The balustrades are shaped like naked women and the wrought iron gate is topped with stone slabs. The garden barely has room for a couple of feet of grass from which a diminutive Pekinese barks all day. From the front door you can see the line of the bar that divides the living room from the kitchen, with bottles filled with colored liquids. A plastic tank overlooks the roof, storing enough water for days of scarcity. The iron and glass windows reveal the figures moving within the house and at night also reflect the brightness of the TV. The entire lowercase “mansion” has been painted the vermillion color that today is a sign of prosperity. With this tone preferred by those who make their way economically despite privations and bureaucratic absurdities.
Even on unpaved streets, these homes stand out, retouched by their own efforts and convertible pesos. Minuscule palaces with pretensions of grandeur suddenly popping into view. They leave us caught between surprise and optimism, on encountering them amid the twists and turns of La Platanito, La Timbre, Zamora, el Romerillo, and other rundown neighborhoods. Hard up against overflowing dumpsters or sewer ditches the ooze down the road, but within themselves these “doll houses” are like bubbles of well-being. They have these pretensions expressed in fanciful details such as columns shaped like tree branches, or plaster dwarfs guarding the gates. Extravagantly decorated tons of times, architecturally ridiculous many others, these imitation castles speak of a strong desire to live in a beautiful, personalized space. They are like the baroque walls of some mausoleum in a Havana cemetery, but this time for the enjoyment of life.
I love to stumble across these facades and see their occupants looking out from the small balconies. There is something in them, in the paint chosen to cover the walls and in the bell hanging over the door that gives me hope. I am comforted to know that the desire to progress materially was not erased by so many years of false egalitarianism and faked modesty. Some eagerness for prosperity remains within us and now this greed has a color, vermillion, that is impossible to hide.