excited to play baseball while family and friends watch from the side. It’s somewhat strange and ironic to see everyone so happy, for behind them are the decrepit, crumbling buildings of Centro Havana that they live in.
I try to imagine what they would have looked like when they were first built. It reminds me of a city along the Italian Riviera and I am impressed that a Caribbean island could boast such magnificent infrastructure. Or at least it once did.
Seeing them makes my heart ache. Such beautiful buildings and mansions that don’t get the maintenance they deserve because there is no money to be made by the multiple families that live in each one of them. My heart aches more, and I feel a pang of anger seeing the distraught faces inside of the seemingly uninhabitable buildings. I try to look away, feeling bashful for looking as if I’m not supposed to.
But I have to. I have to see what these amazing people are forced to endure. I have to see what could very well have been my family looking back at me as pieces of the roof crumble on their heads.
The trumpet trills again along the Malecón, snapping me out of my reverie. The tune reminds me of a salsa club, and all I can picture is a sexy Cuban couple dancing skillfully in a swanky disco tech. The copper-toned, leggy woman is wearing a knee-length dress that twirls and flows as she dances easily to the beats of the live salsa music. Her handsome partner guides her as if he could predict her every move, and chances are that he loves her so much that he could.
As they sidestep, twist, and twirl around the imaginary dance floor, I feel envious of the deeply passionate love they have for each other, and that exists in the real-life Cuban couples I pass along the Malecón. They gaze fiercely into each other’s eyes, as if their universes are intertwined, and hold each other closely as if they would never let go.
That’s because in Cuba, when you find the one you love…you never let them go.
It’s the type of love you pray to find. The type that makes you tingle all over just thinking about the touch of their skin against yours. You want to be close to them at all times, and even when you’re side by side, you yearn to be even closer. You would think that there is a lot of praying going on in Cuba because it seems as though everyone is lucky enough to find this passionate, smoldering love.
I imagine a young Cuban couple, intertwined in a sultry embrace. They’re the smoldering Latin lovers that make you wonder how every Telenovela star is so damn sexy. They’re in one of the aging mansions in Havana, except it’s seventy years ago, and the regal estate is still in impeccable condition. Its winding marble staircase leads up from the lavishly decorated living room, to the bedroom that is heavily ornate with traditional Cuban decór.
Most of it is religious pieces, all intricately designed and hung proudly around the room, and I can imagine her praying there for a love that’s so true. Her faith is as strong as her heart is, it keeps her as safe as her lover’s embrace. He kisses her meaningfully, and moves with purpose; gently caressing every inch of her delicate skin that she so strategically shows off through lace lingerie. As she breathes heavily she kisses the cross on his neck, whispering a silent prayer of gratitude for the man she loves so much.
Another block with a building half dilapidated reminds me that while I am envious of their love, there is a lot that I am fortunate enough to have that they may never get to know. While I waste time worrying about what to wear for a date, they are probably making deep, passionate love on a pile of their clothes whose styles are irrelevant. Because style is involuntarily irrelevant in Cuba, as is the availability and opportunity to buy it.
Instead, sex appeal is the staple piece in every outfit. The women wear skimpy tops that expose their sun-kissed cleavage, but it’s completely appropriate for the warm Havana weather. But they aren’t dressed to be suggestive…they are dressed to impress their lovers, no matter how many years they’ve been together. The men are simply smoldering, with that certain type of Spanish spice that you’d see in a Dolce and Gabbana ad. They seem like they don’t even have to try, and they act that way as well, almost as if they don’t even know how sexy they really are.
I can see this sex appeal in the jovenes that we’ve encountered while walking the brick-laid streets of Havana. Even before we had the casting call with the Cuban modeling agency for the editorial, I was seeing some of the most insanely attractive people left and right in Cuba.
One of them was a young man with a phenomenal jawline and deep, passionate eyes, who was selling books near the water in Havana Vieja. I still can’t decide if I was more drawn to the old books for sale about Cuba or his scruffy, captivating appearance. He seemed guarded, reserved, as if he was unsure of what we were asking. But he emulated the look and vibe of a young Cuban man, and became a necessity for the shoot.
In fact, we couldn’t have found a more perfect match for the stunning young Cuban girl we found at the casting call in a two-story home in Vedado. That was the modeling agency’s headquarters, and typical of any “start-up” business in Cuba. We saw various jovenes who were auditioning for the part, but the tall, tan, leggy girl with green eyes and an unkempt high-bun was perfect for the part from the beginning.
Her attitude seemed relative to his. Cautious, perplexed, yet poised and professional. Both seemed nervous at first, but when presented with the opportunity, it was one that they’d never want to miss. Because this was the type of opportunity that would not only exemplify their pride for their heritage, but would also give them the recognition they deserve for their hard work and beautiful souls.
Up ahead I see the monumentous collection of fifty Cuban flags, waving proudly in front of the U.S. Embassy. It’s vacant, as it has been for years, but it’s a historical moment because I know it won’t be for long. Things are about to change in Cuba, and I prove it with every step I take along the Malecón. I am a U.S. citizen, and I am allowed be in Cuba. It makes me wonder how many more U.S. citizens will start traveling to Cuba, and I can’t decide whether or not I like the idea.
Tourism has already rapidly increased, and from it many buildings are being renovated and remodeled, but will that lead to the destruction of the beautiful homes that are crumbling? Will the introduction of common American trends like Starbucks and McDonalds steal the appeal of a time-capsuled town?
Or will the influx of money and influence of the U.S. democracy help steer Cuba out of communism, and into a world where its people can prosper and obtain the opportunities they deserve?
The sun has almost completely set behind the ocean, casting a deep-golden halo on the dark waters. I smile at it in a silent salute, knowing it’s gone for now, and the darkness will come, but it will be back tomorrow and shining brighter than ever, on my beloved Havana.