In Havana in the 1950s stores, cinemas, theaters, clinics and hospitals had great open doors. (With the advent of air conditioning they were alternately opened and closed to maintain the pleasant indoor temperature.) This allowed citizens to easily come and go without unnecessary crowding and inconvenience. Back then, which according to the current official propaganda were “the bad old days,” doormen (who were to be found only in places like hotels, cinemas, theaters and the like) were there to welcome you and invite you to come it, or to take your ticket if it was a cinema or theater. You could go in with wallets and handbags and you did not have to check them or suffer the humiliation of having to hand them over to someone else as though you were a criminal.
Over time things changed. The grand doors were closed, leaving only small openings through which to enter and exit, which is now done under the watchful eye of a doorman, whose job it was to keep you from entering with wallets or handbags, and to check your purchases to make sure they matched your sales receipt. The smile has disappeared, replaced with a disinterested “Come back soon,” said perhaps in hope of a tip that never comes. Now that everything is so great — again, according to official propaganda — everything is behind metal bars. Even glass doors have matching metal ones, the kind that sometimes extend across the display windows, unless they have been replaced with concrete block walls or metal pull-down shutters that seal them off entirely.
This is an example of the secrecy syndrome applied to businesses and other public spaces, one in which the first concern is to hide and then later complicate access. An innovation of tropical socialism! Let us hope that new private businesses will do away with this ridiculous custom so that once again these great doorways — open to all or repeatedly opening and closing to retain all the air-conditioning — might once again return to the city.
7 December 2013