Saturday, 6 June 2015
Saturday was one of those days when things just don’t go according to plan. But serendipities compensated…
Our first stop was the Hotel Havana Libre, formerly known as the Havana Hilton. After the 1959 revolution, Fidel Castro famously occupied one of the suites for three months. The name of the hotel was changed in 1960 after it was nationalised by the new regime. On the way there, we stopped to admire a statue of Don Quixote and got into a conversation with a man who seemed interesting until he offered us a small coin.
After we had shaken the jinetero, Susie took to photographing interesting artworks that had been designed into the footpath. We had seen examples of similar designs in hotel foyers on the Art Deco tour with our Australian friends, Johnny and Glynnis. Vedado must have been a funky place in its heyday.
When we arrived at Hotel Havana Libre we checked out the impressive foyer. There were interesting artworks, including a large ceramic mural, a scale model of the hotel, and a painting of the hotel that looked like the result of a drinking session involving Ralph Steadman and Pablo Picasso.
As soon as we exited the hotel we were assailed by jineteros at every turn so we beat a quick retreat back to the casa where we had lunch again at the nearby paladar called Idilio.
Next, we planned to visit a shop called Fresa y Chocolat. According to the guide book, you could purchase movie posters there. It was located in Vedado about 20 minutes walk away, inside a bar. We located the bar easily enough, but it was icy cold inside and so dark that we could hardly see anything. Susie ordered fizzy water and spiked it with juice from some limes that she had bought from a street stall on the way there. There was a space adjoining the bar that was also dark. We ascertained that it was the cine club, but it was open only from Monday to Friday. So we left.
In the evening we headed to La Casa de Amistad. We had learned on our first trip to Havana that musical performances were held there on Saturday nights. Fortuitously, our decision to stay in Vedado had placed us there on a Saturday night, so we turned up and found them man who had shown us around the house on 3 May. Alas, the management had not been able to book a band for that evening, so there would be no music. He suggested that we try one of the jazz venues.
Accordingly, we set off to La Zorra y El Cuervo (The Vixen and the Crow) located near the Hotel Havana Libre. On the way there, on Calle 23, we unexpectedly stumbled on an Iranian restaurant with a female dancer in traditional attire. It was a balmy evening and the tables were set out on the veranda of a beautiful colonial building, and we had some time to kill before the show started at the Jazz club. So it was a perfect time to grab a drink and a light supper.
We ordered a vegetarian plate to share, and a beer and a cocktail, and we watched the dancers (there were soon three of them) go through their moves. After we had finished eating, the dancers invited some of the female diners to join them, and Susie rose from her seat to shimmy along with the music.
After our serendipitous supper we continued on to the Jazz club. It is much easier to traipse the streets of Havana at night than during the day, and no one knows this better than the locals. Calle 23 was abuzz with people out and about. The atmosphere was lively and easy-going, and people were polite and considerate on the crowded footpaths.
Incongruously, the entrance to the Jazz club is marked by an old red English telephone box. According to the guidebook, there is usually a snaking queue to get in, but this being the off-season, the bouncer ushered us into the phone booth straight away where we descended a staircase into a basement . The cover charge included two cocktails, and we sat at a table with a good view of the band.
The music was contemporary jazz. The band leader was a female drummer, and she was supported by a bass player, a keyboard player and a guy who did electronic samples. They were all brilliant musicians. The music was tight, not too loud, and everyone was listening keenly except for a young American who spent some time holding forth loudly until she was silenced by death-stares from more attentive members of the audience.
Susie and I stayed until the second band on the bill had finished playing, and walked back to the casa through a balmy evening breeze. Calle de los Presidentes was buzzing. There were groups of young people on each section of the median strip playing music, or practising dance moves, or engaging in some other kind of self-organised entertainment. We watched and admired for a short while from our eyrie on the 14th floor, before blissfully turning in.
 For further explanation, see the blog entry for Sunday 3 May ‘Waylaid in Vedado’.