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News from Havana

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Yesterday I decided to skip the VIP breakfast to see what was happening downstairs. There was a live band. At breakfast. After some very loud fruit and jamon I went for a walk along the shore, and passed another musical happening – an al fresco dance with couples twirling around. At 11.30 in the morning. It was 32 degrees. There’s certainly a different kind of energy here.

I got back to my room to find a welcome note from my maid (her name is Lula) and on the wash stand was written this in soap crystals:

 

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I wasn’t sure of the tipping etiquette, but after a bit of research established that the going rate is 1 cuc (about a euro) a day, so I thought I’d rearrange the letters:

 

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I guess I’ll find out tomorrow if my gesture was the right one or whether I’ve committed a major faux pas

 

Then we were taken for lunch. We’re actually staying in Vedado, which is some way from the old city, but you can tell how close you’re getting as the newer European cars give way to old American models. It really is like being in a 1950s film. I’m not really into cars but you can’t help being impressed by the sight of so many beautiful machines. They’re so colourful and immaculately kept, a product of Cuban isolation which meant spares were like gold dust. And there’s a very distinctive atmosphere – burning oil. We’re being taken to a different restaurant for every meal, so we should eventually get the whole gamut of Cuban cuisine. Today was tuna stuffed peppers with croquettes and cheese followed by prawns on a bed of potatoes, peppers and green beans. It was hosted by Maestro Leo Brouwer, the founder and presiding genius of the festival. He’s a slight man of enormous warmth and dynamism.  His mission, when not teaching,  writing pieces for the world’s most famous guitarists or conducting symphony orchestras, has always been to take music to the people. Not just the standard classical repertoire but all of it – especially that which is new and evolving. The maximum ticket price anyone pays at festival concerts is around a dollar, and each concert has a kind of consciousness-raising dedication. Ours is to paz e igualdad para hombres y mujeres.

 

After a siesta Ariel and I had a rehearsal session. Lubricated by the Havana Club, this got better and better as we went on. In the evening we were then taken to dinner. I thought at first we were in a state-run establishment and that I was eating a government owned lobster (Real Havana says the government owns all the lobsters), but in fact you can buy them in the market and we were in  a private restaurant. It was delicious.

They do sunsets too.

 

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