Thursday, June 15, 2017

Havana Royale

Casa Ivis, the place we’d stayed our first night is high on my recommendation list as the accommodation is lovely, location great and when we came into town without a room or any way of contacting one – they hooked us up. Thanks Ivis and Juan!
Now that we were back and knew how close we were to Habana Vieja and the correct direction in which to walk we were off. As much as I have enjoyed the residential hood – it was time to see something a little bit different.
Not 15 minutes down the road and I felt the camera in my hand, the weight and the urge to use it. It is an understatement to say the woes in my life have led to a decidedly dry spell in my creative endeavors and though I will always consider myself an artist – as of late there has been little physical proof of that.
It made me glad to WANT to take photos and to feel inspired by the streets of Latin America. It made me feel like Briana. And I hate to say it – but she is pretty fucking dope.
After watching shirtless children delight in a pair of roller-blades and a homie on an actual pay phone I saw an apparition. A dark skinned man with a shiny chain and cornrows, ie – my future husband. Fortunately Havana Hottie was standing in front a restaurant that offered a) excellent people watching, b) a delicious and affordable menu and c) a condescending and misogynistic proprietor. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

As I greedily consumed moro by the spoonfuls I watched children creating a game of their choosing in the alley way and literally ached for them. Never in my life had I wanted a brood, and on that day I wanted all 5 of those bad boys to have come out of my special lady place.

After dinner we made our way further into the belly of the beast, to what I believe to be the Central Park of Havana where cement benches face a triumphant statue and that classic car cold war feel is thick in the air.

As opposed to the dilapidated vehicles from 1950's America that run through the streets of Havana, here is where all of the pretty ladies line up to shine in the sun and be adored. I too fell prey as I attempted to seduce a curvy purple beauty and lure her into my web. As we were perusing a diminutive man named Raoul pointed out his turquoise Chevy and we were sold. Sold a 1 hour ride (though I think it lasted longer) for a reasonable fee.
After about 3 minutes in the back seat it was clear Raoul had a lot of wisdom to impart and I didn’t want to be rude, so I hopped in the front seat, selected the appropriate jams for a sunset cruise with a strange man in a foreign city and listened up.
Raoul weaved through the streets as he pointed out sights and gave ‘insider intel’ on the goings on in Cuba. I was a captive audience and once he told me that he thought I was my companion’s tour guide because I looked just like a Cuban woman he knows in my ‘happy eyes,’ I was his.
A leisurely cruise in a classic car listening to salsa and exploring the city – what more could a girl ask for – except maybe a cocktail. Typically not the kind of girl to jones for booze – ever – we felt it would be remiss if we didn’t at least sample the local rum infused fair and Raoul assured us that he knew of a little known spot that only hosted locals. I was hooked.
We arrived just after sunset to el conejito and shared a daiquiri and mojito (a sip or two both) and heard distinctively American accents on the corner before making our way back onto the street. At the front door were two young men wearing BK shirts and when I addressed them as such witty repartee ensued and I felt like cheeky Briana again, and it felt nice.

Back in the drop top and my mind turns to regret. I don’t possess a lot. Sure, there are things I wish I hadn’t said or done in my life – yes, I don’t live with regret. There are no major what ifs, because I honestly feel like when I want something – I go after it, at least in my adult life. I do however, always wish, always lament on how I should have studied abroad. Having had that experience sounds magical and as I ponder I realize, I have spent the past 10 years in Washington Heights – I have studied aboard. No wonder I am sporting colorfully floral leggings and a red tank top so unapologetically (with Chucks, of course), and no wonder I feel so at home here. In Latin America.
Wind in my hair and salsa in my ear. I could drive forever.

Raoul deposits us back in Habana Vieja and it is dark and we are satiated with our cruising together (Smokey, not Gwenyth). As we exit the Caddy we head toward Hotel Ingeterra where a poor man’s version of a former boyfriend who leads us down into the belly of da club where in a few short hours we are promised it will be turnt, en espanol. We bid adieu to fake Danny and wander down Obispo to try to maintain momentum and kill time before returning to live music underground.
Obispo is a main thoroughfare running through old town that offers a potpourri of communist book shops, souvenir shops and live music. The light is warm and yellow and the streets almost qualify as cobblestone. Just walking down the road makes you feel beautiful and romantic and like you have rouge on your cheeks, a rose in your teeth and some pep in your step.

A long square with a sleeping dog (I repeat sleeping, not dead) who wears a name tag proudly displaying his name and occupation – resident street tramp can be found at the end of this journey. We turned around with minutes still left till lift off and decide to do one of my most facotire things – people watch. Give me your airport, your train station, your restaurant and your town square – watching people interact with one another – or go about their business solo is truly one of life’s great pleasures.

At this particular juncture – what I was most certain was subtle gay sex solicitation was the watching that was worthy. Perhaps I will never know if the effeminate young man in the pink shirt got a Juan for the evening because as a pair of young men, one in tapered sweatpants and the other in a Bart Simpson t-shirt wandered by. Many times. The mating ritual was basic – I made my presence known. They sniffed around until my pheromones were strong enough to attract an attack – from the side. And  then we were done. We had friends for the evening.

As if often the case with me the pretty young thing in sweats with a neck tat was who caught my eye, yet it was Bart (ie Dennis) who came up to speak to me. After a couple of exchanged sentences, I declared him a liar in Spanish and my charm was too much to resist – we were lost in conversation. My fascination with Cuba is real, and deep and honestly – getting just to hang out with and talk to someone who lives here – not in any official or political role, but just a person, was a treat. The fact that they were kind and courteous and after only a few short hours were proposing marriage and co-parenting only played a minor role.

Shortly after meeting our new compatriots we decided to screw salsa club we’d been waiting out and head to Bar Roma per our escorts suggestion.
Bar Roma was a rooftop spot in a residential building that offers views of the capitol, spicy salsa and 1970’s pop and tattoos while you wait in the foyer to the bar. It was sticky and sultry and I felt like I was in ‘Dirty Dancing Havana’ night only with no Diego Luna and a copious amount of body odor.
It was magical.

It turned out Dennis and Angelo (neck tat) weren’t friends so much as the vaguest of acquaintances, but evidently it seemed appropriate to join forces when approaching a foreign woman. I respect.
The night was split between dancing on the roof and being lectured in a unique mix of Spanish, English and gestures about how I am strong and charismatic and should never cry over a man – they should cry over me.
With promises to go out once we reunite when we returned from Vinales my graffiti artist friend took the long walk home through the dusty streets of late night Havana and we arrived just before sunrise – and parted ways.

So rarely do I go out. And it is nights like these that always make me wonder why.

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