I don’t know whether it’s just their favorite song or whether they think it’s ours, but whenever we visit Cuba, the street musicians always play “Comandante Che Guevara.” They may not be communists at heart, but they’re certainly romantics. The song is cloyingly sweet, but nobody here cares. The balmy breeze and the rum, which I share with everyone, of course, make us feel sentimental. Even the guitarist takes a swig from my bottle. That’s how you do things on Malecón, the promenade in Havana Harbor. Everyone gives what they have: I, my drink; they, the feeling, which is danceable. And so the party begins, a free, outdoor celebration on the seawall separating Malecón from the ocean. It’s roughly eight kilometers long, but not very high, which is why half the city comes night after night to sit, dangle their feet and chill. If it turns into a party, nobody here will object. People sometimes ask me if I think this joyful way of life will go on forever or whether Cuba will change far too quickly as it opens up to the United States. They ask me because I lived in Havana for two years. But what do I know? Or rather: What do I want to know? Perhaps I would rather cling to a dream than destroy a memory when I say I think Cuba will certainly see a lot of change – for better or worse or somewhere in between – but what won’t change is what Cuba always had, even before the communists, and will always have, even with the capitalists. Why? Because it has nothing to do with ideologies and is something money cannot buy: the heat of the Cuban night and life in the open air. People here will be dancing beneath the stars to the sound of the waves as long as the seawall on Malecón is still standing.
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.