Part Two: Havana
We had a rough start in Havana already a week before. That was when Michel dropped us at the bus station to Cienfuegos. The only reasonable place to wait the required 3 hours for our bus was a terrace supplying good beer in 5 liter capacity table containers with taps. But it did so while blasting at rock concert volume from their sound system (110 dB, the level that causes irreversible hearing damage after 8 minutes). No Cuban music. Rap. Hip-hop.
So I pushed my grade A earplugs in my ear canals, then covered my ears with a closed proactive noise canceling headphone with full battery. This reduced the level at my eardrums to, in my estimate, a still considerable 60 dB, that is between normal conversation and acoustic piano play. I gave Roland some earplugs as well.
No doubt, all others on that terrace damaged their hearing or had already done so for long, like anybody who ever visited a normal rock concert anywhere in the world, without ear plugs for longer than 8 minutes. That is why, in my estimate, by now, the majority of world population has demonstrable hearing damage.
... grade A earplugs in our ear canals and over my ears a closed proactive noise canceling headphone ... in Cuba our favourite beer is Bucanero ...
We had heard the same levels of sound amplification around Cienfuegos harbour, though there not only US noise pollution but also Cuban Latin music got blasted though the pestering shit.
It made me not expect much of our stay in Havana. But I would be in for a big surprise: most bands in old Havana bars and restaurants play without any amplification and the singers walk freely around with no mikes whatsoever!! This I always tried to promote when in the eighties and nineties I played jazz in Dutch bars, and never got my way.
Ronald opted for a hotel near the harbour where once as a boy, he had entered als a junior sailor on a cargo ship, in the fifties, just before the Castro revolution. He was 20, I was 4 at the time. We got dropped there at government Hotel Armador de Santander, 250 dollar a night, and full. The receptionist, however, had a relative running a private B&B in the Calle de los Officios, behind the hotel. 20 dollar a night in one of those big old houses owned by those trading families who fled to Florida for Castro in the fifties, then occupied by poor families building their own labyrinth of small rooms inside. Geraldo, our host, a thin nice old man with a lined face, can not have had an age much less than Roland. Our room had no windows, but the air-conditioning worked, apart from the power cuts. Room and bathroom were totally clean and well furnished. From our room to the street we passed the kitchen, the host's living, went outside on a patio, then through a short corridor to a heavy door to the Calle de los Officios. We decided to stay and call it our "lions' cave".
... Roland in our windowless lions' cave ...
The Calle de los Officios proved a golden shot. 500 m east on "Officios" we found what would become our default café-restaurant La Marina. Excellent food, modest volume music, never any US niggerbonk, always traditional Cuban music, in the corner a fresh sugar cane juice bar hand-pressing the raw cane then adding rum, spicy leaves and ice, which we valued way above the Cuban icon-cocktail, the mosquito.
... Café Restaurant La Marina, Calle de los Officios ...
We were welcomed by the place's anchor Alfredo, who would soon be our general La Habana anchor.
... La Marina anchor Alfredo in action behind Roland ...
Roland, who had finished the cigarillos he likes (for reasons incomprehensible to me), went up to Alfredo, who swiftly disappeared on the street to come back with a new pack. He also showed Roland some big cigars from a private drawer at the wall, which prompted Roland to point at his friend Bert at table.
There he stood. Next to me. Alfredo, with five Cohibas in a cellophane. These Cohibas looked like Cohibas. 20 CUC (dollars) for 5. I never saw that size. They were thicker than the Cohiba Esplendido (a Churchill, the longest on the international market), but may be 80% of the length. I would estimate the amount of tobacco as only slightly less than that of the Esplendido. Euro 3.60 a piece. In Europe euro 30 a piece.
I was sure this could not be true, but bought them anyway, they looked good at least. I lighted one.
Cohiba. No doubt about it.
There I was, in an excellent but affordable, even cheap restaurant, no earplugs, moderate music, Cuba Latin music moreover, conversation possible, smoking one of the best cigars in the world.
... There I was, in an excellent but affordable, even cheap restaurant, no earplugs, moderate music, Cuba Latin music moreover, conversation possible, smoking one of the best cigars in the world ...
What a way to sit and see the world pass by! The most amusing view was at the north at Teniente Rey. It had a deep hole. Fenced. Every ten minutes a group of tourists would be led there by a guide talking at the hole while the tourist took pictures of it.
We never went to check the guides' stories for we thought the hole was caused by Frédérico, the owner of our restaurant, in his thirties and about 180 kg, preferably dressed in yellow T-shirts tailored to his size, falling there on the street one time. We thought it unlikely the guides could come up with a better story.
... Frédérico's hole ...
Another La Marina anecdote should be related. While sailing, there seemed to be some football championship for national teams. Roland knows some Spanish and informed himself about the state of that competition. As he understood, the Germans just lost the final from France. The Portuguese had been out for long.
Now the second time we arrived in La Marina, we saw a match with Portuguese. A replay I concluded, wondering about those silly Cubans that seemed to get so excited about something boring like a football match replay. Anyway, I lost my interest in football about 40 years ago.
A few days later, Alfredo refused to give us our usual place and led us to a place in front of the TV screen. Now let me say this: you always obey Alfredo. You will know this once you've seen him once. So we sat down there. A match started. between the French and the Portuguese. Another replay of an old match, I concluded behind my sugarcane-rum and Cohiba. But this time both Cubans and foreigners behind us (we had the seats of honour) ran so crazy that I asked a German whether this was an old match or not. No, he said, the final of the European championship for national teams just started. At that moment the French kicked Cristiano Ronaldo off the field.
The rest of the week Roland occasional reiterated his surprise about my metamorphosis at that moment.
Whatever, the bloody rogues lost as they should.
Girls girls girls
In Cuba, though we talk fast and much, communication is done basically with the body. The morning greeting of everyone to everyone, male, female, family or friend, is a kiss. Special feelings at that moment are expressed with additional kisses and hugs. Talk is embedded in wide gestures of hands and arms, stressing an issue is done by moving the entire body, a language in itself.
By contrast, in Northern Europe, for instance, autochthones communicate by only moving their lips to make sounds. They have pathological inhibitions to touch each other. The resulting stress is coped with by having a dog or cat to caress.
As a result, the impression women on Cuba make is stunning and heart warming. While Northern European women make a "picture" of themselves by adjusting their visible surface in the mirror to fit some glossy fashion magazine format, then go out to be seen while not looking at anybody, in Cuba entire persons meet you, body and soul, in total ease and relaxation.
While in Northern Europe there is one single format the visible surface of a woman should meet, prescribed by models in glossy magazines, in Cuba, formats change with age: you're a girl, then a mama, and so on. And we are all happy with our bodies.
... from left to right: the female career in Cuba ... happy people in happy bodies at every age ...
No BMI shit, no diets, no jogging, no anorexia, no kapnophobia (fear of smoking), no urge daily to savour some sexual harassment and pedophile stories in their newspaper, no sexual aberrations, body flight nor the ill-making "health" mania of the type endemic in the Northern European population. In short: no stress. No stress at all. I have not seen figures, but heart problems should be low indeed in Cuba.
The entire thing was nicely demonstrated in a nutshell when sailing south side of Cuba marinero Yoel taught us Cuban dancing in 4 minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T6Ygq6Kt-4
I found another fine illustration (though may be only for who already understands very well what we are talking about here) of a girl leaving leaving her father on the restaurant terrace, taking her ice cream, to have a dance with an actor on the street dressed as a bronze statue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_39scjr7Zxw
Girls at stage second left in the picture above can put themselves on a terrace at the table next to yours, search eye contact and offer acompañamiento. Since Roland and I were two, this was done several times by two girls together. To ask for it when you like someone may meet polite refusal but never indignation, as in Europe girls are supposed to show in such cases. But Roland and I decided that for us it was too hot and we felt too old.
At arrival, we did not sense any socialism, as you did when you entered Russia, even still in the Gorbachev era: at Sjeremetjevo Airport Moscow there was an atmosphere of high tension, gravely looking officers searching around for any paper failures suitable to require a bribe, valuables stolen from your separately stowed luggage, taxi drivers charging ridiculous prices under the firm leadership of an armed mafia.
Nothing of the sort in Havana: all officers are walking around in a relaxed mood, kiss when greeting each other in the morning. You buy a visa, get your passport checked, photo taken and stored in the system, your luggage gets screened once more and out you are. Taxis are free, not licensed, screened and tariff-regulated by a mixture of government and mafia like on Schiphol Amsterdam where we left from. There's widely different taxi transport: bicycle rickshaw, motorized three wheelers, colourful big US cars from the fifties last century, and an orderly line of air-conditioned yellow taxis. And busses.
Marina Hemingway is a very large empty yacht harbour that looks like a government run thing. It has the decisive flavour of a socialist project. Like in Russia, a large area full of very large scale structures makes you feel very small and lonely and is largely malfunctioning and out of service. But unlike the disinterested mini-apparatchiks in Russia in the Soviet era, here on Cuba you meet mostly heart warming people who, though uniformed and endowed with rules for everything, are very friendly and helpful!
The start of Cuban socialism was not that friendly though: at the Castro take-over, the entire industry and trade class of Havana fled its beautiful big houses in Havana and moved to Florida.
... shopping street just before the Cuban revolution and today ... but they kept the cars they seized from the capitalists on the road ...
... street facades just before the Cuban revolution and today ...
... house of rich Cuban trader in Florida since the Cuban revolution, in today's state of maintenance ...
... In the fifties, just before the revolution, Havana was thought of as one of the most modern and wealthy cities in the Latin-American world ...
But let us drop the past and look at the present of Cuban socialism.
... Cuban socialist order maintenance: a sexy police officer chatting with a friend watching a customs officer pass by (OK I shopped the latter in but she was a customs officer - quite some also wear black fishnet stockings under their mini skirts) ...
Cuban officers, in general, all Cubans in uniform, male and female are relaxed, smile, chat and laugh with everybody, do not cause any reservation let alone fear at all. They do like stripes, though. In bus companies you see between one and even five golden stripes on the epaulettes.
... Cuban socialist tolerance: St. Franciscus in front of his church ...
The Castros are very popular, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos are the 12th and 13th apostles and people feel natural in the contemporary Cuban life style. Racial differences do not play any role in social life: people have mixed circles of friends, whites are poor just as often as blacks. For westerners it is a strange thing seeing a fat black mama going out for shopping in a bicycle rickshaw pedaled uphill by a sweating decisively Northern European looking driver, but it's perfectly normal in Cuba, for those two and any other. I wonder why emigration is prohibited: it looks like few people would go if it were allowed. In general, the western propaganda about boat fugitives and political prisoners is utterly misleading: people on Cuba are happy, surely happier than my fellow rich and hard working Dutch people. Indeed Cubans even make me think there are things much more important than owning and showing off with shiny state-of-the-art industrial products, as western people feel they absolutely should toil away for.
... Jesus is supported in Cuba, elsewhere you find giant faces of apostles #12 and #13, Che and Camilo Cienfuegos ...
... old Spanish cannons abound to the level of being used as the standard car bars in small streets, liftable from their holes ...
In old Havana most of the music in bars and restaurant is purely acoustic! No wires no mikes. And no US niggerbonk like rap and hip-hop. Music of the Cuban Latin tradition. And often very good musicians and singers. The best I heard was Caracol de la Habana, in a restaurant La Vitrola in a corner of Plaza Viejo.
... your blogger hosted by Caracol de la Habana at Plaza Viejo ...
The band was immediately prepared to grant me a sax solo. Don't try that in Amsterdam! Video Bert Live at Plaza Viejo La Habana https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tvwVfQSVIc.
Alfredo, my hero and saviour
You can take two boxes of cigars home from Cuba. And two for Roland who prefers cigarillos and does not need Cuban ones. Of course my preparatory inquiries ran through Alfredo. I entered the plane with one hundred cigars I could not afford at European shop prices.
Alfredo, my hero and saviour.
All Cuba photos: