The long bar at the café on Calle Opispo is filled with empty eyes and squared off elbows. No one is looking at anyone, and there is a quiet desperation shared amongst them. Behind the bar, the barista busy’s himself putting away sodas in the fridge, and moving things around behind the bar, never once making eye contact with any of the growing numbers of people filling the bar and café. It is 3:55 after all, and the sign clearly says, coffee is served at 4 pm.
A second barista, a large black man, comes in and starts to play with the coffee machine, and eventually after much ado, he comes around to every person standing there waiting and unceremoniously puts out a saucer, and a spoon. He then begins to go around giving out packets of white sugar, saying “quantos quieres” to each person.
Outside of the cafe, tourists fill the street and the popular wifi spot hosts hordes of people sitting on the ground staring at their mobile devices intently, chatting and being completely absorbed in their own individual worlds. The collective experience of Cuba is changing rapidly.
Here however, inside this little cut out cafe, the late afternoon coffee ceremony is on. As interesting as it is, I am ducking out of it. The stifling heat in the café has me craving some cool quiet time in my room to be alone and not have to try to understand conversations in Spanish with this tired brain of mine.
Habana Vieja, a place many seem to detest and look down their nose at, somehow has a little piece of my heart once again. The constant hustle on the street intrigues me here. The vacant wanton stares of men who want to fuck far more than they want their next meal are intensely captivating and repulsive at the same time. The old women, barely bags of bones, who will flash a toothless smile at the slightest invitation sit smoking cigarettes thru the big oversized doorways that face the streets. Each doorway is a portal into a maze of apartments, courtyards and tucked away rooms where families live with scores of others in these crazy compounds hidden behind the deteriorating facades of the old colonial buildings.
Here there is total desperation, yet also a complete and simple acceptance. In the youth there is even a glint of hope and inspiration that things are changing. The innocence of this culture and it’s people is ridiculous, enticing and profound at it’s core.
The energy of this city has it’s way with you. It’s either a love affair or a constant frustration, and on occasion, it is both here for me. I love the endless sauntering down infinite cobblestone streets, and found myself tonite wandering around in the evening by the Malacon, strolling slowly watching the lights play on the water. The music at Casablanca calls to me to sit and have a mojito and I am immediately asked to dance with one of the musicians. I laugh hearing the enthusiastic applause as I am skillfully led in the dance by my new friend. He ends up walking me home. On the way back, we talk about the same things I speak about and ask about with almost every Cuban I speak to. I always ask if they like living in Cuba, if they want to leave and what they feel for real about what’s going on in Cuba and the world.
This one tells me the same thing I have heard over and over again. “We are free in Cuba.” Like so many others, he is happy here in Cuba, and has no interest in leaving.
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