Saturday, August 11, 2012

Season of the Snob - Part 2

As we walked through Vedado towards La Rampa, the tension began to ease up. Without his cousins to keep him company, Juan seemed to realize that it would be a lonely night for him unless he got on our team. He started to join the conversation and by the time we reached our destination the four of us were all talking and laughing together with ease.

We weren't exactly creative with our nightlife in Havana. I hadn't had any particular expectations of the city when I decided I wanted to go there. I wanted to see the old cars and the Malecon but there wasn't anything else that I had been dying to see. Cuba and its capital had never held any fascination for me and even in my post-first-trip infatuation with the country, I hadn't uncovered any landmark or activity that really grabbed my interest. I had figured we'd let the city reveal itself to us in its own way, not force its hand with heavily regimented planning. However, without a plan we simply fell into a routine and ended up going back to the same cafe/bar we'd landed at on our first night out.

There was nothing particularly special about it, even now I can't remember its name. It seemed to be a live music venue but there was never any live music. A large sign proclaimed that it was the 'Mejor de Cuba' but I figured that a country with so little advertising probably lacked an advertising standards council to demand verification for 'best of' claims. It did boast a location across the street from the Hotel Habana Libre, a landmark hotel that unfortunately is butt-ugly to look at.  There was really no reason it had become our local favourite other than the fact that we liked the outdoor patio and we were both creatures of habit.

The Habana Libre Hotel in all its ugly non-glory
After a few beers at our favourite, forgettable hang-out all the awkwardness of earlier had melted away. Pedro and Juan were cracking jokes and laughing til they could barely breathe, Olivia and I were alternating between the deep, emotional conversation of women who are forming a new friendship and laughing at the guys. Juan's worries about their nefarious plans for me had proved fruitless, as had my worries that they wouldn't approve of him or understand what I saw in him. We were just four friends having a fun night in Havana. And that's when the magic started. Literally.

A group of 3 Cuban guys had sat down beside us a few minutes before. I'd noticed them due to the large amounts of gold they were wearing - gold chains, gold watches, gold rings, gold teeth. But what really caught all of our attention was the magic. The biggest, most gilded of the group was entertaining the other two with a variety of simple magic tricks. When he saw that the four of us had stopped talking in order to watch him, the tricks got fancier and more theatrical. We handed him coins, they reappeared in our drinks. He placed an ashtray in Olivia's hand, seconds later she discovered a pile of ashes in her other hand. We yelped in honest amazement and joy at every new feat. He played it cool but obviously enjoyed entertaining us, as every trick was followed by a bigger, better one.

After he was done the show, we decided it was time to leave. Pedro and Olivia had to work early in the morning and had a long bus ride home. Juan was having none of their bus-talk though. He cleaned out his wallet of all his CUCs and CUPs and forced the money on them, telling them that they shouldn't be riding around on a bus at this hour, that they needed to take a taxi home. They were slightly embarrassed but he called a cab over and pushed and cajoled until they gave in and agreed to take it. We all hugged good night and agreed we'd meet up again the next day for dinner.

With magic on his mind and his new friends being safely shuttled home, Juan was practically dancing down the streets back to his cousins house. Every few steps he would stop to hug or kiss me and then he'd grab my hand and prance us down the street again. He went over every trick we'd seen, questioning how it had worked, how it could be possible. He couldn't wait to tell his friends back home about what he'd seen. He recapped the funny jokes he and Pedro had shared, talked about how it was so amazing that I'd found such nice Cuban friends on the internet of all places!

I reminded him that only a few hours before he had felt quite differently, that he hadn't wanted them to come over, that he hadn't wanted either of us to get to know them. He stopped and looked at me very seriously.

'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I didn't trust you or believe you when you told me they were good people. I listened to my ideas and my cousins instead of listening to you. I know I made a mistake but I now know I was wrong and I hope you can forgive me.'

Of course, I forgave him. We'd both been guilty of underestimating people. We'd both been wrong. Luckily neither of us were so set in our ways that we couldn't learn from our mistakes. Luckily both of us were still open to the possibility of magic.

Thanks to a commenter, we've figured out the name of the bar. Yeesh, it's even uglier than I remember!


  1. Veradis,loving your blog.Been to Havana a few times and love the people,while understanding there are going to be a lot of hustlers.I know the bar you mention La Mejor Taberna across from Habana Libre,very small place so an element of bragging in that.Trying to learn a bit of Spanish,so was interested to hear you struggled a bit,especially as you speak Chinese.Guess youre a lot better with it now.Could you elaborate in future blogs?

    1. Thanks for the memory jog...that's totally the place.
      My struggles with Spanish will definitely feature highly in future posts. I'm lucky in a way because my husband, brother-in-law and mother-in-law all speak English. Of course, this lets me be lazy and rely on them. I'm not actually very good with languages. I lived in China for 5 years so had to get somewhat proficient. I actually find spoken Spanish harder than spoken Chinese though. Conversational Chinese is actually quite easy, it's reading/writing that's hard.

  2. Same anonymous person as previous comment.Just watched Cuba get its 2nd boxing gold. Marvellous

  3. Thanks for clearing this up a little Veradis,also for your reply.Look forward to following your blogs

  4. That's not the real Havana, that you show.
    You must be a (^&?§#) Yuma