For several weeks a new bus line has been circulating through the streets of Havana. Painted bright red, plastered with huge advertisements and having an unusual upper floor, this new “spaceship” moves along the city’s main arterials on a ride that costs five convertible pesos. Its clients are those tourists interested in a short tour through our city’s main attractions. It’s a marvelous opportunity for those who prefer to see, from the second floor, things that those of us on the ground see totally differently.
Scorched by the strong May sun, they squeeze the shutters of their cameras, safe from broken culverts, disastrous sidewalks, and the mangy dogs that make up my urban landscape. Meanwhile, we stare at the doubledecker bus as if it had materialized from a travel brochure for New York or Tokyo. From the seats “up there” the happy faces of the passengers speak to us of a Havana only they seem to see. The truth is, such myopia doesn’t surprise me, because the effects, on vision, caused by a refreshing mojito are well known.
Seeing them in their rolling terraces reminds me of a neighbor who asked me one day, “What is the most visible difference between a tourist and a Cuban?” In my simplemindedness I listed sun screen lotions, Lonely Planet guides, and mosquito repellent… but no. The answer was obvious, “A tourist always looks up. They are captivated by the architecture, the stained glass windows, the arches and columns. But when we Cubans walk we look out for the gaps in the sidewalk that would be dangerous to our ankles.” Although this threatens to be one of those exaggerations that ends in cliché, it seems to me that these doubledecker buses are heading in the same direction as my neighbor’s joke. From up there, nothing stands between the dazzled eyes of the tourists and the buildings more than a century old. While we – mere extras in this stage set – are a hindrance to their enjoyment of what is above our heads.