Cuba: Russians and the Tropicana

A trip to Havana would not be complete without an evening at the fabled Tropicana. Opened in 1939, it survived the Mob and the Revolution to continue offering up voluptuous showgirls and muscled showboys in sequins and feathers, accompanied by the hot beat of Cuban music.

Diane and I were squired by two handsome guys from our group who managed to land us stage-side seats for the extravaganza. Just before the house lights dimmed, a minor commotion attracted our notice: Two house staff members were escorting a couple to join our table.

Our new companions were clearly completely blind, as signaled by their white canes and dark glasses. We said hello and soon learned that our neighbors were André and Tatania from Russia. Sharing our limited common words in English and Spanish, we managed to exchange a few pleasantries. Then the show began, and thinking we had done our bit for Glasnost, we turned our attention back to the stage.

But then I heard André’s deep, guttural voice saying, “Debora, Debora.”  “Yes, André?”  “Debora–you must dance with me.”  Of course, the aisle by our table was completely dark, but André didn’t know that. Not another soul was dancing, but André didn’t know that. And, well, how do you refuse an invitation like that from a blind Russian? So, we danced for a bit, then returned to our seats.

We were not, however, yet finished with our Russian encounter. Apparently, André had brought along some good Russian vodka and was well along into consuming it. He began talking to his vodka bottle in a very loud voice, seemingly providing an emotional non-stop account of something–sort of like a Tourette’s onslaught in Russian.

We nevertheless managed to enjoy the sights and the sounds of the dancers and music, accompanied by André’s constant commentary.

Then, another commotion at our table.  Two staff members arrived to lift André’s head from the table where it had fallen and carry him from the room.  They said something to Tatania  (who had yet to say a word, break a smile, or tap a foot)–perhaps asking if she wanted to go with André. Whatever they asked, her answer was a definitive “Nyet.”

A bit later, the staff members returned and poured Andre back into his seat, where he spent the rest of the evening with his head and white cane resting on the table.

Tatania never smiled.

And that was our evening at the Tropicana.

In honor of Andre and Tatania, a new cocktail called Two Blind Russians. It’s a variation of the classic Three Miller (aka Between the Sheets), substituting vodka for the rum and lime juice for the lemon juice:

  • 1 oz. vodka
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. cognac

Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with two maraschino cherries. After a couple of these, you’ll be as blind as the Russians.


Cuba: Oh, Those Beautiful Old Cars!

Call me shallow, and it’s true. One of the big draws of Cuba for me was to see those old 40s and 50s U.S. cars. They exist in all states of repair and disrepair. Some have newer, non-U.S. engines hidden under the vintage hoods.

Many of the most beautifully restored cars serve as taxis and gather in front of the tourist hotels. Here’s the early morning lineup in front of our Parque Central Hotel.

Horse-drawn carriages and bicycle taxis also vie for the tourist trade.
One evening our group took advantage of some of the fabulous convertibles for our ride to dinner. We were as happy as a bunch of teenagers cruising the square.
Of course, ordinary Cubans don’t ride in such vaunted conveyances.  They take the old, unrestored cars; overcrowded, un-air conditioned buses; bicycle taxis; or horse-drawn taxis. Or, more commonly, they walk.
Here are a few more of those fabulous cars.