Many readers of this blog do not remember or simply did not know the Havana where I lived out my childhood; therefore, they do not treasure the memory of the places that overwhelmed kids’ illusions…locations about which only the memories of those who once enjoyed their existence remain. But if anyone of you, like me, is bordering on the half-century or more of life and grew up in some place in the metropolitan area, you should be able to remember, almost as a duty, those leisure places where our parents took us, in which we were truly happy: Cuba Eight, where, for a reasonable price you could rent bikes and tricycles, on which we caused havoc on the wide sidewalks of the Amphitheater and the Malecón, the Youth Fair, Coney Island or the tiny Jalisco Park, three of the most popular amusement parks in the city; the beautiful 26th Avenue Zoo, the National Aquarium, the Metropolitan Park (by the Almendares) where you could play miniature golf or take boat rides; a number of movie theatres with children’s programming, including matinees, which offered a reasonable variety of animated, comedy or adventure movies, and an infinite number of parks scattered throughout the city with slides, carousels, swings and teeter-totters and also many small plazas where you could play “pon”, run wildly or skate to your heart’s content, among other possibilities for children’s enjoyment.
After the so-called 1967 Revolutionary Offensive, which leveled all the privately owned business that still remained, the bicycles with their little cyclists disappeared from the Amphitheater’s landscape, and little by little, the abandonment and deterioration, characteristic of the system, started to dominate in every one of the spaces originally conceived for the entertainment and enjoyment of the children. The official negligence, like an epidemic, invaded any hint of individuality. Then, a kind of “mass entertainment” began with the creation of large areas targeted at the formation of a collectivist and egalitarian conscience: Lenin Park, a Celia Sanchez initiative, and later on the Botanical Garden and the new National Zoo, were the prospects of the socialist concept of amusement for children and youth, all of them located at sites distant from the periphery of the City. These spaces would be the most ambitious projects that the statewide initiative would generate to such ends. Only the huge Lenin Park exhibited at the time of its ostentatious opening an aquarium, a rodeo, an equestrian club with hiking and horseback riding for visitors, an amusement park, a train that ran through areas of the park, a dam for boat rides, a complex of swimming pools, a natural amphitheater, and numerous cafes and restaurants. It is true that it worked in the beginning, but, like all state undertakings, it was destined to fail. Experience has demonstrated that the only permanent thing in this system, in addition to poverty, is the inability to support any initiative over the long run.
The collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe dragged in its fall the island satellite, absolutely dependent on generous subsidies from CAME; the overall extreme poverty turned the amusement centers into a kind of absurd ostentation amid the acute shortages. The crumbling was such that, to date, an effective recovery of such important locations cannot be observed, and finding a place to take children to be entertained has become an almost impossible mission.
I have been able to prove this more closely now, when, as a grandmother, I set out to walk with my grandson. César is only two years old and he has already visited all the small spaces where he should supposedly be able to have fun. A brief summary can illustrate what I am saying: The amusement area at Lenin Park, recently reopened with new Chinese equipment, already shows a good part of it out of operation due to breakage, while those that can be operated force you to wait a long time in endless lines. The Old Havana Amphitheater, popularly known as the Park of the Inflatables, with its mechanical equipment in the surrounding areas, only opens on weekends, in addition to the proverbial deterioration of much of the necessary facilities and the requisite crowds in order to gain access to it. I would not be able to describe in words the plight of the Zoo at 26th Avenue, and the most miserable condition of its animals; it is one of the most depressing and stinky places anyone can imagine. The National Aquarium, for its part, is hardly worth mentioning, a boring place, damaged and dirty. Finally, last Tuesday the 28th I took my grandson to Jalisco Park; almost all the scarce machines were broken, the few wrecks that “were working”, such as the carousel of maimed and peeling horses, squeak extremely loudly, or the cars have loose seats; everything is awful, outdated and sad beyond repair, like a burlesque and small-scale copy of the society around it.
Most painful of all is to see, in spite everything, the strong need for the little princes to be happy: César laughs from his unpainted and crooked horsies. All around him other children of different ages also laugh joyfully, they shout and wave their hands as they go by their caretakers at each turn of the carousel. For them, the grayness, dirt, decay and deterioration of the surroundings are a natural part of life, the everyday. If we do nothing to change that, these little amusement beggars will come to conceive ruins as legitimate, and tomorrow that lack of worth will be part of themselves.
Read Full Post »