I am back. Sitting on the Chinese carpet playing solitaire in the afternoon…watching wind blow my wash around on the chandelier…even in this damp, the underpants have to finally give up & dry, even with the rain & the cold coming again. I have to stop reading Eudora Welty,
It doesn’t smell the same anymore.
On the streets smeared with feces young boys compete with wooden, tops once painted blue; hurling them wildly & then collecting them in the palms of their hands as if they were magicians.
They never crossed over in Havana…the wrought-iron grillwork is like a magic garden across the face of the narrow streets protecting & separating the old buildings. There is no cast iron. Post-Liberation work is easy to identify; it is mostly made of rebar.
In defiance, all the bicycle cabbies mounted with gigantic speakers blast the street with music in a brave attempt to obliterating the grime __the rotten-tomatoes__the blackouts __little boys who steal tourists’ purses…
Tourism is down two-thirds since post 9/11. Everyone on the street asks hopefully “Allemana?” People in Havana still own their bodies & they know the Germans come to “comprarse su negrita.” In the night walking home they call out to me “Taxi” pause…..”Un hombre Cubano?” Stunning young Afro-Cuban women walk the street putting the capitals of the world to shame. I am told that Italians are taking control of the drugs & prostitution here.
Everyone must steal something from their state job to barter for something else that another has from their state job. My mother’s ancient cousin wonders how people find the money to buy shoes. He never leaves his apartment now.
We had a magnificent Christmas dinner with Tona’s friends. Their driver swept us away in their Russian Mercedes & we had Yucca & Crsitianos y Moros & hours of family telling jokes, even the 10 year old (unfortunately totally missed by me) & dancing & a little Christmas tree. Everyone likes red lights here/red lights are the only ones sold, here.
Our host’s sister made us the loveliest Tamales; Cuban style, out of freshly shucked corn & lots of love. Her husband is a federal policeman. He is a very kind man who tries to make everyone laugh. People here love & respect the police, they do not have to pay them, like in Mexico, to have them catch the thief/murderer.
The 12 hour blackouts in the city are wearing everyone down. It is all worse in the provinces. People returning from Camaguey told me the hotels had water only 4 hours a day.
Every one here is waiting for EL CAMBIO (the change). Everyone here is grateful for EL FEE, “Familia en el Estrangero “(family outside the Island).
The undertone of Havana, even before you step across the road from the Malecon & the crash of the big Sea against the rocks you can smell it…. TOBACCO. Deep & dark & very sweet like opium, it is the first tone of the city; it is in the hallways & on your sheets, it comes right up & meets the ocean.
Words not used in Cuba:
CASTRO __everyone pulls down on the chin with his or her fingers.
Negro __everyone who is light skinned rubs their index finger across their forearm.
I realize here the importance of a castrated king, who fills that space were management goes if not blocked, ruining everything.
Mother’s cousin says it’s just in the Blood of the Spanish “just look, Jana, at all of Latin America.”
The kings & queens of sugar have been vanquished here, but not the last drop of Spanish blood.
I stepped into the street to kiss the hand of the Voodoo Queen of the Plaza de la Catederal in colonial Havana.
She is filling a bike taxi with her lace & black prince doll, she is a piece of art from stem to stern, she is a distrustful woman as many Cubans seem to be, with a sick son & no teeth & lots of courage. I read her palm the day before, she sitting on her little stage.
New Years day from the street:
“Buenos dias y felicidades y saludos a su pelucero”- Good day & Happy New Year & a salute to your hairdresser.
We are guests again & from the balcony on the second floor, you could see the lights on in all the apartments on the block. Couples alone or in groups danced while outside the streets were wet from the buckets of water containing their sorrows that had spilled out of their windows before the New Year began.
Through all of my stay, ready or not, tired or sick, I ran up the stairs to the rooftop of the hotel & danced. Gilbert & his wife Natasha slowly grinding away at my rock & roll to the beat of Casino! I sampled Son with its’ hard 4th steep & Conga with its back & forth 4 & Mambo, which is not indeed anything Italiano & was just too wild for me.
The very sweetest moment of the entire trip was at the Casa de Tango on Calle Neptuno; when the audience for the ancient singer & guitar player turned around on their folding chairs & came to kiss us for the joy of having us with them. It didn’t smell the same, but it was the Havana of my dreams.