Apr 25, 2013

An exercise in Cuban carelessness - Last day in Havana (Part 7)

After the breakfast, we head to the Plaza de Armes market, for which we whine about for some days. Not that there is something awesome there, but we have to buy presents. Despite the mission, the first thing that I buy is something for me – a beret with two sides, the first is with a star, and the second one is with Che. I buy a magnet for my microwave oven (everybody buys magnets for their fridges, and I buy them for my microwave oven). The rest buy some sundries for gifts and we move to another part of the plaza, where are being sold paintings.

While Jorje and I have a look at the paintings of famous and not so famous Cuban artists, we each buy a coconut for un peso. Mine is a bit sharp and his has unpleasant sweet taste. Naturally we are the only one who likes them, and that's because we paid for them. After we empty the coconuts, I try to taste the white meat inside. After a considerable hitting against the pavement, the nut opens slightly and by my last effort I cracked it into two pieces. I feel like a winner, I AM a winner. I bite a little of the inside lining and throw it away. At the end, the real winner is the seller.

We continue to the next themed part of the market, the one with books. We start looking for something of Hemingway in English or anything famous in English, but our task is rather hard. However, I find a photo album for a gift and manage to cut the price in half, which increases immensely the pleasure of the purchase.
The book market at Plaza de Armes

Traditionally, I visit the local post office to send some post cards to my family. After I finish my writings, I hand the cards to the employees for stamps, and they have a good laugh at the unknown language. Or maybe they were laughing at my first class calligraphy.

The highlight of the daily program is a visit to the Partagas cigar factory. The first thing that you feel inside is the strong smell, which makes you quite dizzy. Almost nobody works with a mask, despite the safety rules. On the first floor are being sorted out the leaves according their quality and the main vein in the middle is being removed. The leaves are very soft to the touch, similar to velvet. On the next floor is the school, where the cigarmakers are being trained for nine months. On the third floor are made the cigars and every worker has to manufacture at least 90 pieces a day, everything on top is for their personal use. Great mastery is required – the cigar is being made from many leaves for the filling, after which it is wrapped into a single, nice leaf. A small quantity of glue is being used, but even it is organic/bio – it is made from some kind of a plant. The people from the quality control are the biggest idlers, all day long they scratch their cojones and from time to time they remember that have to do some work and light a cigar. The next place is where the cigars are being arranged by colors and are labeled. The interesting fact is that these workers also undergo a nine month training for this so specific activity, as they need to sort and label between 1,200 and 2,000 pieces a day.

We go out of the factory, make a quick calculation of how many cigars we'll need and tell our dealer Osmel to order them. The price is very low, as they are from the surplus the workers make every day. Of course, you can receive banana leaves instead of tobacco, but he assures us that we will get real ones (and we got real ones on the next day).

Part of the group wants to visit one more time El Capitolio, while the rest of us wait outside and do as the Cubans do – hang around or kibitz. I spot a nice fellow-countrywoman-colleague – her fellow-countryshipment (I'm not sure if there is such a word) is expressed in being a foreigner, and the colleagueship in that that she is taking photos. While she skillfully handles a DSLR with one hand, the wind is playing mischievously with her dress. My positive thoughts are being shared by a nearby Cuban, who in the company of the usual scraggy dog takes pleasure in everything that happens around him without taking an active part.
Mischievous Cuban wind
A friend in kibitzing, is a friend indeed
Proud owner of an American dinosaur 1
Proud owner of an American dinosaur 2
The Grand opera of Havana
A little grace
I notice of the little graces from the first day in Havana, who proudly poses in front of my camera right away.
Cuban time machines 1
Cuban time machines 2
Cuban time machines 3

We decide to visit the near Grand opera, but we are not allowed inside, I don't know why. In front of the entrance, while we are wondering what to do, another chavdarche or pionerche approaches us and asks me for a peso to buy a soda. Although, he almost has a business plan – he explains where the proceeds will go and what will be the end result (to quench his thirst), after a quick risk analysis I refuse the financing. The little one doesn't know that he asked the poorest from the group, probably deceived by the large camera. (I lost half of my money a couple of days ago, and the other half went missing in action in our casa). At the end we decide, that it is time to go back to our casa-museum to prepare for the night.

As one of the ladies in our group has a birthday, we head to the local dolphinarium and its restaurant to celebrate the occasion. Inside, the air conditioning does not know temperatures below 20 degrees C (68 F), as we are in the dolphins' food fridge. After the dinner is over, we rush outside, where the pleasant warm and humid air surrounds us and heats up our numb limbs. And we continue the celebration to familiar and unfamiliar places.

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