It’s dawn on any given summer day. After a concert, I wander around Havana with a group of friends. After everywhere else is closed and most people are asleep, where do people end up if they want to continue hanging out together? On the Malecón, Havana’s iconic seawall, and perhaps the most popular meeting place in Cuba.
This impressive 8-kilometer construction was completed in three stages between 1902 and 1958, exclusively as a retaining wall for the raging sea. Over the decades it has been the setting for many lives, not only for those in Havana but throughout the island.
You open the window and look outside, / the city is waiting for you somewhere. / You go outside and head to the wall / where there’s always someone, / where the sea begins.
This is how the singer-songwriter Carlos Varela serenades it in his song, “Muro.” He wrote that song in the tough 1990s, perhaps the busiest years for the Malecón. At that time, it was common for the city to become a black hole during blackouts. To escape the suffocating heat and be lulled by the sea breeze —often accompanied by some rum from the ration store—, it was the place to kill time and talk or complain about the day’s events or the meaning of life.
During those raw years so many Cubans set sail from this wall, in search of new and better lives.
The Malecón was a backdrop to so many stories that Cubans have popularly christened the thick and long concrete thread as “Havana’s sofa.” Impossible not to miss it, to love it, to cherish it.