The Jogging Class / Yoani Sánchez

Sunrise on 5th Avenue. The cars traveling fast and on the diplomatic license plates white letters stand out against a black background. The trees of the central promenade display their pruned leaves and the former Soviet embassy looks like an Excaliber stuck — without architectural pity — in Havana’s chest. It’s not hot yet, but some are already sweating as they run along the boulevard. Wearing Adidas, bottles of water, and white earbuds. A blue sky — but with a touch of exclusivity – hangs over the largest sports area of the city, which begins just beyond the tunnel under the Almendares River. A race track for the social class that has already accumulated pounds, but that prefers to jog outdoors, not on a treadmill in the gym.

A meet-and-greet place that is also called the Avenue of the Americas, with its source of sirens at one end and its luxurious mansions on both sides. At that corner the retired colonel and the new corporation manager have just run into each other and talk about the weather, their children… how beautiful the morning is. Here comes an official’s daughter, with a childhood friend with whom she shared games and barbecues. Also, just crossing the street — carefully — the white-bearded poet with his purebred dog. And the actress who has returned from touring Europe joins the early morning calorie-burning procession. Because by ten in the morning the sun will want to offer them a free sauna, and none of them will be outside any longer.

Compared to the rest of Cuba, 5th Avenue stands as a rarity. And not because such urban beauty is scarce on this Island, not at all, because even the destroyed mansions of Central Havana maintain some of their former beauty. What is strange is this case is not the perfectly trimmed trees, the intact white granite benches, or the mansions with fences and gardens, but the people themselves. The most anomalous thing that strikes the eye is the behavior of these passersby who jog or walk their pets. There is a touch of comfort in them, an attention to their bodies and attire, a tranquility derived from the lack of daily annoyances. They are like some caricature of the bourgeoisie that official discourse tried to make us hate from the time we were little. But, there they are, with their relaxed trot, their athletic clothes, and those extra pounds gained through privilege that the diversion of resources or power have given them, behind our backs, and on our backs.

20 February 2012