Havana’s Malecon Returns to Life

People and cars return to the Malecon. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 2 October 2017 — After 23 days of closure, Havana’s Malecón has reopened to the passage of pedestrians and vehicles. The “longest bench in the world” was filled this Sunday with hundreds of people eager to recover a routine interrupted by Hurricane Irma. The coastal stretch has seen some private restaurants reopen and informal businesses return.

Richard Consuegra, a traveling musician, has returned “the soul to the body.” He approaches the wall with his guitar and improvises all kinds of songs, from the classic Dos Gardenias by Isolina Carrillo, to some lighter ballads by Roberto Carlos. But tonight the musical theme that everyone wants to hear goes through other channels.

“Ah ah ah ah until the Malecón dries up,” chant a group of young people near the corner where the oceanfront promenade meets 23rd street. The chorus is somewhat sarcastic, because instead of the ocean retiring, what happened in early September was the sea’s invasion of the city, but that does not stop the young people from repeating the refrain from Jacob Forever.

The vast majority of those arriving after sunset see the reopening of the area as a reunion with an old friend and celebrate being able to relieve the heat with a fresh breeze coming off the sea. Abundant drinks, fans, complete families and vendors of goodies abound.

“Peanuts and popcorn,” a lady proclaims with a grocery cart crammed with groceries and bags. The wheels of the improvised commercial vehicle are getting stuck in some cracks still evident on the sidewalk. “I hope the cement has not been stolen,” the woman points out, referring to the diversion (i.e. theft) of resources that affects many state construction projects.

Fortunately, sitting on the wall is still free in a city where everyday prices for entertainment diverge more and more from wages. “People said that now that it was repaired they would not allow anyone to sit there, but I see that is a lie,” shouts a young man with a glass of rum in his hand, fully determined to stay facing the waves until dawn.

Tourists have also returned and behind them a whole network of businesses. “Do you want to eat in a good restaurant ?” a man asks a European couple in English as he offers business cards from a nearby site, one of the few private coastal restaurants that has managed to rebuild after the devastation of the hurricane.

The insistent promoter shows them some pages with images of the dishes, announces enticing prices and accompanies the couple across the avenue to the restaurant. The traffic has returned in full force, as if every vehicle in Havana had been waiting for this day to drive along the Malecón, forcing the group to wait several minutes to reach the other side.

San Lazaro Street, which until Sunday afternoon was a continuous traffic jam, looks more relaxed. “We couldn’t deal with it here even in the middle of the night,” says a neighbor who lives in the block between Belascoaín and Gervasio. “No one could cross this street because all the Malecon traffic came here.”

She complains not only about the days of traffic jams. She fears that the speed in repairing the coastal avenue and its wall will not be echoed in the reconstruction of the private homes affected by the floods. “In the news, they said the initial schedule was two months but they reduced it to 23 days,” she says.

“Now we have to see if those of us who have lost even the floor under our feet are going to see such efficiency,” she says, as she walks inside a house where water traces on the walls still recall the drama experienced and where the floor tiles are missing in several places.

In the block of Primera Street between C and D in the Vedado district, the panorama is not very different from the one left by Irma in Centro Habana. In recent years several restaurants and private clubs flourished there, enjoying the privilege of being located in front of the famous waterfront wall: El Tablazo, El 3D de Robertico and Las Baucherías.

Now, with their awnings missing, their windows broken and suffering the aftermath of the invasion of the sea, they are trying to recover in the midst of this “dead time” without customers. “The most difficult thing is to get the materials,” laments one of the employees who has gone from being a waiter to being a carpenter and mason.

Around the corner, the restaurant Mar Adentro is one of the few that was able open after 19 days of being closed for repairs. “We lost some pictures that were on the wall when the water rose to five feet,” says the employee who welcomes customers at the door. “We have not yet taken account of the losetbusiness, but here we are, fighting.”

A few blocks from that area, the state has improvised kiosks with light foods at low prices. Bread with ham and cheese or with roasted pork, little boxes with chicken, as well as soup and rice with sausage. The lines move quickly.

Candido, 78, waits to buy some food. “I’m throwing the last few pesitos that I have left on this,” he tells 14ymedio. “In my house we still can’t cook because the whole kitchen was damaged and we have spent all this time buying prepared food,” he says.

The retiree feels like a light has opened at the end of the tunnel of his anguish. “The Malecon is already open and that is my main source of sustenance,” he says. “Tomorrow, as soon as the sun comes up, I’ll go with my fishing rod and catch something, for sure.” The wall that provides some with customers and others with entertainment, gives Candido food.