An index of the Cuba series appears at the first post.
August 2, 2015
Today was marked by two key events: the baptism of Lorenzo’s great nieces and the trip to the beach house. I walked to their home around 9AM, and Lorenzo’s father let me in. My stuff was all packed into my roller bag. I was wearing my long white pants since they the only ones I’d brought that extended below the knee. The neighborhood Catholic church, where Lorenzo was baptized as a child, was a short walk away, but Lorenzo’s brother-in-law ran Thingamachinga in relays to get everyone there on time.
The church itself was fairly traditional in design, with some murals in addition to an ornate chapel. The baptism was a separate service from the Sunday mass. Around ten children were slated for baptism, including three from Lorenzo’s family. The service started without much ceremony; the priest simply started talking. Because the families were all talking and posing for photos, he had said a fair amount before silence fell. A microphone would have come in handy.
Lorenzo commented that the priest’s accent marked him as a Spaniard, and he mentioned as an aside that relatively few Cubans have adopted priestly orders. The priest asked several questions of the group, and he turned to me and asked if I remembered my own baptism. It was in Spanish, of course, and so I could only respond that “hablo ingles.” I tried to follow along with his homily, but I mostly remember him making a distinction between King David’s being crowned or being anointed. Lorenzo contributed a reading in his best scientific presenter voice, and the grandmother of his great-niece read the 23rd Psalm, the Lord is my Shepherd. I congratulated myself for recognizing it in another language.
When the time came for baptisms, the structure of the service broke down somewhat, and photographers elbowed each other for space. I hope some of my sotto voce comments to the intrusive and obnoxious videographer made it onto his recording. I talked a bit with the professional photographer, and we discussed equipment. I fired as many photos of Lorenzo’s family as I could. It was sweltering hot, though, and few people wanted to linger for large group photographs.
Preparing for the beach required that we refill our gallon jugs of drinking water. We trotted six empty jugs back over to Ruben’s house for a refill. Oh, the heat.
Lorenzo had a surprise for me when we headed east to the Playas del Este area. Our luggage had been piled atop Thingamachinga in its welded luggage rack, and the family had also rented a classic car to help shuttle us all out to the beach! The new vehicle was in the frame of a 1948 Cadillac, but the engine had been substituted with a diesel engine from an English truck, and the transmission came from a Russian truck. The speedometer seemed to be original in the otherwise stripped interior. Two drivers ferried eleven passengers (four were children) to the beach house.
Our first dinner at the beach house was delightful: roast beef with chorizo salsa, tarot root, beans, and rice. I was quite lost in the conversation, but the kids had a lot of fun in the inflatable turtle pool. As we finished eating, a powerful storm brewed up, with many lightning strikes near the house. The adult males, however, all collected their tennis racquets and headed for the squash courts. Remembering what happened to the Cristo statue, I stayed home to wait for it to blow over. I found myself thinking of the inventory I helped port in from the car; those four crates of long neck beers would not go to waste during the family’s week-long visit to the beach.
A man across the street walked home from the beach with a spear gun and a pile of fish. Thirty minutes later, people queued at his gate to buy the fish.
This resort appears to be for the use of Cubans rather than Europeans or Latin American tourists. My American eye has seen a fair number of posh resorts, and the town seemed fairly run-down, with trash lying uncollected on the ground at some street corners, grass growing through significant cracks in the side walks, and many a sun-bleached wall ready for some fresh paint. Lorenzo reminded me that cinder-block construction is very common for such hot climates. As was true for the family homes back in Havana, each bedroom at the back of the top and bottom floors featured a window air conditioner.
As the night continued, I learned that some members of the extended family were playing dominoes upstairs. I teamed up with Lorenzo in a team game to 100 points using 9-spot tiles. It was a hoot learning the dynamics of the game; they draw ten dominoes each to start, and only two points of extension are allowed. If you can’t play, you simply knock (you don’t draw additional dominoes, as I have seen in other variants). Of course, half the game is trash talk. When I learned that mixing up the dominoes is called “swimming,” I accused Lorenzo’s brother-in-law of doggy-paddling. When my joke was translated, they roared (and returned the favor when I swam). I am accustomed to playing games with precise people who put their game pieces down just so and who straighten the board when a piece goes askew. In Cuban dominoes, however, the style in which one places the tile on the table says quite a lot about how you feel you’re doing. Lorenzo’s brother-in-law, who has a substantial reputation for prowess in the game, places each domino with a flourish that demonstrates his contempt for the other team, caring only that it falls near its intended location and with the spots upward. I learned quite quickly that there’s a right way and a wrong way to curl the growing chains of dominoes!
Another Cuban tradition was reflected by the astoundingly loud noise from one door down and across the street. Extremely loud music was boiling out of the house. It was as loud in the closed room where I was writing as it would be if I were hosting a dance party. The music continued until after 11:30 PM, when I finally gave up to go to sleep. My interpretation is that Cubans treat their front porches as their principal living space. It’s certainly too hot to stay indoors during the heat of the day. Whenever we drove down the street in a residential neighborhood, we always had to be careful of people sitting on the curb or walking in a driving lane or playing street soccer or simply standing in a group in the middle of the street. I guess you could think of your community as an always-vigilant neighborhood watch. The downside is the “tragedy of the commons.” In this case, one person wants to listen to his music loudly. If he doesn’t, another will fill the void (as took place the following evening). Since there’s almost always at least one guy who wants to blast his music on a given night, there’s rarely a quiet evening. If they were playing their music indoors, the sound levels would be far lower and it wouldn’t be nearly as noticeable.
We had been at the beach house for about ten hours when my body told me it was time to go to sleep. The exertions of the past few days had left me able to sleep no matter the music filling the air.