Living the Dream: The Stones in Cuba

“I am about to see the Rolling Stones. In my hometown. In my lifetime.”

Proclaimed with equal parts conviction and awe by a Cuban I hold in certain esteem, we headed off on foot to Ciudad Deportiva. The Day had arrived. There was a spring in our step, a jaunt in our spirit and the sense that all the sacrifice and struggle, resignation and indignation living in Cuba engenders was about to pay off. For those of us who stick it out here (Cubans and aplatanadas alike) our reward was about to be reaped. It was a chosen and blessed feeling – and still is 24 hours on as I write this; the perma-grin still affixed, the experience embedded somewhere deep and personal, patching a broken heart perhaps, or planting a seed of revelation to be harvested at a later date.

stones en route

The sun set pink and orange as WisPride beside the stadium as the moon rose opposite, the iconic Stones logo pulsating in 3-D on screens in between. We roamed the grounds, hugging innumerable friends and making new ones along the way, including Julie, who had arrived in Cuba for the first time the night before and had seen the Stones once before – in 1968. We scoped out a spot like a dog who sniffs and spins looking for the perfect place to shit. I invented a game as we waited for the show to start: with what song would they open? Song to close? Number of encores? What song would you most like to hear? Our piquete debated and struck gentleman’s bets.

stones about to take stage

My dearest friend, visiting for the first time in my 14-year residence, craved the ballads: Angie; You Can’t Always Get What You Want. And she got what she needed. This wasn’t the case for another friend who, if there’s any credence to karma, should have been gifted a sweet, slow, poignant Time is On My Side. It is on his side, but reaffirmation by The Stones, at decibel levels heretofore unprecedented, would have been nice. My tear-inducing favorite, Wild Horses, didn’t make the set either. Disappointing, but I too, got what I needed in the end (funny how that works).

stones

My intellectual sparring partner and fellow member in the Cuban Tribe of Cool sidled up as the lights went down: ‘I’m betting Satisfaction to open and Jumping Jack Flash to close, flipping your prediction, just to be contrary.’ He’s smart enough to qualify an opinion contrary to mine: the lights burst on, the Stones took the stage and ripped into…Jumping Jack Flash. We locked eyes and laughed (score one for Conner!) before breaking into wild, unbridled dance, our feet pounding down the grass. And so kicked off two solid hours of dancing, leaping, singing, screaming and booty shaking. The shoes were off, the cameras were away and our hearts were open, from the first bars of Jumping Jack to the final cymbal crash of Satisfaction (I called it bitches!!).

toby los rolling

I’m not a big believer in much, but I do believe in energy transference and we had slipped into a pocket of joy and movement and acute consciousness of the historic moment. This concert was an even bigger moment, more of a game changer than the Obama visit (something else I called). That The Stones eclipsed Obama was a no-brainer: musical convergence – free no less, created by one of the greatest rock n roll bands of all time – has much more relevance for us here on the ground in the here and now. We channeled that energy and convergence, whirling and dipping and hugging throughout the show. We were actively, mindfully, transcending la luchita, shedding the stress of the bureaucracy and lovers’ spats, co-workers’ drama and the myriad hypocrisies and illogical contradictions we encounter daily. We were living The Rolling Stones in Cuba. I’m quite sure we’ll be talking about that rendition of Sympathy for the Devil for decades – as well as Mick’s accomplished Spanish and domination of Cuban jerga; when he shouted ‘Habana! Está en talla!’ the crowd went berserk.

stones pre show

I have many friends who blew off the show citing their distaste for (or outright panic of) large crowds. In fact, this was the number one reason given by many – and I polled scores in the lead up – for not attending. I feel extraordinarily sorry for them. Next time? Face your fears. There was room enough to get down and lay down, cartwheel and roam and damn, did we! You all? You missed the experience of a lifetime. It’s that simple. Herein lies a lesson in saying ‘yes!’ to adventure and opportunity as you make your way through this crazy little thing called life. To those of us who said ‘hell yes!’ to The Stones in Cuba, I salute you. To those who didn’t, you willfully missed the greatest rock concert in Cuban history – something you’ll be explaining to your kids, like people who blew off Woodstock…Sucks to be you.

The sun set, the moon rose and I’m writing this as the sun rises over Havana the day after. My feet ache and my belly’s tight and grumbling from too much coffee and not enough sustenance, but my spirit is bursting with a lust for life and the conviction that you can construct a short, but meaningful and memorable one if you try.
stones no reguetown
The next time I doubt that, I’ll read this post. I, we, are proof.

I know it’s only rock and roll, but I like it.

P.S. Now bring on Led Zeppelin – the only band more beloved in Cuba than The Stones.

Living the Dream – Bonus Material

The Rolling Stones are a band that keep on giving. Not surprisingly, impressions, sentiments, and memories of this historic concert are still sinking in (plus rumors are running rampant here), so I’m adding this bonus material:

– I have it on good authority that the Obama Sisters, Malia and Sasha stayed behind with their abuela for the Stones show while their parents continued on their diplomatic jaunt through Latin America. File under: Another Moment Barack Misses Out.

– Since Saturday, you hear people whistling Paint It Black in the street and Jumping Jack Flash coming from balconies. And everyone’s watching the HBO series Vinyl, including me. New York and rock and roll? I’ve been living this since my diaper days and am loving this series long time!

– Ingress and egress to the venue epitomizes Cuba: the entrances and exits were simply sections of the tall, iron fence taken out. We streamed in with hundreds – no metal detectors, no pat downs, no bag searches. My biker friends did get patted down (yes, profiling happens here too), I learned later, upon which knives, all-in-one tools and boxes o’ ron were stashed in boots.

– Rumors four days post-show: next acts due to play here include AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Red Hot Chili Peppers. As with everything here, we’ll believe it when we hear/see it. And even then it’s unbelievable: that the Stones event even happened is still sinking in all these days later.

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13 Comments

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

13 responses to “Living the Dream: The Stones in Cuba

  1. Alexandra D'Italia

    Love this POST! You captured the mood perfectly! But why did you use that picture of me??? : )

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I am sure it was a lifetime experience. The hotels in Cuba were fully booked at that time, I guess. You were really lucky to be there!

  3. OMG, you nailed how I felt the last time I saw the Stones – also for free…big private party for PepsiCo here on Big Island…son in law drove truck for Pepsi, got 2 tickets and gave them to mom 😃
    Up close and personal. Right off the stage. 10 feet from Mick. Entire place a dance floor. Wow! Thx for the memory.

    • When I titled this post “Living the Dream”, I wasn’t kidding. I’ve constructed a wild and meaningful life here in Cuba since 2002. Which means I am rarely jealous of the lives of others (one exception: Cuba Libro regular Andrea is a journalist AND tournament tennis line judge. I want to be sideline at awesome tennis matches and get paid for it!). But this comment, Maui Tutu, makes me dewy eyed. The Big Island, Hawai’i, The Orchid Isle, is my home away from home. I’ve spent a lot of time there, written three guidebooks for Lonely Planet to TBI and am always, always trying to find a way back. After Cuba, the only place I can imagine living is on a little plot in Puna or Volcano (I’d “settle” for something on the Hamakua Coast or even HOVE!!). But the STONES on THE BIG ISLAND? Where was that show? And: two huge ups for your son. He’s my hero! Thanks for writing in.

      • They set up a HUGE tent in the parking lot if the Hilton Waikoloa Beach. Big stage. Bar all around the perimeter. All the rest dance floor. Soooo big. So intimate. So awesome!
        The week-long bash was for big Pepsi execs all around the world, but when the local paper asked why local Pepsi workers weren’t invited, they quickly gave 2 tickets to each Pepsi Big Island employee. My son in law was a total champ to give me his tickets!!
        Since Cuba I’ve lived in France and Thailand, now back home on BI. I love it too ❤️ Wish I could have seen them in Cuba ❤️

  4. John Corbett

    Once again thank you for the insight on this historic month in Cuba . My heart has resided in Cuba for many years now and when I’m home in Canada it’s very hard to get any real news about what is going on . I do from time to time receive short texts from friends and thats about it . I have read so many articles by American journalists that feel qualified to critique Cuban life after spending a few days in Havana and totally ignore or distort the history of the island .

  5. Marie

    Im visiting for just a week traveling alone. I thought meeting fellow travelers would be easy and fun but its lonely here. How can i meet other american/canadians?!

    • Try: Cuba Libro (corners Calle 24 & 19, Vedado), The Fabrica de Arte (corners Calle 26 & 11 Vedado), the University of Havana and any of the Wifi hot spots. Good luck and be open to serendipity – meeting Cubans is much more interesting!

  6. Pingback: Communicating from Cuba?! | Here is Havana

  7. Pingback: Communicating from Cuba?! | Cuba on Time

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