I bet that many stories have unravelled behind these battered windows. The light and heat and flies are banished by flimsy shutters with proud layers of new paint, by mesh screens, by pieces of wood sliced up to fit the frames. But people remain within, kept here by half-century-old laws.
Cuba’s classic 1950s American cars all mark the point at which time apparently stopped in this Caribbean island, when the revolution severed it from the rest of the world. But time didn’t stop, of course – hence the rust, and the decay, and the peeling paint and crumbling concrete. The 50-year-old ideology feels old now, the people are weary, and the island prison is like its cars: a beautiful relic from the outside, but falling to pieces within.
Juan hand-rolled the fat cigar in front of us in the little wooden hut. The leaves had been fermented for four months with honey, vanilla and just a little rum, and smelled delicious enough to eat. Juan took a small bundle of leaves, rolled them and held them in place with paper. Dark brown leaves from the inside of the plant were then rolled diagonally around it, and the classic form of the Cuban cigar appeared before my eyes.
Fidel, strutting around in a broad cowboy hat, greets me as if I am an old friend. We have, in fact, just met – but he is to be my new “dad” for the week, as I will be staying in his immaculate little bungalow in western Cuba. Here, donkeys and oxen are as ubiquitous as the 1950s cars, and the swaying tips of banana plants peek above the colourfully painted houses.