I came across this scene on Cuba’s famous Malecón in the 1990’s. A storm had just passed, leaving pools of salt water where the ocean had breached the sea wall. Deeply absorbed by their homemade styrofoam boats, this group of children barely took notice of me as I trailed them along numerous mostly empty streets. Fresh out of Photography 101 class, I was elated to find scenes reminiscent of the action and backdrops of my favorite photographers, Helen Levitt and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Since taking this picture I have been back to the Malecón on more than one occasion. During my latest trip, the street itself was filled with actual vehicles, many of which were topless 1950’s-style cars carrying selfie-snapping tourists— a Disneyland effect that was an impossibility during my first trip due to the dearth of both gasoline and tourists. Also, now many buildings had either already received a facelift or were in the process of renovations, and some had been converted into guest houses. Nonetheless, an air of authenticity remained. Children still jumped rope and locals still socialized in front of their spartan dwellings. A fisherman in his underwear cast his hook into the water for his family’s sustenance, even as his activity was recorded by a half dozen tourists from the wall above.
This morning, I saw a photograph of the same area of the Malecón following Hurricane Irma. It was completely submerged in water, grown men standing waist deep. Surely this has occurred many times since the wall was first built, each time the breach a bit different in severity and duration, each time the society and lives of those affected distinct. And while this particular hurricane does seem to have been especially devastating, I can only hope that when the waters recede there will again be children waiting to make a game of the world around them.