Havana, photo: Bill Hackwell
On November 16, Havana marked its 502nd anniversary amid good news: the reopening of borders throughout Cuba, the return of children to the classroom, the rebirth of economic life after almost two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no better way to welcome this new anniversary than with the gradual return of the Caribbean island to the “new normal”.
Little by little, the streets of Cuba’s “capital of dignity” are once again full of life, thanks to the mixture of Cubans and tourists, who choose this city over many others, because of its perfect geographical location, the “climate that favors flowers at all times” and the “decoration of sea, clouds or sun, at the end of every street”, as portrayed by Carpentier in his Habanera Chronicles.
Its beauty is perceived by all, not only by those who were born and grew up walking its streets, witnesses to the passage of time but also by every stranger who comes to it because of its history and its people.
In honor of this new anniversary, a statue dedicated to Eusebio Leal was unveiled by sculptors Jose Villa Soberon and Gabriel Cisneros Baez, his assistant, and was placed at the entrance of The Palace of the General Captains in Old Havana.
People can now approach and take pictures with the Historian of the city (1942 – 2020), whom they saw walking those same streets and who was the visionary of the recovery of much of the architecture of the historic center of Havana.
The physical loss of Leal was irreparable and occurred in the middle of the most difficult months of the pandemic. The city was the most affected one by the health closures and remained isolated from the rest of the provinces for over a year as the only strategy to prevent the spread of the virus.
Thanks to Cuba’s massive vaccination, a process that began in the capital, we can now not only show the beauty of Havana to curious travelers but locals can also disconnect from city life and travel to other cities in the country or meet up with family and friends spread throughout the archipelago.
Inter-American Relations and National Security Researcher Abel Gonzalez described this new happiness perfectly. “Havana has witnessed efforts to preserve the symbol of unity among all Cubans, beyond the origin of birth of its inhabitants,” he wrote in an article published in Cubadebate.
At the end of the day, Havana is made up of citizens from all the country’s territories, who represent, as described by ethnologist Fernando Ortiz, the “Cuban ajiaco”: that mixture of cultural, religious, sports, educational, patriotic, ideological, solidarity and internationalist traditions that runs through the blood of most Cubans.
The real and wonderful city (real y maravillosa), as Carpentier described it, celebrates its 502 years of life in an atmosphere of joy and peace, felt more strongly because the city dwellers come from a period of confinement and tensions, with the pandemic and the US blockade still on the prowl.
There is renewed enthusiasm and there is poetry, as in the verses of Roberto Fernandez Retamar, a Havana native who portrayed like few others the “City cracked every day by the sun / And remade in silence / From dusk / So that the morning finds it again intact, / With only a few papers and many kisses to spare / The only city that is truly mine / Neither better nor worse, neither full nor poor but real.”
November 17, 2021 from Havana