Quiet time in Havana … It IS possible!

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Currently sipping a smooth Chilean Merlot and savouring a puttanesca pizza with double anchovies, a welcome relief from the black beans and rice, a mainstay, the ‘bread’ if you will, of the Cuban diet … ‘comida creole’ … loved it the first week … not so much by the third week πŸ™‚  

It is yet another rainy day in Havana and I am relishing the cooler temperatures that come along with it … cool moody Cuban kind of day.  I always like this quiet week to myself after a volunteer posting … a great day for getting lost in thought and reflecting on my time in Cuba. 

Cuba is a deeply rooted complex culture … so young and vital yet old and cultured at the same time.  Despite decades of severe economic difficulties, Cuba has held on to a most unique identity within its ethnic mosaic of whites, blacks, native Indians, people of mixed race and Asians who came here in the 19th century to work on the sugar cane plantations virtually as slaves alongside the black Africans.  This same ethnic mosaic also characterisizes the culture of Cuba today ….. a place of music and colour, brought together from vastly differing traditions!   Over hundreds of years, it has produced a unique blend of people and somehow it all appears to work.  Cubans are very sociable, chatty sorts.  Their doors remain open for anyone to stop in for a visit, always accompanied by an offer of a coffee or a glass of rum, even here in big city Havana!  As a group, this was our experience many times, as we walked in Ciego de Avila … some of us taking up the offer πŸ™‚  Not a day goes by that we didn’t run into someone playing what should be the national game, dominoes, be it in restaurants, balconies, benches, or tables set up in quiet town streets and parks … many just sit in rocking chairs outside front doors, always ready with a polite smile.  Music is everywhere and remains the soul of this island.  Melodic thanks to the Spanish heritage, dynamic thanks to the African heritage.  It is both religious and passionate at the same time and like dance, music is a vital part of Cuban life.  Casa de la Trova is a Cuban institution in every town on the island, where local bands play and young and old alike go to dance in these clubs.  We were invited in Ciego de Avila to a La Trova Club …. too much fun!!   Our young students enthusiastically guided and glided us in the Latin style of dancing … I cannot fathom a young teenager wanting to dance with an older person in Canada but it is common place in Cuba!!   I want to learn to move like these kids!!! 

In Ciego de Avila, we were driven back from our evening classes every night by horse drawn carriages.  There are few taxis available day or night in a small town and certainly never enough for our large group of 14.  It became so commonplace for us to utilize the bicitaxis (bicycle with a seated cart attached behind ala Thai style) during the heat of the day in particular, but walking was our main mode of getting to our work morning and evening.  The horse carriages at night!    Here in Havana, the horse and carriage is a touristic thing to do πŸ™‚ and hence way costlier than in a small town where it is considered a most common method of transportation, even in today’s modern world!  How quickly we all became used to it.  I think I will hire a horse carriage today just because I am missing it so much.  Perhaps a trot around the parks is in order!

Enjoyed our group stop last Thursday at ‘Hemingway Museum’ … Ernest Hemingway lived on the outskirts of Havana at Finca La Vigia on a beautiful acreage for over two decades … his two known loves here were journalist Martha Gellhorn and Mary Welsh … he married both during his time in Cuba ….  (although I believe he also had an ex-wife or two in America, romantica womanizer that he was).  During this time in Cuba, Hemingway wrote his more famous books.  Will have to revisit these again at some point although I do not remember enjoying them much in my youth.   He was at Finca La Vigia when he found out he had received the Nobel Prize in 1954 … news to which he promptly replied, “This prize belongs to Cuba since my works were created and conceived in Cuba” … he lived here from 1939 to 1960 when he moved back to the U.S. where he committed suicide a year later … personally, I think he left so much of himself back in Cuba that he could not quite reconcile a less colourful life back in America … or maybe he was just a sad melancholic alcoholic. 

  

  

His home here remains a museum but is falling apart like so many of Cuba’s buildings and homes and could sure do with a cash infusion for restoration purposes!   The guest house alone is currently infested with termites and not open to view.  Looked ok from the outside.   All rooms are roped off.  We were however, allowed to photograph … everything was left as he kept it and apparently he was a meticulous tidy guy.  Ernest Hemingway was also a big game trophy hunter, hence all the animal heads strewn about … big marlin fisherman as well … his boat, the Pilar is housed on his old tennis court as are the graves of his four dogs … strange, that fact!  Apparently as many as fifty cats made their home on the property as well over the years, although no tombstones for them :)!!  The swimming pool remains open but devoid of water, ready for an unsuspecting tourist to fall into I suppose …. hmmm

Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter, the age old manual Corona, sits in his loft writing room, waiting for creative fingers to tap out another award winning book.    Judging from the numbers written on his bathroom wall, Ernest suffered from the typical North American obsession with body image  (who knew??) …  he kept records of his weight losses and gains, jotting the fluctuations on his bathroom wall, beside his scale …. probably an abundance of his own signature daiquiri drinks contributed greatly to his growing girth …. funny little Ernie tidbit.

As I walk around Havana, I am reminded frequently, what a lucky long straw we of the Western world pulled.  We enjoy a wealth of riches on so many fronts.  At the drop of a hat, we can travel anywhere in the world if our finances allow, with no special permission, questions or visas required!  We have an embarrassing array of food, clothing, books, gadgets available to everyone, on every shelf, in every store, cars for most people!!! … we have choices!!!!  So many in our world just do not enjoy even a fraction of what is available to us.  I literally cringe inwardly at times when I listen to the average Canadian complain about their lot in life.   I have been fortunate to travel extensively and have seen first hand the hardships that 80% of our world lives under every single day … mere survival is the main component to their days, every day!!  …. I am personally going to work on my own silly senseless complaints … so easy to get caught up in when living in the comforts of a Canadian life.

Got caught in a major tropical downpour along the Malecon on my afternoon walk the other day … I was heading to the little fort restaurant at water’s edge in nearby Vedado area.  It had looked so charming last week when we all arrived in Havana and I well remember saying I must stop there for a spell at some point for a coffee and the common delicious coconut flan that seems to be served countrywide!! … well with nowhere on the long stretch of Malecon to take cover from the rain I was thrilled to see the Fort cafe not too far away …. I made a dash for it, thoroughly soaked by now and relishing a coffee to warm me up!    Well ….. as is commonplace in Cuba … their coffee machine was broken, no flan to be had, or indeed anything for a snack other than the ubiquitous ham and cheese sandwich which I politely declined!!  Just for the record, I hate ham and cheese sandwiches :)!!!  …..  the bar portion however was open and they did have water, beer, daiquiris, Cuba libres … the downpour ensured a near empty restaurant/bar …. literally deserted except for a few Cubans drinking and smoking cigars inside the dark bar in the tower portion of the Fort remnants.  I opted to sit outside under the umbrella despite the rain, sip my Cuba libre … a rum and coke with a twist of lime πŸ™‚ washed down with water …. I am just not one to consume hard liquor but to be polite, I had to order something.  My waiter called a taxi for me.  TWO  hours later, it finally arrived!!!  Needless to say, I got to know the kitchen staff and waiters very well … they totally enjoyed practicing their English with me.  I am sure I eased their rainy day boredom somewhat …  In all fairness, I rarely mind getting stuck in these kinds of situations … always a reminder to slow down and savour the moment, whatever the moment … reinforced yet again why I love Cubans …. they were so kind, gracious and downright funny, while we waited together for my taxi in the pouring rain … a cheer squad broke out when the taxi finally arrived.  Hugs and kisses were of course exchanged before I ran to the waiting taxi … it is the Cuban way!!


   

  

  

  

  

   

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 

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