Alberto and Melba live on the fifth floor of a sagging concrete building in Centro Habana. To get to their apartment, I yank on a heavy steel door and walk through the empty first floor past broken bits of ancient construction debris and a telephone perched on a chair. A sign on the wall tells me I am in the offices of ‘Habana Designs.’ I wait for an elevator that was installed in 1955 and wonder how long it will take someone to find me if, between floors, it decides it can’t haul itself up any longer.
I step through the looking glass when I enter their apartment. There are matched sofas and chairs of fake brown leather and a tank filled with fat goldfish. Through a large window, I can see over rooftops filled with drying laundry to the Malecón and the ocean beyond. I hear a rooster crow– someone else’s food security.
In the world outside, Raul Castro is in charge and Fidel’s role remains uncertain. Cubans who do business with tourists have access to Cuban Convertible pesos while the rest survive on the local currency. Twenty-four pesos to one Convertible prevents most Cubans from entering the resorts at Playa Esmeralda.
Alberto speaks English and Melba prepares a fabulous breakfast for foreigners who pay in Convertibles to stay at their ‘casa particular.’ They talk about the frustration of living within a double economy. Outside on the water, a huge rusty cargo ship blocks the horizon and the vista beyond. It appears at first to be going nowhere, the movement deceptively slow, and I wonder how long the Cuba I’ve met will remain.