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The flashy mini skirts and platform shoes of '01 and '02 were almost gone in Havana '04, replaced by subdued pastels and sensible cuts and shapes, still very-chic, I thought. Newer generations of houses being built faster than ever all over Cuba in '04 looked better, too.
But renovation in the capital was getting slicker in a glib, California way that threatened to make Habana Vieja a generic destination, and a sudden burst of construction at the west end of the malecon seemed to be following suit. Traffic was increasing in Havana and everywhere. The public transit system had improved in part and regressed in part. Computer access was spreading and about to explode, and bureaucratic involvement with that was as parentally schizophrenic as it always is about interaction with the outside world, over-controlling here, surrendering there, tacitly encouraging somewhere else, everywhere obviously simultaneously sponsoring and smothering.
Unfortunately, Cuban paranoia had been reinforced in '03 the year I wasn't there by a series of terrorist hijackings sponsored in Florida and Washington and egged on by the U. Interests Section in Havana, and the most visible result was that, for the first time, I could see the butts of the cops' pistols sticking out of their holsters In '00, '01, and '02, most cops had been unarmed and the older, better trained exceptions wore such tiny holsters containing such tiny guns, I'd had to look close to see them or ask the cops themselves if they had guns.
But now they were carrying bigger, very visible pistols - a clear message to dissidents or visitors from Miami dreaming of stirring up an international incident. Cooks in state restaurants were outcooking the private paladars. But proliferating private sidewalk stands pushing sweet doughy concoctions that did nothing for me were turning on the Cubans, who had become a population of munchers on the walk. Prices were going up in the mercados, where in '02 things had cost the same in centavos as they did in cents in California, so Cubans, who've gotten used to eating well in the 00's, were complaining.
Cuban adults looked to me to be getting generally fatter, though, while the flocks of kids in red and white and teens in yellow and white on their way to school all looked as healthy and happy as ever. I flew from Havana to Holguin in May '04 at the end of a long winter drought that had changed the colors of Cuba's central plains.