Your Man in Havana 2. Guantanamera
The great thing about a service economy is service to consumers. But of course in a socialist economy its not quite like that. The economy is there not to provide really anything except work simulation. Back in the USSR they used to say “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”
The reception area of our Havana hotel Hotel Los Friales(Friars) was a case in point. A receptionist, her assistant, a security man, a bell boy and the lady running the shop. All wearing their slightly ludicrous friars outfit. And how they could talk, laugh, slap each other on the back, occasionally kiss on the cheek. More jokes, more kisses.
An ancient Englishman nervously approaches this group,he wants to know about the famous Cuban ballet. We know nothing, ask the tourist office,they give directions. They go back to chatting away. The tourist office is closed. Hasta La Victoria. Siempre.
Later the same oldie approaches about the possibity of hiring a-guide and a car for a tour round the city. Try Cuba car. What do you think we are doing here,smile you’re in Cuba Libre. When it came to booking the bus to Trindad we were told to go to another hotel. They told us to go to a third. Socialism o Muerte. Muerte bring it on.
The fact that there are lot of people doing very little is not exclusive to Cuba. One growing industry is with the street and cafe bands. An ability to hold a rattle, sway in time and wave is all that is needed.Who will ever forget the Bueno Vista Sockial Club. The louche, the samba,the authentic, cool it took the world. Now every tourist wants a slice. However not all is good. Some is frankly a mess. There is better music in many English football grounds than in some Havana bars. Some bands are good most are pretty average as they grind out Guantanamera(see link) and My Way cha cha cha.
My lady wife and I on several occasions found ourselves alone in a restaurant when the guitarist or the band would come to our table. What to do. Here my natural bad manners, gross indifference to others and normal swinish behaviour came in useful. I would ignore. Finish my food. Crawl under the table to do up my shoes. Go to the loo. Start whistling Dixie.
Meanwhile my dear wife, the mother of my children was caught. Her natural grace, good manners and charm caught in a dilemma. Like every English person she hated the intimacy demanded by these terrible troubadours. She of course has dedicated her life to helping the sick and unfortunate. So she would smile, she dimpled, nodded her head in some kind of time. Would the senora like a tune. I would be under the table imploring her to tell them to F off. Happy of or sad. She would go to her purse hoping that money in the hand would stop the playing. Once she even bought the CD it turned out to be(I think) whale noises samba.
Once a guitarist came to our table. All the other customers having fled. He looked into Vivien’s green eyes. She asked about his instruments. She felt compelled to talk of her experience with the cello. Dear God she has had one lesson. A year ago. Suddenly she is Catherine Dupre. Dupre talks to Segovia about different strings-what. She talks to to said genius with all the understanding of a fellow member of the world string brotherhood. A conversation of such tedium and banality that I start praying for Alziehmers to start so I will cease to understand a word.
Play the Guantenamero video and smile. Free the Miami Five.