by Silvana Turzio
“All of us who live or who have lived in Havana
know that more than a city, it is a spiritual condition.”
A.Fleites and L. Padura Fuentes, Cuba’s Paths
Havana is the most populated city of the Caribbean with nearly three and a half million inhabitants, it is the most beautiful, so much so that it is defined the pearl of the Caribbean, it is the most ancient because its establishment dates back to more than five centuries, it has a mixed population, among the most composite in the world, it is the most important of the country which in turn is considered the keystone of the entire Gulf of Mexico. As of 1993 Havana has become part of Unesco’s heritage of humanity. Since then, Unesco has made every effort to give back to the city’s historical center its ancient splendor. Nevertheless, it is a city with a difficult past: over the last century it has been subjected to highs and lows, glory and magnificence, poverty and shame, a revolution and a counterrevolution that provoked an inexorable diaspora. At the dawn of the early sixties young people from all over the world saluted in the very city of Havana a revolution that seemed to give life to a new democracy, driven by charismatic leaders, as never seen before in the 1900’s. The successive events made hopes and desires collapse and in a quick and ruinous fashion destroyed, brick by brick, the baroque buildings as well as the homes on the seafront; even the Castrist monuments crumbled from the humidity of the sea like the hopes of the Cubans from the attack of a rock-like and disastrous ideology. Today, of the palaces and bourgeois houses, of the streets of the historical city center, like cementitious monuments dedicated to Castrism, always more invasive and blind, all that remains are ruins. But who sees them in their devastated abandonment? And who tells their story? What are the stories that give strength and future to this city? Today Havana is a city that is a prisoner of its own past. The hazardous wastes left over from the hopes of the Cubans who believed in Fidel and who stayed in Cuba have been paving the way over the years to a kind of tourism that is fierce, greedy and unaware, in addition to the ferocious joy of who knows to have only one hour or at the most one day to seize the occasion of a lifetime. Beyond the postcard of the paradise island, there is a kind of colored barrier that hides a destitute reality, beyond the photographs for tourists who come ashore in flocks and that underline the appeal of the decadence of the baroque buildings, beyond the music that quivers in the cadence of the Cuban step, few are those who described the devastation, few and far between are those who photographed it without giving into the Cubanìa legend made for exportation. Among these few, Désirée Dorlon and here Max Cardelli. Dorlon worked between 2003 and 2004 depicting mostly interiors with natural light and capturing perfectly the strong sensation of abandonment and melancholy that emanates more from the furnishings than from the inhabitants. Max Cardelli addresses the city with a similar spirit trying to narrate something different from the official representations. He looks at the city more than its inhabitants, capturing the lights and the shadows, individuating the intrusions of power that have modified the urban planning of the beachfront and other central areas, expressing, in particular, the utter indifference of the inhabitants with regard to the place where they live. It is a photographic story set in exteriors where Havana’s inhabitants seem stuck in a kind of temporal limbo, among the ruins of a neglected and denied past and a present without a future. All of this can be perceived because of the way that Cardelli chooses the point of view and the moment to take the shot. There are too few people that walk along the streets of these dilapidated houses, too subtle their presence and too static, too tired their bodies seated on cement benches or on crooked chairs, leaning against columns or bent over rusty objects, so that from them a feeling can emanate towards these places: girls at the entrance of a school, an interminable line of passengers waiting for a bus, isolated people seated on the edge of a fountain, a couple that ignores each other, he is closed in the tonality of a lively red, she is enveloped by hues of soft and warm browns and shades of muted hazelnut. Not even colors come into contact in this kind of photography which has been constructed on two tones, as if to underline the indifference of one to the other. A masterly photography that tells of a solitude without limits. The boy that plays alone throwing an almost invisible ball against a corroded wall becomes emblematic of an absurd situation, close to an echo of Blow-up. But the situation is not absurd, what is absurd is the city, what is incomprehensible is Havana: a city on the point of being abandoned, without tourists, without a trace of music, without energy. A solitary car here and there, like those that can only be seen in Cuba or in action movies of the fifties, appears out of inconceivable streets as if in a set design made of paper-mache. Even when the people are in movement, they seem to be immobile, as if they too were part of a still image: the child that is running does not go towards a playground but towards a smokestack, the car that passes against the light seems to be a cardboard cutout, the boy that dives in the sea among his friends who contemplate him in a circle has his legs in an L-shape like the rock below: one wonders how is he ever going to manage to fall in the water. Or will he fall on the rocks instead? A veil of apathetic humidity covers everything, like that which emanates from another powerful image, that of the woman, sleepy or groggy from the sun, under the sun umbrella who protects herself from flies and the deserted lavatories. From these photographs exudes a torpor of eternal drowsiness. The only shot that could in contrast reveal a moment of light-heartedness is the one that shows a group of teens walking together arm in arm, but it is isolated in a story that describes a situation of general oppression. Nature is strong, energetic, and indomitable: the sea is there, hidden by the guard rail until it appears in enormous spurts that break onto the asphalt and surge like salty geysers. Cardelli’s Havana does not love the sea - “Havana persisted in giving its back to the sea...” Leonardo Padura Fuentes makes Ernest Hemingway say in Goodbye Hemingway - little is granted to the natural beauties of the island and even less to the idea of an exotic eroticism that envelops the legend. Intense is the violence of things: the grid of electrical wires that clings to the wall, the scraped and dilapidated wall that is the only finishing post for the stooping man, the facades of the houses that are not protected but assailed by scaffolding, rustier than the iron of a ship that has been stranded for decades. All of this creates a dialogue with the image of the policemen: what are they looking at? And the cop with his hands on his hips, who is he getting worked up about? With the man who is walking in front of him, obviously. From the way the photograph is taken one deduces that the man could very likely provoke the policeman to lose his temper, thus arresting him, and we can also imagine that the policeman is hoping this will occur. We can well imagine this situation because we have been able to take in the air that is present. And the air that is in all of these photographs is heavy, it can be cut with a knife, there is neither joy nor sadness, there is no trace of a vital urge that impresses upon a progression towards a planned conclusion. The photographic narrative enunciates a point of view that is very precise: here is the fire that licks the almost deserted street in a picture with an apocalyptic tone, an open manhole under a fiery sunset like in a scene from Escape from New York. Here everything is ready for change, both radical and profound.