After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Last Dance in Havana, Part 2


After classes we all go dancing together to clubs in a big bus. When dancing in Havana it doesn’t matter what kind of shoes you wear, or if you wear any at all, or how you’re dressed (the Cubanas favor Lycra), or placing your feet with precision. You just let the music take you! People dance alone, in twos, threes, and even in large circles. Details don’t matter, just move! the music insists.

At the Casa de la Musica, the music takes several in our group back to the hotel in a taxi due to the decibel level of the live band. But for the rest of us, drinking Cuba Libres and mojitos, we reach an altered state of consciousness on the packed dance floor with body heat, hypnotic drums, repetitive hip movements, and pheromones filling the smoky air. Eduardo tells me it’s like the camels, the public buses which cram hundreds of people into their hump-backed spaces--never too full to take more passengers, and always a sensual experience: heat, smells, and lots of body contact.

Salon Rosado at El Tropicale is an open air club on three levels, and supposedly for the over-40 crowd, but it’s just as sex-charged as the Casa de Musica. I look around and enjoy the sight of black and white faces mixing happily in impromptu conga lines and a rueda de casino, a kind of circular salsa Virginia Reel. Everyone dances with everyone else regardless of age, color, language, national origin, politics, or marital status, and everyone exults the power of the music with their bodies.

Suddenly the electricity goes out and we are thrown into a silent darkness lit only by the full moon behind the silhouettes of towering trees. The stars blaze in the black bowl above us. Accustomed to the rolling blackouts that are an every day fact of Havana life, people calmly light cigarettes and socialize. When the power returns twenty minutes later heralded by blasts from the band’s brass section, the dancing renews its frenzy.

When not dancing, I’m a typical tourist. I visit a cigar factory, the cathedral, the lighthouse and ancient fortress across the channel, and La Bodeguita del Medio, one of Hemingway’s hangouts and the birthplace of the mojito, a rum drink with fresh mint that I can’t seem to get enough of. Every day I eat morros y cristianos (black beans with white rice.) And oh yes, I walk along the Malecon kissed by Caribbean salt spray, hearing “Chan Chan” in my head.

So different in the light of day, the cobblestoned streets of Habana Vieja are colorful, even without the flowers that decorate old stone cities all over the world. I’m agog at the medieval architecture, the Spanish tiles, the colonial blue of the restored woodwork, the lack of propaganda.

Whenever I get tired, I hop on a pedicab and am bicycled back to the Sevilla, usually for a dollar. Unlike some in the group, I don’t feel guilty about transportation under human Cuban power. There are cute little yellow motorcycle taxis, and horse-drawn carriages, too. Animals and wagons are picturesque in the capital, but necessary in the provinces, where gas and motor vehicles are relics of the Soviet subsidized past.

Try as it might, however, Havana doesn’t get away with being the European city it tries to emulate. For example, there is only one newspaper, Granma, the Pravda-like party organ. And there virtually is no shopping. In La Moderna Poesia, a large modern bookstore on Calle Obispo, I take a photo of the empty shelves, so strange for one used to a crammed Barnes & Noble. The elegant old pharmacies have polished mahogany shelves bare but for herbal remedies. The department stores feature sanitary napkins in the window as if they were straight from Paris, and clothes so dull and without style, I wonder how the Cuban women look so fabulously fashionable. The available souvenirs often show African caricatures that would be unacceptable in the States. And there are no homeless, at least officially. Panhandlers ask for soap or shampoo (I never leave the hotel without some in my bag.)

Che Guevara’s image is everywhere-- Che in Cuba is like Christ in Rome. And the paternal words and visage of El Maximo hover over the city, faded but ubiquitous. be continued


tonya said...

Oh wow, how fantastic! I've always wanted to go to Cuba. Keep up the great pictures and journaling!

tangocherie said...

Thanks, Tonya.
I've got albums and albums of Cuban pictures I took there; it's really hard to take a bad one.
I miss my Cuban friends and the island so much, but who knows if I ever can return. It is SO expensive!