On the Balcony: Faces of Cuba


On Havana’s Boulevard de San Rafael, as in much of the city, you’ll find yourself in the midst of colourful old buildings with magnificently high ceilings on each level. In fact, I’d guess that the ground floor ceiling of the casa particular in which I stayed was at least 25′ / more than 7.5 metres high.

The streets are narrow and, while there are plenty of interesting sights at ground level, my eyes were constantly drawn upward. You’d see people on the second or third floor balconies of such buildings, making their way out from their suites to hang laundry, have a cigarette or conversation, or simply hanging over their balconies to watch what was going on down at street level.

I heard from more than one Cuban on this visit that, high ceilings or no, many people live in very limited quarters – and that it’s typical to find two or three generations of the same family living in one suite. Little wonder, then, that the balconies are so well populated. Right or wrong, I sensed that people were seeking reprieves from boredom (or something deeper) as they leaned over their balcony railings.


This woman first caught my interest for the simple fact that the gentle yellow of her sweater coordinated so perfectly with the paint colour on the exterior of the building.

We caught one another’s eyes. At least 50 or so feet below her, I lifted my camera in the air and, with a smile, gestured for permission to take her picture. She nodded her consent and, like so many people I encountered on this journey, posed with a most serious expression.


Once the honours were done, and I waved my thanks, she returned my appreciation with this lovely smile.

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