Una Vista del Malecon (A View of the Malecon)
Our casa particulaire in Vedado was lovely. It was fairly spacious and overlooked the Malecon. The only downside was that the phone kept ringing and we were never sure why. It seemed that the line was connected with our hostess, because it never rang long enough for us to answer. We had a corner suite on the 9th floor with a wrap around balcony. A thick column of cinder blocks rose up the center on each side of the building, and little swallows had made homes out of the gaps. We spent a good portion of time relaxing out there on the balcony. Sipping cervesas and Cuba Libres; watching sunsets and the waves crash on the Malecon; seeing pelicans, classic cars, and packs of stray dogs scurrying about. Below us was a large abandoned pool where kids would play soccer. This song was made from a recording I made on that balcony and was an attempt to capture the feeling of relaxing there.
We went to a place called the Necropolis de Colon, a huge cemetery made to house centuries of dead Habaneros. It covers something like twelve city blocks and houses thousands of bodies and bones. It’s the biggest of its kind in the western hemisphere. It was amazing to see. Obviously we took a lot of photos. A man approached us and started telling us facts about the place and the people within. He told us that the bodies are layered in the graves five to seven deep per family or organization. After a few years they are exhumed and the bones are put in smaller graves. Some of them feature huge monuments or mausoleums with staircases that descend into darkness. Very eerie stuff. We spotted a few graves with thick masses of flies and could smell the stench of death from a couple. Others had bottles of rum next to them in varying degrees of completion.
After we left the Necropolis, we had lunch at a little diner, then meandered over to La Plaza de la Revolucion where the iconic visages of Fidel and Che overlook a large gray expanse of parking lot with a large statue and monument to Jose Marti on the other side. After Revolution Plaza we weren’t really sure what to do. We wandered along and went into a park to consult our map and decide on our next course of action. While we were looking lost checking our map, we were asked if we wanted a taxi. We wanted to go check out the big ice cream center but we couldn’t remember the name. Luckily Tania had brought our translation dictionary so we gradually figured out that we wanted the Copelia. The taxi turned out to be his Amigo’s car. He wanted to charge us 10 pesos but by now we knew that was a rip off and he quickly reduced it to 6. In Cuba you ask the taxi driver what the fare will be at the start of the ride instead of the end.
Copelia had a huge crowd of people outside. We thought it was the lineup for ice cream, but they were actually all waiting for the bus. It’s a funny little place. Very retro-futuristic. There’s a round, flying saucer-like structure in the center with wavy blue concrete spidering out. A bit of ice cream really hit the spot as it was so hot out that day. We went into the nearby Hotel Libre for la banos and I found out it was once the Havana Hilton. It also has quite an interesting history as it was used as a temporary headquarters for Fidel’s army, and as a Soviet embassy.
This was supposed to be the night we went to see Gabriel Ananda in Los Jardine de la Tropical for the closing party of the Electroacoustic Festival but it wasn’t to be. First we tried to get out for an early dinner, but we didn’t leave all that early. Then we had a confusing time finding the restaurants we meant to check out. The taxi driver instead tried taking us to a paladare but there was no answer so he took us to another. We realized we wouldn’t get to the concert until 8pm which would make us an hour late. On the way back from the paladare it started raining, and then it started pouring. By the time we were back at the casa we experienced what I expect was probably a category 3 tropical storm. Meteorologists might disagree. The heavy metal rocking chairs on our balcony were rolling, the doors were rattling, water was pouring down the glass in rivulets, and a thick pool of water began to snake across our floor. I imagine it would have made a garden party at Los Jardine de la Tropical rather unpleasant. Getting information on the event had been nearly impossible. We didn’t know how much tickets would be, if it would be hard to get in late, if there would be a lot of people, how late it would go, or if we would be able to get a taxi back. In the end we decided to go to the Jazz Cafe instead.
The jazz at the cafe was fantastic. Oddly enough it’s located on the third floor of a glass fronted shopping mall. It had a funny decor, with various instruments hanging from the ceiling. There were some strange patrons there too. We felt they must all be tourists, but later met a Cuban who proved us wrong. There was one group that wouldn’t stop taking pictures of themselves. They seemed largely oblivious to the music as they were too wrapped up in themselves. One vacant looking young man at their table wore a purple blazer over a white blazer with his hairless chest exposed. He had three lines shaved into his hair, an immaculately groomed chin strap beard, and white pants.
The band was a quartet: Keys and vocals, sax (soprano and alto) and flute, bass, and drums. They were really tight. Quick tempo and feel change-ups, virtuosic solos, and killer grooves. After the show, I came back from the bathroom to find Tania in conversation with a guy with short dreadlocks and a big smile. “Languages are my hobby” he told us. His name was Yongli and his English was good, but his French was better. His German wasn’t bad either, I take it. He even has a Facebook account!
Havana is full of people making due with an idiosyncratic reality. Everything is just so old, decrepit, and unobtainable that concessions, coping, repairing, and jerry rigging become a way of life. Granted, I’ve only spent 10 days here so there’s obviously a great deal that I don’t understand. It’s a country that really gets under your skin. There’s just so much to take in around you that you experience a sort of cultural and spiritual overload. Through these sounds and words I’ve endeavoured in my own way to share a limited aspect of my short experience there. It was a fascinating learning experience for me, and from here I’ll move on to the recordings I captured while on my honeymoon in Japan and Thailand. Those will provide exceptional raw materials for the next album. The general quality of those recordings is superior to the Cuban ones because I took my Rode NTG3 shotgun mic with me and a contact mic. I hope you enjoyed my musings and music and are as excited as me for the next trip!
from Sonidos de Cuba
released April 26, 2013
Thomas Towers - Congas
Stephen Falk - Congas and Bongos
James Kang - Acoustic Guitar
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