Saturday, 25 July 2009


If Havana were a person, she would be a wizened old widow who still goes out wearing a full face of makeup and her pearls.
The city has barely changed in fifty years and as a result, it feels like a film set. The narrow streets between the peeling buildings are crowded with colourful people, all looking their best despite the heat. Music plays everywhere; salsa beats dance out from every bar and restaurant as cheerful groups of men and women in flowered shirts sing, strum, trumpet and weave in time to the music. 
Slogans frequently appear on walls and posters hang from doorways. 'Venceremos', 'Juntos', 'Viva la revolucion' - all the fighting talk is kept at the forefront of the peoples' minds, reminding them of their glorious history and victory over the oppressors.
Museums proudly display every detail of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro's battles, down to the bloodstained uniforms of prisoners and the plastic dolls which carried hidden messages between the commanders.
One museum which speaks volumes of the country's history without uttering a single word is El Capitolio. The senate. 
For fifty years this stunning building which dominates Old Havana has lain empty, the interior marble walls spattered with bats' droppings. Two ghostly chambers sit at either end of a Versaille-esque hall, the maple wood dulling, the ink pots at each seat empty.
The president's office is now a photo opportunity for tourists willing to part with a few pesos - several days' wages to the average Cuban - and the old fashioned telephone still sits on the mahogany desk.
Now the government is run from faceless office blocks a mile or so away on Plaza de la Revolucion - faceless apart from the enormous wrought iron outline of the most famous figure in the country: Che.