In 1967 a man named Eusebio Leal risked his life and laid down in front of a steamroller to prevent the demolition of a piece of historic Old Havana. In a country trying desperately to achieve the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, historic preservation was hardly a priority. But this brave act was the first step in a long road to recovering and rebuilding a city that had been left to crumble by violence and neglect.
But what’s so bizarre, is that this beautifully restored Golden Mile is not what you see in pictures of Havana. It’s not what you’ll see in my pictures. Because the Golden Mile could be mistaken for Cartagena, Colombia or even Spain, it doesn’t evoke the uniqueness of Havana. The camera wants the patina of the unrestored neighborhoods trapped in time, the drama of a mournful art nouveau shell, the time-bending image of a Cadillac cruising past a graffitied squatters’ den.
For our AirBnb experience tour guides, who supplemented their meager 30 USD-equivalent per month salaries by showing us their beautiful city, I hope that the travel restrictions that are squeezing their opportunities ease and life gets easier. For the resilient residents of Havana, I hope that each block of the city gets as lovingly restored as the Golden Mile and that every family’s apartment gets functioning plumbing, a roof and walls, and a coat of paint.
It’s the privilege of a traveler to see beauty in ruin and return home with a phone full of photos. Here are mine.