Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Mar 07 2018

2/22: Havana

Eric took us to the other property he works with this morning, a nice little space with a courtyard and several rooms just a block or two from the ocean. There we had a nice breakfast of toast, fruit and fried eggs, and met Jorge, our guide for the day. Jorge is a quiet, soft-spoken young man with smoky young Elvis looks and a great deal of knowledge about Havana; it was a pleasure to have him accompany us. He led us through Centro to the small Chinatown area, where we saw Chinese restaurants, Confucian Institutes and Kung-fu temples, some with mis-written characters and bad calligraphy, but fascinating nonetheless. We’d wanted to get our hair cut at one of the barbershops, but they were all full with long waiting times, which is too bad as I really want to see what a barber who has experience dealing with African locks can do with Chenbl’s hair.

We made our way to the old district, this time not going through the touristy bits but the regular parts where normal people live, and it was quite interesting. We visited a shop full of lovely African art and carvings, and talked with the artist via Jorge. Lunch was delicious ham sandwiches at a tiny restaurant in the old quarter, sitting on stools and watching pranks being played on people on the TV, which was hooked up to a box rather than Cuban broadcast television.

We then toured the market by the harbor, where I decided, for once, to not buy a hat. Every other tourist we see is wearing a straw hat, and I’m pretty sure I’d lose it in the wind here. We visited Hemingway’s other bar (that man got around where alcohol is concerned), the one where mojitos were apparently invented, though they don’t use mint but some other similar plant that IMHO doesn’t have as appealing a flavor. Outside the bar a blind man was singing; Chenbl bought his CD, as he’s been doing here to support local artists whose voices appeal to him. I signed what looked like the only Chinese name among the thousands of signatures on the wall outside. People kept shouting “Jackie Chan!” and “Chino!” at Chenbl. “Is this Jackie Chan?” one older man asked excitedly.

“Yes, it is!” I said, a little too enthusiastically. “He gained fifteen kilograms and lost fifteen years!” But my sarcasm didn’t get across; as he eagerly shook Chenbl’s hand, I added, “Don’t tell anyone!” But he was already off to tell his friends, so we decided to get out of there before our ruse was exposed or someone challenged Chenbl to a street fight.

We walked up the harbor through the squares until it was time for Jorge to go. Chenbl and I continued on as the day grew overcast. A bunch of people on motorcycles were waiting to get on a bus…along with their motorcycles. The best of both worlds, I suppose. We then walked through another cathedral and up to the parking lot to catch a bus back to Vedado, or “Ve-ah-oh” as it’s pronounced here; the letter D isn’t terribly popular with Cubans.

Eric was waiting for us again, and after we rested a bit and put on long pants, we went out for some standing-room-only pizza, in that the places that sells it doesn’t have a license for chairs so everyone stands. It was hot and decent. Beef seems quite hard to come by here, and even chicken is a little rare; pork and ham dominate the menus.

Eric then walked with us several shady blocks to the Art Factory, a fascinating complex with strict controls, where all kinds of art are mixed together in various exhibitions…we saw photography exhibitions, ballroom dancing, and the best rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody I’ve ever heard played by a French Horn quartet. We asked the group if they had an album we could buy, but all the leader, a young man named Elio Hernandez Rojas, could do was ask if we had a USB thumb drive so we could copy it. Unfortunately, we didn’t think to bring any. As it turns out, Cubans seem to obtain all of their information, news and entertainment via the distribution (on Tuesdays for some reason) of USB drives. This is mainly because, as I’ve mentioned, the Internet here is basically unusable, with incredibly expensive rates and extremely limited speeds for the short amount of time one can get online, not to mention government controls on the content. On the one hand, this is horribly inconvenient…but I have to admit you do hear real conversations more here than in most other places, and there are far fewer people with their heads buried in phones. The few public places where the crippled Wi-Fi is available are filled with people completing laundry lists of things they need to get done online before their time/data are used up.

Anyway, back to the Art Factory: The complex was made from an actual old factory, with the additions of cargo containers, little courtyards and art spaces throughout. Many foreigners were in attendance, with English, German and other languages being thrown around. There was also a Spanish-language rap show as well as a place with bouncers we couldn’t get into for some reason. The whole was very cool, and had me feeling very strange. I don’t know why, but I’ve been feeling discombobulated, disconnected the past few days. Cuba is just so surreal. There was an art exhibit of pictures of people pointing at themselves, and recordings of people saying who they were. “I am Jose,” “I am Maria,” etc. I thought what I would say…probably: “I am not.”

posted by Poagao at 10:43 am  

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