A City, A Sentiment / Fernando Dámaso

I am a Habanero. I was born on Porvenir street, spent my childhood in Mantilla and my adolescence in La Virgen del Camino. I studied in La Vibora and worked in El Vedado. My mother, when I was young, used to take me around the city, showing me the streets and buildings and talking to me about architecture. From her, I learned to love it. We always discovered new things that surprised and amazed us. It could be a commercial street, with new and modern stores and cafeterias, or other areas, with great schools, movie theaters, homes and neighborhoods.

The seed planted in childhood bore fruit, and in my teens I tried to get to know the places we had never visited, adding to my bitter Marianao, La Lisa, Miramar, the urban areas to the west and east of the city, Regla, Guanabacoa and others. All the buildings interested me, be they factories, schools, housing, stores, parks, avenues, bridges, streets, etc. In them I saw the materialization of the drive and development that was reaching my city, and also my country, year after year.

Suddenly everything stopped. The old, that had resisted the passage of time, and even the modern, began to deteriorate. At first slowly, almost without our noticing it, the peeling paint and plaster, and then more quickly, until it reached the underpinnings and led to collapses. Away from the city for more than ten years, when I returned to it, it had changed greatly. Happy places from before had disappeared or been totally transformed, but not for the better, for the worse. The shock of what had happened to my neighborhoods and my school was devastating.

Today, too many years have passed, seeing the city perish into ruins ever greater, with no actions to save it, no viable projects, seeing citizens — the only ones who could save it — bound hand and foot by absurd prohibitions, it leaves me no room for optimism. I think too much has been lost, and what is left will also, very quickly, disappear. I don’t think the city will cease to exist, but it will not be the magnificent Havana it was, it will be another Havana, different, with other buildings, perhaps with copies of some of the important ones, but not with the originals.

It’s sad and terrible, because cities, as they prevail over time, fix the identities of countries, establishing the similarities and differences. So, despite the passage of years, we have a Paris, a New York, a Madrid, a Berlin, a Prague, a Moscow and a Buenos Aires, to cite just a few, recognizable by different generations. There was also once a Havana, but not with as much luck as the others.

February 4 2011