May 18 2015
First official day. Last night we got picked up by Aramis, Estrella, and Aramisito. What a beautiful family. So genuinely excited to us and show and explain SO MUCH! I feel like my head is trying to wrap itself around these 'politics' and concepts and their way of life. We ate at our first 'negocio privado' - not bad food but definitely not exciting. I don't mind at all because my intention is to absorb as much as I can and food will be just to sustain me. I do have to say that I may be addicted to their mango juice. Holy shit, that stuff is good.
Our lovely Casa Particular mom made us some this morning .We slept well. Sheets were not soft but we were so tired we fell like bricks and passed out till 10am. Aramisito was waiting for us. At this very moment I'm surrounded by bodies and bones. This is the craziest cemetery I've ever seen. El Cementerio de Colon. My mom would love the huge memorial for the Bomberos. There is nothing taller or bigger here, it isn't allowed. The cars are impressive. I feel like I've been transported through time. I can't believe I'm walking down the streets where my grandparents lived and breathed. I feel so lucky to be able to be here. My heart is full.
Now eating at our first Havana Restaurant- Cafe Paris. We had a mojito (shit was strong!), an appetizer of shrimp (meh) and a Ropa Vieja type dish with moros. It was a bit over salted but good enough. The music is incredible. A band started playing almost at the end of our meal, which is better than most live music I've heard in Hollywood- the capital of entertainment. Pssh. The singer was heavenly, and the amount of joy and love I felt just listening to them jam took my breath away. Oh, tipping 1 CUC is more than enough here. ONE. It's difficult for me to leave just that but Aramisito says that's plenty. He's been a great tour guide; such a sweet guy but also sassy and funny. I love the sense of humor here. I hope it rubs off on me this week. I wish I had their chispa!
The Art! Wow. Wow. Wow. We just left El Artesano del Muelle. We're in a taxi now, so excuse my jumpy handwriting. So much art. Yes, some were touristy but really cool stuff nonetheless. I enjoy talking to the artists and hearing their stories. It's funny how they are so fascinated by us but we think they are the fascinating ones. We fell in love with some pieces that we're coming back for on Wednesday. Havana is falling apart but I can see the beauty. I felt like I understood why it's hard for my grandparents to come back. This place must have been insanely gorgeous 50 years ago. But it's definitely sad, a tragedy. They are rebuilding some streets and some buildings. We don't feel foreign here, our spanish has improved- I'm getting complimented on it, which helps me not feel so insecure! Jay has too. Aramisito says he looks more foreign because of the intense beard he's sporting and his light eyes. After he said that, I noticed no one had beards.
Ok, so although the home we stayed at sufficed, Aramis and his family insisted we stay with them. We'd have our own keys and bathroom . So of course, we went. I left Alicia and Raul's home by saying that Varadero was available to us earlier, and with a mango juice in tow and some pictures, we were off. I left her 50 CUC, some Kiss Perfumes (thanks Dad), and clothes for the young girl that I think was their granddaughter.
Just got back to our new home in Vedado at 3am. Pretty beat. We were fed some delicious (by Cuban standards) chicken and rice & beans by Estrella. She cracks me up. Straight shooter but with a lot of animated sass. I love that broad. We had to be ready by 8pm because Aramis' brother, Tito, was going to pick us up to see El Cañonazo. He picked us up with this wife, Grisel, and his daughter, Claudia. Very sweet and cute girl. We witnessed this tradition where sometime in the 1800's (I believe) Havana had to shut down the Port so pirates and other enemies wouldn't try to invade them. They signaled this with a loud canon shooting. This happens at 9pm every night. Locals and tourists alike gather around the Morro and Canons and watch as young military men in ridiculous garb and white wigs start the ceremony. It ends with a loud bang, shooting blanks, and everyone claps. Pretty cool alarm clock. Quite the fuss. We then enjoyed an hour or so on El Malecon. It's the Cuban PCH, a wide bank divided rocky water with the street, and locals use it as their hang out. It's free, all their friends go, there's a constant breeze and occasionally you get serenaded. I could see Stefano spending hours upon hours on this thing. We talked about Cuba and reasons to why it is the way it is, and other topics like that until a man with a guitar and a humming-buzzing instrument came by. That was awesome. Oh yeah, it's called a kazoo. He sang 5 or 6 songs. His name is Deste. What a character. I got teary eyed in one of the songs thinking about my ancestors hanging out en El Malecon. The idea that my roots are expanding to meet my history, people who made me who I am, astounds me. Also, Cuban people, for the most part, are simple and happy. They're expressive and live life to the fullest of what they can realize. It's inspiring. After our mini-concert, we headed to a little dessert/pastry place and I had a delicious lemon tart. Claudia was quiet but laughed at some of the stupid things I said. You can tell she was excited to have us around. She nearly flipped out of her chair when Jay told her I was a SIM. Actually, more people here know the SIMS than I expected. She likes to take pictures... photography is her hobby. Tito is a kind guy, more soft spoken than his brother but opened up more as the night went on. Grisel was a little chatterbox and full of life and energy. She definitely has opinions and expresses them freely.
I'm pooped but loved today. I feel blessed to be here and I hope time moves very slowly tomorrow.