After rehearsal today, going over some of the music for tonight’s concert, our first here in Cuba, Victor Goines and I jumped in a taxi and headed to Old Havana, something we both have been wanting to do since arriving here.
After walking around a bit, and looking unsuccessfully for the spot it was well-known that Ernest Hemmingway hung out at, we sat down for lunch at a place called the Havana Club Bar. Havana Club is the most popular maker of Rum, the national drink here. We ordered appetizers and fish, and two cervezas. The waitress quickly said “no cerveza, only rum here.” So we ordered mohitios. There was a Cuban band playing - guitar, flute, percussion, bass and a singer. They sounded great. Vic and I sipped our drinks and enjoyed the vibe, savoring the mushrooms cooked in, what else - rum.
At one point the flute player from band inquired where we were from, and when we answered “New York,” he asked if we were musicians. We said yes and the immediately asked if we were with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. We smiled. There were so excited. Vic and I ended up sitting in, jamming on Oye Como Va, and Summertime. The whole restaurant felt something happening. People came from the other room and stood in the doorway, smiling.
When we had finished there were mucho handshakes and hugs all around. I handed back the man’s flute and Vic and I returned to the table to tear into our grilled fish (which was by far the best I had yet here in Cuba). The manager approached us, explaining that the Havana Club Bar was also a museum and would like to give us a free tour. They also took care of our lunch and drinks. Vic and I bought a round for the band, and went on the tour, which showed the whole process of making rum - the distillation, aging, packaging (and tasting!).It was actually pretty interesting. I know a lot about rum now (both intellectually and viscerally). In fact, I plan on getting to know a little more about the stuff during the rest of our stay here...
On the way out we stopped in the museum store and each purchased a bottle of their Barrel Proof, made by a process using older barrels. Special stuff. They also gave us each a bottle of their 7 year old. A beautiful gift.
The musicians had returned from their break and brought from home some CDs of important Cuban music. Vic and I bought a few and headed down the street, feeling good about the connection with the local people, the excellent food, and the rum. A warm glow, on two counts...
We found a small gallery, and we each bought a painting done by local artists. Mine was small, a street scene - very impressionistic. Vic got one done in a typically Cuban style - very colorful, almost cubist.
It was time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the gig, so we hopped in a tiny taxi, also known as a “coconut” because of it’s small, round shape. The motor in this thing couldn’t have been much bigger than the lawn mower I bought the other day at Home Depot.
First concert tonight...