Today at dance class my Ahmed was booked so I had a new instructor, Abelardo, who couldn’t remember my name so called me Baby. (no one puts Baby in a corner – Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing). For the second hour we did Casino de Rueda with all of us, it’s a circular dance where a caller decides the moves and you switch partners all the time. The guys were performing, sliding into the middle like into home plate, shouting and singing, it was lots of fun.
Back on our patio with a beer to recuperate, then lunch at a great paladar named 304 O’Reilly (pronounced oh rrelly), and a walk along the Malecon to the huge indoor artisan market.
Back at the casa, our host Idania’s daughter and family living in Miami have come for a visit, and Idania and others were having their hair, nails and makeup done. This place is kind of like Keeping up with the Kardashians Cuban style, with many characters coming and going – Tania the house manager, the cleaning lady who is constantly scrubbing the tiles, the server, Adonis the Santerian priest (is it voodoo?) who acts as a translator, Ray (as in ray of sunshine), a young guy with pink hair who speaks seven languages, and various others. We’re apparently supposed to have a gift for the casa mama Idania, who drips in gold, and we planned to leave some of my clothes for some locals, but her staff dresses better than we do!
We took a cab to Fabrica de Artes, an old factory made into an art and club space, where we had some food and saw a bit of an afro dance performance. You got a card when you entered, then when you bought food or drinks $ were added. When we went to leave, expecting to pay at the exit, we were told to go back inside through the maze to the payment spot. Cuban logic.
Our last day of dance lessons the next day. I got Ahmed back, and at the end we did a couple of songs with rueda changing partners. I had been told to have a present for your instructor, so I gave him a belt bag that I put $10 in, but that was awkward, not sure I would do it again?
We found another nice lunch spot, then found a pink 50’s Chevy convertible taxi to drive along the Malecon to Hotel Nacional for a mojito on the lawns.
The old cars are prized possessions of the locals, and most are kept in pristine condition. This is because after the revolution, cars brought to the island have been owned by the government. A blue convertible was waiting for our trip back to old Havana, so I asked if we could stop along the Malecon for photos like everyone else seemed to be doing.
The driver told us about Buena Vista Social Club playing tonight in a theatre not far from our casa, he could get us cheaper tickets (but we ended up paying more as usual). They are a band formed in the 50’s, made famous when discovered by an American in the 90’s who made a movie about them.
The backing band and the dozen or so talented (and very experienced!) singers played for a couple of hours, the main vocalist for each song weaving through the crowd, then we got up to be their backup dancers, now on the resume.
I was hoping but not expecting to see the headliner on the playbill, Juana, 93 year old cabaret singer who starred in my late hero Anthony Bourdain’s show on Havana. (He also went to Fabrica de Artes). I got the impression from the show that she just shows up when she feels like it, as she should at that age! She must not have felt like it that night.
The next morning I presented Idania with the gift I had brought, fancy lip glosses, which seemed silly since she doesn’t seem to be lacking in anything. Two of my group are headed to Varadero for a few days on the beach. We had arranged with Tania for an old car taxi for 120 CUCs to Varadero airport, a couple of hours away, where flight connections are much better.
Hasta pronto Havana hope to see you again soon!