Seeing Havana’s most photogenic, typically tourist-filled streets completely empty during quarantine is quite a sight to behold. One Cuban photographer has captured compelling images of various centric spots in Havana, from squares to previously buzzing streets and boulevards, the eerie silence that reigns can be felt through the pictures.
Just one glance at either of the photos will instantly give you a vibe that’s difficult to put into words. There’s a deep undertone of melancholy and also a quiet beauty that makes you admire Havana all the more. Because in many ways the city has for a long time appeared dormant in many ways, from its grand old architecture and its quiet resilience to the relentless passing of time to the classic cars still clanking along its streets. Now they’re no longer parked at the usual centric avenues, like around El Capitolio, so even catching a glimpse of one is difficult.
Gabriel Guerra Bianchini took it upon himself to show the world the face of coronavirus in Havana’s empty streets, through an exquisite selection of photographs that make it look like an abandoned city, void of its usual music and general buzz. Most of the images are of Old Havana, where narrow streets are usually filled to the brim and people watch the world go by from their iron-wrought balconies, joining in the general hubbub.
The corner of La Bodeguita del Medio is perhaps one of the eeriest photographs as the crowds surrounding this bar often spill out and fill the entire block. Seeing it stand in ghostly silence feels at complete odds with its normally busy, lively atmosphere. With plenty a Havana casa particular nearby, this hotspot seldom lacks visitors. If anything, many holidaymakers and habaneros believe it could do with fewer crowds and a more relaxed atmosphere. But then it wouldn’t be La Bodeguita del Medio. Its legendary popularity has made it what it is today and that’s part of the charm. If you want it more relaxed and less crowded, the more refined El Floridita is where you should head.
The only life present in the photos, the only animated beings found there are the occasional stray dog or cat, making their loneliness all the more eye-catching as their wild beauty is juxtaposed with absent city life.
Havana’s picturesque squares also feature in the collection, its cobblestones untrodden, the doors and windows of the magnificent buildings that surround it shut. Only the occasional pigeons come to call and disturb the peace in the midst of its overwhelming silence.
Sleepy Havana in quarantine feels completely detached from its reality but also imposingly splendid and beautiful. There’s little animation to make it come to life, stripped from its normal sounds and melodies, but even in its almost omnipresent quietness, there are glimpses of life at certain times. It also depends on the time of day, as quarantine restrictions and measures in Cuba are not as strict as in other parts of the world.
Workers in Cuba are encouraged to work from home to avoid unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus but because internet access in Cuban homes is not a widespread reality yet, many still have to physically attend their job posts. Still, the majority of those who can stay at home, and many Cubans help out the elderly by bringing them food and basic essentials so that they don’t have to leave home.