july 22, 2009
funny, it doesn't look like havana. but maybe that's because we're stuck inside this white, windowless box of a room over the garage at the back of the driveway of jose and maria's casa particular in vedado. there's a standard air conditioner where the window should be, but it's impotent in the face of this crushing tropical heat. in fact, it seems like we have 3 strikes against us: first, money: fidel taking 2 dollars out of every 10 we spend, magnified by our not being able to use our formerly omnipotent ATM or credit cards, as punishment for being americans. second: language: i mean, we've traveled all through peru and ecuador on my comical and minimal spanish skills, but here they speak muy rapido, and my "mas despacio, por favor" ("slower, please"), just doesn't seem to cut the mustard. and now, third, this heat. it is just so amazingly hot and humid that without even moving a muscle, body fluids pour off me onto the streets and floors in flop sweat rivulets. it's even hotter and more humidly unbearable than the southeast asian rain forests or the scorched andalucian plains of southern spain... in august. i mean, even da wife, who is used to 3 showers a day in indonesia, wants to jump out of her skin. strike 3, truleses, you're out.....
but hey, they don't say i have "the hardest head in hollywood" for no reason. ¿que? you didn't know that? es verdad. i mean, here we are, in havana, babies. we came all this way from lala-land, via rastafari jamaica, mon; we aren't exactly about to give up. so... i pick up jose's phone (after my new cuban cell phone chip expires in about 10 minutes, bienvenidos a communista cuba tambien), and i call.... alejandra... another friend of ciro's from LA. "hola, alejandra. soy eh-reek, un amigo de ciro. soy en vedado y blah blah blah" (in my super slow mo espanol). "hola, eh-reek, blablablablahbla........" (in machine gun cubano spanish). "lo siento, alejandra. no entiendo. mas despacio, por favor." "blablablabla, eh-reek, blablablabla." oh my god (who i don't believe in), we're fucked. "no entiendo, alejandra. mas...despacio, por fa...." pause........ silence (or is that... silencio?).
i look around at jose... and smile. i look around at da wife... and roll my eyes.
finally... after about 3 minutes... which of course seem more like an hour and a half... someone else gets on the phone.
a man. he speaks.... english! gracias a dios! (who i don't believe in) "hola, eh-reek. this is carlos, ciro's friend from el teatro. where are you?" thank you, hay-soos (who i also don't believe in)! it's ciro's friend, for whom he had me bring a book and a DVD. i didn't want to contact him on our first day in cuba and tell him "we're stuck in a windowless prison, i mean room, and we need a place to escape to". not a very good foot to get off on, me thinks. but hell, that's exactly what i do... tell him "we need another place to stay... ASAP." "no problem, eh-reek, i'll pick you up in 20 minutes, show you our place. if you like it, you can come back in the morning and stay here." "really?" "of course, mi casa es su casa." did he really say that? fuck it, i've never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth... especially when.... another cliché... i'm completely "dependent on the kindness of strangers"... when i travel.
anyway, carlos... y alejandra... our saviors...pick us up in his shaky black russian volta... around 11 pm. it turns out, unbeknownst to me, that they live in the same house... or should i say... luxury condo... right on the malecon (see below).
what can i say? sometimes the universe does take care of you in strange and unsuspecting ways. look... at the view! it must be the best in havana. and look....
a swimming pool... on the 14th floor!
paintings and sculpture by some of cuba's most famous artists.
it turns out that alejandra's father is a successful contemporary cuban band leader. and... carlos' grandfather was some important pre-fidel city leader. we're in some pretty toney company here. gracias a dios (who maybe i should start believing in)... or at least, gracias a ciro!
luckily, i've brought a bottle of 150 proof rum from jamaica, mon, and i make a gift of it to our hosts. it's rot-gut powerful, mon, and before i know it, we're all sitting out on el balcon, drunkenly rocking in 4 wrought iron deco-swirled chairs, overlooking the hot, steamy city of havana. i can hardly believe it. we've gone from a windowless prison to the catbird's seat... within an hour. all i can think is "i must be doing something right in my life."
pretty soon, carlos is giving us the rum-soaked lowdown on the last half century in cuba.
although he's only in his mid 30s, he seems to have it down: shady batista... heroic fidel... but with a twist. because it seems that he and his family knew most of the property owners who had their homes "nationalized" in '59, when fidel simply kicked them out... along with lansky and the mafia... when the revolucion became a reality. where did they go? all these former fat cats, bourgeoisie, and landowners? most likely, to miami, where they wait still, for the shaggy-haired socialist monster to finally kick the octogenarian bucket, when they will, no doubt, immediately pounce on... or at least petition the current american president... for their former property. of course, nobody really knows what will happen when the castros die, but it promises to be one hellava shootout between the former haves and their castro-created replacements.
anyway, it's one spectacular view, and by 3 am, when inebriated carlos and alejandra drive us back to our windowless room for the last time, we can all but feel the complicated and siren call of miami across those 90 miles of dark and angry ocean.
the next day... after hung-over carlos has forgotten to pick us up at jose and maria's, we taxi over to our comfortable, air conditioned and windowed bedroom on the 14th floor of our new home in havana.
ok, chicos, maybe this cuba-habana place ain't so bad................