Finding Old Havana in an Unexpected Embrace

Havana's Unexpected Embrace - balcony view in Old Havana by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World.
“View from My Balcony” by Carol Schiraldi, 2024, Havana, Cuba

One of the first things that strikes you when you arrive in Old Havana is the sense of community. The streets are so tight, the buildings are so tall, and you will often find yourself on a balcony facing somebody else on their balcony. It’s almost like true apartment life. It’s the sweet embrace of living separately but in close proximity to so many others. Honestly, you can find a lot of Old Havana in the unexpected embrace of a tight neighborhood. The people all know each other and grow close.

One night as we were sitting on our balcony enjoying a cool evening breeze (after walking all over the city) a little girl from across the way started to chat. She wanted a pen pal. This proved rather impossible, as our Spanish is somewhat limited and she spoke no English. We wound up trying to throw her some candy. At first, the candy fell, and she was going to run downstairs to get it, but then somebody else grabbed it and threw it back up to us. We tried again and managed to successfully toss her the candy. This balcony life, as it turns out, comes with sweets.

A couple of times, as we walked through the neighborhood, we would see a bucket on the end of a string. “A dumbwaiter!” I declared. Yes it is in the true sense of the word. Primitive but effective, that is. People and packages go up and down in Old Havana. Almost everything is upstairs and life is lived not on the front porch, rather on the balcony for all to share.

When I was a child, my father used to say that New York City, especially Manhattan was like this. “When you look out of your building,” he used to say, “you see somebody else’s building.” This is especially true in Old Havana, where the streets are narrow, the buildings tall, and the crowds all nestled into their dwellings. Essentially, it’s the old familiar embrace of busy city life, on display for all to see.

I must confess, I don’t much miss New York and I’ve grown fond of the wide open spaces Texas offers me. My time in Old Havana served as a reminder of how things are in the more densely populated cities. I can’t say I miss it much, but I did rather make the most of my time in the tight knit community. There is a certain sense of belonging in the balcony that you don’t get on a ranch.

Well, all of that and you can be pretty sure a cow’s not about to wander in when you don’t expect one.

Sharing some additional images, all iPhone shots, from my local neighborhood in Old Havana.

Until next time…

A girl standing on a balcony in Old Havana looking down on the street, image by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World.
“Neighborhood Girl,” by Carol Schiraldi, Old Havana, Cuba, 2024
Neighborhood building, Old Havana, Cuba by Carol Schiraldi of Carol's Little World
“Neighborhood Buildings and Sky” by Carol Schiraldi, Old Havana, Cuba, 2024

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