Lots of it.
It’s not just your average prostitution, which consists primarily of professionals. Apparently, a significant percentage of normal Cuban women, those with jobs as secretaries, hotel receptionists, you name it, sell themselves on the side. To tourists. Capitalism at work.
You can’t keep an ambitious woman down. Or, in these cases, you can.
Walking the streets of Old Havana it was not rare to see old coots from afar like me accompanied by young Cubanas.
This is the second of two posts. The first is here.
I was approached a few times when my wife was not directly at my side.
One of the other visitors in our guesthouse was a man from Barcelona, a good-looking guy in his late 40s. He told us he visits Cuba about ten times a year!
When asked what he did for a living, he told me he “had businesses” back in Barcelona. And he’s married.
Suzette the maid whispered to us one morning that he brings a different girl to his room every night.
An interesting look at this Cuban issue, and others as well, can be found in Mi Moto Fidel by Christopher Baker, published over a decade ago, so sex-for-sale isn’t new in the communist paradise.
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Old Havana borders the bay. Heading west you’ll get to “downtown” Havana, more of a “commercial” district, using the term loosely, and if you continue that way you’ll get to the once-nice residential area of Vedado, which is where we stayed.
Most nights after supper at the small, brand-new, privately owned and excellent restaurant in the next block, the oddly named Shamela’s Bar because it had no bar, we would walk the neighborhood, peeking into open doors and windows. Nosy Parker tourists.
There were few street lights. The homes were large and still showed the elegance of the past. Most appeared not to have seen paint since Castro shot into town, but some had been painted inside. Most had not.
Mostly, the area was subdued. For a nation’s capital, there is very little traffic in Havana. In the day, traffic is light. At night, it’s almost nonexistent. Few people walk outside, and those who did passed us glumly.
In the daytime we would walk the couple of blocks to a major street, Calle 23, to hail a taxi. If there’s one word to describe the neighborhood nighttime or day, it’s this:
There was one exception. One old and big residence was full of people sitting in rows in the living room. All was brightly lit. There was a small stage where a man and two women sat in chairs. A woman in the audience was standing and speaking with unbridled enthusiasm.
We watched and listened from the dark sidewalk, though the words were unintelligible. A young man arrived and paused before entering, asking if we’d like to come in.
We asked what was going on. It was a meeting of Evangelicals. We thanked him for the invitation and declined. It was about the only friendly interaction we experienced during the whole week that did not involve the tourist industry.
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Dictatorship? What dictatorship?
What sane person goes to a dictatorship for vacation? And yet Cuba, primarily Havana and Varadero (the Cuban Cancún), is overrun with tourists.
My conclusion is that most are unclear on the concept. Dictatorships have steel-helmeted soldiers goose-stepping down the avenue, right?
You see none of that in Cuba, so people can assume it’s not a dictatorship, but something else, something unlike where they come from, surely, but not so bad after all. Plus, there’s that “free” health care and schooling.
I put “free” in quotes because one pays with the lucre of Liberty.
Tourists don’t know that internet access is prohibited because they brought their own laptops, iPods, iPhones, you name it. And I am sure the money-hungry regime sees to it that they’re connected.
The tourists aren’t arrested for publicly denouncing the government because tourists don’t denounce the government. The beach sand is too sweet and mojitos too good.
They don’t think much about the lack of voting rights because they have no interest in voting in Cuba. They don’t notice the lack of contrary opinions in the news stands because there are no news stands.
They don’t notice that Cubans are mostly trapped on the island because they, the tourists, can jump on a plane and go home, no sweat.
You don’t notice what doesn’t touch you personally.
Plus, Cuba is quiet and peaceful. You can walk the streets without worry.
The citizens are cowed.
I recall my two visits to Haiti years back during the brutal Duvalier dictatorship, another very peaceful place.
Cuba is quiet too, in the same way.
* * * *
Just up the street from our Vedado guesthouse sits La Pachanga, the kind of eatery you could easily find in the United States. It serves burgers and fries, etc.
The prices, however, are in regular Cuban pesos, which we never had, so we didn’t eat there.
The building is a former residence, it appears, and brand new, just a couple months old. The business, that is. The customers looked like a pretty well-off crowd, obviously Cuba’s One Percenters. They were not tourists.
While we did not eat at La Pachanga, we did walk through it to enter a back room with a Speakeasy air. That’s where you go into Shamela’s Bar, the bar with no bar. You pass thorough a door that has a peephole and knocker. La Pachanga and Shamela’s are two faces of the same small enterprise.
At the street entrance stands the muscle. Two big, polite, black dudes in black attire with Security and Seguridad (both languages) written on their backs.
Shamela’s is small and dimly lit. The walls are painted black, and a lighting system shoots stationary dots of rainbow colors all about. The count of little tables is about eight. It’s a cozy, privately owned restaurant.* On the walls are flat-screen televisions with a constant video of swimming tropical fishes.
There’s a nice, soft-spoken man in a suit who greets the customers and keeps an eye on things. The waitresses are young and delightful and, one hopes, not hookers on the side.
The food was elegant, tasty and reasonably priced at the convertible peso. We dined there every night of the week and a couple of times for lunch to boot. We never spotted a tourist in either side of the place.
* * * *
The old woman
Some years back, I wrote a satire that made fun of the foreign residents of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, something that’s a hoot and not difficult to do.
One afternoon while we walked past a wildly popular tourist trap called La Bodequita de Medio in Old Havana, there was the woman, smoking her stogie and posing for photos.
Imagine my surprise.
* * * *
* One example of Cuba’s slowly emerging private enterprise.