Day Three: Wherein We Learn the True Meaning of Cuba Libre
Back in Havana, we needed a new place to stay.
My traveling companion Marcos and I came across a woman who looked to be in her late 70's who said that she knew of a place. We were following her when a short, thin Rastafarian with dreadlocks to his knees approached me. I figured he was just peddling ganja, but he saw our packs and instead asked us if we needed a room.
Actually, the Rasta pedals a bicycle taxi for a living and he had one of his colleagues watch his ride as he took us around the corner to see our new digs.
“Ju-lie,” he yelled up at a closed window. “Ju-lie.”
But there was no answer so Rasta tried to open the apartment building's front door, it was locked, so he threw his shoulder into it and the door opened. Upstairs in a little foyer there were three doors, Julie's was locked and she wasn't responding to Rasta's calls. But another door opened and a very sexy Cubanita stepped out. She offered to sell some sex, both Marcos and I declined.
Eventually, Julie appeared, a 29-year-old with Spanish, Indigenous and African blood pumping through her heart. She practiced Santeria, a voodoo-ish religion brought over to the Caribbean by African slaves. Her house was a collection of monuments and dolls that allowed the spirits of the dead to convey messages to her about the future. She was expecting us.
Julie seemed an old soul, and after Marcos and I shared our astrological signs with her, she seemed to know just about all there was to know about my traveling mate and I. Together we kicked back and smoked cigars, listening to Julie's philosophies through the afternoon before Rasta came back and we bought a bottle of rum to take to Carnival.
Sitting on a curb on a street in Havana, we caught a buzz and Julie and Rasta gave me a lesson in Cuban slang and tested to see how far I'd take it. First the lines were just romantic, but then they had me spitting vulgarities at passersby whom they'd deemed appropriate, and with each cup of Cuba Libre (rum and coke) that we finished, the audience always seemed more appropriate. The phrases slowly got worse, but the people all seemed to have fun with the whiteboy spitting Cuban street slang at them.
Most of the access to the street party was blocked off, which Rasta didn't take to kindly. We walked on down the street to where the party was kicking and a Bob Marley and Lauryn Hill duet was bumping and inspiring Cubans of all ages to get down. Some were too poor to afford shoes, others in NBA jerseys and ball caps.
Marcos asked me to show our new friends how to Crip-walk, and though I don't really have it down, we were far enough away from L.A. or Denver that I thought I could fake it without getting called out or shot at.
I was acting a fool, just a few steps into my walk when I spied a beautiful woman, dark as night, her color a glowing shade of copper, her hair long and wavy. She was dressed in a tight, white one-piece that stretched from over her shoulders to too high above her knees. We stared at each other, but I was cautious because it seemed that every pair of male eyes was focused on her as well. She walked by, my eyes followed, and she kept looking back. Rather than just go talk to her I figured I'd try a new approach and instead broke out my camera and pointed it at her, she looked away and wagged her finger, no, no, no.
I accidentally pushed the button and the flash went off, so I walked over to apologize.
“Don't take my picture, it's against my religion,” the lovely young lady said, “I am Santeria.”
Feeling foolish, I erased her picture. Rasta was getting buzzed and aggressive and said that it was bullshit and hatched a plot to get me another picture of her without her permission, an offer which I graciously declined. What I wanted, was to get to know the young Santeria, who'd told me her name, though it had already slipped my mind.
“I'm sorry, but to avoid the embarrassment later, let me ask you your name again,” I told her in Spanish. “I’m sorry but I forgot.”
“I'm not telling you,” she said.
“Come on, you don't remember mine,” I countered.
“Yes I do, Lukas.”
“Damn, I am so sorry, tell me again and I promise to never forget,” I said.
“No,” she said.
“OK,” I said, feeling buzzed, “let's go to the tattoo shop and I'll put it on me forever,” I said pointing to my heart.
She laughed and asked me for a pen. She wanted to write it on my heart.
But I had way too much sweat on my chest, so I asked her to write it in my journal, she declined, but offered to write it on my collar, “more original,” she said.
Aileen!” she wrote on both collars, with an upside down exclamation point before the A, too.
I bought some beers for her, her sister and a friend. Aileen had lived in Italy for six years, she had a son who was half-Italian. She’s 33, but didn't look a day over 25.
And as the night wore down, Marcos made a new friend too, a 6-foot-something, very wide man who claimed to be a tourist from the Bahamas, although I think he was Cuban. He was extremely large, extremely drunk, aggressive and I couldn't tell if the kisses he gave me on the cheek were a cultural thing or if he wanted me. But the big aggressive drunk seemed a potential disaster so I started sobering up as Marcos and the tiny Rasta kept drinking with the Bahaman. Even Rasta was getting aggressive.
“You, you, you and you, come with me, he said pointing to me, Marcos, Aileen and Julie. “And you,” he said pointing to the big drunk, “you get the fuck out of here.”
Either the drunk didn't hear, or didn't care enough to swat at the Rasta and smash him like a fly, as he easily could've done.
I just tried to maintain the “paz y amor” between everyone. And eventually, the drunken giant passed out on some steps.
We caught a cab back to Julie's and Carnival was over.
-- Luke Turf
Westword staff writer Luke Turf traveled to Cuba for a week and encountered pimps, prostitutes and an irate mute with a nasty uppercut, to name a few. This is his tale.