You have to be willing to go with the flow in Cuba, because the
plans you made the day before will often mutate into something completely
different. Kurt Vonnegut wrote: "Strange travel suggestions
are dancing lessons from God." Today, I had been invited to
a descarga at the house of Rene Beltran, a well known flute player
and current leader of Las Estrellas Cubanas. Coincidently, he was
the profesor of Manolito Simonet at one time. These days
he drinks a bit. The descarga had been arranged by Leonel Cuesta,
the rumbero from Callejon Hamel. We got to Rene's house about 2:30
to find him passed out in bed. Leonel got him up, and everyone was
teasing him mercilessly. "¡Está muriendo!"
Rene saw none of the humor in the situation.
Leonel and I split and walked around Centro. It
was too damn hotI asked Leonel where we could buy a couple of beers.
We walked through a maze of alleys and tiny streets to the house
of a chica linda who sold us a couple of cold beers. I asked
her which Orisha her bracelet was for, and she said Yemeyá.
I asked where I could buy them, and she and Leonel offered to take
me to the market where the Brujo had a stall, selling beaded
bracelets for twenty-five Pesos each. I bought two to take back
and one for the chica for helping me.
Leonel invited me to a concert of Rene's group
that night at the Tropical. My main plan for the night was to hear
Klimax at the Casa De La musica, but Leonel assured me that the
concert was at eight, and there would be plenty of time to get to
the Klimax show afterwards. The tragedy was that back at my room,
I called the Casa De La Musica to confirm the show, and found out
that Klimax's gig was a matinee, and had ended around the time we
were walking around Habana Vieja to see the Brujo. ¡Que
cosa! Piloto hadn't mentioned that it was an afternoon gig when
we talked on the phone. Or maybe he did. Who knows? My Spanish gets
markedly worse on the phone with a Cuban, because then I am lacking
the gesturing and miming that goes along with face to face conversing.
Well, hopefully I would get another chance to hear them. Klimax
is one of the most amazing bands.
I got to the Tropical around 8:30, but no one
was there, except for a few of the musicians. When someone tells
you that a show starts at a certain time in Cuba, you need to add
three or four hours to come up with the actual starting time. Rene
and Leonel arrived, and Rene still looked close to death. I've never
seen anyone so hungover.
People started to arrive for the show. There weren't
that many of them, and there were no tourists other than a middleaged
German man escorting his mulatta girlfriend. The Tropical is a huge
open air club, and it was a beautiful warm tropical night with a
full moon. Around ten, a skinny MC in a shiny blue tuxedo and bad
toupee announced that tonight was a gran espectáculo at
the Tropical, and that was the beginning of a Vegas-style variety
show with an endless procession of cornball acts: showgirls, a lip-syncing
drag queen, comics, a magician, on and on. It was like something
out of a David Lynch movie, all the way down to the red curtains
at the back of the stage. We were at Club Silencio. "¡No
Between acts, the MC recited poetry very dramatically,
accompanied by cheesy taped music. It was too strangecompletely
surrealistic. Finally, Las Estrellas Cubanas came on, playing
traditional Charanga music. Rene still looked like death itself,
but he played well. The rum had loosened my inhibitions enough to
the point where I grabbed one of the showgirls (now wearing street
clothes) to dance.
So even though the day was nowhere near
what I had expected, it was a great day, an excursion into everyday
Cuban life that most tourists don't see. I was starting to feel
as though I could just disappear in Havana and become a Habanero.
No hay bandait is all an illusion.
| next: El Jefe and new friends at La Zorra