My Havana Valentine

We had a squabble getting ready for Alicia’s party. It was one of those lover tiffs which squalls out of nowhere…but somewhere. It’s that discussion ostensibly about mixed up dinner plans but actually lays bare incompatibility. The writing on the wall? Perhaps for one person in the relationship, anyway. Or maybe it really is about the dinner plans, or where you parked the car, or remembering to buy garlic. In love, I’m slow to see the writing on the wall. I choose to believe it’s about the car or the garlic – until a point.

We kissed in an obligatory, ‘fake-it-‘til-you-make-it’ way before stepping out the door. It’s better this way when you ride together on a motorcycle. Couples can stay mad and steam driving in a car, but two on a Harley is a different story. We had to touch and occasionally huddle against the wind and rain or clutch and lean together to avoid potholes. And when, inevitably, we would hit one of Havana’s classic giant holes in the road, we’d absorb the shock and keep rolling. There was no choice, especially on creepy, dark streets like the backside of Quinta de los Molinos between Centro Habana and Plaza. It was times like these – and taking the curves around the cemetery or dodging asphalt moguls in Playa – that I was glad to have a couple tons of good ‘ole American steel beneath us. I know it’s more Cuban chatarra than US metal, but it’s some sort of comfort still. It helps that my pilot is very experienced, a native Habanero with a mental map of the potholes and other hazards. Still, driving in this city requires the reflexes of a ping pong pro, especially when riding an antique Panhead weighing a ton or two. Centro Habana, where pedestrians rule, is particularly hairy. Indeed, we had to dodge several meandering down the middle of Reina like it was Obispo. Suddenly a loud rumbling came over my left shoulder, shaking me from my nocturnal musings, something Havana’s penumbra and perfume, sinister doings and secret possibilities engender. A garbage truck, light of load, flew by us. The Harley’s speedometer is broken, but they were going over 50 miles an hour.
“Wow. They’re flying,” I yelled into J’s ear.
“And drunk!” he yelled back. “All garbage truck drivers are drunks.”

They barrelled through the red light at Infanta and Carlos III, bearing out his observation. Even under the best, well-lit circumstances, this intersection is extraordinarily dangerous.

We were approaching Alicia’s building – one of those crumbling relics so popular with certain photographers (AKA poverty porn). Our tiff no longer smouldered, but there was a jilted awkwardness between us as we discussed where to park. Alicia yelled down from her postage stamp balcony, underwear drying on the line: “just leave it there! It will be ok.” We were unsure: these old bikes draw crowds from Havana to Gibara and it was Saturday night in the bowels of a rough part of town. But Alicia knows her ‘hood; we left it gleaming under a streetlamp. Someone had scrawled ‘Granma Campeón!’ on a near wall. Dogs barked. A trio of young girls wobbled down the street, their unfortunate fashion choices impeding their progress. I turned to J after two flights up.
“What?” he said, his voice jumping.
I gave him a kiss. ‘Let’s have a good time,’ it said. We entered a house full of friends, more mine than his but not really good ones of either. We danced and joked. He drank wine, I nursed some Cachito. We popped out to the balcony for a smoke and to check on the bike. We were almost double the age of the oldest person there but no matter – this smart, fun Cuban crowd, tight since they were teens, treated us as contemporaries instead of the grandparents we could be.

J was filling his wine glass to the rim, I noticed. I didn’t care, he wasn’t an alcoholic like others I’d fallen for. In fact, he only drank socially, a concept I still can’t wrap my addict head around. But there was only one bottle of red and I noticed all eyes follow his full glass as he made his way across the room. It wasn’t like him to drink much as I mentioned, and he was always thinking of others – to a fault. He needed to take the edge off to deplete that single bottle so dramatically. We took our leave just after midnight, not long after the disco ball was lit. I knew we’d have sex when we got home. We were horny. We loved – and even liked – each other. And more so than the party’s wine and good company, a couple of orgasms would buff out any lingering static between us.

When I next saw Alicia, she told me how everyone at the party was talking about us after we left, saying what a beautiful couple we made. How we were so in sync – healthily, happily. That’s always nice to hear. Especially after a spat. Either it was true or we were really adept at faking it until making it. Maybe it’s a fine line and I’m splitting hairs, but the distinction plagues me: more than once recently I’ve caught myself swaddling my head in scarves, dancing funny with people watching and having existential conversations with my dog. I’m afraid I’m turning into Little Edie, Cuba Libro my Grey Gardens. Perhaps that’s why I believe it’s about forgetting the garlic and not the writing on the wall. Why I choose to believe it’s about fucked up dinner plans and not faking it; I’m choosing to believe if Im partnered up, I won’t end up like the Little Edie’s of the world.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “My Havana Valentine

  1. Your musings are so raw and delightful to read! I can only picture these events in minds eye but wow are they colorful! Keep up being real! Melva from PEI

  2. William

    You totally have to write a book.

    • Hola William and thanks for the inspiration! I have two books coming out this year: 100 Places in Cuba Every Woman Should Go (Traveler’s Tales) and TWATC (you have to read it to learn what that stands for!). On my life in Cuba, Ive got the book written and have been looking for a publisher/agent for ages now. It gets a little frustrating but comments like yours buoy me. Cheers!

  3. Love this, Conner!
    Happy Valentine’s Day, día de amistad y amor!

  4. Jenny Cressman

    Sometimes it’s hard to know if something is predictive graffiti, vital critical assessment leading to unprecedented personal enlightenment and improved quality of relationship life, or just overthinking. Good luck, and may you have plenty of happy Valentine’s daze to come!

  5. Pp

    Conner. You’re a great writer!! Wish you’d come back to NY or anywhere USA. 😁. We need your expertise and people with likeminded views to fight for what is right. In the age of world globalization, Brexit, TRUMP, ##metoo, Reality TV…etc….I could go on forever but, your voice is needed.

    • Whew. This is a really thought-provoking comment and too much for my overworked brain on a Sunday evening. I haven’t really struggled with the idea of leaving the US and the fight there for justice, harmony, sanity and logic because I think we all have a part to play no matter where we are and I have always been right on the frontlines of fighting for a saner/humane US policy towards Cuba (for context: I got my masters in poli sci and did my thesis on the embargo and left NY after 9-11 and the US response). Nevertheless, my family and friends are suffering under this new administration like never before and people are always bouncing ideas off of me and sharing their tales of DOING SOMETHING to improve what is a terribly shitty situation and which the world has to endure for 3 more years (at least – imagine if he gets re-elected!). My voice will never be silenced, however, and I will continue to write with as much honesty and comedy as I can about issues which strike right to the heart of these matters: gender violence, sexual orientation, justice, peace and love! thanks for giving me a boost in these efforts with your comment. Si se puede!!

  6. Ray

    Hola Conner, como estas! Your writing always has a refreshing bite yet a lovingly realist side to it. From the other side of the planet, I could almost totally relate to the lucha and smell the fumes off the roads of Havana. Still I’m a total stranger to the Latin culture and Cuba. Until last year all I heard of Cuba was the heroics of Fidel n Che, then met a beautiful n brave young engineer from LA Habana… On a business visit to China!? We kept in touch and since then my love for her and her Isla has kept me on the roller-coaster ride of learning español with the cuban twist! Your writings have been such a rich source on the cuban realities. And we all relate to your feel on the intricacies of human relationships… whichever corner of the planet u may be from! Please keep the lyrics flowing!!

    • Thanks Ray! And enjoy the rollercoaster ride. As I like to say: There’s never a dull moment in Cuba/with Cubans. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers from Havana

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