Author Patrick Symmes begins his long, in-depth look at Cuban architecture for Smithsonian at a dress rehearsal for "Victor/Victoria" at Havana's Teatro América. In the middle of the practice session, a chunk of the building crashed to the floor, startling the otherwise nonplussed actors out of their well-practiced paces. "Entire buildings collapse all the time in Havana," Symmes writes, "so losing a patch of wall or ceiling is routine, even in one of the city’s most cherished and popular venues. This is a dress rehearsal, Alfaro Samá reminded the actors—call it good luck and hit your marks."

The contrast is striking and important, highlighted by lovely photos from award-winning photog João Pina. Here is a magnificent theater, in the center of the nation's cultural capital, that is both a symbol of the best of the Cuban people and a symptom of a larger infrastructural problem. Decades of poverty and embargo have left the country impoverished, with lofty and grand structures deteriorating. We have romanticized the crumbling nature of Cuba, and Havana in particular. But now that more people will see it in person, more money will flood in, and we will need to be ready for the fight between new money and current residents, new interlopers and those already there waiting for their opportunity. As Symmes writes: "The challenge is to accommodate the next Havana, even while preserving all of the previous ones."

Take a good amount of time to fully read Patrick Symmes' article in Smithsonian here.

Read more >