Cuba Libre!

Let’s get this straight. This is a resort, not the anonymous urban hustle and bustle of Havana I fell in love with in 2013, with its diesel smell and uneven streets. Resorts in Cuba are a mixture of consideration and indifference – even farce. Everyone is playing a game. Inside the elevator the sign reads 10 personas. I like to think the resort is filled with personas caught somewhere between unrestricted freedom and social constraint.

There are the ones from the plane already in flip flops, their tans and ruddy noses carefully cultivated from prior visits south, who run strait for the lounge bar with their luggage still cold from 35,000 feet. You see them late at night in small groups of miss-shapen waists and open shirts. By day two they know the bartenders by name. They sport ‘bubba’ mugs of mohitos by the pool during the day. They live life large. So do their men…but in Speedos.

Many though crave privacy and speak in hushed tones. Couples whos routine lives need a routine stop in discount luxury. All-inclusives remove the complicated decision making of what to have for lunch or dinner. For a week their ‘adventure’ consists of a bus tour and a bottle of rum they won’t open back home. You see them strolling slowly around the resort in socks and sandals. They have limits.

Inevitably you’ll find the middle-aged adventure tourist who either came on a last minute “why not’ whim from their lives as teachers or marketing professionals, or they are obviously slumming. They pratice yoga. They wear Merrils and high-tech accessories, never speedos, and take side trips to markets in local towns, not being seen for entire days at a time until they pop up on the bus back to the airport. They pack lightly and smile confidently, knowing something we will never know.

For my part I deconstruct the group personas looking for individuation, re-branding them through careful observation. Broad-shoulders slinks away from her partner in her long clingy black dress. They can’t be married, their lives are so complicated back home. Lynda nudges me in complaint because they alone danced naturally, intimately – for a few seconds – to the lounge guitarist, before she floated to the bathroom. They were out of their Merrils now, looking as comfortable in casual dinner wear as they did around the pool earlier, flowing in sarongs.

El Senorita was more of a dilemma. She seemed at first to be the single woman looking for a group to connect with. Sixty anyway, she was joined on a bench after dark by a somewhat younger Cuban. For a moment we were distracted by an undertone whistle. It was familiar from other trips as a signal from young male hustlers looking to sell you anything after dark – a non-verbal shout to attract attention. Senorita got up and went to the bar. In seconds a young buck emerged from shaddows behind us, and, walking past the Cuban on the bench gave him a high five. To us it indicated they were in collusion and the Cuban on the bench had scored an adventure for the night with the older Senorita. It explained the small groups of fashionable Cuban men here and there on the grounds of the resort after dark. Look, whether it is romance or a cigar you are after, someone somewhere is looking to shill you out of your pesos. Good on El Senorita!

I probably look a sight worse to my fellow deconstructionist vacationers. For one I am neurotic enough to be hard to nail down. I have long straw-like hair for my age, and I wear the most obscure event and festival t-shirts like Rock and Rumble. I am forever changing clothes, like camouflage, because I brought too much, and I avoid the sun like Dracula. And, I prefer not to engage – giving only sideways remarks to Lynda as though she’s taking dictation on my scientific study. Well why not. I don’t party with my bubba mug and Speedos (anymore) and my own persona changes depending on my mood and anxiety level. In the end though, I appreciate the characters in my drama. They are after all just like us – trying to get through another winter back home; real people in all their glory, and perfect just the way they are. I feel safe here. Wait till the American’s return to Cuba.

Footnote: 6:00 am. Thursday March 19. Staff are watching a soap in the lobby bar. I can only pick out a word or two in the 1920’s period piece, “puta,” and “vamos.” The night bartender, housekeeping, front desk, and grounds staff hang out before the tourists awake, taking advantage of the soft couches and free coffees. Two of the characters on TV lock in a kiss that lasts for minutes as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” plays languidly. Staff are glued to the small screen, chattering and laughing in Spanish; a dreamy moment of hapiness. Spanning the entire wall behind the bar and crossing the large open lobby to the ceiling two stories tall is a mural of the cathedral in Santiago with the Sierra Madres in the background, and wispy clouds reaching up to blue sky. In the mural the small, colonial style houses adorn the street scape with Terra-cotta tiled roofs in imitation. It is still dark outside. I like this place.

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