Archive | April, 2015

Sit Down. I Am Not For Your Consumption.

27 Apr

“Excuse me, is it Mardi Gras?” A man I’d guess to be at least in his mid-40s approached me and asked me.

“Ummm. No. I’m just dressed like this for a corporate scavenger hunt,” I replied, turning back to the bar. I was wearing a white, fringed flapper dress, a sequined-feather headband, leopard-print high heels, and rocking some seriously smoky eyes.

It was about 4 in the afternoon on a Saturday and I was tasked with sitting at a bar and when the teams on the scavenger hunt came in and gave me the speakeasy code word, I handed them an envelope with a voucher for sweet tea vodka shots from the bartender. As far as gigs go, it was pretty easy. Sit in a bar, look cute. Pass out envelopes. I was enjoying myself, until that gentleman who asked me if it was Mardi Gras decided to sit down next to me and proceeded to attempt to woo me with a series of increasingly bizarre comments.

“We just came from Kiawah and the Ferrari Club. Do you like sports cars? Do you like fast cars?”

“No. I don’t care. I have a Prius.” I deadpanned, “I really don’t care how I get from point A to point B as long as I get there.”

“So, what do you do?” he leaned on his elbows and gave me what I guess he imagined to be a winning smile.

“I’m a professional dancer.”

“Oooh. A dancer?” He raised his eyebrows and looked me up and down. “I can tell.”

“Get this,” he says, opening Facebook on his phone. “My wife is in Jamaica. She just took the maid and went to Jamaica without telling me. I found out because she posted it on Facebook.” He showed me a picture of a blonde woman who I guessed to be about 30. “Can you believe that?”

I looked at him. “I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to answer that. That sucks man.”

He would punctuate his stories by touching my shoulder, knee, waist, and at one point, my derriere. I was zero-percent amused. But I was also in a bind. I was working. I was waiting for the rest of the teams to come through. I had been specifically instructed to sit at that area in the bar and didn’t really have any other options, any other places to go. I had gotten a ride and was waiting for the gig to end and for my friend to pick me up…I had never felt so stuck.

Luckily, there were two girls sitting on the other side of me who I knew were looking out for me. They talked to me, let me angle myself toward them so I could direct my attention to them and ignore the man.

After what felt like an eternity (but I think was only an hour total), the man and his friend got up and left. The girls sitting next to me raised their eyebrows.

“We didn’t hear all of that, but that was bizarre.”

Tell me about it.

If I had just been wearing jeans and a t-shirt, if I didn’t have a lot of makeup on, that man would have not paid me that kind of attention. He wouldn’t have felt the license to be all up in my business, to be touching me, trying to flirt with me, trying to get me to go out on his boat or in his sports car. But since I was dressed up and alone, he decided that I was sending out some signal that said “Hey man who is probably my dad’s age…Come and get it.” Which I was definitely NOT.

“So, what are you doing later tonight?” He asked me before he left.

“I’m going to a party.”

“Do you have a date?”

“Yes of course.”

“You gonna call me if he cancels?”

I looked him straight in the eyes. “Do I look like someone who a date would cancel on?”

So this whole event made me really think. I saw a picture on Facebook recently where a woman was standing nude with a sign that said, “Still not asking for it.”

We as women are NEVER, EVER “asking for it.” I did my best to deflect his creepiness, but to me it was such a great illustration of how some men just think that because a woman is dressed a certain way, they have free reign to act like idiots. Usually when I go out, I’m with other people and more likely than not, out dancing. I keep the creeps at bay because I’m surrounded by guys that I know. I also think being a good dancer creates a good “fuck off” bubble. I realized that we women unconsciously run through a mental checklist evaluating every scenario to keep ourselves safe—am I dressed appropriately? Do I have a friend nearby? How am I getting home? Does my phone have enough battery? Does at least one person know where I am?

At the end of the day, I could really only feel sorry for that man. Sorry that he was in so much pain about his wife boosting that he had to try to make himself feel better by bothering me. I don’t usually say this about people, but he was a little pathetic. I wasn’t concerned—it was the middle of the day and I knew the bartender and those girls were looking out for me. If I had been in different circumstances, I would have simply got up and left or whipped out the Krav Maga. As a petite, white, female, I understand that there are certain situations I should not put myself in. Yeah, it kind of sucks that we can’t walk around anywhere at anytime dressed any way, but that is the reality of the world we live in. I just didn’t think that being dressed like a flapper at 4 pm on a Saturday afternoon would be one of those situations I should avoid.

Live and learn?

Ladies, what do you think? Have you experienced something like this before? Unfortunately, I have a feeling that every single one of you will say “YES.” Guys—how can we eradicate this behavior?

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Sixth time is the charm

18 Apr

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I recently returned from my sixth trip to Cuba, spending 10 days working as a tour leader for a U.S. company. One of my passengers asked me a good question—what has changed in the past three years since I’ve been traveling to Cuba?

The question made me stop and think because Cuba has changed (a little bit), but then again, I have too.

Now, my relationship with Cuba is complicated. I think I feel the way a lot of Cubans do…there is an inexplicable draw that keeps you coming back, that stays in your soul and makes Havana home, yet at the same time there is something immensely frustrating and heartbreaking about the island.

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Maybe it’s something in the salt air wafting off the Malecon, the sharp sweetness of a cafecito that jolts you into action, the smell hitting you before the taste. Maybe it’s the wiry toughness of the people, the way their mouths chew the words a little bit before spitting them out.

Maybe it’s because the sun seems a little brighter and under the crumbling grit you can see the beauty of the country that still brings so much pride to it’s people.

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Perhaps the energy of the musicians—pounding the congas like it’s their last chance—or how no one ever seems to be in a particular rush regarding anything.

Some of these things are what brings me back, what keeps me drinking from my Havana Club and Cubita cups, made me frame and hang up Cuban artwork in my home, made half my music library Cuban, made me learn how to relax more.

But at the same time, there is a certain tension and feeling of entrapment when I’m there. Frustration at the crippling inefficiency…the difficulty in finding basic items, the amount of time it takes to get from Vedado to Old Havana, even though it’s only mere miles away.

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Everyone says Cuba is stuck in time and that’s one of the frustrations.

Novel though it may be to bump along in a 1950s Chevy that has no shocks and spews smoke, that’s no way to live daily.

We may enjoy unplugging and disconnecting from our busy lives, but it’s no fun to be unable to contact your family in another country because of prohibitively expensive phone and internet access.

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Sure, it’s great that Cubans produce most of their food organically, but when you have to search weeks to get a carton of eggs, do you really care that they are technically free range?

I was talking to one of my dear friends, Ariel, about how frustrating it is for me to see the propaganda touting the triumphs of the revolution, the promise that socialism is here to stay when life is so difficult for most Cubans. He pointed out that it’s like a religious ideology—deep-rooted and slow to change.

So back to the original question: Has Cuba changed in the last three years?

Sure. The way anywhere changes in three years. Now there are more private businesses—restaurants, salons, clubs, etc.,– popping up in every neighborhood and more and more Cubans are toting iPhones. Buildings are being renovated and restored, almost garishly clean next to their sometimes dilapidated neighbors.

There are more tourists, particularly American tourists, and the streets of Havana are congested with tour buses and groups, an influx that the island doesn’t have the infrastructure to support.

You see more foreign cars on the streets—mostly Peugots and Kias—and more “For Sale” signs on houses, thanks to regulation changes allowing for both the import of vehicles and the buying and selling of property.

IMG_1116No, the changes aren’t drastic. Certainly another revolution hasn’t overturned everything and I think the changes will continue in degrees as relationships between Cuba and the U.S. are (hopefully) normalized.

The refrain I keep hearing is “I want to visit Cuba before it changes.”

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Guess what? It’s not going to change overnight. The embargo isn’t over. Cuba hasn’t “opened up” all of the sudden. The fear that there will be McDonald’s and Starbucks in Cuba anytime soon is bullshit. It’s actually a little offensive to say “I want to visit Cuba before it changes.” It would be like after ObamaCare passed, people from Germany saying “I want to visit the U.S. before it changes.”

It’s going to take a lot more than Obama and Castro having discussions, for an American Embassy to open in Cuba, for Cuba to change so much that it’s unrecognizable from it’s current state.

I believe that the parts of Cuba that make it special aren’t going anywhere. The attitude of the people, the architecture, the music, the art, the culture—all the things that I love are the essence of Cuba and will stay. The impending changes will make life better for everyone on the island—people will not have to spend so much time waiting for the bus or searching for daily necessities and will be able to spend more time well, being Cuban.

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All I can ever really do is share what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen and experienced… you’ll have to go to Cuba yourself to draw your own conclusions. Just remember that anytime an American visits Cuba, he or she goes as an ambassador. Travel with respect, an open mind, and lots of patience.

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Cuban Coffee Never Tastes the Same in America

12 Apr

Cuban coffee never tastes the same in America.

Is it the quality of the water? How my cafetera hasn’t been being seasoned since the fall of the Soviet Union? Am I lacking the attitude as I prepare it, the ‘I may not have much, but at least I have coffee?’

Is it because it’s not percolating over an overpriced Chinese stove or perhaps a burner that hasn’t been replaced since the 70s? Is it because I didn’t mop my kitchen floor with a rag on a stick, because all I have to do to get eggs is get in my 2007 Prius and drive to the nearest grocery store?

Is it becasue my tongue still can’t roll those double rr’s, even though I can voy pa’ ‘lante y que pinga asere with the rest of them? Is it because the air isn’t thick with the exhaust fumes of six decades of failing transmissions, occasionally moved by a salty breeze from our own shores?

Is it because the spoon I use to stir in the sugar was so easy to acquire, a Target trip where I stocked my entire kitchen in an hour instead of cobbling together the necessities over years of searching and gifts brought to the island?

Who knows why Cuban coffee tastes different here, but the impetus to return to that singular flavor sits tauntingly on the back of my palate, part craving, part memory.

My friend and incredible artist Reynier Llanes gets the power of this stuff…check out his “Equilibrium” Cuban Espresso Coffee paintings here