No one could have invented Havana. It’s too audacious, too contradictory and – despite 60 years of withering neglect – too damned beautiful. How it does it is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s the long history of piracy, colonialism and mobster rule. Perhaps it’s the survivalist spirit of a populace scarred by two independence wars, a revolution and a US trade embargo. Or possibly it’s something to do with the indefatigable salsa energy that ricochets off walls and emanates most emphatically from the people. Don’t come here with a list of questions; just bring an open mind and prepare for a long, slow seduction.
In Havana, history is piled up like hoarded treasure in a dusty attic – except these days, thanks to proactive City Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler, the colonial thoroughfares look a little less dusty. Leal Spengler has been nailing Havana’s exhausted infrastructure back together piece by piece for more than 30 years. The results are startling. Walk the streets of Habana Vieja today and you’ll quickly feel a genuine connection with the past in imposing coastal fortifications and intimate, traffic-free plazas stuffed with museums. Equally engrossing are the scattered leftovers from Cuba’s more recent marriages with the USA and the USSR.