Saturday, October 15, 2016

Our Last Trip to Cuba 7:The Mafia-like Shakedown

As a historian I am predisposed to research everything, most especially things in Cuba, and so before our last trip I looked up the history of Hotel Jagua

  One google search and I have enough.

Here is your screenshot from

I love immigrants making good on the American dream, spreading capitalism and etc.

Boardwalk Empire's Meyer Lansky, soon to have a sequel to series set in Cuba where he and all his associates lose everything to Castro and then decide to kill Kennedy only to have James Franco stop the assassination, etc.

Anyway, the hotel is gorgeous and open and clean and empty and we walk straight to the desk where three women speak in quiet tones.

 One woman has  a clipboard and a list of names that she reads off one at a time. Another woman is sitting behind the desk saying names back and checking things off. The other woman sits behind the desk stares into her computer screen, typing slowly with long nails.

Mom and I drop our things by the desk and put our purses on the counter.

None of them acknowledge us, so Mom goes through her stuff and pulls out her paperwork and we stand there.

And we stand there.

And we stand there so long we are having trouble not giggling because they can't be serious.
It's like we are whatever comes after invisible. And also they can't hear us because we are asking each other (in perfect English lol) if this is actually happening, if really people can be like this in the 21st century.  She clears her throat some. I clear mine.  The good news is that I've been in this weird place in life where I really like plants and I really enjoy looking at (gawking at) the gorgeous plants cascading everywhere so I wasn't in the slightest bit annoyed.

Then my mom elbowed me and slightly whispered. Oh, you have another friend.
I follow where she is looking and saw a thin-ish man in normal Cuban civilian person clothes leaning over the counter a few feet away watching us. (see diagram below)

Watching us.
Not even trying to act like he was doing anything but watching us.
 Not helping. Not speaking. Just standing and looking.

After the better part of a half hour, the lady with the clip board stepped away from the desk and the two women at the desk turn towards each other and talk about this and that. Neither looks at us, despite the fact they are inches away.

My Mom proclaims, BUENOS DIAS and they both look up.

They apologize. They get our room information and the room card-key.  Mom explains that we are here because her aunt is gravely ill. One of them knows Tialourdes, she was her student, and sends her love.

Mom asks how to call home because she needs  to call my Dad and check on Abuelo. They tell her just come downstairs and have hotel staff call Florida and hand her the phone.  This isn't the answer we were expecting, but OK. Mom nods her understanding, and we get ready to go upstairs.

The elevators have a lot of mirrors. Just let me say that. So if you go, don't be scared, they're just mirrors.

We get off on the top floor and before I can see how awesome the view is, I see this plaque. Castro stayed here. Awesomesauce.
 We don't actually get Castro's room (oh darn, but actually we needed two queen beds and I bet he isn't a two queen kind of hotel room guy) but the room next to the room next to it.  Grand.
Mom puts the card into the slot. A light goes on. The door doesn't open.
We try again. The light goes on. The door doesn't open.
We repeat this 10 more times, then go downstairs to ask for help.
This time one of the ladies from the desk came up with us. She put the card in. The light went on and then she lowered her shoulder and SHOVED the humidity-swollen door open.  Not the solution we expected, but OK.

The room was about as spartan as you'd expect a hotel that opened during the birth of the communist revolution might be. The floors were lined with clean white tile. No rugs, nothing soft. The beds were low and flat. The bathroom was completely lined with white tiles, and contained exactly two white towels.  The TV worked. Yay. There was a balcony that looked over the pool below and the bay.

By this point, we were beyond famished and headed downstairs to the place we've been before. We order wine, and unlike before, they don't sell it by the glass. Bottles only. And no, they don't tell us the price. But we get a bottle anyway because we are together and it is Cuba and wind is blowing.

My mom falls into a barrage of phone calls and so I step away to the sunset.

 Then Mom got in on a picture, family-tree style, standing by the Bella Carolina.
 Then I took one of Mom.
 And while I was doing all that I was incredibly distracted by this whole thing going on in the very empty pool. The girl looked thirteen, but was probably going on 15 and taking pictures for her big 15 party and was doing all sorts of prowling poses and sexy faces etc that kids her age generally Snapchat.

We are starving. The waiter brings us the menu. There are no prices but OK, we order anyway.  
They each order a meal. I order vegetable soup.

The food comes, then more wine, and much talking.

 I can't tell you about most of the rest of the night, not because I CAN'T but because private things were shared and they aren't all mine to discuss.

 I can abbreviate it for you, would you like that? OK.

Person: I have a great IDEA that will get me to AMERICA
Person: Great. idea. and. practically. done.
Me: WORST IDEA EVER and also, we have so much better makeup in America, wait until you visit sephora.
Person: I will be there soon.
Me: NOOOOOOOOOOOO people have to stay where they are they can't just go to other countries!
Person; (wine) I'm definitely coming
Person: That's a pretty bracelet (she says this with her eyes)
Me: This is a pretty bracelet. It was a prettier earring. (I say to my mom in English) (Gives her the bracelet/earring) (Opens purse, gives her makeup)(Gives her cash to make sure she has some).

The bill comes and my mom leaves us and was gone a bit, long enough that we fall into silence.

We say our goodbyes and head up the elevator to our white tiled room.

I ask where she went, and she says she had to get more money because dinner was over $200.

Well THAT felt like mafia shakedown, I mutter in the direction of our entire evening, and mom agrees.