Ah, Havana. And good timing too, wasn't it, since the trade and travel restrictions loosen up tomorrow?
My most vivid memory of Havana was when we went dancing one night to the Hotel Florida. We had drinks in the tiny, smoky salsa bar, where the tables at the front are reserved by the Cubans and the people in the back can't see the floor because of the crowd of bodies. I danced until I could feel my shirt sticking to me with sweat.
When we left the bar it was raining hard. We were hurrying to get to Central Park where we'd have a better chance of picking up a taxi. But before we got to the park, the sky started spewing rain so hard we had to stop under a shop awning. There were several Cubans standing underneath the awning as well, and we started talking to two of them. They were an older woman named Maria who was missing a tooth and holding a shawl over her head, and a young man named Marco who was wearing a suit jacket and carrying a briefcase.
With broken English-Spanish we told them we were from Canada and we learned they were going to a party at a place called the Guantanamera. But we were tired and wanted to go home, so all of us decided to run for Central Park. When we got there, we stopped under an arcade and Maria spotted a man she knew, standing there with an inside-out umbrella in his hand.
Don't take that other taxi, she said in Spanish. This man has a car, and he'll take you where you're going for six pesos (with a little extra tip in Maria's hand too, of course!). The man's name was Daniel, and his car was a battered blue sedan with a low roof and a bare bit of cloth covering the springs of the backseat, but we jumped in.
You've seen those beautiful pictures of the shiny 1950s boat-cars with the fins and the chrome? Daniel's car was nothing like that. It was 50s, all right, but it was the small car of a large family that made fierce economies. There was no panelling inside at all, just the bare metal body of the door, with some big metal screws where the door latch and the window handle should be. One of the windshield wipers was missing. The one that remained slid over the glass so slowly it did nothing to sweep away the rain.
What that car did have was a completely modern digital sound system that glowed red from the dashboard and blasted salsa music from two vibrating speakers in the back.
|By my talented dad|
So picture us speeding down the Malecon in the middle of the night. The storm waves are rolling in over the seawall and onto the road, the salsa music is blasting, we are completely unable to see anything in front of the car except the lights of on-coming cars. Daniel reaches out the driver's window twice to reattach the lonely windshield wiper. It was quite impossibly perfect.