I went down to the Centro de Negocios in Habana Vieja, near the big feria on the port, where I have gone to renew my visa for the last few years since it moved from the military compound in Nuevo Vedado. (Actually there was a brief intermediate period in a beautiful rundown building with moorish tiles on Aguacate where I was able to stroll in and out again immediately, but that was only for one year.)
It was ominously quiet and when I told the guy on the desk why I was there he shook his head and said I had to go to Reparto Flores, “Where?” asked Martin, when I told him later. “Exactly. You know that fair that is on in December? Way out past there. It’s on 186th.” Martin lives on Calle Zero, to give you some idea.
I’ve had a stomach virus for the last couple of days, so, great. Just what I needed. My taxi driver had waited - it seemed he already knew, and was relishing the $20CUC fare he was about to get. I was so debilitated in mind and body, and so keen to get the fucking thing over and done with, that I was just glad I didn’t have to think about finding another cab or worrying if I should be frugal and figure out which maquinas went out there.
Out at the compound I told a uniformed guy standing by a table of forms that I was there to renew my visa. He said, do you have stamps worth $25CUC? I said yes. He seemed surprised. Do you have you insurance? Yes, I said. More disbelief. I’ve done this so many times, I bring everything now. He forgot to ask if I had my rent receipts, but I’ve gone home before because I didn’t have them on me, so you better believe they were tucked inside my passport too. There were two queues, both under corrugated metal roofs. He directed me towards one. I had no idea how it would play out. Previously, at the Centro a woman collected your passport as you arrived, then eventually called your name. This was like the bad old days of Nuevo Vedado when a gaggle of people would wait and basically just fight to jump in first (in the end, the old “el ultimo” often doesn’t count for much).
Fortunately there was a very kind foreigner there who explained - in Spanish - that I should wait till they called. I said how can they call me if they don’t know my name? He said, they’ll say “el proximo”. OK. Quite a few people were waiting for stamps - I guess their other halfs had gone the 40 blocks or so to the nearest bank to get them, so that put them out for the next call, which came not too long after I sat down (about 30 minutes: that’s Cuban, for “not too long”).
Once I was inside being processed - there was no extra cola, I was relieved to see - I asked my processor if this move was temporary or permanent. She looked at my address (Centro Habana) and said, oh there are various offices - you could go to 17 and K (in Vedado).
WHAT THE FUCK?
Thanks Old Man in Habana Vieja for sending me on a $20CUC cab ride, when I could have taken a 20-minute walk (from my house, at least).
Well, at least it was done. All these hoops are clearly designed to discourage backpacker style tourism in favour of 10-day stays in expensive hotels. What the government here needs to realise, is that if they make all this easier, they can have both types of tourism, and make more money. Having more backpackers doesn’t mean less hotel stays; it just means more tourists in total. But if you make things difficult for them, they’ll just go to another country where it’s easier, like Canada, Australia, anywhere in Asia, other countries in Latin America - god knows, there is no shortage to choose from.
Later in the day I had to go out to Playa again, this time to pick up some money the wonderful Maribelle at the Canadian Embassy had organised to have transferred to me. I was pissed off at having to go out there again, but relieved to get the money and it was great fun to talk to her. She was interested to hear about the immigration offices, as they never have any idea. Nice to know I’m not the only one in the dark.
The two trips, along with my stomach bug, meant I wouldn’t be going to see Azucar Negra at CdlM Miramar, though HdP later in the evening is tempting. Last chance to see them and all that. I missed Tumbao Havana on Wednesday because the stomach thing was nasty and because there was a kick-ass storm that flooded the apartment and, no doubt, Calle 20 too.
Well, at least I saw them once. Think that is the mantra for this trip.
My last chance to see Havana D’Primera before they went to Venezuela (they have a gig at Varadero on Saturday but I don’t think I can get up to Matanzas) was a weird one.
I saw Alexander out the front and asked him when they left (Tuesday) and how long they’d be away. He said, “No, no, solo una semana.” Jaja - he knows me! So I’ll still be here! Should be able to see them one more time at least. I live to see that band. Bit of a problem when I’m back in Australia. I made sure I was leaving on a Wednesday so I could see one last HdP matinee. I am, as they would say back home or in Britain, a Havana D’Primera tragic.
I asked him if they had recorded Nadie sabe nada yet, because that song rocks my world and I think he said yes, but I was so surprised at the answer that I’m not sure I heard it right. I asked the Smoke Monstress for confirmation, but her mind had been elsewhere and she hadn’t heard. Once we were inside I told DJ Mandy and he said, well if you get it, think of me, I love that song! I said, of course, but I imagine if he doesn’t have it yet, then I probably misunderstood. I asked he if he had heard the Trabuco song written by Alex. He said, Es buenisimo! He’s an Alexander tragic as well.
Inside, the Casa seemed the usual busy Thursday night but once the band got going it was clear that things were a little different. I scooted right down the front as usual - you have to claim your territory, cause if someone else gets in there it can be hard to mark out a space - but in this case I needn’t have worried. Although the nights are nowhere near as lively as the matinees, usually Alexander and the band have people up dancing all through the set. Not tonight. Oh there were people dancing, but halfway back in the lane between the two sets of tables and chairs. At times people would get up then SIT BACK DOWN. Wait - what?
Alexander didn’t seem so bothered at first and attacked the set with his usual gusto but at some point gave up and left the stage after an hour and 15 minutes.
They started with Solo para ti - practice for Venezuela, I’m imagine. Their sets here have been almost all new songs and I’m guessing they don’t want to do that out of the country. It was a little ropey, as it always is when they haven’t played it for a while. That ended up being the only old song. I guess they would have done more, if they had hung around longer. Honestly more old songs might have played better to the crowd but then they might not have.
I enjoyed it as always but not sure the same can be said of some band members. Rodney gave a ginormous yawn at one point. They had a lot of sound problems: Jannier’s foldback wasn’t working at all for the entire gig I don’t think; the coros didn’t suffer at all. It always amazes me that bands that play the same venues week after week - sometimes multiple times a week - can have sound problems. Do things change that much on a day-to-day basis?
When the band wrapped up, Mandy put on some massively obnoxious tropical house samba thing and a huge portion of the audience finally got up off the arses and onto the dance floor.
Outraged doesn’t even cover it. This is the kind of poor behaviour one sees in my country.
Tomorrow: the ballet and La Reve, just to cover all the cultural bases.