Habana Brats

Okay, people. I know I (semi) committed to writing about Cubans’ belligerent resistance to healthy/sane/considerate cologne application. If you haven’t been to Havana, trust me when I tell you the problem is generalized, acute, and worsening. When you can taste the chemicals wafting off a shaved metrosexual half a block away and instead of his taut ass in tight jeans all you see is that icon of stink Pepé Le Pew, you know the issue is serious.

But that’s going to have to wait because there’s another little drama happening over here which has my panties in a twist – I’m talking my underthings are in a massive, up-the-crack bunch thanks to what I call Habana Brats.

These cubanitos are chapping my ass. I need to write about them. It will help me move on. Hopefully. The stinky Cuban diatribe will have to wait.

They’ve always existed, these better-off, entitled, vacuous kids (e.g., certain military/political offspring who rolled up at high school during the Special Period in their own Ladas), but the phenomenon is spreading like an outbreak of VD in a freshman dorm around here lately.

First of all, these kids are clueless, which is annoying enough (see note 1). They don’t know what it means to pay an electricity bill – much less what’s involved when there’s no money to pay said bill. Nor do they know the exhaustion that comes from working a double, (let alone a triple), shift. They don’t know how to food shop or menu plan, some don’t even know how to make a pot of rice. They’ll need these life skills. Most of them anyway – the really rich ones will just hire help to do their grunt work and trust me, you don’t want me to start ranting about that. At the very least, knowing how to manage money, cook, and perform other mundane, but necessary, tasks of adulthood will make them more attractive mates. I pity them. As mom always says: ‘pity: it’s the basest coin in the realm.’

This new generation is a whole lot of hedonism, which is fun, to be sure, but unproductive – both for them as individuals and society as a whole. Unproductive and detrimental. I repeat: for them personally and us as a collective. They spend their days walking their pure-bred dogs, primping at private salons, and shopping (not for the evening meal, obviously). Nights are dedicated to bar hopping from one wannabe “lounge” to another, spending two weeks’ of a teacher’s salary on cheesy cocktails like Blue Hawaiians and Appletinis. I feel like telling them to grow a pair and graduate to vodka on the rocks (see note 2). They get giddy smoking cherry-flavored tobacco from hookahs (Havana’s new fad) and pursuing deep (insert ironic cough) conversations about where to buy designer clothes and pirated iapps (including mine).

hgt banner

I don’t know where they get the money to pursue this lifestyle, but young friends of mine (the thinking kind, thank you), posit that it probably comes from their parents +/o Miami. So shame on them too for enabling their brats. I’m sure these kids are the envy of their peers – equally worrisome if you ask me.

Returning to the point about this generation being vacuous: in my (thankfully) passing experience with this class of kid, the most demanding thought to skip across their minds is what to wear to the Ernesto Blanco concert or the superior photographic capabilities of the iPhone 4s (the iPhone 5 has yet to be seen in the hands of a Cuban in these parts). You may not find this problematic, but if you don’t find it boring, you’re probably one of them.

But what really rankles, the trend that makes me want to grab these brats and shake them like a chequere, is how they talk, loudly, obnoxiously, about their first-world problems (i.e. bullshit), throughout an entire set of music. Cuban musicians are globally-renowned for a reason: They are fuck-all talented and are products of a long tradition of formal musical education (and informal: Benny Moré was an autodidact, as was Arsenio Rodriguez). Many are prodigies and/or award winners – Montreaux, Grammys. We’re talking giants of music. Moreover, they’re playing their hearts out for peanuts. And these little ingrates are chattering away ad nauseam, drowning out greatness with their banal drone.

I first noticed it during a double set at the Café Miramar by Aldo López-Gávilan – one of the country’s most talented young pianists. An intimate club with good audio (see note 3), this is one of the popular spots on the new Miramar bar circuit favored by these nouveau rich kids. As Aldito and his conjunto ripped through one tune after another, these chamas couldn’t be bothered to listen. I actually had to move right alongside the piano to be able to hear the music over their din.

Aldito en el Cafe Miramar

Disgraceful and disrespectful a la vez.

The same thing happened at a packed Casa de las Americas gig recently. The concert, billed as Drums La Habana, was particularly unique in that it showcased Cuba’s most accomplished young drummers – Oliver Valdés and Rodney Barreto. To call these guys talented is like calling an anorexic lithe. These two are monstruos as we say here, producing percussive feats that your mind, eyes, and ears are hard-pressed to process.

The concert was unbelievable – the musicians were in the zone, Cheshire Cat grins plastered across their faces as they pounded their kits and poured their hearts out. Unfortunately, this virtuosity was accompanied by a low, constant thrum emanating from the back of the historic Che Guevara auditorium. I’m pretty sure I saw sax player Carlos Miyares grimace in their general direction at one point and I wonder how many artists are bothered by these bad manners and lack of listening skills? People around town have criticized Santiago Feliú for walking off stage recently two tunes into a set because he couldn’t be heard over the chatter. For those who don’t get it: have you ever performed live for an audience who thought their conversation was more important than the music you were making? It’s degrading. Creating art in front of a live audience is a brave act. Cubans used to respect that. Many still do, but they tend to be over 40.

I know a lot of what I’ve written here applies to youth the world over. But Cubans have distinguished themselves by being different. And this is getting lost and eroded little by little, day by day. Sometimes I wish all these kids would just emigrate and join their homogenized, opiated tribe up there and leave the island to those who are still interested in forging new paths, exploring frontiers, and listening, quietly, with appreciation, to some of the world’s best music.

Notes
1. If you’re new here, let me repeat: what I write at Here is Havana does not apply to all Cubans. I’m not implicating an entire pueblo, of this I’m very conscious, so save your comment for some other blinder-wearing blog. On a related note: although I’ve been based here since 2002, there’s a reason this blog is called Here is Havana: what I write applies only to what I know, that is to say, only to the capital. I really have no idea what happens in the provinces.

2. A new Russian bar, Tovarishch, is about to open up on Calle 20 and 5ta. I hope the bartender laughs openly at every kid who orders any pastel-colored or fruity vodka drink. I know that sounds mean, but I’ve had one too many run-ins lately with the annoying chamas. I promise to return to my upbeat self as soon as you arrive at the end of this sentence. OK, I lied. These kids have bad taste, to boot. 

3. Except behind the two wide pillars in the middle of the room; come early for a table with clean sight lines and clear sound.

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21 Comments

Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban economy, Cuban idiosyncracies, Cuban Revolution, Expat life, Living Abroad, Travel to Cuba

21 responses to “Habana Brats

  1. Ole

    You blame it all on Miami. You don’t think most of these little piss ants are the children of Military and Political Pichons right from Habana? Some have always been more equal than others in the Socialist Paradise.

    I do think they are mostly homegrown in cuba.
    Although an entitled and vapid Miami Party Princess ( or Principe) is an equally annoying vapor head, and i guess you see more than a few of them down there especulando these days.

    A Pox on all of them, no matter from where they hail.

    • And I thought I was pissed?!

      So funny how people love to assign (and focus) on blame. And so funny how, once again, the whole Cuba ball of wax is reduced to: “its a Miami thing”. I hate to break it to you and other readers on the same tip but: this is much much bigger than Miami (which is true for most Cuba issues that are reduced to that as they so often are). Also, I clearly stated in the post that I don’t know WHERE this disposable wealth is coming from but friends posit that…

      Also, I feel like you havent been in Cuba lately. Anyone who thinks the “piss ants” (your term!) of today are hijitos/as of military and political bigwigs, isn’t paying attention/hasnt been up close and personal with the real changes that are going on – that paradigm is ovah, as we say in New Yawk. Sure, the highest up are (and always will be) in a better position, no matter the country and Im always baffled as to why people malign Cuba for this, but Im talking about a whole new strata (hence the phenomenon/VD comment).

      Rather than a pox, why don’t we try and help them? They need it!

      • Ole

        The reason that Cuba is maligned for exhibiting the same upper class yuppie behavior that exists elsewhere is that Cuba has built it’s entire society (supposedly) on doing away with class distinctions.
        It is especially irking when you see the hijos/as of higher up militars and Politicos acting exactly like the brats of Miami capitalists. This was never in the contract put forth by the Castro tyrants when they took away most of the Freedoms of the Cuban people.
        If I were a Cuban slaving for the Socialist Masters for 20 CUC a month i would be highly pissed!

        Socialismo o muerte, have you forgotten? I don’t do the hoity toity club scene when in Cuba, Conner. I find it surprising that you do. especially in light of your many protestations of near poverty.

      • Sigh. Im not going to fuel your fire Ole, but as Ive pointed out before: we’ll have to agree to disagree.

        The one thing I WILL say is: the Cafe Miramar is not “hoity toity”, it’s state owned (gasp!), costs 50MN to get in and sells beer at a buck. The other lounge type places – Ive been to a few, at the invitation of friends, and enjoyed myself because a) I have cool friends and b) got to cover those places for my app. Near poverty? Not me, but working poor? All….my….life.

  2. Ali

    As I read this post, it transported my mind to the year 2003 in New York City. One of the things I love the most about NYC is its ample offer of live music venues, and going to these performances has remained among the experiences I cherish from my years living in that city. The down side to attending those events were the ever pervasive (and much annoying) presence of “yuppies” and “Ivy-Leaguers” who would turn up at these events only to very loudly chat the night away. The noise was unbearable and the louder the music the higher the pitch of their voices, these kids really thought they were at some discotheque or at a pub celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. Now that you recount your experience with the Habana Brats, I wonder: What drives them to go to these events if they’re not going to appreciate nor pay the slightest attention to what is being offer at the place? What could be so important that cannot wait to be said at a later time when the performance has finished? It used to be that people would go to see a performance and later would get together to talk about the event and other matters.
    You mentioned something quiet important which is this trend’s individual and collective harmful outcomes, but I wonder, (now that your recollection reminds me so clearly my experience in NYC) what exactly causes this behavior in the first place?; and I mean, what causes these young people’s disassociation (apathy) from everything (including everyone) that surrounds them? I can only imagine that whatever THAT is, it could be something so obsessive that is consuming their mind to the point of dissolving their humanity. There is something divine about music (and all other artistic forms) that moves a chord (or two) within a human being, what exactly is driving these young men and women away from their own humanity?
    I love your post and I think there’s much more to this problem than what it appears from the surface, deep down the topic that you brought up to this post encloses a bigger dilemma that ought to be further analyzed. Keep us posted!!!

    • Wow. Thanks for the note. Now Im really depressed! You might not know that Im a native NYer and to read about your experience is just another nail in the coffin for “old NY” – that is, pre 9-11, pre Bloomberg Guiliani, pre-Starbucks, when CBGB existed, when the Bottom Line existed, when NYU didn’t own the entire village, when there wasn’t a Whole Foods in Harlem for christ sakes. But I digress.

      Its terribly sad what you describe. I think these were/are not “yuppies” but more likely dot commies (my term: coined in SF circa 1999, TM pending) and all the rich people who moved from elsewhere to NYC to show how patriotic they were after 9-11. I used to work in the meatpacking district in college (yes, I know Im going back aways but this was MY New York) and to go there now….yes it’s lovely, yes what a wonder the Highline! yes how quaint to be sitting on a sidewalk sipping an Appletini in the middle of the “former meatpacking district”. Just don’t think about all the homeless, tranny hos, small mom and pop businesses (I worked at one), gay clubs, artists, working moms, were removed/displaced/priced out so you could sit and marvel at how safe and wonderful NY is while drinking a ridiculous cocktail.

      I know a lot of good came of the changes and this is way more complex than I have time to write about here, but I think its important to point out that some shitty stuff happened in the transformation of NY into the Mall of America (and note to all you giddy people getting heady over the bike share program: YOU CANNOT RIDE ON THE SIDEWALK. SEE THIS BIG STICK IM CARRYING? I WILL WALK SOFTLY UP ON YOU AND JAM IT IN YOUR SPOKES NEXT TIME I SEE YOU. THERE’S A REASON ITS CALLED A SIDEWALK. Grow a pair and get into the street.)

      So: to your main point. What causes this apathy, Im convinced, is consumerism. The constant, repetitive, ubiquitous message that everyone is receiving: you must buy this. you need this. your life will be better with this thing. but there is back lash. people are returning to a “simpler” life and that life means less stuff, less debt from buying stuff, eating lower on the food chain, sharing and sparing resources, but this diatribe is already too long and I have to move on to paying work.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. JoJo

    I was in Havana just shy of a week ago. I did not have the opportunity to go and listen to music, so this comment is unrelated, but I have to share with you this little chuckle. I love condongas ( hope this is the correct spelling). I am like a fly on poop when ever I see or hear of one. One day I asked my taxi friend to take me to the Havana condonga. I told him not the tourist one but the one for Cubans please. He was a tad petrified because he said that the best Cuban condonga is it San Miguel De Padron… But after a lot of convincing him and negotiations with him and me agreeing to keep my bag in the car with him (he would guard our bags and wait in the car driving around) we were off. He told me to keep our money and our cells in our front pockets. I went with a friend. I have to say that I did not feel fesr or intimidation at all, I actually wondered what Raoul was talking about. Then it happened. After we were done on shopping and when we were walking up the hill to meet with Raoul, someone from behind me, SQUEEZED my butt. Well you can only imagine my reaction because Raoul had me scared to death prior to entering the condonga “worst place and dangerous place in all Havana” he kept telling me. Wellllll the poor butt squeezer. I immediately went into i swear Kung Fu mode. I turned around and thete were about 12 young men in their twenties walking and laughing about my reaction. I literally had my arms out and feet up like Jackie Chan and yelling at the hopefully the right butt squeezer about what he did. He said “tu loca”, I replied back “no yo Kung Fu Jackie Chan”….put it this way I do not think that this young man will be squeezing anybodies butt in the near future. Not because of my reaction but due to how his friends reacted to him. It was hilarious. With all that being said I would still go back to the condonga….I am addicted to them.

    • HA! I love that. Can I quote you: “No! Yo Kung Fu Jackie Chan!” Gold, pure gold.

      I remember oh about 3 years ago, I was walking along Calle 23, very near the corner of Calle 28 (an area I spend A LOT of time in these days, incidentally) and a tall, young dude snuck up on me from behind and jammed both his hands between my legs and all the way up to where the ‘monkey put the shilling’. I wheeled around with one of my hammer fists (learned in a womens defense class, now being offered in Havana by the by) and started pummeling him and ripping him a new one (he wouldn’t be hiding any shillings any time soon!). He started cowering and saying “eres loca! dejame loca!” while running in the other direction.

      Also, the condonga you’re referring to is “La Cuevita” and is all the talk of the town recently. Im glad to hear you got to go: word on the street is it’s being shut down in the next couple of weeks. So did you get all kinds of killer bargains on buckets, chancletas, barrettes and batas?!

      thanks for reading and writing in.

      • JoJo

        Jajaja of course you can quote me…I am still laughing about that day, poor guys ego was chattered jajaja

        I seriously love condongas believe it or not for the so indifferent styles of the cheaper clothing. I mean where else can you buy cheap made in China denim overall dresses or long vibrant colored dresses that make a statement jajaja. No where but a condonga.gotta love em.

        A bit disappointed with the Havana one however, the best one so far for me is the one in Santa Clara. I could spend hours there.

        Let me know please if you know of others. Heading back soon.

  4. Nayma

    Hi Conner. This happens any place one goes to no matter the country. It is falta de tacto and the fact that these kids son unos mal paridos. Esto es una opinión personal. I see this day in and day out with American, Cuban, Central and South American kids. Just because their parents show a little more affluence than the rest of us, se creen que puedan “tirarse el peo más alto quel culo”. Throw them to the lions in the real world for not even 5 seconds and they won’t survive. I too share your roña. Take care and keep it coming.

  5. srculp64@gmail.com

    I’m not sure we can entirely blame wealth. Bad behavior is bad behavior regardless. I’ve known very socially aware rich kids and others from the lower strata who acted like entitled boors. I blame smartphones and bad parenting. Both cause an utter lack of awareness of one’s surroundings and complete oblivion regarding the respect of others.

    • You said it brother: its not just wealth. It’s technology (breeds impatience, lack of focus, isolation) and bad parenting (enabling and just plain laziness/exhaustion – there’s a reason Im not a parent: I know my limitations!) and apathy.

  6. Jacobo

    Have some bad news on the “humanity” front, it is a concept that has never existed on any scale. Human beings, unfortunately, are incapable of any broad based “humanity” for any period of time. Look around you and read a little history and watch what is around the corner. This is not to say there are not individual aberrations in the grand gene pool but aberrations, they are. On an up beat note, looks like your NY is going from the ridiculous to the sublime. De Blasio, el Sandanista, is going to replace Bloomberg, el Senor .0001%, as mayor of NY. With this new “humanity” maybe they can replace all those Bloomberg terminals with iPhone 5s and instead of shearing the sheeple out of their last cent, the big boys can just tweet their lives away .

    • Im deathly afraid you’re right! But I will go kicking, screaming, and clawing my way through this thing called life a die hard “individual aberration” (or trying to be one anyway).

      Peace.

  7. LaGataTriste

    Conner,
    I enjoyed your article very much because it portrays the reality of Havana. However, this reality has existed longer than you think. To be more exact, from the time I was a student in La Lenin, 88-91, when the children of the elite were in school. While many of us had to get a bus and/or walk/hitch to “el punto” (la Ciudad Deportiva) where we got on the buses every Sunday afternoon, the “hijitos de papá” would arrive fresh and without a drop of sweat in their nice cars con mami, who usually was the equivalent of a soccer mom in the US. Mami was beautiful, loads of make-up, not a root showing en la cabeza, fancy clothes and pretty nails that had never lifted a frazada en su vida. Their kids hanged out with their own kind at school, most of them located in Unidades 1, 2 y 3, where they had been since it was also Secondary School. They would talk about their weekends in Varadero, or at nice places nobody else knew existed or could afford to go. They had nice expensive shoes, perfumes and jewelry that no one ever saw en las tiendas. Most of their girlfriends were from the same camada: Barbies hijas de papi who were as pedantic as them, and thought themselves more prim and proper than us, la chusma, “las hijas de Pepe el globero”. The boys enjoyed conquering poor girls’ hearts and stealing their flower in secret at the soccer field while their Barbie girlfriends stood oblivious to the school gossip. The brats would never admit to a relationship with someone outside their clan in public and much less go out with them on the weekends or present them to their families. Most of these kids lived in El Vedado or Miramar, in nice mansions, and were descendants of famous economists, writers, musicians, government officials and foreign residents.
    A few years later, 91-96, I studied at Universidad de La Habana’s Facultad de Lenguas and was again witness to this “ley del embudo”. While I had to hitch-hike my way to school every day, make and sell artesanias to get a few pesos to buy hamburguesas at the corner shop or eat fish-stick en el comedor Machado; the brats took their friends in their ladas and ate lunch at a restaurant. They had their own elite parties to which they did not invite commoners and would not dare to show up at Casa de la FEU to drink cerveza de pipa with us. Most of these kids did post-graduate studies at reputable universities in UK, Switzerland and France and now continue their elitist lives abroad, or in Havana. They spend luxurious vacations in 5* hotels in Varadero or Miami, or Cancún and instead of ladas, drive Toyotas or Audis.
    The difference is that the 80’s and 90’s brats where appreciative of our cultural and musical heritage (most still are) whereas they have failed to impart this cultural appreciation to their descendants. The new generation of brats is also made up of the children of the nuevos ricos, people of little education with a negocio a cuenta propia or a rich tio en el yuma who have a total disregard for culture and are more interested in consumerism, looks and facades.

    • Hi Sad Kitty. Thanks for writing in with your personal story. This confirms what my friends tell me (and for those who don’t know Cuba or who are too busy to read between the lines: La Lenin is the most elite high school in Cuba. It is very hard to get in to and the “poor folks” who succeed in getting a slot to this school are among the country’s best and brightest. Ditto for the Facultad de Lenguas at the University of Havana. All of this is to say that the author of this comment – whoever she is – is one smart cookie).

      So, to recap: commenter confirms what Ive been telling you:

      “They’ve always existed, these better-off, entitled, vacuous kids (e.g., certain military/political offspring who rolled up at high school during the Special Period in their own Ladas)…”

      • Jacobo

        Please see my comment above. I went to elite schools, not in Cuba, same story as Kitty. Does not matter if they are called Lenin or Lincoln, same hypocrisy. There really is not any point putting perfume on a cow patty. All the great minds have seen the world for it really is, Beckett is my favorite. Just for God’s sake don’t take in seriously!!!

      • LaGataTriste

        Thank you for your kind reply Conner. You are right, I had to take entry exams to La Lenin and consider myself lucky enough to have entered while many bright kids in my Secondary School didn’t get a chance. In order to continue in school each year, we had to score 85 or above on all sciences. The children of the elite had it much easier. To enter Facultad de Lenguas we were required to take three exams (History, Spanish and Math), which they added to our GPA and only 35 slots were awarded in all of Havana. However, once at FLEX, I realized there were more than 35 English students in our class. BTW, the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time (1991) had his daughter in our Facultad and is a vivid example of what your article talks about.

  8. Ro

    I guess the painful and/or revolting thing about witnessing this phenomenon (privileged, alienated, oblivious young people who are almost obscenely consumed with consumption) in Cuba is that the Revolution was supposed to have created and/or reinforced humane values such as solidarity, especially working-class solidarity, and an appreciation for art, culture, and other intangible human achievements, as opposed to an obsession with material wealth and the image of material wealth over and above everything else.
    The phenomenon surely existed before the Special Period, but just as surely was exacerbated by the growing gap in real wealth (not just certain privileges) and the tourism industry during that time and ever since (we’re talking more than 20 years). The real question is: what does it all mean for socialists? for the Revolution? Is there any interest in either among the Habana Brat Pack? I think we know the answer.

  9. LinaPina

    Live in Denmark, avid reader of your blog, thxs!!
    I went to a concert earlier this week, just to find myself in exact the same situation; surrounded by people half my age … More engaged in cyberspace and conversation (rather uncritically loud) than the band that were pouring their hearts out. It must be awfull not to be able to just “be” in one space/situation at a time … Maybe it is disappearing from cuban culture too ?! Pls keep posting, Boogie on Connor woman!!

    • Hey LinaPina

      Yeah, sign of the times, perhaps?

      Im trying to post a new entry now, but my internet connection is more jodido than normal. Stay tuned; I’ll work hard to get it up this week.

      Thanks for writing in.

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