Day eight

By Kevin Lizarazo
January 14, 2012

Carlos Pacheco, arguably the friendliest bartender in all of Havana, greeted the group with smiles and good conversation. Carolina Hidalgo/JWW

As I write this, I am a mile high in the sky, headed back to the frigid New York weather that I can’t quite seem to get accustomed to.

I’ve met many people in Cuba, some of which have given me their phone numbers to keep in touch. I’ve met people like Joel Offeril, a 39-year-old bicycle taxi driver who tried to get me to come to a restaurant he receives a kickback from. His hustling quickly turned into a discussion about how the Cuban healthcare model saved his life after a horrible workplace accident left him burned and scarred many years ago. He also told me about his expenses as a bicycle taxi driver and how his salary still doesn’t quite cut it, and how he does not like having to buy expensive groceries at the market when his family’s ration cards don’t cover the food required for the month.

I’ve met Carlos Pacheco, an elderly bartender at the Inglaterra who writes songs for his wife and wishes that the Cuban economy would change so that his 26-year-old daughter wouldn’t have to leave the country in order to prosper.

I’ve photographed, filmed and spoken to Rodovaldo Suarez, a 34-year-old blind guitarist and singer-songwriter. Suarez believes that music is like the air that he breathes, and has sung since he was able to talk. He told me about the campesino influences in his music and his journeys to France and Italy to play at concerts. He has two objectives: to make a living and to be noticed. Suarez tells me that the only things he can do are sing, playing guitar and sit on the sidewalk playing his original songs right next to La Bodeguita del Medio, the famous bar where Hemingway got his mojitos and where state-employed musicians usually perform and drown Suarez out with their multiple instruments.

At La Dichosa, a bar in Old Havana on Calle Obispo, Dagoberto Lopez-Rodriguez passionately tells me with ron (rum) on his breath that salsa is merely the result of the combining of various derivations of Cuban “son,” which is where all Latin-American music comes from, he claimed.

I’ve been out of the United States before. I’ve been to Spain, Italy and France, for vacation. Even in my youth, I still felt a decidedly American presence during some moments in those countries. In Cuba, I didn’t feel any of it. Castro and the Revolucion did a good job of removing the essences of Americana from the streets. I was detached from my smartphone and from the world at large for a week. I’d looked forward to Cuban coffee seven days a week instead of a venti caramel frap. Living in a socialist state is incredibly different from a capitalist state. I am grateful to have been a part of the team that spent a week in this rather beautiful, antiquated city.

I look forward to organizing the entire experience into a format to share with the rest of my peers in the United States, so that they may appreciate a piece of the truth of the Cuban way of life.