Friday, November 20, 2015

Cuba - part 7 (first evening)


Martha and I took the "long way" back to Convento de San Francisco de Asis for a concert of Cuban music. Which means we walked along the Malecon. The Malecon is the stretch of land along the water. The views are magnificent. Unfortunately though the day had been cloudless, the clouds rolled in before sunset. I've seen pictures of this area and is just magnificent at sunset.

There was a street fair happening, but we didn't get any closer to check it out.

Interested in buying a boat?

I realized a number of things during this walk. First I noticed the slower pace. No one seemed in a hurry to get anywhere, including the cars. We felt time slow down, in a good way. We knew we wanted to get to the church by 6 for the concert, but we didn't know how long it would take us (especially since we are shutterbugs). We found we had plenty of time. During this walk and after dark we felt safe. Sounds like the crime issues are related to pick pocketing and theft, not something even worse.

I was in awe of the trompe l'oeil effect. Even in person it felt real. The sound quality was terrific. We heard 20th century Cuban music. Music ranged from a small ensemble to a guitar soloist to piano to opera to the choir. The only song I did not care for was one where the pianist stood up and started plucking piano strings with his fingers. It is not my style. Of course all songs and announcements were in Spanish. Several pieces were world premiers. My favorite piece came towards the end. Somehow they were making percussion sounds with their bodies. The soloist reminded me of a young Ricky Ricardo. We were both glad we came here, as opposed to going someplace flashier and more expensive. At 10 CUC ($10) this was a great deal. 

One other note, everyone paid attention to the music without fidgeting or playing with their gadgets or talking. A note for my sister, Melissa, they even clapped at the right times (I think) without prompting.

Inside the building is also the museum of religious artifacts. As with many museums in the United States, the tags were all in the local language only.
 On the way out I made sure to touch this statue's beard for good luck, which brought back memories of a certain statue near the Mannekin Pis in Belgium. During the day there had been a couple of people dressed in bronze (including their eyelids and all skin) standing so still you could not tell they were alive. They wanted money for posing with them as at that point I only had 20 CUC notes (which they would have gladly taken, but I suspect not given change for that $20) I politely did not take their pictures. I still like the one I took earlier in the day of the cigar smoking lady with the cat dressed up for 1 CUC. 

Some pictures from our walk back. Though the streets were quiet, they did have some locals and tourists on them. At no point did we feel uncomfortable or threatened, simply mesmerized by the beauty around us. We were also aware that within a few years these same quiet streets will be aglow with neon Starbucks and McDonald's signs and that we were witnessing a true turning point in history. Normally these changes happen slowly without anyone realizing it. This is one of those rare cases when you know to appreciate what you are seeing before it is gone forever.

 This building was illuminated magnificently. The first night someone with Insight Cuba tried to talk me into taking pictures of it at 1 AM, but she wanted me to go with someone. Not because I would not be safe, but that my camera would be an attraction. It was late, so I passed. Fortunately I could go the following night.

The first post office we tried to go to is in the ground floor of this building, which was under renovations. The capitol building next door is also under renovations and was not illuminated. 

The concert was over at 8. Our dinner reservations were for 9:30. Yes, 9:30, at Chef Ivan Justo. Insight Cuba gave us a list of paladares to choose from for dinner on Saturday night. Paladares are self-run restaurants by Cubans trying to earn some money. They range in size from quite small literally in someone's apartment to ones able to handle hundreds of diners (we went to one of the larger ones the following night with the entire tour group). Martha charged me with narrowing down the list. I crossed off any place whose claim to fame was someone famous had dined there. Next I eliminated ones that bragged about really odd food (like octopus, I've stretched my boundaries, but not that far). Then took off the one closed on Saturday nights (since it was Saturday night). I narrowed it down to three. Since we wanted a later dinner time so we could go to the concert, we were able to get a reservation at Chef Ivan Justo. The other bonus for us was this was about 4 blocks away from our hotel, so we did not also need to add in taxi fare. 

The restaurant is located on the top floor. Fortunately Martha saw the sign upstairs as I only noticed the one downstairs, even though it was exactly where the map said it would be. By now it was 8:30. We still had an hour until dinner. They were quite insistent they could not give us a 9 PM reservation. We kept circling around the place. Other restaurateurs from lesser known places came out to encourage us to dine at their paladar. The only people who asked anything of us (with the exception of one person we met the next day) were those asking us to dine in their paladares and taxi drivers. There were a couple of people wanting small change, but nothing illegal. We did not feel threatened. Not bad for two women traveling "alone."

The inside was more beautiful than the nondescript outside.  After ascending a narrow windy staircase, Martha and I were seated in small dining room with three tables next to the kitchen that was covered with photographs and knickknacks. To me it was visually distracting. Too much to look at, and I was too tired to absorb it. The menu was written on the board -- behind the heads of other diners. Our waiter translated the menu for us so quickly we didn't catch most of it. Fortunately we know basic Spanish words (such as pollo means chicken) so that narrowed down our questions. Martha had risotta de can grejo (rice with crab). I had beef with mushrooms in a wine sauce (solomillo con salsa de bongos). It was phenomenal! The chocolate flan dessert was also delicious! My sparkling water cost nearly as much as Martha's pina colada. The bill came in a treasure chest we should have photographed. It came to less than 30 CUC ($30) a person. It was well worth the splurge -- especially since that was the only meal we had to pay for on the entire trip.

We thought with a 9:30 dinner reservation we would close the place out. No, others came for dinner after 10 PM. Not many people, it was definitely quieter, but there were still some diners. 

Our server told us his son lives in Germany and he doesn't know if he will ever get to see him. He has tried to get a visa, but it takes a long time and costs a lot of money. His was a common story. A little more time in the country (and some more sleep) and I would have welcomed the chance to talk more in-depth with people and learn their stories. Everyone has story.


To keep entertained, Martha and I guessed how many taxi drivers would offer us a ride back to the hotel. On the way to the restaurant we couldn't go a few feet without being asked (often right after we told someone else "non, gracias.") Martha guessed either three of five, I thought more than that. I was surprised the answer was ZERO! We walked all four blocks without once being asked if we wanted a ride. The walk back was just right for working off some of that chocolate flan. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

All pictures can be found HERE


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