Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Commie Whores

So we're sitting at Pekin, a dank dive we were lured to by a taxi driver who said the Buena Vista Social Club was playing there. In Havana, saying the Buena Vista Social Club is playing somewhere is a rouse to get English-speaking tourists (or fans of Wim Wenders) to follow you anywhere. Obviously, the legendary Cuban musicians were not playing playing at Pekin. Aside from a small man with a small guitar (which I'm not even sure he knew how to play), there was no music at this tiny watering hole.

Pekin was, in fact, a whore bar in Havana's Chinatown. Yes, they have a Chinatown in Havana, but strangely, no Chinese people. They also have lots of prostitutes in Havana, but strangely no brothels or strip bars. They do, however, have whore bars. What, you may ask, is a whore bar? Well, it's a place where prostitutes display their wares while waiting to get picked up. It's not sanctioned by the government, but it is tolerated. Cabbies often drop their unsuspecting fares at these dens of iniquity. We never told the cabbie we were interested in ladies of the night, but I guess we looked like we were. And I assume that if we partook in the pay-per-play action, the cabbie would have gotten spiffed.

I was with my wife and her friend and her friend's husband. It was our first night in Cuba, the forbidden fruit of travel destinations. Growing up in Miami, I'd always dreamed of visiting our Latin neighbor to the South. Because of some ridiculous embargo imposed by our imperialist government after Castro overthrew Batista in 1959, it's been illegal for us Americans to go to the island, which is less than 300 miles from my childhood home. While planning a trip to Playa Del Carmen for a wedding, I decided to give a big ol' Fuck You to the The Man and his stupid rules. Before Mexico, we would go to Havana, illegally.

I'd imagined Cuba as it was depicted in The Godfather Part II - loud salsa music, extravagant parties, Hyman Roth, and Fredo. It wasn't. I'd imagined it to be a mix between Vegas, South Beach, and New Orleans. It wasn't. It was actually a dirty and desperate land filled with whores, both male and female, forced to sell themselves because an idealistic dictator couldn't accept the fact that his utopian visions never came true.

Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against whores. Shit, I love whores! I just don't like being in a place where the top occupation is whoring. And I'm not just talking about sex. In Cuba, whoring encompasses swindling, stealing, scamming, drugging, pimping and yes, banging. Because of the socialist economy, most Cubans make about $15 per month. To survive, whoring is the only option.

Before Pekin, we had been swindled no less than three times. First, my wife and her friend were forced into buying three mangos and an apple for thirty convertible pesos (forty bucks!). Then, my wife's friend's husband was conned into supplying mojitos and diapers to two guys claiming to be playing with the Buena Vista Social club that night. They weren't. Next, we were sold a box of fake Cuban cigars that tasted like they were sold at a Kum & Go in Greeley.

Getting suckered was our initiation. It was also our charity. The longer we were in Havana, the more we realized that these poor Cubans need our money. Unlike the Cubans that beat me up in high school, these Cubans are desperate. Even for us Americans, everything is really expensive. A meal, which is guaranteed to be sup-par could cost $200. Toilet paper and toothpaste are considered luxuries. Not much else is available and if it is, it's out of reach to the average Cuban. I felt bad for the communist pawns we came across. So, the swindling didn't hurt too bad.

After Pekin, we ended up at El Floridita (that's right, they have a web site), supposedly Hemingway's favorite bar. There, we drank with expats and travelers and learned the ways of survival in Cuba. First, stay away from the whore bars. We were with our wives, so that definitely made sense. But also, according to the seasoned johns, the prostitutes at whore bars are expensive. At regular bars though, the prostitutes could be had for a sandwich and a beer. Next, stop giving the locals money. Soap and pencils will suffice. Finally, don't eat, just drink. My wife disregarded this wisdom and spent the last couple of days in Havana on the toilet.

We left El Floridita chock full o' knowledge and ready to suck the marrow out of our fair destination. The next day, we found the real cigars, which were a little puff of heaven. We drank daiquiris at The Hotel Nacional. We found music that, while not played by the Buena Vista Social Club, sounded pretty damn good. We flirted with the prostitutes and we conned the con men. Cuba became what I hoped it would be.

Eventually, we began to understand this place. We understood why it was filled with great people that work the streets for bocadillos. We understood why grown men clamored for erasers and toys intended for small children. We understood why deodorant use was limited to once a week. We understood why stores had nothing to sell other than old toaster parts and crackers. We understood why Cuba had more scammers than Nigeria.

Castro and his followers are stubborn. They wanted to create an idealistic land where nobody is better than anybody else. Like the reality of an island filled with good looking hookers, this isn't as great as it sounds. Human nature dictates that individuals want to get ahead, or at least know it's a possibility. So, if doing that within the system is not possible, they're going to hit the black market with whatever they have - their genitals, their broken English, or their shitty cigars. That's Cuba, a nation of opportunists stripped of their ability to pursue opportunities.

For me though, I enjoyed being in a socialist state. There's something very refreshing about a lack of overt consumerism. I've been to some of the world's most remote destinations and I've found a Starbucks or a McDonald's. Not in Havana! On TV, they don't have commercials either. And, with the exception of propaganda, there are no billboards or ads littering the streets. Plus, because you can't make improvements to buildings without using overpriced government supplies, the whole country looks like it's stuck in the early sixties. Sure beats the gentrified subdivisions of our American inner cities.

Cuba ain't that bad. If you like whores and you don't like shopping and you don't need to eat much, follow my lead and embrace Castro's utopia. Don't worry about the embargo. We had no problem sneaking in and out. I even smuggled back some contraband (no, not whores). Viva la revolucion!

***Editor's Note: If you or anybody you know works for a government agency that busts people for illegally going to embargoed countries like Cuba, please remember that this posting is complete fiction. I've never gone to Havana and never will until the embargo is lifted. I also didn't urinate on the statue of Che Guevara in Vedado. Thanks.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You are right on the money! You put to words what I was feeling!
Thank you.

That being said one thing came to mind about the US of A while I was there.
Don't you think it is funny that you come from "The Land of the Free"
'except this' ,
'oh and except that' ,
'oh and that too...'???

Just saying.....
Peace out!