By: Stephen Humphreys | BHAweekly.com
Emily would have freaked out (and it is self-evident that my ex-wife could not take it any more) if she had seen me out on the Malecon by myself at 4 a.m. trying to photograph the crumbling colonial ruins of Old Havana glowing in the light of the full moon and Venus reflected from the sea.
But I know how to watch my back even while concentrating on a photograph, and how to recognize which of the late-night drifters are malos chicos who mean me harm, and how to catch a “ride” down the wide walkway by the sea-wall with the more benign denizens. When the sharks that were circling from afar in pitch black corners started closing in, I would stop and talk to some lonely fisherman atop the wall, and the tiburones would retreat back into the watery shadows.
As I was walking I tried not to pass one group of twenty-something shirtless males until it drew even with a separate group. Strangers, and uncertainty how they would react to a robbery-murder on the Malecon, kept the tiburones tentative. And every so often a patrulla would roll by and the sharks would scatter at the sight of the clunky old Russian police car. Of course I knew at some point I would have to veer off the Malecon and into the dark street leading to Calle Blanco. I just had to time it so that there was enough of a gap in the sharks that I could get to my door before they could close in for the kill. And I kept eyes in the back of my head in case I needed to make a run for it.
I had noticed that the full moon was going to stoop low over the waterfront when I took Leydanis to eat at La Alfombra in nearby Centro. That was a new experience for us both. She had never had calamari before, and still hasn’t because they had none when she ordered it. She ordered the leg of lamb, and they didn’t have that one either. She finally settled on veal with mushrooms, mainly because she had never eaten a mushroom before, either, growing up in Santa Clara. So there was something exotic for each of us here in Havana.
I tried the onion soup and it was a fracaso. It was very creamy instead of having the consistency of a broth, and the cheese, like all cheese, or what passes for cheese in Cuba, was terrible. Never order the cheese down there. That is one of the many substances for which they have to make do with improvised substitutes.
Leydanis had a tuna salad as an appetizer, with canned tuna and bad cheese. That was not a bad try, though, because there is always a chance that the island nation will serve up fresh fish. It is not like the old days when I had lunch in an exclusive Party restaurant with the Foreign Minister and ordered fish, a rare delicacy in Cuba at the time, only to discover, when the waiter uncovered the dish with a flourish, a frozen cod fishstick that must have been imported from Gdansk.
Vestiges of that Cold War reality still exist, but there is also a new Cuba,...
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