Forget the many artists selling their wares in stalls and on the Prado, Old Havana is a living breathing work of art. The cars, the people, the buildings form part of this incredible tableu vivante which cant be described, it has to be experienced.
Every doorway offers a sliver of life, a portal into that which is cuba and an insight into a world which exists alongside that of the tourist but separate from it. The residents do their best to maintain normalcy in the face of the tourist onslaught but its bound to have an effect. To that extent I got the impression that Old Havana is a place in serious danger of becoming a theme park. It is already almost a caricature of itself…although you probably need to have visited the place to understand that last comment is not as cruel as it sounds. I am tempted to lay the blame for this with the boatloads of cruise passengers belched out of the white monstrosities docked at San Francisco, in the heart of old Havana. But that’s just too easy, we are all of us to blame with our Nikkons at the ready and our pesos convertibles.
Earlier this year a young student from Vienna came to stay with me and I marveled at his constant quest for authenticity in his travels. I believe I too was once like this. But later came to believe that the tourist or traveler can never really have an authentic experience…the mere act of being present alters the parameters. Perhaps it’s the ex-pat in me talking, but the more time you spend in a foreign culture, the more you realize that fitting-in and having an ‘authentic’ experience takes a lot more time and is a lot less sexy then your average traveler ever realizes. Still though, deep in the kitsch that is old Havana I found myself thinking about and also longing for the authenticity the Austrian was seeking.
There is magic in the morning light of Havana. My only advice is to get there and see it before it fades.