Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Mar 07 2018

2/21: Havana

We hadn’t figured out how to work the A/C; it was a little hot, but opening the windows seemed to work fine once everything cooled down in the evening. It’s so nice to have decent-temperature air available after that awful Canadian cold. The night was filled with the voices of neighbors talking and TVs and radios playing, but I was so tired it didn’t matter. Breakfast when we finally got up was scrambled eggs, toast and fruit made by Fefa, the stout older orange-haired woman who owns the place and has a comfy living room downstairs filled with paintings and well-dressed dolls. This building used to be the garage of the large decrepit mansion in front of it, which is falling apart and partially uninhabitable but is still home to several people in various rooms. Carlos, an older man who is somehow related to the joint, came up to fix the shower drain, and Annanai came to get us afterwards. Annanai looks to be about our age, light complexioned and blonde, and seems to quite often get taken for a foreigner even though she is Cuban. I imagine this can be frustrating for her.

We walked to the wide, rather empty Revolution Square, where there are large abstract portraits of the revolutionary heroes like Che et al, and also where all the military parades are held, but we didn’t feel like paying to go in. Instead we walked around other areas admiring the old cars and colorful walls. Renting classic convertibles painted bright pink seems to be a real money-maker in Havana. We saw prices of $30 an hour, which is a lot even outside Cuba.

After we stopped by a small bar for a drink that was not unlike Taiwan’s Apple Cidra, Chenbl changed entirely too much money because only one person can approach a teller at a time and he got flustered. We then passed by the main cemetery, but you have to pay to get in so we skipped it…the graves looked frighteningly haphazard in any case, and Chenbl can be sensitive to certain things that wander around cemeteries.

We stopped by a market whose concrete entrance signs betrayed its origins as a Woolworth store. Lunch was a great deal of chicken. While Annanai called her boyfriend, we watched some workers unloading supplies for one of the rations store. Every Cuban gets a discount in basic foods, flour, rice, meat, etc. every week. Outside the shop was parked an immaculate two-tone red-and-white Ford Fairlane. Nearby an early 50’s black Volkswagen Beetle rally car was parked in front of a garage that the owner was busy welding together.

So much in Cuba just seems difficult, difficult to buy, difficult to do…it’s rather the opposite of Japan in this respect. Ordinary Cubans live by their wits alone. There simply doesn’t seem to be a real universal system in place, nor a sense of certainty, except that the air will be filled with exhaust from all these old vehicles. I suppose that air quality is not high on the list of concerns.

We hopped into one of these cars, an ancient Plymouth, and drove to the Malecón to see the big Hotel Nacional de Cuba there, the stone of its exterior scarred from an assault on one of the presidents’ factions. Apparently the mafia tried to run Cuba from there, which as we know didn’t really work out. Rich foreigners gazed across the sea towards Florida from the lawn chairs. It was actually cold in the shadow of the hotel, though it was hot everywhere else.

We then took another old taxi to the Paseo, a long walkway in the middle of the avenue, where we admired the old buildings, and then another taxi, an old Russian Lada this time, to the ferry. This took us across the bay to the site of a large Jesus statue on a hill, near an ancient fort. Security is strict on the little ferries because apparently people have tried to hijack them to take to Florida, incredibly. On the hill, tourists faced away from the statue, looking at the sun setting over the city below. It was a short hike back down the hill to walk around the area by the water, which features the remains of a railway. Music was always playing somewhere, and people talked, laughed and occasionally fought in the streets. Life without the Internet and smartphones, ladies and gentlemen. People can only access a strangled version of the Internet on their phones in parks for high rates and at slow speeds. But things might be changing in that respect.

After the ferry back, we got on a crowded bus back to our neighborhood, where we met Eric during dinner. He took us to a rock show at a nearby underground Beatles-themed music club called the Yellow Submarine (which sounds better in Spanish than it does in English). It really wasn’t bad, an enthusiastic young band full of enthusiastic and trendy young Cubans, and though I would have liked to hear more original, Spanish-language content, I wish them well.

posted by Poagao at 10:25 am  

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