Sunday in Cuba is time for Mass and we went to the oldest Cathedral in Havana. We were delighted and privileged to participate in High Mass with his holiness, the Cardinal of Cuba,Jaime Ortega, no less. No idea how we lucked out but it was divine. The choral music was heavenly, no pun intended. We did not understand the sermon, but it was like every other Mass ceremony, so we were not lost. At the end of the Mass I shook hands with the Cardinal and he asked me where I was from, I told him we were from the US and he just beamed. Really nice guy.
Probably the highlight of my trip to Cuba was experiencing the music of the Buena Vista Social Club. They are a group of older musicians from Havana that were forgotten during the Castro Regime and brought back to prominence by an American guitarist, Ry Cooder. He came to Cuba and recorded the group of musicians in about 14 days. They have performed at Carnegie Hall, and all over the world, reviving traditional Cuban music. Their album was recorded in 1997 and received a Grammy Award. BVSC was a group of prominent musicians in the 40’s and 50’s that formed a Club in Havana. The room was throbbing, everyone was dancing the salsa. You could not possibly stay seated. The music was fabulous.
We started the day with a visit to a rum factory. I really did not know that there is a high quality rum that retails for $1700 a bottle USD. A shot of rum is a great way to start the morning! We made the pilgrimage to Ernest Hemingway’s home. I knew he was highly regarded, but Cubans adore him! The house was interesting. Full of bullfight memorabilia, hunting trophies, wonderful artwork, and loaded with books everywhere. It looked like a quite comfortable house. He had marked his weight in his bathroom on the wall, everyday.
After lunch at another rooftop restaurant, we visited the atelier of the Picasso of the Caribbean, Jose Fuster. Wow! Pictures follow!
Our Salsa lessons
We were all taken to a dance studio and given Salsa lessons by a wonderful teacher, Pablo. What a ball, and we really learned to do some complicated steps! We are having dinner with the Buena Vista Social club tomorrow night and we can all practice.
Small private family run restaurants were always popular in Cuba, but with the departure of the USSR in the 90’s and the subsequent economic downward crisis, licenses were granted to these private home restaurants. Some of them have the best food in Cuba.
Last night we dined at La Cucina de Lilliam one of the oldest Paladars and one of the most famous. We were served champignons, then stuffed crepes, the Cuban version of prosciutto, lamb, a type of sweet potato- mashed and roasted potatoes, fresh vegetable salad, and on and on. They had wines from Chile and Argentina that were respectable. I rate it a a very good choice. Today we had lunch at another paladar near the oldest cathedral in Havana, La Mondena Cubana. I had a wonderful grilled snapper and daiquiris all through lunch.
First day Havana
Wow. I had a very large misconception about the state of Havana. I imagined a faded beauty with peeling paint and decay everywhere. Yes there is lots and lots of work to be done, but on the whole, I was blown away by what I saw. Beautiful gardened squares with old trees- sort of like Savannah Georgia. Renovated piazzas with lively restaurants sprinkled around them. Many have small musical groups playing and people just jump up and start dancing. The musical rhythm is pervasive.
Many of the buildings have been restored to their bright original colors, especially around the most important public structures and monuments.
I was also expecting hotels that were simple and totalitarian. Nothing special. Well we lucked out, we are staying at the Saratoga Hotel down the street from the old Parliment building that looks like the US Capital. We have a lovely Junior suite with French doors the open to a small balcony and our view is the Dome and the rooftops of Havana.
We also expected Internet connection to be slow, difficult and expensive. None of that. Our wifi is free at the Saratoga for Junior Suites, and I have all my Apple products connected.
I have also been told that the food will be disappointing, so I’m on a mission to find the best restaurants. Tonight we eat at a small private restaurant called a paladar. Hmmmm…