OK, so I’m using a lazy alliteration for the title of this post – a modest comeback to my blog after over a year’s web-absence. That didn’t mean I wasn’t travelling but as blogging seemed to have taken over the media, I decided to take a break. But this latest trip was just so inspiring that it needs to get some online oxygen.
Cuba has been on my must-visit list for years. But though I’ve been within spitting distance, east and west, in the Dominican Republic and far more often in the Yucatan, I never quite made it over the strait. What a joy to finally land there, to meet such positive, zany, well-educated people with such an acute sense of their place on the planet (however surreal and difficult that may be). Of course those immaculate vintage cars entranced me, as did the artfully crumbling façades beside others now restored to their 18th and 19th century glory, but it was the people and their sense of survival that seduced me.
Optimisim, humour, cheekiness, erudition: they go side by side here, with sharp street-intelligence a common add-on. Afro-Latino by nature, there’s also a general sense of taking time, enjoying life. Languid isn’t the word, not strong enough. Outside the Bodega del Medio, Havana’s most over-hyped bar which like so many still lives on its Hemingway heritage – for tourists only – I watched as a blindman sat singing and strumming his guitar. Inside, a band played their umpteenth rendition of Cuba’s big hit, Buena Vista’s Chan Chan, cheered on by Japanese tourists clutching shots of rum and digital cameras and a few well-imbibed Canadians slumped over the bar.
The blind man looked straight ahead, his dark eyebrows arched as if in permanent surprise, waiting for a peso or two. I wanted to take a photo, but didn’t quite dare – you never quite know. Next to me, an elderly pedicab driver sat in his bici-taxi, feet up, smoking a cigar. On the other side sat an artist behind a row of mediocre daubs. Different ways of eeking out a living, but nobody looked underfed or unhappy.
As one Cuban woman told me, “We open our fridge to look inside and find there’s absolutely nothing inside. So what do we do? we just laugh and have a party!”
Right on. More soon.