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Manzana, a Luxury Theme Park in Havana

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 April 2017 — They stare, amazed, but
they don’t buy anything. Their faces press against the glass and admire
that unattainable wealth that is a few inches from their hands and an
abyss from their pockets. The new luxury theme park in Havana is the
newly opened boutiques on the lower floor of the Manzana Kempinski
Hotel, the first five-star plus on the island.

Last weekend, the gallery was officially opened with exclusive brands in
the style of Versace, Armani, Montblanc and L’Occitane en
Provence. Since then, the parade of onlookers has not stopped walking
the aisles. They come to take photos, laugh at the prices or be upset
because in the midst of the general famine is so much wealth.

Most remember the state of abandonment which the popular Manzana de
Gómez fell into for decades and hardly recognize it in this gorgeous
six-story building.

“I studied here,” says Roberto Carlos, a 30-year-old student who spent
part of his technoly training on the second floor of the emblematic
building.

“When I was studying here, there was not a blind left and the ceilings
had leaks,” added the young man. As he speaks, he waits in line to enter
the luxurious venue of Giorgio G. VIP with his girlfriend, his mother
and a sister. They have come like a family going to a fair to feel the
dizziness of climbing on the roller coaster of opulence.

The boutique’s doorman warns that “you can not take photos” or have your
phone’s “wifi on.” A clarification that generates a murmur among those
waiting outside. Still they remain in line, to be able to carry away in
their retinas part of that pomp that ends around the corner, when they
enter the Havana everyday life.

Italian businessman Giorgio Gucci inaugurated this Cuban branch of his
well-known brand last Saturday. “People come here looking for quality
and exclusivity, right now there are very nice women’s shoes for less
than 200 CUC,” says the doorman with pride. In the line, several people
raise their eyebrows when they hear the prices.

“Not everyone comes to look, there are many who come and buy,” the man
explains. But in the interior you do not see anyone next to the cash
register nor making the gesture of putting a hand in their pockets. They
only look at the clothing and shoes on display. They behave as if they
were in a museum surrounded by oils worth thousands of dollars.

Others, older, remember the days when the former Manzana de Gomez was a
symbol of economic progress in the Cuban capital. Designed by the
architect José Gómez-Mena Vila and built between 1894 and 1917, the
building was the first shopping mall in the style of European
galleries. “It was an incredible place and the customers who came were
all Cubans,” says Roberto Carlos’ grandmother. The woman, who retired
more than two decades ago, said: “It used to be a place for us, but now
it’s for tourists.”

The new monument to luxury is located on the border of two districts
with serious problems. Just a few weeks ago and a few yards
away, in downtown Havana, the staircase of a building collapsed and left
dozens of families trapped. The other face of a city that has a good
part of its housing in poor condition.

At the intersection of the corridors of the gallery they removed the
bust of communist leader Julio Antonio Mella, who for decades stood
defiantly in the center of the building. “They took it because this
place represents the opposite of what he promoted,” reflects a retired
professor of Marxism who decided to have a look, this Saturday, at “the
forbidden apple of abundance,” as the catalog describes it.

For Idalmis, a young woman who in her teenage years studied at Benito
Juárez High located on one of the upper floors, the place has
changed so much that she has trouble recognizing it. “Of that apple only
the skin remains,” she quips.

The Lacoste brand also has a space in the sumptuous building. An
employee explains to this newspaper that since its opening the store has
sales that average “between 2,000 and 3,000 CUC per day. Every day we
sell about twenty articles,” says the employee who wears a shirt with
the logo of the French brand.

In the surroundings, and dressed in gray suits, the guards make sure
that nobody connects to the hotel wifi signal that reaches the
stores. Although the service costs 1.50 CUC an hour, the Manzana is a
much more comfortable than other places with wireless access to the web.

“You can’t be connected here, excuse me, but you have to go outside,”
the employees repeat over and over again.

The place is still a construction site, but the coming and going of
builders does not prevent three young people from taking their time to
get a selfie in front of an ashtray that costs a whopping 53.90
CUC. They don’t want to miss having evidence of the day they were closer
to wealth.

Source: Hotel Manzana, a Luxury Theme Park in Havana – Translating Cuba
translatingcuba.com/hotel-manzana-a-luxury-theme-park-in-havana/

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