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Random Havana Photos

Yes, I have still more photos. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I took nearly 400 photos in just a week walking around Havana. There was that much to see.

Hotel Inglaterra, Havana

Hotel Inglaterra

Hotel Inglaterra from Parque Central

Hotel Inglaterra, seen from Havana’s Central Park

 

Havana Taxi

Getting around

Coco Taxis

Havana’s Coco taxis an eye catching jolt of color that can’t be ignored.

Monument to Jose Marti in Plaza de la Revolucion

Spanish tiles from the restaurant at the Hotel Ambos Mundos

Statue of St. Francis of Assisi outside the Convento de San Francisco in Old Havana

Ladies in the courtyard outside the Convento

Old Havana Street

Mural in Old Havana

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Havana, And My Mojitos Sucked!

I love a good cocktail, especially one with a rum base.

So when I knew I was going to Havana, I was as excited about going as I was about all the rummy cocktails I knew I’d get to drink.

Cuba is, after all, rum country. It’s also home of the mojito, the daiquiri and the Cuba Libre – all made with rum and lime juice, my other favorite ingredient.

But it was the mojito, the perfect refreshing antidote to hot days, that looked forward to downing.

Unfortunately, my first Havana mojito sucked!

And it wasn’t just that it needed more sugar. We tried that and it still tasted ‘off.’

So did the next one at the second bar.

The mojitos I’ve had in New York and elsewhere – the taste I’ve come to love – are a delicate balance between rum, sugar, mint, lime juice and ice. Even allowing for slight variations in the taste of the ingredients and the quantity of each that was used, I couldn’t explain the big difference in taste between Havana’s mojitos and New York’s.

I was disappointed.

I just knew the mojitos in Havana would have been good, so good, I’d be drinking them instead of water. And I knew I’d be raving about them when I returned home. I just knew!

Instead, I found myself doing what I do when I’m out and can’t find my favorite brand of spirits, I revert to something that’s foolproof: in this case, rum and coke.

(Yes, even though Cuba has its own brand of cola, this American import is available, especially in tourist areas.)

Now, there’s really nothing wrong with my backup drink: rum and Coke or the rum, Coke and lime mix called Cuba Libre. But since my taste buds had been primed for weeks in anticipation of the mojito, it felt like a poor substitute.

Several days later, while we were having lunch in a hotel restaurant, I noticed something that to me explained why the mojitos tasted so different.

There, on the bar, were rows of glasses. Each had sugar, lime wedges and several sprigs of mint leaves. How long had they been sitting there, waiting?

Could this slow marinating of these two ingredients account for the difference in taste?

Even from where I sat, I could see that the mint leaves had wilted to a deep green and a brownish yellow was slowly overtaking the vibrant green of the wedges of lime.

I watched as a waiter walked over, picked up a glass, added rum and ice, muddled the ingredients and served it to a diner.

I’m not a purist. Neither am I one of those people who thinks food has to taste the same everywhere, you know, like McDonald’s?

Glasses with Mint

But you cannot convince me that that wasn’t the reason for the difference.

Tell me if you agree.

The Haunting Beauty of Havana’s Buildings

Cuba‘s well-known for, among other things, its architecture. However, after 50 years of neglect, many of its now historic buildings are falling apart. Many others struggle to retain their majestic beauty.

Gran Teatro de la Habana

Hotel Inglaterra

I can only imagine how splendid these buildings looked back then.

Hotel Plaza

This building would have looked nicer without the clothes

La Floridita - one of Hemingway's haunts

We should have stopped at La Floridita for a daiquiri, but didn’t.

This could use some work

Bacardi Building

Previously supporters of the revolution, the Bacardi family left Cuba rather than let the regime nationalize their business. Bacardi is now headquartered in Bermuda.

The Bacardi rum is the main ingredient in Cuba Libres and daiquiris.

Convento de San Francisco

Old Havana

Old Havana building

Square in Old Havana

Decaying beauties

The restaurant atop the Hotel Ambos Mundos provides a panoramic view of some of Havana’s decaying buildings.

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Why Cuba?

A few people have asked me why I went to Cuba. In case you’re one of them, here’s why.

To me, Cuba is like the neighbor behind a wall that you hear but you can’t see.

In Western Jamaica, where I grew up, from very early on, I could hear Cuba from my house through the sometimes faint, sometimes clear sounds of music and voices in a language I didn’t then understand. Over the years, I created my own narrative of the place adults talked about in sometimes panicked, sometimes hushed tones.

I wondered about the people, who it was explained to me, could not leave. I tried to imagine what it would be like not being able to leave or do whatever pleased me.

The image I had, even at that age, was of being trapped, being imprisoned. No, no one wanted that.

Cuba was the Caribbean’s bogeyman – there was always the fear that what happened there could also happen in Jamaica. And many Jamaicans were, understandably, concerned.

Then as I grew older, stories began to come out. Stories told by my mother of two aunts – sisters of her father’s, my grandfather – who went to Cuba, married and never returned.

l also found out that another grand-aunt, this time on my father’s side never returned either.

Between 1916 and 1940, it is estimated that approximately 300,000 Jamaicans went to Cuba in search of work. No one knows how many returned despite being allowed to following the revolution.

My paternal grandfather did. As did my godfather and a family friend – all spicing their Jamaican English with Spanish words and speaking Spanish among themselves – clear signs to everyone else that they had been “a foreign.”

Some of those words became so commonplace, they became part of the lexicon. I didn’t realize until I started learning Spanish in high school that these words were.

My fascination with Cuba never waned – blame that privacy fence, the closedoffness of it. And with family connections, it isn’t a place I could put out of my mind easily, despite all that I learned from my Cuban friends.

When I decided to visit, I told each of them in turn. Not one objected.

My family wanted me to look up the ones who never returned.

But, in the end, I went for me.

Fifty years of repression have not dampened the spirit of the Cuban people. The country hasn’t lost its grandeur, its style or its flare. And I’d go back tomorrow. Because now I have my own images to match the narrative of my childhood.

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