After taking yesterday morning off, I go out again for a walk by myself before breakfast. Today I head inland, away from the Malecon, up the Avenida de los Presidentes. Lots to look at, although I seem to be the only touristy person around. There are locals out and about, but they are involved in getting on with their days and, for the most part, don’t even give me a second look.
Although, as I’m wandering around taking pictures in the large monument to Jose Miguel Gomez at the top of the hill there’s a man over in one of the wings who I’m not sure if he’s just urinating or wants to expose himself to me. I look away. He doesn’t approach, but it sets the creepy-meter off. How annoying. I leave and go back on to the street side of the sidewalk, where there are people. I walk away like I have somewhere to get to, and then make some turns, periodically checking, fortunately I don’t see him following. I won’t let that ruin my morning. It could have happened in a city in the States.
Breakfast is a little later, and we take taxis over to our morning activity, a walking tour of Havana Vieja (Old Town Havana.) There are unexpected traffic delays due to a marathon, but hey, we’re on Cuba time.
The Plaza de Armas, where we meet our guide, is lined with book stalls, which I’m sorely tempted by. I do look a bit. Where are you from. Estados Unidos. Oh we have some in English… but manage to not buy anything.
It’s the anniversary of the founding of the city, and people are standing in line for the traditional three circles around the ceiba tree.
Our guide is pleasant and knowledgeable, I go between following along and paying attention and lagging behind and taking pictures. Laura points out where we are going to be having lunch in case I get separated.
It’s another very nice restaurant, but I don’t eat. My stomach is a bit unsettled. I’m not sure if I’ve picked something up or it’s just the different food and probably more than usual that has it a bit out of sorts. Nothing alarming or explosive, but I figure I may as well give it a rest. Too late I realize the restaurant has ice cream. Oh well.
And why yes, that’s a printing themed restaurant across the street! I had seen earlier, one of those sort of out of the corner of my eye hey are those presses in there? but was maybe a bit distracted by the booth selling roasted corn on the cob. I will have to come back to that!
Our afternoon activity is a drum and dance lesson with Obini Bata, the group we saw perform at Casa Yoruba on Friday evening. They have an old theatre as a practice space. I think the vision is to revive it and have it be a gathering place cultural arts performing center, but there is the issue of money.
We split into groups for drumming and dancing, a few of us first go upstairs to drum. The balcony is not wired, or for some other reason has no electricity, so we navigate through some darkness until a light on an extension cord is brought. After a bit of drumming there’s a change of plans and we trundle back downstairs and finish the lesson in the kitchen.
The drums are two-headed bata. They are held horizontally on a stand so you can play both heads, one with each hand. There’s a bit of a trick to holding the stand with your foot so it doesn’t creep away while you’re playing.
We learn basic hits. The teacher indicates no so much arms, just the hands. They get an amazing amount of sound for what looks like hardly any movement. We’re a little hampered by the language barrier, but there’s the universally recurring instruction to relax.
There are three drums, each a different size, and each with its own pattern. There are words/syllables to relate the patterns, like the kuchi shoga for taiko. For a while I get a little side tracked trying to find the one. At some point I realize one of the base beats is triplets.
It’s pretty obvious there are times I’m not doing things right, but we can’t always sort out what’s wrong. (Not that it necessarily matters, for a one session class.) I wonder even if I knew Spanish how much they teach by explaining.
After some time we switch and learn some of the dance part. At the end, those of us who learned the drum parts try to drum for the dancers. I’m on the base – ki tah – beat on the medium size drum. When we’re done the woman who was teaching us comes over and (with Andre’s help with translation) says that part is very important, it is the one everyone else is listening to. Maybe it’s the translation, but it feels like I know what she means. It’s the heartbeat, the center.
The company then performs the drumming and dancing we just attempted. Nice to hear and see what it really looks like.
Then we all sit and have a bit of discussion and Q&A. Eva Trujillo founded the company in 1993. It was unusual for women to play the bata drums, in fact Obini Bata was the first all female group, but she felt they are the base of all cuban folkloric music, so it is important to know and understand this music. The current company members are classically trained dancers. I guess it’s easier to teach dancers to drum than the other way ’round.
We walk back to the main boulevard by the Capitol to catch an almendron back to the casa. Laura, Nancy and I end up being the last three. Two boys approach us, and before we can brush them off, start rapping and beat boxing. They are actually quite good, and seem to be enjoying what they are doing, so it’s hard to ignore. One leans back to almost horizontal from his knees. Like a back bend but not putting his hands on the ground. And then gets back up to vertical, no hands. Dang. They don’t ask but we give them some coins. Well I suppose they would have if we hadn’t. Anyway.
From the casa we walk over to the garden at Teatro Mella. There’s a closing concert/jam session for the Jo Jazz Festival. I think it’s a combination of those who were recognized for awards getting to play a bit more, and in combinations of players that they don’t usually. It’s a casual outdoor venue, and by the time we get there all the tables are taken. It’s kind of hard to even find a place to stand where you can see the stage, and people are smoking. OK I’m kinda done for the day. I listen to the music a bit, then, when some others are also ready to go, we walk back to the casa.
For a random note to end the day, at the casa there’s a fellow refinishing the dining room table.