Building 2.13, Calle Amargura, Havana, Cuba, 2017. Abandoned by the government—this is how persons in this building, like the persons in other buildings, describe themselves and their residences. Everyday life will continue until someone arrives to buy the property. No one says where they will go next.
San Lazaro, Havana, Cuba, 2017. Slogans reaffirming the Revolution detail walls across Havana. I am more captivated, however, by another form of comrade and camaraderie.
Plaza Vieja, Havana, Cuba, 2017. An ornate landmark façade dominates a collection of bourgeois restaurants, cafés, and shops in the Plaza Vieja. Its front windows open to the sky behind, the interior and back walls knocked out in the tradition of developers gutting structures in districts enticing to tourists. Usually in Havana these buildings are deeply decayed, even rotting; when renewed, they will lodge none of their old inhabitants, whether familial or commercial.
Calle Obispo, Havana, Cuba, 2017. At all hours, the pedestrian thoroughfare of Calle Obispo is thick with tourists. For a long while, this Cubana stands at the edge of the sidewalk, biting her nails, listing, watching.
Building 2.4, Calle Amargura, Havana, Cuba, 2017. What strikes me most powerfully: These were beautiful buildings, built of beautiful material and with a sensitive aesthetic eye. Their beauty lasts even through decay, not because of decay. Another word for this is romance.
Building 7.7, Malecón), Havana, Cuba, 2017. This inner courtyard holds one of the few intact mosaic paintings that once filled a building along the Malecón: Venice Enjoying the Music. Most mosaic tiles of this building’s once ornate interior have been stripped whole or in part from the crumbling walls. The large apartment building, taking up a city block, soon will be razed to give way to a hotel parking structure.
Building 7.2, Malecón, Havana, Cuba, 2017. Inside these rotting structures of Havana, including ones with missing walls, pitted floors, and ceilings open to the elements, communities live. They play music, they laugh here. Kids play. When I climb to the second floor of the building once decorated throughout with mosaic-paintings of Venice, a young boy calls into an apartment. Children pour out. They dance, they pose, they scream and giggle. We have a mini shoot. They know their moves. The ways of Pop are an international language.
Callejon de Hamel, Havana, Cuba, 2017. When searching for a bakery around Callejno de Hamel, the public thoroughfare of Santería, I meet a man who swiftly offers a tour of his building, the roof of which looks out over the tourist-filled Santería alley below. Inside the building, everyone he introduces is a practitioner of Santería; he points out the identifying beads on the left arm. When he introduces his mother, however, I am attracted to her right arm: a collection of bangles announces an arm so muscled it appears god-like.
Calle Lagunas, Havana, Cuba, 2017. The proletariat neighborhood of Central Havana experiences both government-sponsored infrastructure development and gentrification. Casas particulaires appear everywhere.
Building 3.4, La Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba, 2017. On the second floor of an Old Havana building, a grand cavernous space is empty of traces of its function. It is sublime, uncanny, and a canvas for imagined futures that both may and may never happen.
Santeria Altar. Callejon de Hamel, Havana, Cuba, 2017.
Calle Manrique, Havana, Cuba, 2017. A classic American car pulls off the Malecón to help out another American classic. The men—always men—pull themselves out and set to work.
Calle Galiano, Havana, Cuba, 2017. The proprietor of a gun range sits beneath a collection of printed materials. Among the photographs and clippings is an architectural print. The modern, sweeping lines of the skyscraper are as potently utopic as the image of a smiling Fidel.
San Lazaro, Havana, Cuba, 2017. Buildings crumble every day in Havana, with most left standing as-is. What appears, and is, ruined, however, fuels infrastructure recycling in a time of limited physical resources. People from the neighborhood, and from outside it, come in when a building is on the edge of collapse. They strip the premises right down to sheering off the face. What is left hovers between dilapidation and a state of having been cleansed. It is frighteningly charming to an eye groomed in neoclassical ruin paintings of Pompeii and other mythic sites.
Calle Galiano, Havana, Cuba, 2017. A woman peers into the used furniture shop. Having explored the interiors of broken-down buildings across Central and Old Havana, I question where these pieces of noble furniture come from. Who owned them? Who will buy them? Later, when riding a cab to a dinner, I will ride through neighborhoods composed of homes and mansions so grand, luminous, and decorated, I think immediately of historic city-center mansions across the American South. I caution myself: The topic of Havana and its development is not monolithic.
Building 1.22, Malecón, Havana, Cuba, 2017. The edges of broken marble steps dip toward cisterns positioned floors below. A frieze of windows displays objects, but not people. This is an unusual omission in Havana, where glass always gives way to visible people. I discovered Havana to be an open, very public society. A corridor leads past a string of defaced and stripped rooms open to the elements. Nothing stirs. I know people live here because a man opened and closed a heavy wooden door nearby, but otherwise I can imagine the building as too dilapidated to have even squatters.
Building 3.5, La Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba, 2017. In neo-classical ruin paintings, the bathing spring often abuts the beautiful architectural remnant.
San Lazaro, Havana, Cuba, 2017. Central Havana is awash in entrepreneurs, especially the proprietors and proprietresses of casas particulaires, state-sanctioned (so taxed) guesthouses for tourists. With this income, homeowners can renovate and develop new spaces—like my own host is doing, building a self-contained apartment within his building. These restored, often freshly plastered and painted, structures remain contiguous with the elements of ruin, sometimes even ruins of a neoclassical origin aesthetically, like here on the right-hand edge of the building. A broken arch decorated with classical designs leads to a back alley and doorways out of sight.
Calle O'Reilly, Havana, Cuba, 2017. In Old Havana, everyday existence (Life) and ever-growing tourism (Art) commingle.