Havana – Of Kids, Casas And Catholics

17 Mar


nfc capAlready preparing for this year’s visit last November and wanting to stay closer to the city, I took a look-see at some Casas in Vedado and liked the one that had the most beautiful garden. I’ve never liked smoking indoors.

After a quick tour and knowing it would be free for the Festival my impulsive-emotional-self fell in love and it had to be that Casa.

So it was. I reserved it for the whole 3 weeks I planned to stay.

Then my friend Frank decided to join me for a week in Havana.

Hmm, the Casa had 2 rooms and I was only renting one … Quick mail exchange and it was ours as the second room was free for the Festival dates.

I arrived in Havana late at night, had a cigar and two cold beers on the terrace I had fell in love with, took in the night noises but was too tired to make much out of the animal cacophony that envelops Cuban neighbourhoods.

All I remember was thinking it funny that a rooster would crow non-stop around midnight amid dogs barking.

Next day went fine, breakfast was good and plentiful, the atmosphere fine, I was out a lot during the day, just odd that I was literally sharing the Casa with the landlords as there was just the room and the terrace/garden for me, all else was shared and the couple lived literally inside my living space, uncommon when you rent a Casa in Cuba.

I learned about the landlady’s 80’s trip to East Germany with an artist cadre and her partner’s party-line toeing when a friend asked him for medical advice and he boasted of all the progress combating diseases since “the triumph of the revolution”.

Funny that she turned out to be a hard core catholic, busy preparing masses and the Via Crucis, the church choir and food for the elderly.

Spending more time in the afternoon and evening, having some of her home-made dinners on the terrace and jotting down some notes on my notebook, I noticed I could hardly concentrate on anything due to all the dog barking from across the street.

It was a kind of insane barking rhythm and after I while I found out why – some 3-4 dogs were chained to a rooftop terrace and left to their own. They must have become mad after being chained for ages and that was their wailing sound.

Once those dogs started, a chain reaction began with more dogs joining the band, my Casa’s dog barking for effect, the roosters crowing and finally one of the dogs owner’s barking shut up orders to all.

There was no way to hold a conversation, read a page or type up a post without damming the damn dog’s noise.

All my landlady would say was : Funny, nobody else has complained about the noise. Sure I thought, pass out the guilt to the long-term guest stupid enough to notice.

Then she’d concede that there was a very “problematic” family of “blacks” living across the street but that the police wouldn’t do a thing. Now I understood why they’d be watching TV 18 hrs a day.

I knew I wouldn’t want to stay there once Frank arrived as I would feel bad – then again, being mostly out during the day it might get better and we wouldn’t mind.

I was divided but staying out myself on the terrace at night for cigars and some rum I knew it was just too noisy and unbearable.

So, when Frank arrived I told him and after a day he agreed and wanted a move out from the zoological garden.

It happened to be a Saturday evening and I drove out to my familiar Miramar neighbourhood hitting Gold right at the beginning of my Casa search.

A spacious 50’s era Casa with 2 lovely rooms and a large garden was free.

We booked it for the Monday and celebrated with an extra 4 fingers of Rum that night.

Burdened by some guilty feeling, we decided to leave the Casa paid for the night we would be gone, even paying for breakfast although I knew there would be tourists checking in as I had heard her call her agency and get new customers booked.

Then we had an even better idea – Honey ( not her real name, but fits the person well ), our driver’s 20 yr old step-daughter and her boyfriend of 5 years Al, had loved the terrace and garden in our Casa, so much so that Jo brought them around to take some souvenir pictures there.

Now : Al was leaving Cuba for good the next day.

Half orphaned, his father had managed after a long ordeal to finally bring him over to the US on family reunification.

We had celebrated a long family lunch party with our Cuban friends to say farewell to Al. Honey was just sad.

How about just giving the Casa to Honey and Al for a last nice and intimate night before the kid left Cuba for good, we thought.

I told Angie, the landlady about our departure and the fact we would leave a full night paid for including breakfast. That made her happy.

Then I told her about our wish to have the Casa let to the two young kids on their last night together in Cuba for a long while.

Uhm, no way she would rent it to someone without a passport – the excuses began.

Señora – you are not renting to anyone without a passport, the house is still rented on our name.

Yes but …. excuses followed. The couple wouldn’t have a passport.

Of course there was a passport, after all the poor kid was leaving Cuba and had a passport to do it.

Yes, but, imagine there would be an official midnight inspection of the Casa and they’d find a Cuban couple.

Señora – Frank and I assure you that we will personally hold guard duty with a bottle of Mulata 7 and some cigars from dusk ’til dawn on the terrace chairs to make sure the kid’s rest & recreation time isn’t disturbed.

Then it finally blurted out of her: No Cubans !

The only & real reason for her denial.

She would not have any Cubans inside her Casa – Final.

I could have understood moral or legal problems – this was simply discrimination.

Stupidly or maybe provoking I asked her about her Catholic values and how she could refuse to let the young kids have a last night in Cuba together in nice surroundings ( that is, nicer than their living quarters).

She replied that of course her “Faith” had nothing to do “with this issue”.

The fact that the triumph of the revolution was supposed to have made Cuba egalitarian didn’t win me a cigar either.

There was no way she would accept Cubans, her own countrymen, in her Casa. No fucking way.

Even though the family was known to her, they had provided the contact for me to rent the Casa and they were almost neighbours.

She would rather return the cookies paid for the Casa and have tourists use it.

It was all Frank and I needed to get rid of any bad feelings we might have had – disgusted we packed and left, giving the Casa a nice big finger with mucho gusto.

In all fairness, the catholic lady was fair to unofficial Cuban protocol and paid the commission due for the time we stayed in her Casa to Jo who had brought me/us there and as such deserved the 5 cookies per day/room that is customarily paid out.

Other than that : Much rather have Rum & Coke mixed to Cubata than Religion mixed with Ideology ….



One Response to “Havana – Of Kids, Casas And Catholics”

  1. Keith 19/03/2013 at 02:19 #

    Wow. Interesting story, Nino.

    I’ve always found this thought process of these Cuban proprietors a bit strange. Same with how certain hotels won’t let you bring in any Cuban guests, when foreign/passport-holding guests are pretty much always welcome. I just can’t imagine a hotel in Canada only allowing foreign visitors to stay there, and stopping fellow Canadians from coming in past the front door.