Red Hot Cuban Love: Denied!

Forbid me to go somewhere and… I probably won’t go. It’s not sheep mentality, but cheap mentality. Getting caught traveling to Cuba can land you a fine up to $65,000 if you are an American citizen… and that would probably be the most expensive tan you’d ever get!

The next best thing would have to be Miami’s Little Havana (New Jersey’s Union City also boasts a large Cuban immigrant population but Havana On The Hudson lacks beach proximity and a modicum of exoticism.) I could already imagine myself walking down the colorful streets, surrounded by bustling Americano Cubaneros smoking big cigars, and in the background, the Buena Vista Social Club musicians (the ones that escaped) playing on the sidewalk.

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Unfortunately, it seems I had picked the wrong day. There were about two people on Calle Ocho and the guy in the top photograph was one of them.

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No music either! Just a Julio Iglesias astral mark of adoration on the Walkway of the Stars. Sigh. Of all people…

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The party was only on the walls. Where was everybody? I stopped in a store to inquire.

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Newsflash: no one speaks English in the neighborhood. It’s exactly like Japan! I asked: “Donde esta el mondo por favor?” but I could not understand the shopkeeper’s reply. Probably because I had asked him where “the clean one was” instead of asking him where everybody was. I think it may also mean “Where is the world?” but that would not make any sense, would it? I thought he was just a happy fellow but, with hindsight, I think he was totally laughing at me.

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I tried my luck at a small sidewalk eatery. Perched on a bar stool, I ate a multitude of pollo croquettas and drank seven cafecitos which I loved very very much. Cuban food rocks. I was up all night and I think my eyes pretty much bulged out of my head but it was totally worth it.

Noticing that I was way over my cabeza (and probably under the charm of a customer that ate like 10 people), the waitress walked me close by to a small enclave… next to the McDonald. It was the Maximo Gomez Park, the famed domino park. That’s exactly where all “el mondo” was!

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The park was briefly closed in the eighties for restorations. The shopkeepers of the neighborhood attempted to make this shutdown permanent because of vagrants and drug dealers congregating in the park. When it reopened despite their best effort, no one under 55 years old was allowed on premise! They seemed to have relaxed those rules since then because they willingly granted me access (either that or I had a really bad face day!)

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The park consists of a bunch of domino and chess tables protected from the elements by an overhead striped canvas. There were no unoccupied tables. All the guys and the one woman (whose colorful bling is displayed in the above picture) were concentrating very very hard. This was obviously serious business and serious business is difficult to photograph.

No one was smiling at me. No one was looking at me. I took that as an implicit ok and so I proceeded.

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I will tell you that, fashion wise, hats are very much the trend this year in the Cuban community.

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Men waited patiently on the side lines for a table to open. Sometimes, they glanced at me with not a discernible ounce of friendliness. I am insecure. When people do not show me love, I think they hate me. I was not feeling very comfortable.

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Perhaps it’s the pain of being away from their native country… At least, since April 14, 2009, Cuban Americans can go back to visiting their relatives once a year instead of once every three years, one of President Bush’ policies enforced since 2004. I’d probably have a long face too if I was precluded from traveling to Belgium to see my friends and family (except my sister who I think should move to Cuba, like now.)

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After about an hour, a little guy wearing a dark suit pointed at me and gestured exaggeratedly towards the exit. I realized I may have had overstayed my welcome. I called a cab and hung out not too far from the security guard (the park rules state that bringing a firearm on premise as well as using bad words will get you suspended from park activities from two to four weeks – I guess someone needs to be there to enforce that.)

An ancient Cuban grabbed my arm and tried to get me to go with him. He was cooing and doing a not so good job at wooing me (I’ve never been crazy about the forceful arm grab.) Then the dude with the cigar from the photo above showed up and asked me if I had taken his photograph. He did not seem very happy. Quite the opposite actually. I saw my cab, disengaged my arm, ran towards the car, jumped in it, and, like in a gangster movie, told the driver to roll out of there.

Some of the domino players appeared actually quite friendly but they sure did not make up for the ones that eyed me suspiciously or the one that was just a nasty meanie.  I was denied the red hot Cuban love I was hoping for so dearly. Yes, I did get some love from the eighty-nine year old dude with the golden teeth who attempted to kidnap me in broad day light but, sincerely, I was expecting something quite different. As in younger and with real teeth.

Calle Ocho is probably a more interesting place to visit the last Friday of each month when the Cubans hold their Viernes Culturales fair.

To close the chapter on Pequena Habana, I saw the dead over there. Playing dominoes. Very amusing.

anthony-quinnAnthony Quinn

hav_028Cuban Anthony Quinn, undead version.

Astonishing, isn’t it? Or is it just me fantasizing again?

note: my friend Dorin saw the Quinn photo and thinks I’m smoking crack. Whatever.

15 responses to “Red Hot Cuban Love: Denied!

  1. Cuba is a place I would love to go and I will one day. Lot’s of colourful decay.

    I suspect that a lot of the old guys you photographed could have very shady backgrounds. I also suspect that many of the people who made enough money to get out of Cuba during Batista’s time would’ve been either corrupt or criminal.

    Julio Iglesias!? (where’s an interobang when you need one?)

  2. chris with an H

    Stunning undead Anthony Quinn!!!
    He even has a crucifix on his heart!
    Freaky!

    Time to learn aikido sis!
    It’s quite useful if you strangely happen not to like the “forceful arm grab”.

  3. Seeing the Anthony Q photos again — I do see a resemblance, but I can still tell the difference. They could pass for relatives/brothers! Just trying to keep it real! :0)

  4. Very odd….back in the days of film I was in the same area (this is back in the mid-80’s), snapping pics of folks on the street and in the parks, etc. and found the Cubans there to be very unresponsive to my presence or rather hostile.

    I never thought about why they may be such, but I learned to go back.

  5. It’s the “el mondo” guy I like best. He’s just bubbling with personality. That’s a great capture–even if he was laughing at you.

    I see the Anthony Quinn resemblance. Brothers would be more like it, I think.

    Sad that it wasn’t more friendly. Most of those folks are probably not interested in being found, however, so I understand that much.

    And homegirl’s got some serious bling!

  6. For me it’s the womans’ hands in sharp focus, blurring the rest of what she’s guarding.

    I think you’re quite brave ( ballsy? even ) to enter that cultural enclave so fiercely protected by ” their own kind “.

    It would be impossible to imagine being forced from your homeland, whether as Razz says by self determined nefarious activities, or by a regime that offered no negotiations. Who knows how hostile we’d be.

    And I still say you’re brave.

  7. Thanks for your comments!!!

    Razz: I realized afterwards that this was probably the reason they did not want to be photographed… That and also being a tourist attraction. Well that and that and having me in their face for more than an hour. That will do it!

    Chris with an h
    : so I’m not smocking crack after all… Aikido? Perhaps, perhaps… I could get a cute little aikido uniform! From a public relation standpoint, it would have been difficult to justify my Aikidozation of an eighty-nine year old…

    Dorin: chillax homey, you kept it real…

    forkboy
    : well, at least, I’m not the only one they hated. that makes me feel so much better. 🙂

    Jason
    : El mondo was very cool. With Pollo Croquetta, they were the nicest people there. Then, of course, they might have said the worst thing behind my back. I need to brush up on my Spanish!

    Bonnie: I’m not that brave. It was daylight and the only thing I feared was for my camera to disappear. I kept it in the bag while walking the streets. It’s not threatening… just not particularly inviting… Until the end where I was not feeling very courageous anymore. 🙂

  8. Querida Mami Caliente,

    No olvides nuestra novio del Hyatt hotel, o nuestra novio Chine– los dos no fueron en Little Habana, pero mas cerca de la cama!

    Con amor,
    Xuxa

    (My dear Spicy Mami, Don’t forget our Hyatt hotel boyfriend or our Chinese boyfriend– they were not in Little Havanna, but they were much more near to the bed! With love, Xuxa)

  9. OMG, you take amazing pictures!!

    Seriously, no joke.

    They’re fantastic.

    I live an hour north of Miami, I try to avoid the place though due to the horrendous traffic they have.

  10. Twinkle Toes Knows

    Thanks form inviting me to join your DANCE DALLAS Team!

    Hey – ANYONE who wants to become a team member just needs to give our fearless leader a shout!!

    What night do we rehearse?

  11. Xuxa, we were watching the Grammy’s, remember? Right?

    Otto Mann: Thank you sooooo much! You are very lucky to live out there. Good times! I didn’t notice any major traffic problems. Really!

    Monsieur Shinn, I’m on to you!!! You know, the dance Phd is still something you may want to consider… I’m not sure about the semester abroad though, probably Russia or something like that. Good! You’ll be closer to the gulags. Where you belong.

  12. Found you through A Round World through Square Glasses. Your post on his trip to NY was awesome so I had to check your blog out. I love your photos, they are great, and your posts are great too.
    I have added you to my blog list, I hope you don’t mind. I just love looking a photos and a good read.

  13. Anthony Quin is the tropics answer to Francis Sinatra.

  14. Loved this!!! It sounds a little scary there at the end, however, and I would be a little intimidated by such unhappy looking people. Anthony Quinn totally has a look alike:) Your stuff is always fantastic. Amazing.

  15. WELL I NEVER IN MY LIFE MEET A PERSON WHO SO INTO ACKNOWLEGDEMENT TOWARDS PEOPLES EXPRESSIONS AND REACTIONS. WITH FULLY RESPECT YOUR ARTISTIC WAYS OF AN EVERY DAY LIFE; I’VE ENJOYED AND APPRECIATED WHAT YOUR DOING FOR THE PEOPLE OUT THERE TO ENTERTAIN THOSE WHO DON’T TRAVEL. YOU OPEN MY EYES AND THE DOORS FOR OTHERS TO EXPERIENCES WHAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR LIFE TIME. HOPE TO SEE MORE OF YOUR WORK. WITH LOVE N’ PEACE MAMA.G

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