Cuba’s capital is something else. It combines the sun, the sea, history and art, the old with the new, and it can feel simultaneously joyous and sad. A place of uninhibited dancers and masterful musicians, where the simplicity and warmness of the people add a specific charm to its ambiance.
From the rooftop bar at Rolando’s casa particular I’m watching the crumbling faded buildings of Havana Centro, while the bartender, Leo, serves me a Cuba Libre. I take out the electronic cigarette that I brought from home, in my second try to give up smoking. Leo gives me and my “cigar” an awkward look as I begin to use it. “What is this strange thing?” he asks. “Is this how European cigars looks like? … Pero, amigo, wouldn’t you better try a real Cohiba cigar? I also have some Monte Cristo or Romeo y Julieta”. I stop for a moment and it hits me. I must be looking so pathetic and out of place with my fake cigar in the country of true, authentic tobacco masterpieces! So I decide to quit the stupid habit and bring on the new aroma.
“From this moment, every Cuba Libre, Mojito or beer will be accompanied by a cuban cigar! Damn, Leo, I think I should buy a full box of Cohiba just for myself. Let’s go and get some tomorrow”.
The next morning Leo, as promised, brings me to a cousin of his – at least that’s what he told me, most probably he doesn’t even know the guy’s real name. We enter a dodgy street, not far from casa particular. Here, two men are laying on the concrete in their attempt to repair an old blue 50’s Chevrolet that, probably, lived its last days. Next to them, some noisy boys are playing football in their dirty school uniforms. In front of an old decaying building, as most of Havana’s constructions are, two women are sitting and meditating at the street spectacle. At the balcony, a couple of white sheets freshly washed are waiting to dry in the humid air of the city.
Soon enough a jintero opens the door and we step inside his place. The powerful aroma of the cigars knocks my senses, as this stranger brings out a few boxes of them. In my intent of looking like I know what I’m doing, I approach the merchandise with interest, but no eagerness. As I am trying to figure out if they are the real deal, smuggled by workers outside the cigar factory, or just fakes, the guy hands me a paper, apparently signed by the government, that testifies the cigars are authentic.
You have to negotiate in Havana, it’s almost as you offend the people if you don’t. The jintero didn’t stop speaking until I appeared convinced of their authenticity. “Amigo, the best in Havana! Si amigo, orginales.” We finally agreed over 60 dollars per 1 box of 25 robustos Cohibas and another one of 20 Romeo Y Julieta.
I felt pretty good about myself and the way I handled the situation, and so, in exchange of the favor (Leo probably got a cut too, but nevertheless) I invite my new barman friend to lunch.
At first I thought about getting into a collectivo (shared taxi) and drive with Leo to Habana Vieja, where are plenty of nice traditional restaurants, with talented musicians and dancers.
But soon I realized I wasn’t in the company of a joyous, sharp, sexy lady that I’ve been seeing on the streets, turning their head at me. I was with Leo, who, as nice as he was, couldn’t complete the romantic scenario of that expensive experience. So I decided to abandon my original plan, and choose a more comfortable way.
At the corner of the street a women is selling pizza for the price of 10 CUP (around 40 cents). “Say Leo, what do you think about grabbing some pizza and after we go on the rooftop of the casa? I’ll buy us some drinks prepared by you. And, while enjoying a cigar and Havana at night, I’ll teach you all I know about how to conquer blonde women”. Leo, like most men in Cuba, wishes to get out of his country by convincing a western women to marry him.
“Oh, claro que si muchaho! I dream about teaching salsa in a dancing club in Europe one day. I know I have the moves for it!” he said as we reach the pizza lady.