The Casagrande Hotel sits at the corner of Cespedes park, the down town plaza in Santiago de Cuba. Graham Greene, the Ugly American, visited here in "Our Man in Havana" before the "Triumph of the Revolution", as it is known in Cuba. The terrace bar was full of revolutionaries, counter revolutionaries and spies. Recently renovated 37 years afterwards, it now sits nearly empty.
I gaze up from my drink. Look across the marble floors, past the Greek statues at the mahogany bar, in vain search of a waiter. I'm comfortably seated at the edge of the terrace overlooking Cespedes Park, where the Cubanos sit looking at the touristas looking at the Cubanos. A perverse cinema of life. A theatre of the mind. A nightly event after classes since I've arrived during my Cuban School Project visit.
On one side is an old Spanish cathedral with its towering spiral. On the other, the old colonial government buildings now liberated by the state sit quiet and foreboding. The police lean against it's walls watching the park with bored detachment as life passes on. Nobody makes eye contact. Nobody says boo.
At night I'd come after class for my evening Tropicola nightcap on the rocks with a twist of lime. Your man in Santiago de Cuba, 37 years after the more heady, glory days of the revolution have long faded into the past. Another broken dream? That can never be? Sometimes I'd bring a Cuban friend. Other times I'd meet another English speaking tourist, few and far between. We'd idly watch the park watching us, but tonight I m alone in my reverie.
Suddenly, the heat of the Santiago night is punctuated by a mad woman's scream. She rolls around on the park pavement thrashing and shattering the quiet desperation all around. Caked in dirt and mud. Barely clothed in tattered rags. An angry Cuban man set ajar, leaps atop a park bench. Agitated, he leans towards the government buildings waving his fist in the air. Screaming an undecipherable Spanish invective. All hell has broken loose in the usually still, quiet, desperate Santiago night. In Cuba and the night!
The police leaning against the wall quickly snap out of their lethargy. They stand up straight. Gaze forebodingly around. Take note, fixing their stare upon the madness that ensues. A police cruiser tears down the street screeching to a halt at the scene of the crime. 2 plain clothed officers yank the angry man off the park bench, his fist still waving in the air. Throw him into the back of the cruiser. Race back off into the night, leaving the mad woman still screaming and thrashing on the ground. She rolls over a few times. Then she too becomes silent lying arms and legs spread out, flat on her back in Cespedes Park.
The Cubans in the park look sullenly at the tourists looking at them from our perch on the terrace of the Casagrande. The police lean back against the wall of the government buildings. Cross their arms. Bored. Stare out into the park. Ever watchful. Always there. Just in case something goes wrong. You never know. But all is silent again in the still dark night.
More drinks? The manager is keen for us to go. A silent murmur ripples across the bar as we scant few patrons awkwardly excuse ourselves to call it a night. Head outside down the dark streets through the quiet desperation of Cuba and the night. Cuba nodding off into a deep sleep of broken dreams and silent nightmares. None to be spoken or given voice so as to disturb the way things are, the way they must be. A delicate balancing act hanging precariously on a slender thread. A dangerous tripwire nobody must cross. Not in the hushed world of the Santiago de Cuba night.
To be continued! Cuba + the Night 4: New Creation!