september 1, 10 pm
Today felt like a bit of an adventure. After going to the second day of Spanish, I struck out on my own.
Our classes in Spanish this week are to access our levels and determine how many classes they need for us, and who is exempt from taking Spanish. There are a few who are excellent speakers already and most of these grew up speaking Spanish. So they get to take an extra class.
This is also the week we register, so I guess I'll go over our course load here: we all take Spanish (unless, of course, we test out). Our second course is also predetermined. We each study at the CEDEM, which stands for something something center for estudios demográficos. Each week we meet with a researcher who shares what he/she is working on, and then we do a site visit that ties in. That's every Friday for a few hours. Eventually we will develop our own research topic and receive a tutor who will advise us and help us right a paper (it's basically our conference work for the semester).
The third and fourth classes are up to us. I'll be taking something at ISA, the Instituto Superior de Arte. My fourth class will be at the University of Havana. We can basically take anything we want, from any of the various colleges (facultades, I think is what they're called). I've been hemming and hawing about whether to take dance or piano at the conservatory. I heard from Matilde that she didn't think the conservatory teaches latin jazz piano. It does seem that they're focused on producing top quality musicians for the concert stage. I get the impression that traditional cuban musical forms aren't emphasized as much, except in percussion. And since no one really knows this information (we haven't even contacted ISA yet since they don't start until October) it's frustrating to try and make decisions based on heresay. A bunch of my friends want to take dance, so that seems like the more fun and less risky option. The piano option seems more risky because I might be expected to study Beethoven and Bach just like I could anywhere else. But I'm here, so the point is to find what is uniquely Cuban. At least in terms of piano, for me.
Anyway, fourth class: I was tossing around notions of the highly lauded biology class (the student evaluations from past years for the course are through the roof). It's cool because you get to go on trips and learn about bugs and birds and stuff like that. And my friends are all signing up, it seems. The other option that appealed to me is the class Arte Cubano. Since I've been here I've been so awed by the setting, especially the architecture and the public spaces and the way people use these things. This art class focuses on art as well as architecture, history, and urban planning. So it sounds like it could be right up my alley, and I think I might be a little more enthusiastic about it. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, I'm less enthusiastic about.
Today I wandered through the part of Havana right below the University. I got lunch on the street: una bocadito (small sandwich) with ham, and a batido (kind of like a smoothie but no yogurt to thicken and it was way too sweet, as everything fruity is here). I really wish I had my camera for my afternoon wanderings. I'll go back and take some pictures.
While I was walking a man said hi and started talking to me about the house where Buena Vista Social Club would operate. Apparently Compay Segundo lived there or something. It has a restaurant and a bar, and he took me there to try a negrón, which he said was much cheaper at the bar. When the tab came he told me I didn't have to tip them--he said they were kind of rich at the restaurant. But then he mentioned that HE could use the tip money to buy his 5-month-old milk. Obviously he hadn't just been taking me around for nothing. Since he was nice and I had a good time talking with him, I gave him 1 CUC (the change from the bill). But next time I'll be more wary when someone decides to show me around.