July 21, 2018 – Havana
Apologize for broken English but if you want to read this stuff it’s gonna be like this all the way down. I could write in Italian and avoid this issue but I don’t want to, or at least I don’t think I do. The girl I’m in love with (Leïla) isn’t a competent Italian reader and I’d like her to take a look at these notes. Moreover, I feel like my prose would be plainer and less convoluted, hence more intelligible, in a language I don’t master. I am narcissistic enough to desire someone to read and perhaps understand what I write so here we go.
This story is a lie, and it’s also a travel journal.
It is a lie because we will go back home at the end of this journey. It is also a lie because most of the things I’m going to tell you didn’t really happen to me, nor they happened to anyone, as far as I know. These notes are not “based on a true story’’. I am writing fiction, for the sake of it because I feel like that.
It is also a travel journal because I am going to tell, with very little details and fuzzy descriptions, the travel I and Andrea are making around the globe. Right now I am in a room in a residential area of Havana, my laptop says it’s 13:49 but it is actually around 7 in this time zone.
I am not very good with time, it confuses me, and apparently I am not very good at dealing with jet lag either. Yesterday I fell asleep around 8pm local hour and today I woke up around 6am local hour. Perhaps this whole thing will be just a collection of thoughts from various hostels rooms at weird hours, who knows.
At my side sleeps my friend Andrea, who’s going to be with me in this travel. He’s better than me in dealing with jet lag, apparently. I have no clue on what hour he fell asleep but I can tell he looks pretty much relaxed right now. I heard him getting up around noon (Italian time) and switch off the air conditioning, which was making the noise of a meat grinder grinding screws. I woke up and he came back to sleep as cloudless as one can be.
He tends to be pretty cloudless, at least looking at him from the outside. Last year his mum died and I swear I never saw anyone reacting that stably. He’s 24, for inherits reasons he owns a certain number of apartments in Italy and plans on getting soon to a passive income with which he will be able to survive indefinitely. He studied sound engineering and worked both in a studio and in a radio for a while. After his mother died he left Milan for various months working on a cruise. Once he came back he was expecting not to work until we would have departed for this trip. Instead he was almost immediately offered to come back to the place he was working before. Apparently he’s not bad at what he does, whatever he does.
While he was on the cruise I was living in Barcelona. He used to stop there once every two weeks and we used to go take a coffee on each of these occasions. Well, to be honest I was ordering coffee and he was ordering milk the time I looked him in the eyes and told him:
“Ok now I am going to propose you an idea. One that will sound great right now. Then everyone will tell you is crap and you will feel like dropping it. Just don’t! Ignore those morons!”
Of course I was speaking in Italian but stay with me for the time being. He replied with a question mark face and asked to stop procrastinating and tell him what I had thought.
So I told him that we were kind of young and this are the best years of our life, that we’re never going to be as strong and reactive and lucid and all those kind of things. Moreover, for some lucky circumstances, we have both access to a decent amount of money and we can just freely take a year off from everything with no consequences. So, I told him, we should have done a six months trip around the world.
Surprisingly enough he found it a good idea. We discussed a couple of hours more and then I went back home to work on the book I was writing back then (math exercises, nothing fancy).
The weird thing is, that idea did not remain just a nice conversation in a bar. Andrea came back from the cruise six months ago (more or less), me by that time I had moved to Lugano already. None of us took into consideration the idea of dropping the trip not even once. Or if he did it didn’t look like so. The idea was pretty simple: flying to Havana and stay there one week, then going somewhere in the USA, buy a car and go around for some two months. Thereafter we would have gone to Japan for a bit (Japan is expensive) and from there we would’ve gone to Vietnam where we would’ve bought a car or two bikes. We would’ve crossed the border with China and from there we would have gone to Samarkand via don’t-remember-the-name-of-that-country. Then we would have passed the Caspian Sea and via a few other places we would have arrived in Europe.
We tried our best to stick to this plan, however we discovered that border issues are real and passing through so many countries with a vietnamese car is far from easy (or cheap). Still, we had to resize the whole thing when I got offered half the money I was expecting for my new project (grammar exercises book).
Therefore the actual travel we’ll be doing will stop the itinerary at the end of Vietnam, we will never pass the border to China. This assuming we will feel like coming back at some point, something that I would not take for granted at all.
Andrea bought all the flights and planned everything. This because I’m both a fuzzy unorganized person and a lazy bastard. So far I’ve returned him quite a few money but not all of them. He found a deal with his boss according to which he’s going to work a bit via internet and found a person to substitute him for the things he just can’t do from abroad. I think he expects to get back to the studio when (and if) we come back to Europe. Me I finished the first year of the master in Philosophy of Time I started in Lugano. I ended my contract as a university assistant with them and tried, with no success, to negotiate for them renewing the contract before my departure. I still hope my contract will be renewed in September, mostly because otherwise I don’t have the money to finish the trip, but I have no guarantee that it will happen. I also ignored my duties to my publishing house and postponed the writing for them again and again and again. I left my place in Lugano and found my love in a wonderful and very clever French girl.
After that and many more other things that perhaps I will have a chance to tell you about, we were ready to leave. Andrea finished his work duties, I ignored mine and spent as much time as possible with Leïla. He went to visit his grandfather, I went to help my parents with their moving and finally on the 19th of July we left for Cuba.
When we landed here we changed our money and looked for someone with Andrea’s last name on a piece of paper. You must declare a place where you’re going to stay to get a visa (although in fairness no one asked us for an address anytime in the process) so Andrea booked a room. We are staying in the house of the mum of a high school friend of him.
They brought us to the oldest looking car I have ever seen. On the way to Havana the driver was switching off the engine every time there was a downhill. We had to stop to refill the tank with some fuel he was carrying in the trunk. The car felt precarious and smelt like gasoline and plastic. The surroundings felt precarious as well and smelled like gasoline and plastic as well. The buildings seemed to me relatively recent, at most from the ’70s and still badly aged. I guess that’s what happens to houses when no one takes care of them (or, more plausibly, no one has the money to take care of them). People stay in front of the houses chilling out and doing their stuff. They glanced inside our car with a serious look but I don’t think they were focused anyhow on us. They just seem to have an intense way of looking at things and people.
We arrived at our place where we asked immediately for a place where to grab a couple of beers. Randal, the landlord, offered to join us. Probably he thought we could get lost or have other kinds of troubles, so he drove us to a bar and sat with us.
After beers we came back home ordered food that was delivered in crock vases and we ate the best avocado I’ve ever tried (not the best meat though) and we went to sleep, since
we were very tired ’cause 11h flight.
Now Letitia, the landlady, is preparing us a mango and we’re chilling in the terrace. Andre stares at the trees and in a bit he’ll go retrieve the backpack he forgot yesterday in a supermarket. I am smoking a cigarette too strong for me that Randal (landlord) offered me and drinking my coffee.
Despite all the stories I have heard about Cuba, I’m finding this place a pretty regular poor place. Yesterday a friend of Letitia brought us to the old city. Apparently taxis are cheaper if you’re with a cuban. I can’t remember his name so I’m going to call him Mario.
Mario thinks Fidel was just a dictator, like Franco and Mussolini. He didn’t mention Hitler. He thinks things were going sort of better with Obama and expects everything to go very bad with Trump. He’s unemployed and was an alcoholic so doesn’t drink liquors, only beer and wine (as long as we pay for it).
Mario showed us quite a few buildings from colonial time and quite a few others more recent. He showed us many statues of people I forgot about already. The only one that still sticks to my mind is the statue of a beggar from the colonial time. Apparently this beggar had superiority complexes. He pretended to be a lord and a man of science. He’s depicted with scrolls and pens in his hand like a poet and wear an upper-class costume. Probably it stuck to my mind because Mario’s description trying to justify why they made him a statue made me think he was a weirdly successful fake with a napoleon complex. Something which reminds me of Sid Vicious and perhaps myself.
We drank mojitos in the “Boteguita del Medio” where allegedly they make the best mojito in the world. Thereafter we went eating in a place where we spent 15CUC for a three people meal (1€ $\simeq$ 1.12CUC)
. This “restaurant” is located very close to the no-car-zone for tourists in the very center of the old city. Unsurprisingly, just when you leave the no-car-zone the environment changes completely. You stop seeing people with expensive cameras and smiling Cubans inviting you to enter in a bar.
Faces are dryer outside the no-car-zone. People walk fast and feel free to throw shitlike smelling liquids on the street. Buildings are crumbling and you feel like avoiding long eye contact is avoiding barrel. This contrast reminded me of Raval, where I used to live in Barcelona. If you have been there you know what I mean. Some parts of Raval feel like an isolated world inside the city, rather distinct from the rest. A place where people walk fast and you feel like having a very confident look while going around and avoid eye contact. It’s not really dangerous but it injects you an attitude different from the one you get in touristic no-car-zones.
As opposed to Raval, I felt that here the touristic no-car-zone is the island whereas the crumbling areas are the actual city. We came back home using a taxi service that makes always the same path back and forth. On these taxis whomever can enter together with you as long as she goes in the same direction. The taxi was a 66 years old car smelling like gasoline and rather unstable when turning. It felt great, I think I could live here for a while, if only it had proper internet connection.
Once we arrived home we realized we had spent way more than we expected (although way less than a single dinner with Leïla I had the night before she left for her place in Amsterdam). We left some 15CUC to Mario who said he would be happy to come with us in the next days for free. I thought he’s interested in the free drinks and food but perhaps he actually likes us. For sure it feels like he likes us.
It felt weird paying those money to a person just slightly younger than my dad for an entire day of his time. I could easily spend double those money staying two hours at the Oops (pub in Lugano) and I’m not a rich person. Somehow I feel like for a person of that age that kind of money must look like nothing. However clearly this is not the case. I had the same feeling when I was volunteering for a “social” club in Milan called LatoB. A 60 years old musician refused to leave until we gave him something for his performance, despite that wasn’t what we agreed on beforehand. We gave him 10 Euros and he left.
As you might have guessed I come from an environment in which 10 Euros are nothing for a 50 years old person. They would have been something for me until I was 21 and now I’m planning to spend some 6k in a four months trip around the globe. I work pretty little, both for the uni and for the publishing house and I’m free to spend quite a lot of time in a non money-generating activity such as studying philosophy. I can afford to have frequent existential crisis’. For instance, I recently realized I’m not sure anymore I want to get a PhD and I’m quite sure I don’t wanna be a researcher anymore.
Moreover paying Mario 15CUC for 5h of his time made me feel weird. I’m sure he’s doing pretty good and he’s a sort of happy person, for sure he looks like a pretty happy person. Still, his life doesn’t look at all like mine and this money thing makes me realize it. Most of the world, all around the globe is not at all like me, I still don’t know what to do with this thought.
I acknowledge this all digression may sound as a poor attempt at making a deep thought. I’m not sure that’s what it is mostly because I can’t read any thought in it, just a belly feeling I’m failing to phrase. I hope I’ll be able to make a thought out of it somewhere in the next notes but most probably there will be just a shit ton of existential crisis.
Andre came back from the groceries and told me about how cheap everything is here. He bought fruits and some meat and some crackers (galletas).
Me I’m thinking to end this note here. I would have many more things to say about this place and about us. I’d like to say some more about Leïla, who’s a very great person. I’d like to describe Andrea’s attitude towards life, which is very close and very far away from mine, less convoluted and thoughtful and still so complex that I totally fail to understand. I’d like to mention some of my thoughts and say why I’d title this diary “Zen and the Art of Going Away and Never Come Back”. I’d like to talk about Letitia, who’s economically fine but misses Italy because this place is boring for her (she said once, in Spanish “you need to be drunk all the time because there’s nothing to do here”.
That made me think of my mum, very unsatisfied and drinking a lot in Italy and of Leïla’s dad, also drinking a lot in Paris, don’t know about his satisfaction). I’d like to say some more about Randal, that made us a considerable discount and is trying his best to be helpful and kind to us. I’d like to describe how he’s trying to be kind and how it feels to me. Also, I’d like to try giving an idea of his way of thinking, that I most certainly can’t understand. I’d like to say something about our air conditioning that makes a shit ton of noise and create an environment perfect for penguins while heating up the rest of the planet.
Still, I guess I’ll rather stop here. Probably I’ll say something about those things later on. My laptop says it’s 17:46 now. I should probably do other stuff, work on the paper on Real Definitions that was due the 15th of July or write some grammar exercises or grab a beer and go to the beach. Instead, I will probably ask Randal to switch on the internet and text my beloved.
I must note, as Andrea asked, that here they actually have two currencies: CUC and local pesos. One CUC is circa 25 pesos. More often than not they give you change in CUC and pesos. Most locals seem to use pesos. Andre finds this fact incredibly annoying. I don’t give a fuck but it’s not like I’m handling money a lot.