Where’d You Get Those? / La Casa De Ramón

|July 12, 2011 | Cuba, Photos By J.Yuenger, Travels

Havana, Cuba : Everyone scrutinizes us intently, from head to toe. I have experienced this before, on tour in Europe, but this Cuban inspection feels different, more like hunger than curiosity or mental note-taking. Kevin mentions that everyone is staring at my shoes.

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I have recently unboxed a pair of made-in-the-U.S.A. 1990s Vans, the very last of my White Zombie-era stash. This is kind of cool if you’re a sneaker nerd, but they’re just black-on-black canvas Authentics, which, regardless of their Californian hand-stitched provenance, look pretty much the same as modern Vans, or Keds, or even those cheap Chinese shoes they sell at Wal-Mart.

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The extensive observation of my footwear seems funny to me, until I consider the life of Cousin Ramón, who meets us at the airport and shows us around for a couple of days. He has a job, and he lives in a beautiful but crazily dilapidated  fin de siècle apartment that he must share with only two other people, but he owns almost nothing : some battered 1930s furniture, a few chipped religious figurines, assorted tchotchkes, a plastic bag full of family photos. He wears the same clothes every day, and we wonder if this is best outfit or his only one. I see imported athletic shoes in store windows, but I do not see any being worn by passing Cubans. There are no Vans here, and nobody could afford them if there were.

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Below, a corner of Cousin Ramon’s apartment. We end up here a few hours after we land in Cuba, and it is perhaps the most surreal thing about the whole day.  The antique fan does nothing to alleviate the intense heat and I imagine that Ramón must be used to it, but he is sweating as much as I am. The apartment is unbelievable, as is Aguila Street below. I curse myself for not bringing my wide-angle lens.

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We sit in the feeble blue-white light ( There are no incandescent bulbs in Havana – at night, the entire city glows, dimly, under harsh flourescents ) and look at old photographs of Kevin’s Mother, Aunts, Grandparents, and of Kevin himself. It is bizarre, in this very foreign place, to see the photo-processing logo of New Orleans’ K&B drugs on the backs of these prints.

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