“The Spider Man” and “The Horse”

by  and translated by Alex Higson  /  February 18, 2013  / No comments

Alain Robert climbs one of Fidel Castro’s favorite buildings in the name of individual freedom.

Alain Robert

Alain Robert, nicknamed 'Spider Man,' climbs the Habana Libre hotel in Cuba. Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.

Alain Robert, the solitary climber from France who has conquered the highest buildings in the world (from the Empire State Building to the Petronas Towers), passed through the Cuban capital on Feb. 4. While he was there Robert took in one of the emblematic jewels of our architecture: The Habana Libre hotel, which stands 27 stories and 125 meters (410 feet) high.

  1. Is it worth-while to focus on the last images and letters coming from the inside of the last living utopia on Earth? Is Cuba by now a contemporary country or just another old-fashioned delusion in the middle of Nowhere-America? A Cold-War Northtalgia maybe? Can we expect a young Rewwwolution.cu within that Ancien Régime still known as The Revolution? I would like to provoke more questions than answers.
  2. Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was born in Havana City and still resides and resists there, working as a free-lance writer, photographer and blogger. He is the author of Boring Home (2009) and is the editor of the independent opinion and literary e-zine Voces.

When I interviewed him minutes before his ascent, Robert admitted that he could climb from balcony to balcony and be at the top in less than half an hour, but that he would go slowly to satisfy his audience, which was already gathering in the streets and on the roofs of the neighborhood, along with the national and foreign media.

Robert is 50 years old and weighs about the same in kilograms (110 pounds). He said that climbing buildings with no harness is like an exciting spiritual exercise in individual freedom, and that consequently it is something he could never teach another person. He explained he wanted to exercise this freedom in Cuba especially, by going against all of the prejudices of the democratic world and choosing a building that, in the 1960s, gave Fidel Castro (nicknamed “The Horse” by Cubans) a refuge for politics and pleasure.

As we know, fascination with absolute power is a common tendency among men who aren’t subject to its tyranny. For example, Robert has almost never had to seek permission to climb a building and, thanks to his international celebrity status, he experiences little inconvenience—barring the occasional brief arrest and a fine. In Cuba, however, his team had to obtain permission in advance and the area surrounding the Habana Libre was crowded with police and State Security (two arms of the mysterious Ministry of the Interior).

This fascination with absolute power is a very unsettling thing, but in the case of free citizens like Robert, it’s indicative of a totally unacceptable state of indolence.

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