Saturday, April 16, 2011

Not Havana any more

San Cristobal Paladar in Centro Habana. Pic Fiona Dunlop.

It's always hard to write about Havana when I'm not there, so forgive the absence. Hope y'all don't tune out permanently. The paucity of new timba doesn't help inspire me either (still obsessively playing 70s Roxy Music) and the recent line-up changes are terrifying - though Havana D'Primera are holding the fort, bless them. If you haven't bought their new demos on iTunes, get your credit card out and hop to it. You'll find two by searching for the band name as I've written it, and another - Al final de la vida - can be found on the Planet Records compilation Latino 42 (that one's credited to Habana de Primera, just to keep you on your toes.) They are all good, although I'll be interested to see how they change, if at all, for the album. (That's code for I hope they do. They're all certainly better live.)

Meanwhile, timba geek Lani alerted me to the existence of a blog called Here is Havana, written by a yuma who is married to a Cubano and lives in Havana, and has done for the last nine years. It seems to be updated reasonably regularly (about once every 10 days). It's idiosyncratic - yes, yes, I know; pot, kettle, black - and that's fine. That's how you get the full sabor, I reckon, though there's always the risk of rubbing some people up the wrong way.
(I'm well aware I'm not to everyone's taste, but when you write sin pagar, hey, you get to write whatever the fuck you want however you damn well please. That's my motto anyway.)

Among the observations and anecdotes on her blog are useful travel tips. And in fact, the "gringa next door", as she calls herself, is a travel guide writer who has parlayed that experience into an iPhone app called Havana Good Time that can be taken with you.* (That link goes to the US store, but it was available in the Australian store as well, so do a search in your country.)
I was a bit disappointed not to see my lovely mates from the fantastic San Cristobal Paladar in her recent update. Hopefully they'll make it into the next one.

So to make up for that, I'm going to give them another puff here. This is what I wrote after I went there on January 1:

Yarima and Lars stopped by at 1 to go to breakfast - a dashing new paladar has opened on San Rafael near Lealtad, in a restored old solar that has marble columns inside. The patio has some ferns and original tiles. The menu is extensive - which is a relief. It’s not a bargain, but it’s not horribly expensive either. They have a bunch of cold entradas and when they told us we could get all the of them on a tasting plate, we thought that sounded excellent and ordered two. They held tortilla, two kinds of fish, octopus, cheese, gherkins and mushrooms, prosciutto, crispy fried boniato, and some other tiny little unidentifiable deep fried balls that were excellent. It was awesome to just chill and chat and pick at the food. And not have to deal with a plate piled high with rice, beans, salad and a giant slab of protein cooked in oil. $6 a plate. Not whole lot of food on it but two were enough between the three of us, given it was early in the day. The staff are chatty without being pushy. Very cool place.

I've also found this review from the Financial Times by Fiona Dunlop. She took some nice pics, including the one at the top of the post, and I hope I'm not breaking any copyright laws by repeating them here, seeing as I was always too busy stuffing my face to take photos. She has her own travel blog as well.

The address is: San Cristobal Paladar, San Rafael, near the corner of Lealtad, Centro Habana, tel 860 1705.

Another blog I've been wanting to write about for a long time is Mexico City resident Azul Carmona's Sandunguera!, which focuses on Cuban music (naturally). Blu (as she calls herself on twitter) posts lyrics and historical titbits of music info - such as who was Sandunguera, exactly? - news and tour dates of timba groups for Mexico DF. In Spanish only - time to practice peeps! Also she speaks excellent English if you feel inspired to contact her.

As ever, there is Richard Curzon's fantastic Mucho Swing for music and dancing clips, and Barry Cox's amazing rumba blog - loads of good historical stuff there too - Vamos a guarachar.

Kudos to all the great folk who are obsessed enough dedicated enough to bring the Cuban joy to all of us on the outside.**

* Text corrected. See comment from the gringa herself, below.

** Also kudos to the craziest most dedicated of all, the guys at


hereishavana said...

Hola from la Habana!

You are SO right: not getting paid for the knowledge/words/experience? I can write whatever I damn well please! It's liberating (except when we can't keep pan on the table and my hubby runs out of his expensive 'suave' cigarettes).

Your blog is great btw. People have been trying to get me to go to Alexander Abreu's matinee at the casa miramar, but I haven't had the ganas. you helped convince me!

One wee correction: I didn't parlay the blog into the iapp: Ive been writing guidebooks for over 10 years (incl lonely planet's cuba once upon a time), so have always had the travel gig in my back pocket. The blog is a coping mechanism for la locura de cuba!!

PS - will definitely check out the San Cristobal paladar for next version of Havana Good Time.
Ciao pescao.

TimberaMayor said...

Glad to see you're still around and thanks for the plethora of links. I need to get in touch with Azul like we talked about last year :-)

So when are you going back so I can live vicariously through you? jajaja

Yemaya said...

Hey Conner, Sorry - I did know you'd written the travel guides - had a brain snap when I wrote the post. Will correct it over Easter.
Actually Alexander's Tuesday matinee is a lot less fun now that people are hip to him - just too crowded, although it might not be so crowded with summer coming and less tourists. They just got back from Peru so now could be a good time. They're off to Europe in June for two months, so do it before then.

Hey TM, I'm thinking of late August thought I've done absolutely nothing to to prepare for it. Will start working on it soon.

Anonymous said...

Please, more idiosyncracy ;-) -Richard

hereishavana said...

So thanks for the correction (whoa, diligence and follow-up/through - how refreshing! too much time in Cuba, don't you know? My NYC cynic level is on HIGH).

I went to San Cristobal this weekend but we turned back when we saw the menu: $8 for bistec de cerdo? So hard to pay that given our situation and well, there are some good cajitas for $1. Ill have to wait for some visitors to invite me out to dinner to review it!

Yemaya said...

Well it is a paladar - and a posh one at that. I thought I made that clear. There are plenty that are more expensive (the Asahi around the corner, is good, but charges a flat $12 fior every dish) but I'm not sure they are better. I had no idea how much the bistec de cerdo was - when I go to a paladar, that is the very last thing I want to see on my plate.
What I liked about it was the fact that it had things that you don't see in other restaurants on the menu. After five weeks in Havana of congris with every meal that's worth paying for (if you can afford it), because I tend to lose my appetite and just stop eating otherwise.
My big problem is that wheat makes me sick, so pizza/pasta is out for me, leaving the limited options even limiteder (!). So the Cristobal is great for me. Also, staying in Centro on Belascoain, the quiet is a godsend.
I did almost send myself broke treating bunches of friends there last time, but if they refrain from eating everything on the menu this time, I might be able to extend an invitation to you on my next trip ... Would definitely like to meet up.