Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — As the afternoon fell over Old Havana, I was heading back home from the Ruben Martinez Villena Provincial Library, one of those gifts for which this city should express its thanks to our historian, Eusebio Leal Spengler.
I was taking my usual route from one end of Obispo Street to the other end, where the El Floridita Bar and Restaurant greets the throngs of tourists.
I sat down for a little rest next to the statue of Albear, a giant of Cuban engineering whose legacy is our aqueduct, still in operation today after a hundred years of service.
When I got up to continue on my way, I almost tripped over this man, a somewhat robust looking guy of medium height and “reddish” skin.
He stammered a few incompressible words, but those were enough to let me know that he was a Russian. He was rather drunk, but even with the short sentences he muttered in English you could tell he was lost, looking around for his wife and daughter.
This fellow, Dimitri, wasn’t able to tell me what hotel he was staying in, but with that amiability typical of drunks, he invited me to La Floridita (“The House of Daiquiris”).
Inside this bar, which had been one of Earnest Hemingway’s favorites, I worried about his ability to pay, since each cocktail goes for about 6 CUCs (around $7 USD).
But when he settled up his tab, everything was fine – except my conscience. I was gripped by the thought of what 12 CUCs could do for the family budget.
I had to just be happy with the opportunity and enjoy myself in such an exclusive place while trying to help him with his dilemma: finding his way home.
I finally figured out that he was part of a group of Russians whose evening program was to end at the Tropicana cabaret.
It was clear that now my destiny was that exclusive locale. The most famous and expensive Cuban variety show was waiting for two men from two different nations, countries that had experienced 30 thirty years of internationalist solidarity but without ever really understanding each other well.
We took a taxi and, just in case, I took care of seeing that he paid up front. Halfway there, Dimitri ordered the driver to stop in front of the Colina Hotel in order to exchange some euros.
I should explain that late at night the CADECAS (money exchange centers) are closed and only in a few hotels provide the service.
The precaution of paying the driver before the end of the journey had backfired. The cabby took advantage of my obliged assistance to the tourist as an impromptu translator to escape, saving himself half the ride. Fortunately the Russian agreed to take another taxi, which took us to the famed “Paradise under the Stars” with the show in full gear.
His group welcomed me with open arms, especially the Cuban guide, a representative of a national tourism agency. I had saved him from a major disaster that night by having rescued that tourist, whose search had already been ordered.
You can imagine the change: moving all of a sudden from a public library, to a nightclub that charges the equivalent of seventy dollars per person. My conscience was spinning, though I was able to calm it down with toasts and shots of Havana Club rum.
As for Dimitri, he was passed out with his head on the table. The others were bobbing to the rhythm and the hips of our beautiful dancers, thanks to which the tourists didn’t bombard me with questions about my country.
Though obviously it wasn’t the best moment for a conversation, I remember one thing: They spoke to me about Cuba as if we were a museum; not the Museum of the Revolution or one of the many others that exist in the country, none of that. It was about Cuba as a whole, about “us the survivors.”
I couldn’t tell them very much in the middle of the super-show that the Tropicana usually puts on. When the time came to leave, the group’s professional guide kindly invited me to take a seat on the tourist bus that was leaving for the Habana Libre Hotel.
That was where Dimitri’s wife was waiting for him at the door, but with a face that never in my life would I ever want to see on my own wife.
Nonetheless, my new Russian friend had recovered from his drinks by then. He offered me a taxi and tried to give me one of those traditional Slavic kisses, but at that moment I suddenly turned Japanese, recoiling to avoid any kind of a kiss, but extending my hand, like we Cubans find more fitting.
To contact Vicente Morin Aguado, write: [email protected]