Havana's Pools: That Blue Water Yonder / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez
Posted on July 29, 2015
14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 21 July 2015 — Now 67 years of age, Juan
Carlos recalls how when he was a kid he climbed up on a roof and from
there spied on the pool of an adjacent exclusive Havana hotel. He was
fascinated by what he saw, but Juan Carlos' family's financial
limitations kept him from enjoying all that magnificence. The slogan
"The People Have a Right to Sports" had firmly taken root by his teens
and early adult years. Consequently, Juan Carlos got to splash around in
several pools, and for free. However, his memories of those blue waters
now come back to haunt him. Today, all the pools near Juan Carlos are
either in a state of total ruin or way beyond his budget.
Currently retired, Juan Carlos insists that "access to pools in July and
August should be a human right." When summer heat waves make Cubans
sweat so profusely, "there's nothing better then taking a dip to cool
off," he says, with a confident half-smile.
After touring those places in Havana where kids once frolicked loudly as
others pirouetted before plunging in, it is obvious that pools are no
longer affordable to all. Public pools are the most dilapidated. The
lack of chlorine, paint, failing pumps, and lack of maintenance has led
to all the "Closed" notices appearing on many of the capital's pools.
Whoever walks under the blazing sun up the street leading to the
University of Havana's Calixto Garcia Hospital would undoubtedly be
upset when coming upon the faded blue paint on what used to be the
University Stadium's Swimming Pool. Lying there empty, deserted for no
reason, rests the place where once upon a time students practiced their
strokes, and where swimming meets between the University's departments
The same thing has happened to El Pontón, a sports and recreation center
on the corner of Oquendo and Manglar Streets in Downtown Havana. El
Pontón used to house two pools, one for laps and the other for diving.
The latter had a thirty-foot-high diving platform. Yet all that remains
of these pools is an enormous pit full of trash through which the
floodwaters in this low-lying area are drained off.
"This was once full of kids," recalled an elderly man who was trying to
do his morning exercises in the midst of overgrown weeds on a field
which many years ago was a baseball diamond. "A lot of us from the area
would bring our kids here so that they would learn to swim," he
remembers. "I now have a fifteen-year-old granddaughter. If she falls in
the water she'd drown. She's never had the chance to swim in a pool, not
even to just learn how to float.
On the list of destruction on which appears El Pontón, one can also find
the José Martí Stadium, located on the Avenue of the Presidents just a
few yards from the Malecón. Youngsters now use the empty pool for soccer
matches. It is also not uncommon on some nights for couples to use this
pool for lovemaking under the twinkling stars. "The only thing missing
in this pool is an avocado plant growing right in the middle of it.
Maybe when that happens they'll finally realize they need to fix it,"
complained Fidelio, a resident of nearby "E" Street, who goes for a run
on the stadium's dilapidated track every morning.
A few blocks from the José Martí Stadium stands the Havana Riviera
Hotel, opened in 1957 with twenty floors and 352 guest rooms. This
enormous hotel has a pool that can be enjoyed even by those who are not
guests. Admission costs 15 CUC for adults and ten for children, with a
snack included that is actually eighty percent of the total price. Juan
Carlos would have to not touch one single cent of his pension for a
whole two months in order to enjoy such a luxury.
Notwithstanding all the bad news, our retiree is not giving up. He asked
a friend with Internet access to find him a private pool. Three days
later he was handed a list with more than fifty options, almost all of
them in the more upscale districts of Vedado, Miramar, and Casino
Deportivo. "This one is the pool I told you about!" Juan Carlos
exclaimed, with the same eagerness that as a youngster he felt when
first spied on those distant blue pool waters from a rooftop. However,
now he cannot afford to enjoy it.
Aside from offering dining services and lodging in their homes, numerous
families also advertise the use of a pool as an added attraction. These
houses are usually rented out for "fiestas de quince" (15-year-old
girls' birthday parties), weddings, or for the arrival of an émigré
relative whose family wants to welcome him in one central location where
they can all enjoy a relatively lavish get-together. In Havana's most
centrally located neighborhoods, enjoying a day of dips in a pool, with
a couple of beverages included, and perhaps a light lunch, costs no less
than ten CUC per person.
After touring all the pools he swam in his youth but that now lay in
ruins, Juan Carlos also had to rule out the hotel and private home
offers. The excessive prices are a reality he cannot ignore.
Nevertheless, a friend lent him a 67-inch diameter inflatable pool. Last
weekend he set it up on his balcony, filled it with a few buckets of
water, and sat in it with a bottle of Cuban Bucanero beer in hand. He
looked like a teenager. The next day, Juan Carlos was informed that a
neighbor had snitched on him to the police for "excessive use of water
from their building's tank."
Translated by José Badué
Source: Havana's Pools: That Blue Water Yonder / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez |
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