Havana, midnight; April 2017. I'm walking through silent streets. The spot-lit Museo de la Revolucion looks ghoulish. The surrounding city is black.
Which is why I approach the portal of a behemoth edifice. The yellow light is strong. The windows above also glimmer, though dimly of security bulbs. At the doorway, built at the grand size of horses and carriages, I ask the night porter, Can I come inside?
After making sure I am not American (which I am, thus I lie), the porter allows me in. Can I look around? He says no first, then reconsiders. He will for six Cuban dollars. This is one week’s government wages. I agree.
By the light of his phone, we climb a tight windowless spiral. We exit onto a high-ceilinged corridor adorned with fin-de-siècle flowers and finely etched glass doors. Room by room, he flips on the lights. He steps aside, I step within. This peculiar pas-de-deux grows strained, discordant, as he mumbles about lights and frets about time. My Virgil is about to abandon me. At a drilling tempo I take photos: classrooms with desks, classrooms with barres, the cafeteria, the makeup loge. Che and Fidel grin from pictures planted on walls and boards. They and the florescent bulbs take a surreal slant beneath the bourgeois architectural moulding.
The porter drops his guard to belt out the names of dancers as we pass their photos in the corridor. I stop at one snaring the whole stage. Six columns of the corps de ballet, three ballerinas deep, extend legs a straight ninety degrees. This move is iconic. I say it, then the porter: Giselle. For the first time, he smiles. After this, he does not rush. A ballet-pantomime out of the French July Monarchy, height of the cultural and political power of the haute-bourgeoisie, persists victorious over today’s authoritarians.