Saturday, October 27, 2007

Havana: 1-2 Oct 2007 (Written 2 Oct 2007)

There are sounds in the street everywhere. Music flows through doorways, through hallways, windows, balconies, cars, bicycles, people are singing, dancing, laughing. Compared with the silence in other cities around the world, it is captivating, making you want to move your body to the sounds.

I was instantly captivated upon arrival, where Hector and Ery without missing a beat started treating me as family. The exaggerated vowels - mu-u-u-u-u-ucho trabajo, mu-u-u-u-uu-cha azucar, mu-u-u-u-uy bueno accompany the big grins and the warm energy.

Havana is being showered with a rain that varies from a gentle drizzle to a furious downpour. Hector and I brave the streets nonetheless, venturing to the agropecuario, the local farmer's market where I can pay using the local money - moneda nacional. The dual money system is so difficult to get your head around. How is it possible that you can buy fresh squeezed orange juice for 2 pesos cubanos - less than 10 cents USD - then go to a tourist hotel and pay 5 CUC - 7USD for the same thing?

I was treated to a lovely dinner last night, Ery singing as he cooks. Spaghetti with tomato sauce and chicken. Afterwards I went for a little jaunt in the neighborhood alone, where people roam amongst the rubble in the streets, restored buildings reminiscent of colonial grandeur placed next to crumbling unidentifiable concrete.

This morning I met David, an absolute gem. Speaking of the illegal and legal systems, how people survive here - ration cards, 8 pounds beans, 6 pounds rice, 5 pounds sugar - and sometimes that sugar isn't enough for people...

We walked at a steady pace for 2 hours covering most of Havana Vieja before he had to return to work.

I ventured to the agropecuario and bought a huge avocado, bright red mamey, mini mangos, limes, and lots of bean sprouts, onions, and garlic for less than $1.50 US. Awesome people in the market - one man and I were talking about Tokyo - a very great capitol - and I said yes, more or less. Mas o menos. We laughed, and I said, well, mas que menos - more than less. He said, well, Habana tambien - Habana also - but it's a little bit broken right now.

My first attempt to use the internet was at the Etecsa on Calle Obispo. After being made to wait outside for half an hour while watching people buy peso ice cream, pizza, sandwiches, and juice across the street, I was told that they ran out of cards so I couldn't use the computer. Sigh. Onwards to Hotel Florida. Not working. Down to El Capitolio Nacional - not working. Siiiiiigh.

I decided to check out El Salon de Ensayo Benny More - a music space where bands practice and you can watch for longer exists, as far as I and about 10 Cubans who tried to tell me could tell. Frustrated but not that upset, I wandered down Galiano...I was going to finally set my eyes on the Malecon, the famed seawall that is the center of life for many Habaneros, where you can feel Cuba's pulse alive and well. Suddenly, I heard music. Catchy music. And it sounded live. I wandered over to the door and there was a huge lock. I smiled at the toothless, Yankees hat wearing man with a half burnt thick cigar in his hand, and he asked me where I was from and let me in. I walked into a concrete room that had egg cartons plastered all over the walls, and there was the Septeto Nacional. How did I get here? They had a special guest as they were practicing for recording their next album, and I was bearing witness to this. A bottle of Havana Club Rum was passed around the room, with Bucanero beer cans for those who weren't ready at 2pm to stomach the fire of the rum. The next hour was cathartic, listening to these world-class musicians who have toured many continents bar the US, as they tweaked their new performances and were jamming, drinking, improvising, and dancing. Wow.

I spoke to the director who invited me back any day that they were rehearsing in Havana, and I have an invitation to his house to receive a free CD of their last recording. I had grown slightly discouraged last night, finding that all the places with live music came along with a high CUC entrance fee, which means an entirely tourist clientele (or prostitutes accompanying the tourists), and wasn't sure how I was going to survive a month without going crazy, either from being around tourists in an overly exclusive isolating setting, or from being cut off from the live music that I had come all this way to enjoy. Looks like I found my survival method.

I did head over to the Malecon briefly afterwards, as it was high tide and the blindingly white spray was shooting over the wall, drenching all those wandering down the meandering path. Back to El Capitolio, an immense structure with great examples of Cuban artists inside. From sand paintings to photography to sculpture, it is a clear example of how Cuba has managed to invest in arts and culture and succeeded tremendously.

Then over to Hotel Inglaterra where I have waited an hour to use the computer.

What more to be said?

There are no tomatoes in the market. Supposedly they're out of season. Is that possible in a tropical country?

The way the Cubans approach their daily dilemmas and nuisances head-on with an unbeatable sense of humor causes me to shake my head and laugh. Hector and Ery and I were talking about trains, and I was asking if I could book tickets in advance for one of the better trains. They both laughed and said no, because it might not leave. When I asked how far in advance I could buy my tickets, they told me, well, show up 2 hours beforehand and you'll know. I asked if I could make a bus reservation in case the train doesn't go, and they said yes - even if I don't show up for the bus nothing happens. In fact, nothing happens in Cuba.

When talking about the bureaucracy even though it's socialist, they said mu-u-u-uuuu-uuuchos papeles, mucho, mu-u-uucho. And the inspectors and the corruption. It's amazing how explicitly people will speak to me about their situations, expressing their opinions and especially about the impending future as El Maximo nears his death. Recent weeks have shown a new vitality in TV broadcasts of the leader, and people have mixed reactions.

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