Adrift on the Island of Women Pie Fights over the Lost Highway


Adrift on the Island of Women

Pie Fights over the Lost Highway

Droit de Seigneur

The revolution promised equality but has produced a new nobility. Of which I am one.

Havana, Cuba
11th May, 2001

It's all true. Havana is beautiful, and collapsing into rubble. Food is short, and noone knows how to cook what food they have. Everything is strange, wrong-headed, and frustrating. And yet this is the most unusual and fascinating place.

Cheese pizzas. I have never eaten so many frozen, seven-eleven quality pizzas in my life. Who could have known that the Marxist food of the proletariat would turn out to be the cheese pizza. But they make a welcome change from scrambled eggs.

Food fills my thoughts here. I long for fresh vegetables and clean, cold milk, but I long in vain. It is no more available to most Cubans than to me. When I arrived in Cuba, I stayed for three nights in a cheap Havana hotel. Every morning I asked for scambled eggs. Every morning I got something different, and it was never scrambled eggs. The first moning it was a fried egg, chopped up and liberally covered in grease. Then it was some dense mush with ham. I'm not sure the third time there were any eggs in it at all.

For the People

I'm studying Spanish in the university of Havana for a couple of weeks. It provides a wonderful insight to the lives of Cubans away from the tourist trail and the hustlers. Our teacher talks to us about the education and the lives of the ordinary Cubans, who live in a considerate and equal, though poor, community. We catch glimpses of it in the back streets of Havana, in the easy manners, the open friendliness, the life, the music.

The hustlers. If you stop moving for a moment in old Havana the hustlers are onto you. These jitineros ("jockeys" - prostitutes are jitineras) won't give up trying to help, for a fee. They chat, cajole, beg, offering taxis, and restaurants, black market cigars... they must believe we tourists are wandering in a daze asking ourselves, if only, if only I could get a taxi right now, but who will show me?? Perhaps some are. Our largesse of couple of dollars sprinkled as to the poor in an ancient kingdom might keep them for weeks in a country where the standard wage is US$10 a month. But I wish they would stop hassling me for a minute and learn to cook. Or mix concrete. The concrete used to repair the collapsing beautiful buildings here has the consistency of parrot feed and will collapse again in a couple of years.

We dollar tourists live strange, privileged lives like old nobility. Every privilege comes to us first. I am staying in a casa particular, an apartment with a family. I thought that it would be like a bed and breakfast at home, where I stay in one bedroom and the family continue as normal in the rest of the house. But when I came back the first night there I saw the truth: I am staying in their bedroom while they sleep in the kitchen. I felt ashamed that my dollars had displaced their lives, but... they need the money.

Noblesse Oblige

Salud, Sara and Rolf, those were great nights, mojitos and cerveza. But after I left you I went back to the casa, and had trouble unlocking the gate. A girl came up and helped me open it, and followed me upstairs. She must live here too, I thought, and did not realise the truth till she offered me (through mime) a blowjob for three dollars. No, I'm sorry, lo siento, I said. OK she mimed, two dollars. No really, I said, good night. She went off in a huff. Two dollars. The price of a cup of Bewleys coffee..

Cuba is a land of ironies, and here's the greatest of all: the Communist revolution that was meant to bring equality to the masses has produced in the end a new nobility, of which I find myself a reluctant member. We can exercise our droit de seigneur at will, displacing entire families from their homes, and having the pick of the local girls, if we choose, all at beck of a dollar and a passport. Price of a cup of coffee. But I am not so cheap.



Havana University




Havana Street Scene


Salsa Cuba


Cuba Route


Hat & Spoon



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The Facts

Where I stayed
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How I got around:
Car rental from the Hotel Havana Libre: make sure they give you enough petrol.
Viazul Tourist Busses: comfortable and easy, though you have to pay tourist prices.