Last night we made our way through the old French quarter to the Casa de Tradicines, a traditional Cuban house of music club, one of 3 or so run by Caribe. Though the streets were dark, with few streetlights, everybody was out sitting on their steps. Half naked children ran around in the streets seemingly unsupervised. I wouldn’t rule out an unsuspecting tourist getting robbed, though I never have, but everybody looks out for each other here, especially the children. Even in a city this size neighbours know each other well enough that if something goes wrong, well folks know where to look, who is probably the culprit and community justice will be done, with the help of the police. Problem settled. Cuba remains a remarkably safe place to visit in the Caribbean, safer I would say than the US, even Canada.
En la noche!
The small tight floor space in front of the band was packed with crazy dancers doing some very wild but perfectly orchestrated Cuban moves. A huge robust black woman jumped up to do the lambada in front of the band, shaking her big butts and breasts to the music in a mad delirium, not a Cuban style but great fun anyway. The spirit certainly moved her. Everybody else too. It was incredibly sweltering hot, the packed room, the music and dance. The sweat making my sopping wet shirt cling to my chest. It mattered not. It was an exciting night of music and dance in a little backroom room time had truly forgot.
After a light poolside lunch we retired inside to the air-conditioned lobby and sat on the coaches with the computers, working out some kinks, problem solving and the like. Jose presented me with a four-year plan to develop "Ingles Para Ti", and we discussed the software they would need to create it. I don’t mean to overstate the size or the scope of the Cuban School Project. It is very grassroots, local and community based, I suppose like much of my work over the years with the union or in setting up my programs at school before I retired. The workbook is popular here, and getting good use. My philosophy is that it's best to just try help out wherever you are rather than try to save the whole world from itself. Santiago is where I have been coming for over 20 years now, a few dozen times at least.
Late afternoon we made out way back to the city centre by taxi to see a traditional rumba show performed on Heredia Street near the Cathedral and the Casa de Trova. The drums were set up against the inner courtyard wall of a very old nunnery from before the revolution. It has now been turned into a cultural centre, the "Museo del Canival Santiago de Cuba" like the Caribe house last night, this one dedicated to preserving the traditional Afro Cuban version of the rumba, not the fancy modern stylized ones you see on t.v.
The rumba in Cuba is not unlike that in Columbia with a yambo influence, a fabulous union of Spanish and African culture. It's a mainstay yearly in the long rumba lines that wind up and down the foot hill streets of Santiago de Cuba 24/7 each July 26th holiday week, when the drums can be heard joining in the tattoo everywhere, across the rooftops, in the streets, the doorways, the indoor and outdoor fiestas, the whole city moving, swaying, and joining with the hypnotic beat, moving in time under the blazing hot summer sun.
As the rumba lines make their way through the city everyone joins in, sometimes for very long timeless stretches, the action rising, falling in a wild orgasm of song and dance unlike anything we ever experience in the more staid anglocized cities up our way. Not to be missed! Beware of the pick pockets bringing up the rear though.Today was not carnival time but it was very trance like all the same, the dancers acting out their folklore traditions and roles in African Spanish ceremonial dress. All of us joining in the rumba line circling the courtyard towards the end. Finally a lone figure walked out a doorway playing a tinny clarinet in a long soulful solo echoing through the timeless ages, a final breathful gasp in the ceremony extraordinaire.
PPS: Now that I am back in Canada I will update the names of the music, dance and locations.