Moneyless in Old Havana

Irina Pino

Frank Fernandez and Niurka Gonzalez

HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago, pianist Frank Fernandez and flutist Niurka Gonzalez performed classic pieces by Mozart, Bach, Gluck and Tchaikovsky during a concert held at the San Francisco de Asis Convent in Old Havana. As opportunities like these don’t come along often, I made the trip down to the old town to attend the concert.

When it was time to pay the collective cab driver, I noticed I wasn’t carrying the wallet with my money and ID. I got alarmed and told the driver I was sorry, that I couldn’t pay for the trip. The man understood and didn’t get angry. I explained I had left the wallet in a different purse. He merely said to me: “It’s ok, it could happen to anyone.”

That calmed my nerves for a few minutes, but I soon found myself in a rather difficult situation: I wanted to go to the concert but couldn’t buy the ticket to get in. I also didn’t have my ID on me. Sometimes, the police ask people to see their IDs and, if they’re not carrying them, they take them down to the station and keep them there for a few hours. I didn’t know what could happen to me that night.

I called home with my cell phone and no one picked up. Then, I started walking around thinking what I would do. Perhaps going back home was the best option, but, how would I pay for the trip back? Another cab driver might not be as understanding about forgetting my wallet home so stupidly.

Suddenly, I remembered that a friend of mine has a traditional Cuban music band that plays at the Café Paris, on Obispo Street, so I went to see if he was there. As it turns out, he was on his break, before going back for the second round of songs. He gave me a warm greeting and I explained to him the situation. He immediately put 1 Cuban Convertible Peso in my hand. “That’s happened to me three of four times already, you’re not the only one,” he said to me.

I thanked and hugged him. Then, I walked around looking for someone willing to exchange the 1 CUC for Cuban pesos, as the admission had to be paid in that currency. I went to several establishments that sell crafts to ask and no one wanted to exchange it – they claimed they didn’t carry Cuban pesos, that all their sales were in CUC. I saw confusion and disdain in their eyes. No one at the shops or cafeterias I went to were willing to help me.

I thought that, was I a homeless person asking for some change to buy something to eat, people would also turn their backs on me. I simply needed the money in Cuban pesos to get into the concert, I wasn’t taking anything away from anyone.

I decided to try my luck and called a friend of mine who’s a musician. I told him how upset I was to be unable to attend such an important concert. He burst out laughing and told me he would call Frank Fernandez at home. A short while later, he called me back saying Frank’s wife was at the door letting the guests in. The woman kindly took me by the arm and led me inside the concert hall.

Inside, in the semi-darkness, I heard a swarm of voices. The place was packed and the audience murmuring expectantly. Ten minutes later, the piano and flute began to sound. A Bach sonata was being performed and I had a privileged view of it, near the stage, where the acoustics were stupendous. Miracles sometimes happen.

Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

One thought on “Moneyless in Old Havana

  • A wonderful very Havana story.

    One more benefit to be anticipated from the unification of currencies.

    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

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