Sandra and I had supper at a private restaurant last night in West Havana. In the 1950‘s, West Havana used to be home to all the embassies, diplomatic mansions, and other wealthy citizens. Today it is still home to a few embassies, but its primary residents tend to be government VIPs and other army officials. No tourists populate this area of the city.
Before arriving at the restaurant, Sandra had to make a reservation because private restaurants (aka non-government restaurants) are only allowed to seat up to 12 people at a time. The restaurant itself was located in a quiet neighbourhood side street. There were high walls and no signage of any kind. The doorman was there to keep surprise visitors out, as much as he was there to greet you and let you in.
As with any private enterprise in Cuba, certain things are not permitted. Beef is forbidden to be served and can only be found on the black market. It’s the same for other things like butter, spices, fancy lighting and other atmospheric touches. Government inspectors, if they scratch beyond the surface of any such enterprise, will most likely find all sorts of violations. Palms are greased, taxes paid, and doormen are made alert to keep things running smoothly.
My first impression of the place was that it had great atmosphere with a superb sound system. A few steps later I realized that the sound system was actually a group of five musicians playing Son versions of popular Latin American songs. They played without any electrical accompaniment and their voices blended together in perfect harmony.
The prices were great. No meal cost more than $13. We both ordered rabbit with some side dishes of vegetables. About half way through our first Corona’s, Arturo Soto, a famous Cuban director walked in with two others. Sandra recognized him from a workshop the two attended together. It was the second time in one day that I found myself dinning amidst film creatures.
I replaced my Corona with a Mojito and turned towards my plate of rabbit. Images of Bugs Bunny ran through my mind as I sampled the first few bites. Everything was delicious. The service was great.
Afterwards Sandra and I walked along 5th Ave towards 14th street and sat at the seaside for a spell. We could see the lights of two fishing boats off in the distance. There were other couples scattered around us as the music of their Spanish language bounced off the waves. A short time later we flagged down a car and caught a ride home.
I’m still getting a feel for this place. I look around and I see a lot of dysfunction. Dilapidated buildings, broken infrastructure, and poverty is everywhere. But I also see a lot of… I don’t know what the word would be. It’s a manner of being I suppose. Whatever it is, Cuba has it… tons of it.
And the world could stand to learn from it.