This past January 2011 I went back to Cuba for the first time in 27 years. Everywhere I went, Cubans I met were amazed that I hadn’t been back in so long. But along with seeing my aunt and various cousins, this was also a voyage of discovery to walk in Mercedes’ footsteps.
La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), the original settlement once surrounded by walls, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. One look at the streets and the buildings and it is immediately clear why that is. Architecturally, this is a stunning city. Every street, every corner seems to hide another beautiful doorway, a carved wooden balcony or a forgotten patio. The main plazas have mostly been restored to varying degrees but walk around a corner and the decaying scene literally takes your breath away. After so many years reading about the streets, the palaces and churches of La Habana Vieja, I almost felt as though I was walking in my own old neighborhood.
There are so many houses and streets associated with Mercedes that I literally jumped up and down with excitement and recognition every few steps. My friends and my cousins thought it was the funniest thing. But to me it was a fairy tale come to life.