Cuba: Part Tres
My mother was so upset when she discovered her first-born was to be a boy that she cried, exclaiming in between sobs that she had wanted a child that wrote poetry not played sport. This one’s for you ma.
Bu first, allow me to paint you a picture. I’m currently sitting in a piazza of our casa particulare, owned by Trindad locals Isabella and Julian, with sandwich con queso so bland it tastes like floury tyre (lord do I miss good bread, where are you, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Multi-Seeded Batch Loaf, never again will I take for granted those little M and S ‘eat well’ stickers or the regal purple signage and italicised script of Tesco’s Finest range). We had decided after a week of the ‘upmarket’ Havanan hotel, which reeked of desperation and middle class Spaniards, to opt for the real Cuban experience and stay with a local family. It was a bold move. I bloody love hotels – the sight of those uselessly small hotel body lotions, the quasi-magical ability of your bed to make itself after breakfast, the rush of pure adrenaline as you escape for the lunch buffet with a clandestine homemade sandwich hidden upon person, the little chocolates on your pillow before bed… You get the point. I like hotels yeah. So, having managed to keep our heads down on the bus from Havana, all the while feeling a bit like a character in The Fugitive, we arrived in almost pitch darkness at 5.30 pm to Trinidad.
Trinidad, perched on the Southern coast of Cuba, is described in a somewhat lacklustre fashion by the guide book as a ‘place where the clocks stopped in 1850’. This does not do it justice. It looks like a film set for a Western; any moment I expect Clint Eastwood to come out of the local bar, all surly and sexy, and lasso me and all the local women and ride off with us into the sunset on horseback. I say this to my brother, he grunts. Anyway, Trinidad looks exactly like you’d imagine a Colonial town to: the streets are cobbled, the pastel-coloured mansions have Italian-inspired red-titled rooftops and capacious outdoor spaces, the furniture is as French Renaissance inspired as the chez long itself. The town is a mass of arches and balconies, shuttered porticoes (I took this phrase from the guide book, I’m not quite sure what it means), painted doors and decaying wood. Everything is in that beautiful state of disrepair that kitchen shops in Swiss Cottage always try, and fail, at.
We walk through the town and the locals sit in rocking chairs by the bars of their windows, seeming to have no knowledge of the beauty of their setting or the oddity of their situation, and stare with wonderment at you, staring with wonderment. The plaza is full of life and music, with the local band playing and everyone dancing the rumba (we don’t attempt, far too few mojitos for that kind of lark) and it’s simply glorious. Glorious because it’s surreal: they’re dancing in a town that looks like a Disney film set, with no money and one shitty type of bread, but they don’t know of their limitation, of their constraint, they only know of their town and their own lives. And for a brief second, I am jealous. They seem to have so much more than us, but why? What sustains people here? In the absence of television, or books, or internet, what makes their lives full? The only answer I can seem to find is each other. In the absence of all other distractions, perhaps we retreat back to that original, innate distraction, the very same that caused Adam to make the world fall and Romeo to prance like a prat on balconies. The quietest and most honest distraction of them all: love.
Because there is a unique quietness and stillness here unlike anything I have ever come across: even in the quietness of our homes in London, the knowledge the smog of the City, the bustle of Oxford Street and the crowded carriages of the Circle Line, are forever lurking. Here, life disappears. As day slips into night, the people too slip out of their daytime bustle and right now, at 6pm, it is perhaps the quietest quiet I have ever heard. It is the quietest I have ever felt. Out of this quiet, I wrote a shoddy poem. It’s about how, in the absence of variety and possibility, people must surely be sustained by one thing: each other. The poem will never make it into an anthology but, with any luck, it might one day make it onto my mother’s bedroom wall.