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Monday, April 29, 2002

I spent the morning walking around Vedado and Centro. In the afternoon, I wound up at Manolito's house. His brother-in-law told me he was at the café next door. He was sitting there with Riverón and various other Trabuceros. Manolito ordered another round of beer, and I sat down and tried my best to decipher the stories and jokes they were telling, but it was way too rapid-fire for my ears. Whatever it was, they were cracking each other up.

We went back to Manolito's house and ate and worked on the bottle of Havana Club I had brought. There was a Cuban trés lying on one of the chairs, so I asked Manolito if it was his. He picked it up and started playing the hell out of it, left-handed. He started playing very traditional son, but after a few minutes, he was playing the tumbaos from Marcando La Distancia and La Boda De Belén with the same funk and drive that he does on piano. He said the trés was his first instrument when he was learning music in Camaguey.

That night, I was itching to play, so I went to La Zorra Y El Cuervo, Habana's top jazz club. The band was Grupo Peruchín, led by the son of the legendary Cuban pianista Peruchín. The great pianista Alfredo Rodriguez from Cubanismo, and a million other groups was sitting in and tearing up Mandinga. On the break, I introduced myself to Peruchín Jr., and he invited me to sit in. We started with Charlie Parker's Now's The Time. After the tune was over, I started to get up, but Peruchín Jr., playing guitar, motioned for me to sit down. I wound up playing the entire second set. We played tons of standards and bop tunes, and a bizarre version of A Night In Tunisia where the melody was done in a Yoruba 6/8 rhythm, and the bridge was played straight ahead. The drummer, Santiago Arozareno and I were connecting like crazy. He picked up every rhythm I played, and I would fall in with him when comping behind a solo. We were cracking each other up and having a ball. Incredible fun.

After the gig, (it felt like a gig—when the set was over, I asked Peruchín, "where's my money?" That got a laugh), I walked over to the outdoor café across from the Habana Libre for something to eat. I ordered a sandwich and sat down, and was immediately joined by two middle-aged men. One of them gave me a Cuba Libre that I didn't need or want, but I accepted it to be gracious. At first, I was wondering if this guy was gay, so I made a point to appreciate every chica that walked past: "¡Ay, que Linda!" The sandwich came, accompanied by a pizza that I didn't order. I ate my sandwich ($1.50) and conversed with these guys. When I asked for the check, the waiter demanded $35! ¡Mierda! He pointed out the Cuba Libres, the pizza (untouched) and the sandwich. This stuff would have only added up to about eight bucks at the most. I told him I was only paying for the sandwich and handed him a ten. The jinetero waiter comes back with a couple of coins as my change. I went off. I told him that I wasn't a tourist, that I was in Habana studying music, and not to treat me like a god damned tourist. I started to get angry (as I can do when someone is trying to trick me out of money) and realized that I was shouting at this hijo de perro jinetero, who thought this episode was pretty funny. At that point, I dismissed the whole thing, saying, "no me importa," and split.

I know that life is hard there, and everyone needs to hustle in some way or another, but they don't need to cheat people—I hate that, and you run into it all over the world. I can't tell you how many demented arguments I've had with taxi drivers in Beijing. Everyone one of them insists on driving all over Beijing for twenty minutes down little alleys and in circles, running up the meter when you know your destination is five minutes away.

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listen to Malanga Amarilla by Peruchín Jr

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Maestro Alfredo Rodriguez' tribute to Peruchín Senior, Tumbao A Peruchín.

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