We are on a school break. Mothers and children who want to go to the zoo, the aquarium or some other recreation area crowd the bus stops. In Old Havana there isn’t a single nook or cranny without those little ones demanding an ice cream or pulling on their grandmother’s skirt so she’ll buy them a pizza. Outside the amusement park a long line waits to ride the crazy cars and feel the wind in their hair on the roller coaster. Meanwhile, parents reach a trembling hand into their wallets. They know that in most cases only convertible pesos – hard currency – will do for candy and soft drinks, although the entrance fees for museums and movie theaters are in national money. The schools, until next Monday, will be silent vacant sites.
My son, who is at that awkward age between childhood and adolescence, also enjoys his week of vacation. Yesterday he wanted to swim for a while at Havana’s eastern beaches, and we went there with my father who hadn’t felt the sand on his feet for a decade. The sea was gorgeous, as always, the sun played its part up above, and even a few clouds offered us their shade in this sizzling April. Nature, in short, put the best spin on the afternoon. A mixture of apathy and neglect, however, has changed the coastal landscape I know so well from my own childhood. In the tourist area in front of the Tropicana Hotel, of course, it was impeccably clean with police making the rounds so that no Cuban would “bother” the foreigners. But outside that perimeter of comfort, the setting for natives is a real ecological disaster.
The sand is no longer a rolling area of soft waves. Near the sea it looks gray and compacted, while the wind has blown the finer grains into huge dunes covered with thorny plants. Between the street and what would be the backdrop for the summer beachgoers, there are now these mounds that must be scaled to take a dip. Rocks, pieces of concrete, and even lumber, hug the water’s edge along several areas of the shoreline. Boca Ciega, the part of the beach where families have been going for thirty years — and prostitutes with their clients for twenty — today is an area lacking in the minimal services of restrooms, snack bars and umbrellas. It looks like a battlefield after the bombing. Taking off your shoes to walk a bit is not a good idea, because of the glass and shards of metal. Not to mention the part known as Guanabo, where the sewage ditches drain into the sea. The worst is in the faces of the residents: an expression of neglect and abandonment, of the former glory turned into salt.
My son was paddling about in the water, while the adult that I am remembered all the sand castles built in that place. I thought of those diminutive forts from whose pointed towers the future, then, seemed better and more beautiful.