Ropa Vieja

Return to Roots - May 20

May 20 2015

Spent the day with Aramis, Jr, and Estrella. We started the afternoon... yes after a late breakfast and much conversation... we started our day, back at Los Artesanos del Muelle. That's the thing here, lots of conversation throughout the day which is nice, makes you slow down for a bit. So we came back to make some purchases, particularly a big blue number Bubb had his eye on since the first time we went. I also wanted to get these tablets, the 'plates' where artists place their paint, well one artist turned them into works of art themselves, which I thought was very unique. I bought three of those. We talked her down from $45 for the set to $35. The large piece was originally $150 and we were able to get it for $110. I also bought a cool canvas type bag for Stefano and Jay bought a weird small piece of art for Tato. We all walked around like we were on a mission because Estrella was helping us secure better deals. It was an interesting situation. So much life in there and lots of cool pieces. A & E bought us two bottles of Havana Club for us to take home. They're awesome. I crack up with them a lot. Estrella has such a funny spirit, always laughing, and Aramisito is like a little Cuban old man. Aramis papa expresses himself in such a way that you pee your pants. From there, we went in search of Jay's record shop he saw in a  documentary QuestLove found a couple of months before. We couldn't find that one exactly but he was able to score 3 Cuban vinyl records. That made him happy. Hunger hit and we went to Starbien Restaurant, but on the way there we apparently ran over a pile of shit and it got stuck on the car or under the car or something. We were cracking up so bad with that ordeal. We pulled up to the restaurant still smelling like shit and Estrella and I were in stitches as Aramis was asking the parking attendant for a hose to find this mystery shit and wash it off. I am literally laughing with Jay right now just thinking and talking about it. So as the poor parking guy started on his task, we sat down and ate an amazing meal for only 10 CUC each. It included a drink, an appetizer, a main dish, a side dish and a dessert/coffee. I had the grilled fish (pargo) and Jay had the ropa vieja. Both were great. I had fried malanga for an appetizer and I really loved those. As we were about to pay, Aramis goes to the bathroom and to check on the car, and when he comes back he says, "Tengo malas noticias, el carro todavia huele a mierda"-- we died. The poor guy was working on the car the whole meal and he still had his work cut out for him. It made for some really great laughs though. From there, they wanted to take us to this ritzy neighborhood where the diplomats and millionaires live. Aramis Jr. wanted to get dropped off before then to shower and rest before going out tonight. He also confessed que se estaba cagando, which made us laugh again. "Ni tengo que abrir la puerta que ahi esta". LOL. I love me some toilet humor. So we dropped him off and went sight seeing. Insane houses. Guards in front of most of them, especially ones with flags on them, diplomats and such. They also took us by Fidel Castro's compound. Security was pretty tight around those parts. duh. We finished with a bit of a wild goose chase in search of the Buena Vista Social Club. No luck, so we went home to rest and shower. When we did, Aramis went online and found the exact address so he and Jay went out again while I stayed behind with Estrella and Aramisito. We talked for a while, they are definitely chatterboxes but I love it. So many funny 'disparates' and stories and mannerisms. I laugh really hard with them. In the meantime, Jay found the spot and the man who lives inside. He was able to take pictures and videos and briefly go inside. Needless to say, he was thrilled with that. We showered when he got back and got ready to go to a bar called Espacio. Maria Carla, Aramisito's girlfriend, joined us too. The place was a house - casa particular / negocio privado - with a cool outside and fun ambiance. Low key, nothing crazy. We had good sangrias and enoyable conversation. I just wish we didn't get tired so easily! We got home around 2am. Tomorrow is VARADERO!


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 Iñigo 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. 


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

Return to Roots - May 18

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.