I am not a very verbal person. I don’t tell my stories with words. Well, more specifically, with spoken words. I don’t find I like to talk. Funny, it’s an interesting observation to write when I working so hard to learn Spanish. While I was in Cuba I was paralleling the experience by reading The Lonely City, by Olivia Laing. It was quite the profound experience for me. Being alone on an island. Culture island. Reading about loneliness, writing about isolation in all forms. It’s weird to pick up a book that parallels accurately what your processing in your own art. The inclusion of the history of some of my favorite NYC artists who’s work exemplify their own isolation made it nearly impossible to put down.
July 9th, 2018 2:30PM
The windows in my room face into a central well area, which I presumed was for light, but did not warn me when morning had come. Although I’d gone to bed around 1AM, I still woke up at 9AM on the dot. Good morning Cuba! I leapt from bed feeling mostly refreshed from a decent night of sleep. I don’t sleep well in new beds or new places, so I took a sleeping pill at 1AM noting how hard it was going to be to get a decent night of rest. Thankfully it worked well.
I decided showering was foolish when considering how hot and humid it would be outside. I shut off the AC and bolted out the door. Later I came to regret my bolting since I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen and perhaps over packed my bag a little. I still managed to somehow forget my umbrella, ella, ella, ella. Yeah that was stuck in my head all morning. I walked about 6 minutes before I’d reached the malecon. Ok ok- so it was not as far as I thought it was. Good. Just before the beach I saw a small café that was nicer than the average and had a $5 menu for breakfast. This was going to be it since I couldn’t be certain when I would see another open café. Often it’s the case I regret not taking advantage of an opportunity to eat quickly and suffer through the day. I am so glad that I did this straight up. It was nice to have this lite breakfast. One scrambled egg, two slices of ham, thinly sliced cheese, a bambina (small round pan bread), and a little side dish of miel. I ordered an espresso and mango. All good choices to compliment my book.
It took no time at all to get on the way and for locals to identify me as a tourist. Made it less than 50 ft before I was stopped by a taxista who engaged me in a conversation. I didn’t want to be rude, but my feet were going to be the main source of transport here. After all, I’d misjudged the distance from the casa particular to the beach, so how far could Havana Vieja be? My goal was to follow the beach around. Oh I had no idea what I was setting myself up for. At that moment it would have been wise to turn around and go back to the apartment for sun block, water, and the Lonely Planet CUBA book someone had left behind. There were solid maps in that book. A good reference point for someone with no internet connection or cell phone maps. That would have been smart, but perhaps I am not the smartest tourist around.
I did not stick to the beach path. A. No access to the water. B. Nothing much to look at but a flat plane of water for as far as one could see. I was suddenly struck by immense respect for those that dared to get in man made crafts to cross over the US. How in the world do you look at that and think, “This, this is possible”? I saw something interesting like a church and wandered off path. Before I knew it I was feeling the sun’s intensity beating me like a cheap whore who’d stolen it’s stash. This was not Mexico sun. This, sir, this is El Sol de Cuba!
The old homes were falling apart and there was evidence that every one of them was in some way occupied. These are grand homes. I imagined how nice they were when they were maintained before the Revolucion. I wandered into a Mercado thinking I’d find a bottle of water. Literally this Mercado had 20 products total in the space of what in Mexico City would be a Sumesa. No water. Lots of sugar beverages. Probably half the products were that, some crackers, and a few other essentials. Mind you, I’d been walking for awhile through the neighborhoods and not seen a single store or retail space. A few cafes and a few hotels that looked half abandoned.
I walked deeper into the city away from the beach. In my mind the water was the problem. Clearly the sun was beginning to get to me. “I’m so fucked,” I said to myself. At this point, I was far enough from the house and seemingly close enough to the old area, it didn’t make sense to turn around. I saw a window with a lady in it and could see refrigeration behind her. I asked her for a refresco nacional frio. This is the local version of coca cola. Not as carbonated as coke and slightly sweeter. She handed me a refresco piña and said “Frio!” 60 pesos. I pressed the can against my head, snapped it open, and downed it like my life depended on it. The two ladies standing in front of me in the archway giggled and that is where the conversation started.
I’d no idea 2 hours would go by with them, but then again I am really staying open to the locals as a method of pushing my Spanish. I told them I’d love to buy an umbrella. Far easier and more practical than this hat I was trying to use. It did not give nearly enough coverage and I was suffering. They took me to a store a few blocks away, but they were sold out. Only beach umbrellas were available, a few random pieces of clothing, sandals, and miscellaneous stuff. Stuff. Nothing in this store looked useful or could improve the quality of your life. We laughed it off and I assumed they would go on their way and I on my own. Not the case, since they continued to engage me in conversation pointing out all the various places. I wish I could remember their names, but I am so bad with names. One is a nurse and the other a music teacher in a school for children. Both lived in the city and were currently on vacations. The ladies were so sweet as they lead this poor old white guy through the streets searching for an umbrella. Eventually we ended up at this artists home all decorated in the theme of Santeria. We went inside the plaza and they explained some of the things I was seeing. They introduced me to the artist who was holding court in a small studio off to the side. Suddenly the room filled up with people and I realized this was not SO SPECIAL since a tourist bus had arrived. Inside the plaza was the artist’s home and a front salon where his wife served beverages.
We each had a rum with lime and mint for $5 a glass. I of course purchased the drinks for my hostesses because it was the right thing to do. Not because I wanted to spend $15USD on drinks. I put the $5 in my front shirt pocket for accessibility. One of the ladies wandered off and returned with small bags of coffee. I lied and said that I have this coffee in my home because Café Habana where the Ché planned the revolucion was in the zone of my home. Yes the part about the café is true, but not the part about the coffee. Victor had told me how poor the quality of the coffee is and not to buy it here.
We left the artist’s plaza and walked a few blocks before the ladies pointed out a direction to go in next. It was clear they were understanding that I was not going to be the source of their wealth and wanted to part ways. I gave them the $5 I stashed in my shirt pocket and thanked them for their generosity as I wandered down the street struggling to remember their directions. It took me about 45 minutes of being lost before I found an area where I saw more tourists. I saw a gate to china town and a park with taxis all around it. Part of me wanted to stay because it had taken me 4 hours to get that far. The other part of me knows how the sun effects me and desired to get back to the casa particular. I stood on the edge of the park realizing that if I stayed still long enough I would be approached for a taxi. I could see most of them were collectivos and would probably be cheaper, but I was in no head space to negotiate it out with my Spanish and scattered head. Then a guy approached me and I negotiated him down to $10 to return home.
We wandered over to an old car with no particularly distinctive attributes that would demand a higher fare. He could not get it started and opened the door to push the car down the street triggering it to start up. Clearly for $10 he drove the most direct route to Calle 15 and Paseo. Dear Lord had I walked the longest way possible? Yes. Indeed I had walked further than necessary and noted the pathway. I got home and went upstairs, took off my clothes, turned on the AC and the fan, and then promptly took a cool shower in my modified shower toilet area. Finally it was time to cool off in the heat of the day. What would my next stop be after relaxing? Comida.