Return to Roots - May 19

May 19 2015

Woke up pretty late. It was a long, full day yesterday, and I'm a sleeper... need my 8 hours! I did forget to mention being in Tito and Grisel's house yesterday. They were very excited to show it and also lots of pictures on their computer. Pictures of their beach vacations from all parts of Cuba. I noticed that they had a lot of knick-knacks. Alicia and Raul's place had those too. Little items scattered all over the house. I guess when you don't have much you save everything. It was interesting to me. 

We're back in Tito's car after treasure hunting. We were able to go into my grandfather's first house on San Carlos St and my Tio Juanito's house next door. We found them after asking many locals for directions. The entire neighborhood was... heart wrenching. These were huge beautiful homes, sometimes mansions, that were forgotten for decades. We found #14 and #16. My grandfather's place (#14) was locked but #16 (Tio Juanito) had inhabitants. Miguel came out, we explained our cause and they graciously let us in. They being the house owner, Dora, a sweet, very old lady, whose 93 year-old husband lay dying on the couch in another room. She said he was by her side all her life so how could she abandon him now. I cried. Miguel and Dora showed us the entire home. They showed us the original parts and the modifications. There was an incredible rooftop area where we saw the entire Havana. They restored it as much as possible but most was original marble and other materials. They created rooms in several parts of the house to rent them out. Dora and Miguel treated us like family. She said "Aqui tienes familia y no me llores" ((You will always have family here, and don't cry anymore)) I loved that. As we were leaving and taking pictures of Belo's house, a man came out. A bit more reserved but he let us take pictures of his place too. It must have been so beautiful back in the day. Huge marble columns and original tiled floor. After that, we went to the house in Nuevo Vedado. This is where my Mom and Tivivi lived and the last house they all had as a family before finally leaving Cuba. Again, we hit the jackpot and a sweet girl came out named Maria Carla, and she opened her home to us. I explained why we were there and she happily showed us around. We really hit the lottery. No way would people open their homes like this in the US.

Hotel Nacional. Basically what Cuba was 50 years ago. Abi and Belo would stay there for sure. Absolutely beautiful but not real Cuba. Great drinks. 

4am again. We were talking en la sala with Estrella and Aramisito after coming back from a jazz outing at the Jazz Cafe. Great freaking band yet again. So after Hotel Nacional we went to grab a bite at Rum Rum* in Old Havana. Great Ropa Vieja, run by a guy Tito and Grisel knew named Morro. Awesome dude. We walked back to the car where I saw an epic beard, finally! It was long and white and his mouth inhabited the biggest cigar I've seen yet. I had to have him take a picture with Jay, so we have documentation of that. Afterwards, we visited Aramis and Tito's mom and dad. She hadn't seen Jay since he was a baby. They were very sweet. Their dad is a famous author (Arnaldo Correa)  and he gave us a packet he wrote explaining one of his books. He showed us some of his published copies. Impressive stuff, he was so full of energy in wanting us to hear about them and his mark on the world. She gave us a partying gift, two mugs with Cuban art on them. So sweet. Claudia was there too, and she had one of her prints (she loves photography) rolled up and she dedicated one of them for us to take back home. I just loved all of that. Memories to cherish for years. Family is so important and everyone has their story to tell. From there, we ventured to my grandfather Bito's house. Where my Dad was born and where they all lived until shortly after the Revolution. This was really cool because my family was still there! Enrique IΓ±igo Bajos lives there with his family. I called him to alert him that I was coming and off I went. They were so awesome and inviting. Actually, I would use those adjectives to describe almost everyone so far. This guy definitely looked like he belongs in my Dad's family. He looked like his younger brother! He showed us around along with his lovely wife, Anais and his daughter, Amanda. We sat for hours trying to understand our family tree while looking at older pictures and finding Tita and Bito's faces in some of them. Anais made us lemonade while Amanda kept trying to get our attention. Enrique loves racquetball- so does my Dad! Tennis too. It was so cool to actually share with family I had no idea I had in Cuba until a couple of weeks ago. Blows my mind. I can't wait to show my Dad and aunts, and hopefully Tita can understand a little. 

Aramis made us delicious lobster dinner tonight. This family is so hospitable. So genuine and giving and honest and loving... just because. It's really refreshing. I wish we had a longer trip here. 

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** Rum Rum Cafe: Calle Empedrado No. 256 Entre Cuba y Aguiar, Havana 10100, Cuba