Sunday, May 24, 2015

What the Wind Left Behind

What the Wind Left Behind* / Cubanet, Rafael Alcides
Posted on May 23, 2015

Cubanet, Rafael Alcides, Havana, 10 April 2015 – Havana sixty years ago
was a pretty city—clean, young and with no thieves of any consequence in
the neighborhood. Around 9:00 at night the garbage truck would make its
rounds. It was a regular truck, not one of those modern-day versions
that look like interplanetary spaceships. It carried four workmen—two
standing and holding on to the rear of the truck, flanking it—the other
two at the top. Upon hearing the bell signaling the truck's approach,
the neighbors would hastily place the garbage can at the door, the two
men from the rear would toss it with great flair to the ones at the top
of the truck, those men would fling it back with equal style, and the
can would be placed once again by the door. It was painful to watch them
do this work that would cause the street to be enveloped in the stench
of rotten melons. However, these men, with the elegance and precision
with which they went about their task, made it seem like they were
playing an individual basketball game. How many of these vehicles the
city possessed, I don't know, but your neighborhood truck would show up
every night, through rain, a cold snap, or the coming of a hurricane.

This was not all.

In the afternoons, a crop duster would fly overhead, fumigating against
flies and mosquitoes, and at dawn, Havana smelled clean. Overnight, its
streets had been washed down and whisked with the metal brush that was
applied between the road and the sidewalk by a powerful machine. The
sewer manholes had their covers, the sanitation system was inspected
every week, power outages were unknown, and Havana gave the impression
of a city inhabited by people who had never done harm to anyone and
therefore could live without fear, despite this being a time when the
din of sudden gunfire was commonly heard along with the eruption of
firecrackers. In the residential neighborhoods open planting beds were
common, and in the traditional El Vedado neighborhood, the little
foot-and-a-half high wall was established by municipal ordinance.

Not even the multimillionaire Sarrá** was allowed to hide his mansion
behind the sinister metal sheeting so reminiscent of the Nazi
crematoria, so in-vogue today among the nascent New Man of the Havana
bourgeoisie, with the addition of a pair of large dogs prowling the
yard, fierce as lions—whose daily upkeep costs as much as a doctor's
retirement—plus the requisite car alarm. Even regular Joe Schmoes who
once had to sell their toilets just to survive have assumed a "bunker
mentality," securing their doors and windows with iron grilles.

It is true that in that Havana prior to the advent of The New Man, the
car would slumber near the front door and awaken with its four tires,
battery, radio and windshields intact. The petty thief of those days
didn't venture beyond the occasional shirt or boxer shorts fished
through a window with a wire coat hanger hooked to the end of a
broomstick. You would open the door upon awakening in the morning, and
there would be the milk bottle and bread sack that had been left on your
stoop. It is also true that, day or night, a generally friendly foot cop
(the mean ones were in the squad cars) would guard the block with
monastic devotion, he would stop to chat with the neighbors and, where
least expected, there he would be, with his whistle and club. The night
patrols of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) have
not been able to take their place.

Back then Havana had a marginal neighborhood called, "Las Yaguas." Today
it has dozens. The lack of employment had stimulated the presence of
door-to-door salesmen and street vendors, persons generally lacking much
education. This army's ranks have increased a hundredfold, and now
includes the university professional who in his free time will come to
sell you ham, powdered milk, and olive oil. Even the vendor of bleach
and brooms, which he lugs on his shoulders, is a high school graduate or
mid-grade technician. Amongst female and male prostitutes, a doctoral
degree is not uncommon.

It is appalling to see so much bad taste on display in today's Havana;
to see the ruins that make some of its central areas reminiscent of the
London depicted in the RKO Pathé newsreels at end of the Second World
War; to feel the funereal shudder of buildings that haven't been painted
in years; to contemplate the orthopedics present in a storefront
converted into jerry-built housing by a bricklayer without resources; to
walk through the streets at dark with the fear of being flattened by a
falling balcony. Yes, we have things now that we didn't have before. The
infant mortality rate has been reduced to insignificance, and the
embargo continues. But, Ladies and Gentlemen, 56 years have passed, not
two or three. Fifty-six: the age of the Republic that is gone with the wind.

Source: What the Wind Left Behind* / Cubanet, Rafael Alcides |
Translating Cuba -

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