Monday, 25 May 2015
During our breakfast at the casa, we had the good fortune to spy a hummingbird hovering near a banana tree in the courtyard. It was wearing a deep green suit with a black velvet vest—very fetching.
After breakfast, we walked a few blocks to a barber shop that we had seen a day or so previously. I took a seat under a Cuban flag and was duly shorn for seven CUCs. This included hair protruding from my nose and ears, and any would-be escapees from each eyebrow. It was the most thorough trim I have ever had, and I was glad to be parted from the outer reaches of my grey halo.
From the barber shop, we located a workshop where musical instruments are made. We were able to view only the shopfront, however, which turned out to be rather dull. The same could be said for the arts and crafts market nearby: the stalls all sold pretty much the same bumf that is mass-produced for the tourist market in Cuba.
The next stop was more rewarding. We went back to the Paladar San José where I ordered a pizza with chorizo and Susie had a pizza with camarones (prawns). The crusts were light and delicious, and although they were advertised on the menu as pizza solo (“for one”), each might have fed a family.
After lunch, the usual afternoon storm blew up. I went to the bank to withdraw some cash. I had to wait for the deluge to subside before returning to the casa. After that, it was Susie’s turn to venture out. She went for a massage which she characterised as “a bit soft and oily”, but she enjoyed the experience of visiting another local house.
After our lunch at San José there was no need for dinner. We had a Cuba libre in our casa and then set out again for the Casa de Musica in the Plaza Mayor. When we arrived, we found there was a cover charge. We were happy to pay the CUC, but there was a downside: this was evidently enough to keep the locals out of the venue except for a few dedicated and hard-drinking groupies. The mix of humanity was thus narrowed in favour of tourists and drunks, most of whom cannot dance, so they didn’t. And when they did, it might have been better had they stayed seated.
So here is a hot tip for the guidebooks and the local branch of the CDR: the Casa de Musica is a much better experience when there is no cover charge. Perhaps the cover charge should be raised enough for tourists so that locals could be allowed in for free? Everybody wins!
Anyway, the musical fare was different from the night before. There was a large, all-male band that played some genre of contemporary popular music (possibly Reggaeton). The amplification was overdone, especially on the bass guitar, which dominated the mix, drowning out some fine percussion and the horn section. The singing was okay. What stole the show was the 10 p.m. performance by traditional Afro-Cuban drummers and an Afro-Cuban dance troupe.
We had not seen or hear seen anything quite like this performance. It mixed the rhythms African dance with formal aspects of a Western folkloric tradition. The dancers dressed in elaborate costumes: the women wore colourful headscarves and dresses with flowing fabric that accentuated their movements; and the men wore white slacks with matching jackets and straw hats. The outfits echoed both Caribbean and Spanish costume, and the choreography told a story, often on a sexual theme – which Susie shrewdly observed was overlaid with Christian morality. The whole troupe was visually stunning, and the rhythms were unbelievably complex.
When the pop group returned to the stage, we headed for home along the narrow cobble-stoned streets, with the rhythms of Africa echoing in our ears.