Cuba Day 3: Killer Peacocks and Dentally Dangerous Melba Toast

(NOTE: This posting is peppered with gratuitous images of Havana folk who may or may not have anything to do with the writing. Probably not. Oh, and the chronology of events may have been altered by run punch. And Spanish coffee. And Cristal beer.)

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It was the day after Easter Monday and the 24 hour bar was still open. My daughter and I were in Veradero and getting ready for a tour into Havana, and the only way to get ready for anything in Veradero is to head directly to the 24 hour bar and acquire two steaming glasses of Spanish coffee (a magical mixture of rum, liqueurs and freshly ground coffee). We were still a little shaky after being attacked by rum punch crazy towel and blanket swans wearing my daughter’s hats, but we had our Spanish coffees in hand and we were ready for anything.

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We were at the pickup point on time but the bus, as usual, was running on Cuban time, which is a tangible entity measured at the personal level by every citizen of Cuba. Cass and I have a lot of respect for Cuban time…it gives you plenty of space to finish your Spanish coffee. We like to think of it as a mental health thing.

This was going to be our second trip to Havana and we were looking forward to shopping at this giant indoor Craft and Souvenir Market and then to Hemingway’s La Bodeguita del Medio bar to get shit-faced before the ride back to the hotel. We were also looking forward to the halfway stop along the highway where they sell the best pina coladas in the world…everything cut, juiced and chopped fresh before your eyes and served in the pineapple used to make the drink.

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Things, unfortunately, were not going to go exactly as planned.

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We got our world’s best pina coladas on the way but, when the bus arrived in Havana, it took a wrong turn into a museum where we were herded into a courtyard surrounded by galleries and history and not a single bar in sight. No Spanish coffee. No rum punch. Wtf.

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I don’t even remember the name of the place. It was that historical.

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What I do remember, though, was the peacock from hell. Some sick-minded asshole set a giant peacock loose in the courtyard. People were oooing and aahing and pointing and taking pictures. Gathering around the damn thing. Too close. Way too close. The thing suddenly shot its head out and closed its mammoth beak around the head of a little girl in a red sundress, pulled her off her feet and started tearing her to shreds and eating her. The parents, thinking this was just some old Cuban tradition, took pictures for the folks back home. “Yes, our lovely Julie was a big hit with this old Cuban tradition. The crowd loved her. We’re so proud of her. Oh, and by the way, that red jacket of Julie’s that Amy always loved. Well, it’s Amy’s now.” Everybody was taking pictures and saying shit like, “That peacock certainly does love that little girl.”

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Fucking tourists.

Damn bird ate two more children, burped and went to sleep. People took pictures of it sleeping.

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Then the tour got all messed up. First, we went to the Hemingway bar before the market…and they gave us just fifteen minutes go guzzle beer. I slapped a bunch of rejection slips that I hadn’t wrapped in fish and sent back to the editors onto the counter and was just about to challenge anyone in the house to show a bigger pile when this large old guy with a full beard slammed an even bigger pile down on the bar and started raving about this story he was writing about a guy who catches a giant fish that’s bigger than the boat he’s in and refuses to give it up even though keeping it is probably going to get his ass killed. I told him, “Good luck with that one, old man…but it’s never gonna fly.”

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We managed to guzzle three beers before the Change of Attraction Horns went off across the city, signalling the start of a new adventure and we were praying that it wouldn’t be another damn museum. But it sort of was…it as an outdoor courtyard area surrounded by historical buildings that looked like they would never survive another winter. I mean, some of them were worn down more than the steps inside the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I almost got lost in those canyons many years ago, and I think that’s why they don’t let people into the Tower anymore. Too many people were falling into the steps and never seen again. But some of these buildings reminded me of the worn down wall art you see in pictures of really really ancient civilizations, so ancient that their wall art looks like stone with bird scratchings. That worn down.

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Then I was attacked by the same cigar lady who tried to hit me up for ten pesos last year when I gave her only five. “Biff,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for you. Right here. All this time. Do you have my other five pesos?” I reached into my pocket and pulled out a big wad of Canadian Tire money (I always carry Canadian Tire money in my pocket, along with a roll of duck tape and a can of WD 40) and pushed it into her outstretched hands. She looked at the bills and smiled and said, “Gracias, Biff, you sexy bald guy.” And sauntered off into the historical courtyard distance.

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Next stop was this off-the-beaten-track dining room that was a fav place for American movie stars, gangsters and politicians way back when the Havana cars were new and had the original engines in them, back before the embargo that gutted half the buildings in Havana. But this place was still around and still serving freshly made pina coladas and that was just fine with me and Cass. Even the food was good, not that I can remember what it was, but I do remember the melba toast. It looked so good in the basket, and I was the last one to reach for a piece and when I did, I bit in hungrily and knocked a tooth out of my head. Right in the front, course, so pardon me if I don’t smile as I write this. Wouldn’t want anyone to fall into that gap while they’re reading and never be seen again.

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WARNING: When in Cuba, don’t eat the melba toast. And stay away from peacocks.

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A few more pina coladas later, we were on the bus again and off to Morro Castle where they sell cigars and have lots of cold Cristal beer. The castle is massive and was built in the 1500’s to keep pirates and the English (who were at war with Spain) out of Havana. We’d been here the year before and tried to buy some cigars in the cigar shop but gave up under the pressure of a mob of crazy tourists shoving money at the too few clerks, yelling, “I want these cigars! I want these cigars! Here’s my money! I want these cigars!” Stick a fine cigar under a Canadian’s nose and see where the Mr/Ms. Nice Canadian goes. This year, we avoided the cigar shop and found out later that the crowd broke out into a big ol’ NHL fist fight. A fist fight.

Over cigars.

Wtf.

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The entrance to the interior of the castle was blocked by a woman demanding pesos and another, elderly, woman asking to trade a Looney for a peso. I said no to both. Cass and I had our destination of choice chosen…the bar. The cold Cristal beer. A chance to sit in the Veradero heat and just relax while the Cigar War waged on in the battle field across from the bar. After a few quickly guzzled beers, I felt a strange stirring in my bowels and left my camera with Cass while I went off in search of the potty.

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Unfortunately, the potty was inconveniently located beyond the woman asking for pesos and the elderly woman wanting to trade Looneys for pesos. Convenient for them. I asked the woman asking for pesos if I could visit the potty to make a deposit. She looked at my strangely and then pointed at the elderly woman. Being wise in the ways of elderly women with Looneys for pesos, I gave her a peso and declined the Looney. This brought smiles all around and a third, portly, woman gestured for me to enter the interior of the castle.

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We walked out into a courtyard and into a street that wound through walls of rock with doors and windows and people sitting in the doorways and leaning out the windows. It looked like they lived here. I wondered…cigar makers? Canon operators waiting for the English and the pirates to attack? Holy Guardians of the Toilets? Anything was possible as the portly woman led me down another street as the folks in the doors and windows kept close watch over me. The street widened and it seemed hard to believe that we were actually inside a building, but it was a gargantuan building constructed of solid rock and so convincingly immune to the English and the pirates.

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However, I was beginning to lose my bearings as we turned down another street and I started wondering how many tourists had ventured down these streets with the portly woman, never to emerge from the bowels of the castle. I wondered if some of the people watching me were former tourists who’d journeyed so long and so far into the castle that they’d forgotten who they were and just lived out their lives in dazed non-remembrance of their previous lives as they stared out the windows and doors or Morro Castle. God, I thought, I hope Cass doesn’t drink my beer.

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Just as I was about to give up all hope of ever seeing my daughter, my camera and my beer again, the portly woman stopped by a door, unlocked it with a large silver key, opened it and gestured for me to enter. This was it, I thought, this is how they do it. You walk through the door and they slam it behind you. Years later, you’re staring out a window, watching the victim after victim being led into Morro Castle oblivion. But nature was churning inside me and about to take things into her own hands so I walked in. And I sure as hell didn’t expect to see what I saw.

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It was one of the most modern potty set-ups I’d seen in ages, like the 21st Century time travelling to the 16th Century. And, of course, the inevitable table with discreetly folded portions of toilet paper for the bargain price of just one peso. At that moment, a hundred pesos would have been a bargain. I bought two portions and headed into the immaculate stalls.

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On the way out, the portly woman smiled at me and nodded approval. Guess I did a good job. She accompanied me out and locked the door behind her. I just wondered off quickly, hoping that I didn’t make any wrong turns along those castle streets and end up wandering around for life.

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Back at the bar, my beer was still sitting on the table. Cass smiled and nodded approval. Damn…word gets around.

(BTW, our tour guide was almost eaten alive by a baby under the evil influence of the peacock.)

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Cuba Day 2: Don’t Look On Top of the Bed

Somehow my daughter, Cass, and I survived the second day in Veradero. I’m not sure how. We should have perished in a flood of rum, beer and Spanish coffee…not to mention that I was suffering from a bad case of flu. Fucking flu. Got it a week before leaving for Cuba, but I wasn’t going to let it get me down. Sun and rum. Doesn’t do a thing to clear the flu but it sure as hell does a lot to bury the symptoms so deep that you know it’s somebody else doing all the coughing and you might even advise them to spend a little time in the sack instead of spreading that shit all over the Veradero landscape. I call it alternative treatment of the fucking flu.

Or something like that.

But we survived the second day and woke up Easter Monday to Enya playing softly but loudly over the pool area. I turned over in my bed and heard a sloshing sound. I turned some more and heard more sloshing. More turns, more sloshing. I called out to Cass in the next bed, “Cass! Wake up! Tell me…am I sloshing? “

She said, “Uhhhhh.”

“Are you awake? I think I have a problem.”

“Uhhhhh.”

“Hey…shithead…am I sloshing?”

“Yeeeaaaahhhhhh.”

So I was sloshing. But could I be sure of that? I’m not sure how much I trusted where the second opinion was coming from. I didn’t think it came from a place of informed wakefulness. So I sat up. It was like sitting Rum Sloshing Blues.

Only one way to cure the Rum Sloshing Blues…fall back into the bed and go back to sleep. Which I did.

We missed breakfast. Again. But the 24 hour bar was still open (in fact, it seemed to always be open), so we started the day right: Spanish coffee. We walked around for a while talking about this and that, mostly that…and came across the pool bar where we acquired that most precious of pool food…the toasted ham and cheese sandwich…also the perfect companion to Spanish coffee.

After staring around at life in paradise, we decided it was time to head to the mall to get stuff we had on a mental list somewhere in one of our heads. We knew this would become clear to us once we arrived at the Plaza del America. We went back to the room to change into our mall clothing.

We had no idea what horrors were awaiting us in that room.

***

The maids in Veradero have this custom when they make your bed and do something creative with the towels. We’d experienced this last year and it was kind of cool.

But this year was different.

The first thing we saw was a mesmerizing blue towel that began to spin as soon as we looked at it. This was new to us. It wasn’t in any of the guide books that we hadn’t read and it was nowhere in any of the histories of Cuba that the tour guides from last year had described to us in intimate detail. This was new and probably not really a good thing.

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The towel spun faster and faster as Cass and I stood before it, shoulders bent forward, arms dangling in front of us. I kept thinking, What happened to our rum punches? Did we bring the rum punches with us? Did we leave our rum punches by the pool? I could sure do with a rum punch right now.

The towel lifted off the bed and flew out the balcony door in a flurry of blue terry cloth, crashed into a cluster of coconuts and bounced into the sky through an umbrella of palm leaves. Yeah, a rum punch would have been nice around this time, but Cass and I were still bent over in the hall (and I’m sure she was wondering where her rum punch was as well) when things started to get even weirder.

The beds were alive with all manner of towel and blanket swans. And they were talking.

Talking!

“Hey, gringos, where’s our rum punch?” said two swan blankets simultaneously as they pressed their heads together into a heart shape.

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“Si, hueleos, we want rum punch,” said two more swans, these ones towels, making the same heart shape, but there was anything but heart in their malevolent tone.

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Well…let me tell you…when you’re faced with talking swan towels and blankets wanting rum punch, all you can think of is…where did those damn rum punches go?

“Dad?” said Cass.

“Yeah, Sweetie?” I said.

“Where did those damn rum punches go?”

“I think we drank them, Sweetie.”

“Dad…is our bedding really talking to us?”

“Yeah, Sweetie…it is. In fact…”

“Rum punch, gringos, rum punch,” yelled a swan blanket wearing one of my daughter’s hats , as it jumped up and down on the bed.

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“Rum punch! Rum punch!” yelled another swan blanket, wearing one of daughter’s other hats. And it started jumping up and down on the bed.

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One of them jumped right off the bed and into my face. “Rum punch, guacho. Rum punch,” it hollered.

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Suddenly we were surrounded by towels and blankets screaming for rum punch. They were everywhere, hanging from the ceiling, bouncing on the floor and the beds, flapping crazily round our heads…

“Run punch!”

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“Rum punch!”

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“Rum punch!”

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We couldn’t take it anymore. We ran right through them and out the balcony door, sliding it shut with a loud slam as a mess of blankets and towels and hats piled into the door.

“Maybe we should just sit here and wait a while,” I said.

Cass nodded agreement and we sat, staring out at the palms and blue sky, with the sound of blanket and towel art beating madly against the balcony door. We looked at each other for a moment, smiled, and dozed off.

We woke up a while later. It was sunny, warm and…well…tropical. I looked at the table about the same time Cass did…and wonder of wonders…there were our rum punches in large wooden mugs. We looked at each other with mutual realization…we’d both fallen asleep and had the same nightmre.

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“Ha ha ha!” we said.

Just a crazy little dream. We were OK and we had our rum punches.

“I need to go to the washroom,” I said.

“Ha ha,” said Cass. “Don’t get et by talking towels on your way to the washroom, Dad.”

I stood up and turned towards the balcony door. Pushed up against the door was a pile of blankets and towels and hats.

Cuba 2015 – First Day

 

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(NOTE: None of the pictures shown here have anything to do with the first day other than they flowed out of the first day. ALSO NOTE: I went to Cuba in the throes of a serious bout with the flu and used vast quantities of rum for purely medicinal and spiritual purposes.)

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It’s downright disgusting how fast a week goes by. Especially when you’re having fun. Especially when you have just that one week with your daughter who you haven’t seen in three months and won’t see for another six months. Especially when there’s still snow on the ground where you live and, even though it’s going away, it’s still April and there shouldn’t be anything on the ground but grass and flowers. Especially when that one week is in Veradero, Cuba where the streets are dry and summery, where flowers burst out from the greenery everywhere, where the rum flows with pineapple and coconut milk through every minute of the day.

Well…maybe not every minute. We also made time for the rum punch, the Spanish coffee, the Cristal beer, the shooters and, yeah, the occasional shot of water…you know, to stay healthy.

However, pulling out of the driveway today wasn’t a crazy act of cheating death. The snow banks were melted enough that I didn’t have to pull halfway into the middle of the street to see if anything was coming. I honestly don’t know how I made it through this winter alive. I don’t know how anyone in this city or anywhere in the Atlantic provinces made it through this winter alive.

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But hey, fuck winter. Let’s talk about Cuba. I was there for a week with my daughter, Cassie Mae. She arrived a few hours before me and, by the time I stepped into the hotel, she was already a heroine for saving a drunken woman’s life. Apparently, she had to carry the woman out of harm’s way and let the woman have her sandals. But this is a long story best told by Cass whenever she gets her blog up.

The rest of the evening was rum punch and partytime. Neither of which I can recall, as much as I try. Which I take to be proof that it’s possible to drown memory with rum and wouldn’t it be cool if you could target certain memories and rum them out of your head? I’d definitely rum out the memory of the fried pig’s brains and onions that an old friend in the Albanian navy who jumped ship in Halifax tricked me into eating by telling me that it was considered a great delicacy the homeland he deserted when he jumped ship.

You have no idea how gross the feeling of pig’s brains and onions is as it slides around your teeth and tongue looking for taste buds to poison for the rest of your life.

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Back to Cuba: we slept in the next day, Easter Sunday. Till noon. Missed breakfast. But we checked the schedule for the rest of the day: Go to bar. Acquire two Spanish coffees. Go to pool. Drink Spanish coffees. Swim. Drink Spanish coffees. Lay in sun. Drink Spanish…oops…no more Spanish coffees. Go quickly to bar. Acquire two rum punches. Return to pool. Drink rum punches. Lay in sun. Swim. Drink rum punches. Lay in sun. Drink…oops. Back to bar. Acquire two toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. And two rum punches. Eat. Drink. Retrieve towels from pool. Go to beach…after acquiring two more rum punches. Acquire beach thingys for sitting and laying on. Drink rum punches. Swim in gorgeous green water. Return to thingys. Drink rum punches laced with sand. Lay in sun. Drink rum punches laced with more sand. Swim in gorgeous green water. Return to thingys. Drink…oops…plastic glasses filled with sand. Time to leave beach. First, though, fend off portly woman in bright flowered dress who wants to braid my hair. For five pesos. Leave quickly for bar. Go to dining hall saturated with enough rum to try a few new things with unfamiliar textures and markings that will never be seen on the store shelves of Freddie Beach. Allow happy Cuban man to fill two glasses of red wine and leave bottle on table. Apparently this makes the food taste familiar. Finish eating. Take bottle of wine and two glasses to the steps leading down to the pool. Smoke cigarettes while contemplating next move.

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Which turned out to be showers back at the room, change of clothing, a walk along the beach to feed the sand fleas with blood from our legs (after acquiring more rum punches) and back to the bar for more rum punches and socializing in a major flood of rum and beer and crazy drunk people.

Cuba.

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And we had six more days to go.

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