La Habana

Photos and text: © Douglas Ethridge

  • It is late evening. I have come a long physical distance and a quantum leap back in time. I lay on my bed, in this monk-like cell, the ceiling far above me, a lazy fan circling round and round. Huge shutters thrown open to the busy street below, the sounds and smells of the Cuban night wash over me. It is glorious. It is timeless. If this were 1938, Ernest Hemingway would be quite literally three doors down the hall. Tap-tapping away at For Whom The Bell Tolls or getting ready for a night on the town. I feel at home, a sense of peace. I needed this.

    A few months earlier, my mother began to fail. Quickly. All to soon, she was gone. My heartbroken father descended into the uncharted depths of dementia. Do we know what we sign up for as children? That we may be called upon to be father to our father? To witness the hero of our life disappear into a helpless, inattentive child? As we come. As we go. I struggle mightily with this new reality.

    Time passes, my father is in care, my mind and my spirit are exhausted. It is time to visit my friends in Cuba, knowing that days wandering La Habana will soothe my soul.

    There is no other city like this. Glorious, poly-cultural architecture in a glorious tropical climate, populated by a cast of charismatic, unique souls. And everything rotting away in a noble political experiment gone sadly wrong.

    Everywhere in Cuba, there is a joy of life, underpinned with a deep melancholy. People have lived without so much for so long. Their poverty of material things has forged solidarity, community, gentility. There is a fierce, unmistakable pride in being Cuban. Laughter punctuates nearly every conversation. Friends and family hold each other dear. But let us not be romantic, life is very hard for many. Still, people persevere and do the best with what they have. For this American, it is a throwback to the social mores of my 1950’s childhood. It is good to be here. Stories begin to unfold before my lens. I begin to feel renewed.

    Technical: digital capture, silver gelatin lith prints.