Death on your heels had never been so real for many people of my generation and my parent’s.
I’m not talking about a dystopia, or a movie about epidemics such as “flu of the century”, or some story our grandparents told us… Right now, today, thousands of people are dying every day because of a new disease: COVID-19.
“Stay at home”, is the phrase that has become common everywhere across the globe, and in different languages.
“Stay at home and protect yourself”, protect us all from the terrible disease that has been roaming Havana and Cuba’s streets, ever since March 11th.
I don’t particularly love busy streets, nor do I like to be crowded by people, but what I saw last Sunday, walking down some of the capital’s streets, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, there’s no doubt about it.
Old Havana, my Old Havana, the place I love for its architecture, smells, people…, was empty, lonely, if not for the pigeons and some dogs and cats wandering the streets. I walked a long time, past the places I would go to often, and an overwhelming silence weighed on my chest; a silence that was only broken by the shutter on my Nikon camera, my old companion in so many battles.
These photos are the ones I never would have wanted to take, in the same way I don’t like to photograph collapsed buildings or hurricanes. I will always have these images in my mind and imprinted on my lens, for when this all blows over, and I can show them to my grandchildren in many years to come. Show them how Capitolio’s steps were empty on a sunny Sunday, at noon; remembering the lions on Prado avenue passing time without listening to children playing and laughing, and that Central Park looked sadder without its normal baseball fan club convening.
Old Havana wasn’t the only place to give me these images and a Sunday of walking all alone; Vedado and 23rd Street moved my gaze: I could photograph the busy road empty, without the noises of cars and the normal streams of people crossing from one side to the other.
On Sunday, all of Havana’s traffic lights changed color so that someone like me could cross the street, or one or two passers-by could walk in haste.
“Stay at home”, let our country take a break.
The planet needs to breathe and flourish.