Monday, August 23, 2010

habana vieja

august 23, 9:00 pm

Today we left early after breakfast and headed out for a tour of habana vieja (old havana). Touristy yet beautiful. Incredible colors, architecture, and people. We got a sense of touristy havana with its restaurants and fancy shops but also of the real havana with tiny streets. There were these rooms right off the street--when I would peak in I could see people, some old folks sitting crippled, some people in their kitchen--just living, feet from where I was walking. One moment stands out: seeing the huge truck maneuver its way through a ninety degree turn in one of those tiny streets...basically an alley. There were lots of little cars going by, little work vehicles, motorcycles.

We began our tour with our guide, Jesus (hey-zus). He's taking us on our trip to Santa Clara and Trinidad tomorrow. He showed us the forts there in old havana, the plaza de armas where they used to have spanish military exercises way back. He emphasized what a secure city havana was. There were huge doors to the city that would prevent boats from entering. It hit me how old that part of havana is--16th century. Ancient as far as I'm concerned. The architecture was stunning. I really think that's the first time I've seen colonial architecture. The stone was nicely worn, and massive. These are monolithic buildings. I mean, they're still here after 400-500 years. Incredible.

Lots of folks looking to make a buck off the tourists, of course. People selling books in the plaza de armas. One man made a sketch of my face in profile. On the back of some medical packaging. Nobody else really thought it looked like me. The beard is huge, and my nose is too pointy. I politely refused the "gift" because we were warned people would give you things and expect payment. I couldn't manage to get it back to him, though. So I gave him 1 CUC. Hopefully he was pleased to get a CUC, and not moneda nacional.

By the way, in that plaza we saw a group of police men that Jesus said are being taught some history about Havana. They only have to have a ninth grade education to become police officers, and he applauded their effort to educate them a little bit about their city's history. If only our policemen got free education...or do they?

At another plaza nearby (there were a few, and I don't really remember names) there was a cathedral that we walked through. Huge with beautiful organ music playing from up above. I was really moved by that, surprisingly. I guess I've never been in a church that big. Wonderful sound.

Lunch was in barrio chino (china town). There used to be a lot of chinese in Cuba. If I understood correctly, Jesus said that at a certain point they were basically treated like slaves. Now there are descendants. A few of the folks working at the restaurant we went to had almond-shaped eyes. Kind of exotic looking. The restaurant itself was described as one of the best chinese restaurants in havana. There were chinese people eating there when we went, so good sign I guess. It was a huge feast, as only the chinese can manage. I don't even know how many dishes. We were all exhausted from 2 hours or so out in the sun walking and listening to Jesus, so it was a VERY welcome respite. We had so many leftovers, which they packaged for us. Thank you sarah lawrence (or rather, you mom and dad) for paying for that lunch.

We all got home after the tour/lunch and Maya mentioned something about napping. Pretty much all of us went to our rooms and slept. Me and Michelle slept over 2 hours each. Woke up at 5 and hurried to the hotel MehiĆ” Cohiba to buy postcards. Matilde is bringing some back to the united states with her and has very kindly offered to put stamps on them for us and send them out. Only had mom and dad's address though! Send me addresses if you want to get a postcard. I think that since they're postcards and not letters that have to be opened and read by the officials, there is a good chance they'll get to the US in a couple weeks. Think they go through Mexico.

Dinner at the house...beans, rice, mashed potatoes, yucca, the usual cold plate of veggies, bread/butter, pineapple juice, watermelon, ground beef browned, and for dessert this banana and something else flavored custard, too sweet--as I'm now expecting to taste. After dinner, our first monday night meeting with Maya and Matt, plus Matilde. Talked about our trip to Trinidad, Santa Clara. We leave early tomorrow am. (8:30) Did some packing afterwards (we're gone 4 days) and got some music onto my ipod that I hadn't had time for before leaving home. Seems so long ago that I was in the car leaving for the airport in Columbus. Strange how that works. Remove yourself from where you belong and you immediately lose touch of what that place is. What is left is what it means to you, not necessarily what it IS. Wonder how my feelings will change.

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