Señor Blanco’s walk on the wildside

By AJ Twist / Posted April 12, 2013

I have always said that Havana is one of the safest cities in the world. During the day there are policemen on virtually every street corner in their grey uniforms and walkie talkies randomly checking IDs of the locals and keeping their eye on their assigned block or blocks of turf. Cubans will rarely hassle you on the street for fear of being spotted by one of these cops who will radio for back up (plainclothes or otherwise) if they feel someone has overstepped their boundaries. But at dusk many of these policemen are rounded up in small vans or open backed trucks and taken to their barracks or home. At night, like in any other metropolis anywhere, you should be on your guard. Nothing major but petty crimes may await you.

I recall one night when I took my sweetheart out for a ‘super romantico’ evening. We started at the famous paladar, La Guarida. Just walking into the building where this small restaurant is housed is enough cause some hesitation but once you mount the once glamorous staircase you will arrive in a culinary paradise. We got a table near the small balcony that overlooks the back street life of Centro Havana.

If she isn’t eating out the palm of your hand after taking her on the balcony to sip your digestifs, you might as well call it a night right there and then. We, however, carried on. All was going well.

I decided after dinner to take her to a section of the Malecon (at the base of the La Rampa and in the shadow of the Hotel Nacional) that I knew was lively late at  night. Here is the unofficial outside disco of gay Havana. Lots of ghetto blasters, bottles of rum changing hands, girls, boys and wannabe girls, dressed to the nines. Enough energy bubbling below the surface to power the city.

So here I am in my beautiful white jacket (they call me Señor Blanco at night) with my lovely darling (also a visitor by the way) on my arm and our unofficial taxi driver/guide/security guard trailing a few steps behind. The crowd swallowed us in and soon we were seated on the seawall enjoying the show.

Within seconds a strolling troubadour appeared with guitar in hand and asked elegantly if he might sing for my girlfriend. It was almost as if I had pre-ordered him! I nodded yes and he passionately began his songs of love. He played one Spanish love song and then gave us a fantastic rendition of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. Afterwards he asked for some compensation for his troubles. I knew this was coming and had separated a few convertible pesos’s in my pocket to hand him after the performance. I put 2 CUs in his hand and he looked at them and demanded more. I knew that normally this would be considered ample compensation for unsolicited serenading and refused to up the ante. He became agitated and asked for the bottle of water that I was holding. As I stood up to hand him the water out of the side of my eye came a six foot four transvestite in high heels and a glittering mini skirt. He leaned in (hey, the Adam’s apple gives them away every time) close to my ear and whispered sweet nothings as he touched my chest. I was totally taken aback by this aggression, which is so rare in Havana, and pushed him away. He and his little sidekick evaporated into the crowd while the guitarist disappeared in another direction. I said to my darling, “let’s get out of here” and we quickly headed to our ‘cab’. As we are walking she says, “I think he took your phone”. Sure enough, my coveted Iphone that I kept in my breast jacket pocket was gone! We looked around quickly for the thief and also if we could see any cops but I knew right away it was a futile exercise. There was no way we would see the phone or them again. Or would we?

The next day while enjoying the fried chicken on the terrace of the Hotel Inglaterra along comes a flamboyant tall man, blowing kisses to all with his ubiquous sidekick trailing behind basking in his leader’s afterglow.

“That’s him!” I said to my darling. “I know that’s the guy from last night.” She looked at whom I was talking about and said “are you sure”? I said yes. Just then I saw the smaller guy catch my eye and he nervously hustled the taller gentleman along. However, there was just enough doubt that it was them that I kept to my seat and instead reflected upon how atypical this experience had been, compared to all my worry-free moments I had spent, and continue to spend, on our beloved Malecon, no matter what section of the seawall!



AJ Twist is a Montreal writer and photographer. He still loves the Malecon and still misses his Iphone.

Read another VisitCuba article by AJ Twist here

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AJ Twist

A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based writer and photographer. He is a frequent traveller to Havana,Cuba as well as many other exotic urban destinations.