Havana, March 2015, the Yankees are coming! In a few month the American embassy in Cuba will raise the Stars and Stripe, restrictions will be lifted and the cruise ships will anchor!
Well… not quite. At the time of writing, CNN tells me that “Travellers should be able to show their visit helped the Cuban people or had an educational component to it.” So grant money first AND THEN unbridled wild tourists spending green gringo dollars…
The Canadians have been coming for years, in grand resorts where reception can book you tickets to see the Buena Vista Social Club Show. The Europeans are here too, mostly Germans and French, but I’m pretty sure that it’s because of Americans that I see renovation works all over the city.
So anyway, it’s 2015 in Havana, the Americans are coming and Carmen doesn’t care. It’s all good as long as there is rum, as long as she can dance in her kitchen at 3am with her boyfriend the dance instructor, as long as her swollen arthritic knuckles can still hold the cigarettes she chain-smokes all day long. All day long, every day, always a celebration.
It’s women’s day today and she explains that the government makes a big deal out of any random holiday because that’s how you keep people busy. Flowers will be distributed to women on the streets, speeches will be made for the women of the revolution and socialist gloriousness will ooze off every word. Whatever, Carmen has seen it all and she doesn’t care. Her boyfriend doesn’t need a special day to go down on her and celebrate the phenomenal woman that she is right there on the living room floor. We know because we almost walked in on them one night as we left our room to get a glass of water…
Carmen has been renting out rooms in her casa particular for decades. Even before 1997, when it was still illegal, she just had to tell her guests to stay away from the balcony so the neighbours wouldn’t denounce her. You do what you have to do and you keep going. Glorious Carmen, the more she drinks, the louder she gets, announcing she would have been a billionaire in a capitalist system! Let the yankees come and she’ll show them!!
We just got back from an evening of touristy exploration and she’s just getting started. Her guy, the one who never spends the night but always seems to be around, gets another bottle from the fridge; he tells her she smokes too much and makes us coffee as we listen to Carmen’s random stories. Occasionally, she remembers to slow down to make sure I understand everything because I’m the only one who’s not fluent in Spanish.
There’s no place like Cuba she tells us, she’s been to Italy where he daughter lives, ridiculous place! People don’t know how to party there. It’s was someone’s birthday, they cut a cake, had some wine and by 11pm people kissed goodbye, wished another Auguri and all went home!!! That’s so wrong and so sad! In Havana, Carmen tells us there’s always music, always good cheer, always another drink. Best schools in the world, top notch healthcare; It’s all good, nobody starves in Cuba, and there’s work for those who want to work. Even the government is getting better. Carmen doesn’t mind communism, it’s not as bad as religion. She can’t stand the catholics with their crosses, and distrusts the Santeria crowd with their dolls and their colourful pearls, but she’ll do business with all of them, with Jews and Muslims too she adds looking in my direction. Carmen doesn’t mind. Carmen doesn’t care, Carmen’s had a good life she tells us.
Now capitalism is coming and maybe she’ll see something new. If Cuba goes capitalist then she will be a billionaire because she’s smart and nobody can fool her. That’s why she has nicer curtains than her neighbours, that’s why she got new furniture last year. And if it doesn’t work out? If Raúl Castro is leading them straight to hell by shaking hand with the devil? well Carmen says she’ll just sell her curtains and buy another bottle of rum, then go dancing with her guy at the neighbourhood social club.