Havana: The Art of Makeup, or When Galiano Becomes Avenida de Italia

Galiano has never been an easy street. There’s no commercial route in the Cuban capital that doesn’t pass through it: everything dies and is born at its gates. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 17 November 2022 — By day it’s the street called Galiano and by night it becomes Italy Avenue. While the sun shines on its faded edifices and its cracked walls, it’s just another arterial road in Central Havana, with its beggars and its street vendors, but when evening falls it becomes an all-new shop window of Christmas lights, a sparkle that dazzles the locals and ruffles the feathers of those others who have to live through long hours of power cuts.

Galiano has never been easy. It doesn’t have the range of Reina nor the ancestry of Paseo del Prado, but there isn’t a commercial route in the Cuban capital that doesn’t pass through it. Everything dies and is born at its gates. Do you need a disposable razor? Glue to fix grandma’s coffee cup? A belt to keep your trousers up? You can find all this and more in Avenida Italia, a name no one actually uses but which could help you if you were lost.

Now, the official press is talking about transforming the street and turning it into “an innovative urban zone, fit for the principles of the circular economy, digital culture, creativity, and valuing all the products of the supply chains”. Pure word-soup that hardly resonates at all among the tiny shops and street vendors or in the threatening looks of the police on non-stop patrol.

“It is a project which is being made with Italian collaboration and co-finance. We are working with the Italian Agency for Cultural and Economic Exchange with Cuba” (AICEC in Spanish), states an article in Havana Tribune, which prefers to use the more glamorous name of the street in order to ingratiate itself — the hard way, but anything to get a few Euros — with the boot-shaped peninsular that has little or no connection with the scar that Galiano has become, which stretches from the Havana coast all the way down to El Curita park.

At night it becomes Neapolitan and cosmopolitan with lights strung up on high, which might fool some tourist into believing, wrongly, that this sort of lighting is common elsewhere in the dingy streets and dark stairwells of Havana. Local media are full of pictures of workers installing the bulb-festooned cables and there’s no lack of opportune interviews with passers-by talking about the wonders of these fireflies of hope above their heads. But the dawn always arrives in Galiano.

Day comes and the lights are no longer noticeable, the guy who asks you for money on the corner of San Rafael is again begging for something to enable him to eat, the lady who offers sponges to freshen up, and who disappears every time a police officer passes by, returns to the doorways. And of Avenida Italia only a memory remains. The makeup only lasts while the sun doesn’t shine.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.