Sunday, February 01, 2015
kicking up heels
What does it take for the beach crowd to slip on high heels and top it off with a Chanel little black dress?
Apparently, Cuba night. And Cuba night it was at the French eatery Ambar. Or "Cubambar" for the night -- as the owners Veronique and Ricardo would have it. (Yeah, I know. Cuba. Ricardo. Even I am not going there.)
For a high value peso note, we were treated to a Cuban dinner (I have yet to eat a Cuban meal I did not like), to Cuban music (which I like almost as much), and to a Cuban craft (other than the type of craft that locks up political prisoners).
Speaking of Cuban prisoners, I am always a bit cautious about attending cultural events where the star attraction is from a totalitarian country. I have had plenty of experiences where I thought I was supporting social justice in Palestine or political dissidents in Iran only to find out that I had sponsored guns for Palestine and training gear for Republican Guards. You just never know.
But I decided simply to enjoy the night for what it was. If there was sub-text, it could play out in someone else's essay.
I was correct about the food. Even though most Cuban dishes have an interesting combination of ingredients, they tend to be rather simple and tasty. That was certainly true of last night's main chicken course -- combined with olives and raisins. A form of fricassé de pollo, if I am guessing correctly.
The chicken was served with that Cuban staple -- rise and brown beans -- along with fried plantains. The type of meal you were once able to eat in farmhouses around Cuba.
The music was even better. The Cuban import was known as Pedrito y de "Cubason." Like most bands that travel from Cuba, their sound system was even worse than our local lighting. I stood next to the stage several times to test how good the voices and instruments were before they became muddled by the sound system.
And good they were -- with the exception of the rather annoying habit of assigning saxophone and trumpet solos to the electronic piano. For good reason. There were no wind instruments.
But there was no missing the provenance of most of the tunes. The eccentric descending chords and contrapuntal rhythms branded it as Cuban. The song selections were primarily Cuban and Latin standards with a few new songs thrown in for variety.
Not that it mattered. The crowd was ready to enjoy itself. I was sitting in an area where French and Spanish were the lingua franca.
When the music started, Mexican shoulders immediately moved in syncopation with the beat until full bodies were dancing sitting down. That did not last for long.
Mexican women were the first to hit the dance floor. They were soon joined by other language groups -- unfortunately proving several racial stereotypes about dancing.
But that didn't matter, either. After all this isn't Arthur Murray. The fact that Latin hips move with more fluidity than northern hips was irrelevant. Girls -- and guys -- just wanted to have fun.
And fun we had. Barra de Navidad is blessed with some very good musicians. But these guys knew their stuff. In the same way that USO bands touring through Greece in the early 1970s knew their stuff.
Even the cloud of cigarette smoke that soon started rising added to the atmosphere. I could have been at the Tropicana celebrating New Year's Eve in 1958 -- or just visiting the showroom of the Havana National Hotel in 2015. Pretty much the same dictatorship and music.
Speaking of smoke, that was the craft that was on display last night.
A Cuban sat at a table pretending to make cigars -- and not pretending to sell them. I am not certain if anyone indulged in that particular vice. We may have been too busy indulging in our individual choices to be suckered into another.
Like most Latin concerts, this one started late, and it was just shifting into second gear when I had to leave. After all, I need to get this story to you while it is fresh. Plus, I have to get to church on time to plug my lecture on Thursday. (It is now in draft form number seven. You can see a hint of it in the left corner of my dinner photograph.)
As I write, we are getting a light rain shower. Hardly the thunderstorm that was predicted to test how water tight the upper deck of the house now is.
Maybe I could get the pretty Mexican women in their high heels to come over to test out the worthiness of the new tiles. The band is probably still playing.