Romy van der Burgh’s Through the Timeless Windows of Havana is/was the
first second of Let’s Explore magazine‘s occasional journal series.* The zine combines van der Burgh’s journalistic account of her late 20-teens visit with photographs she made there, and works something like one of those long photo essays from Life magazine or something, without all the ads and other articles and whatnot (or like a single, somewhat longer one-off from Let’s Explore).
Van der Burgh completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy sometime in the mid 2010s, and pursued investigative journalism through an internship prior to the Havana zine.
I never give Cuba much thought. I’m not so young that I don’t remember Comrade Fidel and roughly the age where I might have had that poster of Che on the wall without really thinking much about what that might mean. (I never did, but it was only by the grace of God.) Pretty much all I know about it I knew before reading Through the timeless windows of Havana, though it was interesting to hear about the early attempts at opening up, and how it was already creating a strong class hierarchy.
The photographs are fairly standard Cuba fare. I have David Alan Harvey’s Cuba book,** and between that and various old movies, I have a pretty good idea: 1950s American cars, still running somehow; Great old, crumbling 17th Century buildings mostly still more or less standing somehow; tired, but friendly-enough looking people resting on a stoop or dragging themselves through another day in the Revolution. Van der Burgh writes about seeing electric scooters and fields of solar panels and cell phones and public squares where you could buy an hour of Internet service for 4 CUC. That was new, but, then, van der Burgh visited in the late 2010s, well after President Obama relaxed sanctions and some travel restrictions (and also after the next president re-restricted travel and reinforced some sanctions) so…
I like the format: a longish essay with plenty of decent pictures alongside. I wish it had seen a copy editor: there are some spelling and wrong-word issues (then vs. than) and a few clumsy sentences that distract from the story. I say this knowing that I put out some garbage here on my personal blog… but, then, any given post here will probably have more people see/read it than van der Burgh’s zine, since Let’s Explore Journal issues are limited to 25 copies and not reprinted.
Unrated, as its unavailable and so no matter what I say, you’ll likely never see it, which is sort of a shame. Van der Burgh’s website is set to private, but you can find her writing (in Dutch) in Investico, De Groene Amsterdam, One World, and one of her articles, written with Linda van der Pol and translated into English at The Elephant, and she’s fairly active on Twitter, and has a private account at Instagram. So her photography is sadly locked away.
It’s a shame that Through the timeless windows of Havana didn’t see wider publication, and wasn’t put into a blog post or something. So much worthwhile journalism just fades away, goes *poof into the ether. I’m glad-enough that at least one copy of Through the timeless windows of Havana will persist… on my shelves, rarely, if ever, looked at and therefore preserved, sorta frozen in amber, rather than poofing into the ether.
I’m not sure which is worse…
* The first issue, Simon Bray’s Rajasthan, was published as a sort of special one-off.
**I acquired Cuba before I began filming unboxings, and kinda forgot about it. It’s no tell it like it is, and much lesser than (based on a true story). I need to add it (and (based on a true story) to the “film a flip-through” list and get them into the review pile… Maybe have a DAH week sometime next year.)