Havana, My Love

by Lena

Havana Cuba Elena Levon Floridita Centro Old Havana Photography Hemingway Hotel Nacional Habana Vieja - 028

 This is the real life in the real Havana. Havana before Starbucks and WiFi. Havana outside of your hotel grounds and comfort zones. This is my love letter to Cuba.

Sweaty, dusty, loud, shameless, animalistic, fearless, proud, colonial, fast and hopeful. I guess I understood it’s layers and masks so well, because I have worn them myself. Cuba allowed me to be myself. It embraced me with a hug, instead of a cold handshake. It got me drunk on its air of other centuries, the ones I always long for.

The question that kept running through my mind, during two of my visits to this Island, was;

“Think I’ve been in this place before, why do I feel so ‘home’ here?”. (I have asked this question in many places around the world)

Maybe it’s the old Soviet cars that swirled by me, like ghosts. Maybe it’s because kids wear similar school uniform, as I did, when I was a child. Could also be the boy, who ran by me chasing a girl down the street, near his home, without a single paint of fear in his soul. Or maybe it’s the neighbor, whom I had a fight with, because of his loud music at 4 am, who in a few days thrown me a lime across the street from his balcony, so I can make myself a drink. It could be because a mother of a man, who’s building I lived in, brought my favorite croquettes and flan, almost every day, while showing off her new haircut she got, resembling my own.

Maybe it’s the musicians at some of my regular hotels and bars, who waved at me every night, yelling “Hola, Elena!” and asking me to dance, while they played. Maybe it’s because of a family I rented room from, or their 8-year-old Daniela, for whom I brought a whole suitcase full of clothes, because her parents can’t really afford it.

Is it because I was teaching her photography and she was teaching me Spanish? Or it might be because she called me her “second mother” and gave me a coffee mug as a present for mother’s day. Maybe it’s because here I was named “Helen de Troja” and “8th wonder of the world”.

Could it be because the churros maker, Ceasar, would always give them to me for free, making tourists wonder. But I’m almost certain, it’s because I had the most intimate and interesting conversation with a homeless man, by the name of Santiago. I bought him he’s New Years dinner and he sang me ‘rolling stones’ and kissed my hand, like Royalty are taught to kiss the hand of a lady.

The free drinks all night, by a bartender, who spoke Russian, at the famous Hemingway bar, as a ‘thank you’ for my dancing. The long and lazy hours, spend on my balcony in a rocking chair, with an intoxicating Cohiba in one hand and an orgasmic cup of Cubita in the other. Watching the life of this town pass me by. Hearing the sellers downstairs, letting neighborhood know, that they have pastries, bread, fruits and other items for sale. The smoldering eyes of a neighbor, looking right through my soul and not looking away. Shamelessly letting me know, that he knows the secret.

Dancing barefoot in the pouring rain with thunder and lightning on the roof, while my dress is soaked and my skirt, that I just hung outside, didn’t have a chance to dry. Cleaning up the mess in the room, after it was flooded by cyclone and still laughing with neighbors about how crazy I am to be dancing with lightning. The child, who would stand in a doorway, every time I tried to leave the house. Her laugh, that echoed through her whole body and her story that she told me of the moon and the sun that fell in love. The morning boxing sessions in the house. The tears of those who said goodbye, every time I left.

I could smell the truth all around me. The uncomfortable, aching sound of truth. We, in the western world, have succeeded at numbing down that sound, to a point where all we hear are noises, instead of magic. You can’t hide here. Cubans look right through your bullshit. Yes, they are loud, proud and drunk. They drink with their friends, without having to check their schedule 2 weeks ahead. They celebrate right here and now. They celebrate what they have, because they don’t have much. In reality, they are richer than most spoiled Americans I’ve known in the past decade. Cuban people hold on to each other to stay afloat. If someone went out to dinner at a local beach place, they will bring uneaten food with them, back to neighborhood and share it with their neighbors.

If the house sets on fire, due to bad electricity, the neighbor will jump in the fire, trying to save a 6-year-old girl, that was sleeping. When that girl dies, the whole neighborhood mourns and tries to help with expenses. They have each others back. Can you say the same thing about your neighbor? Do you even know their name? The last time there was a big fire in Manhattan, several Americans, thought it was cool to take a picture with an idiotic selfie stick, while that building was burning in the background. Then, they put up that picture in their vanity home – instagram.

Cuban people treasure family and friendship, instead of exchanging them, for something better and newer, like we do a lot of times with relationships, as though they were iPhones. They know and treasure good food, a good drink and a good laugh. They don’t want your poison in the form of Starbucks and MacDonald’s in their home! Cubans don’t want their dogs and kids to be chipped. (like my dog was forced to) They want their kids to be able to run around at night, chasing one another, playing tag, playing football, drunk on their childhood, fearlessness and joy. Just as kids were 20-40 years ago in the spoiled “first world” countries. Kids of today are robbed of their childhood, from day one. We leave no room for child’s wonder, creativity and imagination. You start creating obedient fearful robots, before they call you “mom”.

Snap out of it! You’re not “first world” anymore! You are a generation of smart phones and dumb people! A teenager in Havana, has more brain, then most teens in USA, Russia or UK. They want to learn, study and they are hard-working.

Life is not easy in Cuba. Not much work, no ability to travel easily and explore the world, fixed and laughable monthly paycheck, be it for a doctor or a taxi driver. Every country has its positives and negatives. But they do have free healthcare, housing and education. With all the obstacles that Cubans face, somehow, they are more human, then those with latest gadgets. What I liked about Cuba is that I wasn’t judged as much as I am in US. If Cubans tell you that you have become their family, that’s it, you are family for life. No matter what passport your bear or skin color that traps your soul. A soul doesn’t have color, religion, political party or sexual orientation. Cubans understand that better than most. They will give you their shirt of their back and their last plate of food. If your car breaks down on a street, 4 boys, that are walking by, will help you fix it.

“What do you want the most?” I asked a friend of mine. “To travel, I always wanted to see the Pyramids. I read many books on Egypt” was his reply. What do you think the answer would be in America? Exactly! – iPhone 12, a nicer car, a younger wife, a rich husband, a bigger house and a pair of boobs. Wait a second, can you even locate Egypt on the map? Oh, I forgot, Cairo is a ‘terrorist/unsafe place’. (sigh)

Cubans are curious about everything, they are very smart, funny and passionate about life. French have lost their Joie de vivre, Cubans, still have it, even though they have much less ‘things’ and opportunities. If locals can’t afford to go party in a club, they throw a party on their rooftop or right on the street and invite half, if not the whole neighborhood, to celebrate life and each other. They will dance you into the night, wrap you in their sensuality and make you fall in love. They’ll move like cats, hypnotizing you with their magic.

Magic in the Island is practiced a lot, and it’s called Santeria. The drums will send a man into a deep trans, while his body otherworldly moves around the house or a street. He blesses the people who wish to be touched by the spirit, which has now entered his body.

The sticky honey passion of this Island, has me in its air for life.

My dusty feet, from walking the maze of Habana Vieja and Centro Habana for over a month, in search of sounds and secrets, were tired, but they never stopped searching. Trying to find the keys, maybe even those, that open its way to myself. Finally came across one key, I opened the door and entered, there was someone in the room. It was a woman of ageless truth and passion of countless centuries. She was floating in the air, because her soul was weightless and lived in a place unseen. She whispered to me the tales of her sadness and the past. When I left the room, throwing out the key, I left the door open…

Cobblestones have taught me how to salsa under the rain, play drums with local kids and become a kid myself in the process. They taught me to let go, slow down and to look at my own reflection with different eyes. Every country has its problems, but for some reason, all the problems, that I met here, didn’t hit me as hard. Maybe it’s because the people, that surrounded me, kept telling me, there’s always a way out and together, we will find it. I felt cared for and loved.

“Why do I feel home here?”

Because home is where you are loved unconditionally.

That kind of love, I knew from my father. With his passing, my soul has become a nomadic energy, that floats from one place to the next, dancing, crying, laughing and loving with the whole world.

But it’s not sad anymore. It knows I left the door open and thrown away the key…


Thick air is wrapping me whole in its web of the night.

The tingly rum has danced on my melting tongue.

A strong hand, pulled me even closer to the yin and yang.


Cutting through my iron ropes, it traveled through waves of the past.

It tickled my savage nerves, making me helpless, weightless and blind.

Then finally released me into the abyss without the mask.


Dancing on razors,

Flying through time.

Breathless, raw, naked and wild.


Havana Photography


The woman behind love …

The Artiste


The Author ;





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