Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Where'd I go?

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months...and still no new posts from me! I know, I know, I've been a bad blogger. Life has been super busy recently but I swear I will be back. Don't give up on me, the story will have an ending one day!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Be Back Soon

I'll be noticeably absent for a week or so. But I promise I'll be back...and I'll be super focused upon my return. No more slacking!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The 'Real' Havana

Since we'd arrived in the city, Odalys and Odalkys had been doing our laundry, cleaning up after us and making all of our meals, I wanted to repay their hospitality by taking them out on the town. I just had one request, that we go out in style and see the real nightlife of Havana! They seemed to be in the know and I was sure that Odalys, being a professional dancer, would be up on all the coolest clubs. We tasked them with picking a venue and planned to meet up later after our farewell dinner with Pedro and Olivia.

Old cars outside El Capitolio...waiting to taxi away folks who eat too many shrimp at the nearby restaurants
After gorging ourselves on shrimp cocktails followed by shrimpy soup followed by giant plates of creamy shrimp in a restaurant across from El Capitolio we stuffed ourselves into a 'vintage' taxi and set off back to Vedado to meet the Os at their nightlife hotspot of choice. I was expecting a dark and seductive club, possibly something open-roofed, full of sweaty locals grinding and writhing to reggaeton. What I was not expecting was a hotel.

When we rolled up to the Melia Cohiba I felt a wave of disappointment wash over me. It had all the charm of an airport Radisson and was the exact opposite of what I had wanted to experience. A tacky white vinyl banner with blue lettering spelling out Havana Cafe hung over a doorway to the side of the lobby. I paced back and forth in front of the sign, willing myself not to cry. Juan, Pedro and Olivia were all watching me nervously, trying to figure out why I was having a sudden meltdown.

'I'm sorry guys. I just really wanted to experience something authentic. I feel like this is just going to be a stupid tourist attraction.This is not Cuba at all. It's just really not what I wanted. I'm sorry'

They continued to look nervous, suggested we give it a chance for now and maybe try something else later if I wasn't happy, offered up the possibility that I might like it once we got inside. I knew I was being childish but I couldn't snap out of the mood that had descended on me. When the Os arrived and we got inside, things just got worse. It was a weird Cuban version of a Hard Rock Cafe, my idea of hell, a mish-mash of stereotypes and nostalgia created for people who wanted to experience a country without actually going outside. There were at most 20 people in the giant room, mostly confused, pasty folks who also seemed to be wondering how they ended up in the theme park. Though when I slid my grouchy stare around the room I was clearly the grumpiest of all the grumpy guests.

The only old cars in Havana that I hated
We sat at a table beside the stage, watching scantily clad dancers work their way through all of the usual numbers of a Cuban Entertainment Show. Pedro and Olivia excused themselves halfway through, they had to work in the morning again and were equally uninterested in the performance. We saw them off with hugs and kisses and then headed back in just as the audience participation started. 7 international man were standing awkwardly on stage but they still needed a Cuban. When the host saw Juan and I walk past his humiliation dream team was complete. Juan was pulled on stage with the rest of the men.

One after another, the 8 men on stage were forced to show off their best dance moves to a variety of Cuban rhythms. Limbs flailed, joints cracked, beads of sweat formed, jaws hung open in concentration. When it was Juan's turn, the other men accepted that the competition was over. As he danced effortlessly to a Cuban reggaeton song, they sat back in defeat. However, the host had other plans. He knew it was too easy to just hand victory to the Cuban, so he plucked a Cuban woman and me from the crowd. She was to dance with an Italian who had exhibited decent dance moves and I was to dance with Juan. For our dance, the DJ selected a waltz.

The dance contest losers watching Juan defeat them
I tried to hide my face in Juan's shoulder as he pushed and pulled me around the stage, knowing just as little about waltzing as me but trying a little harder to fake it. I felt the tears from earlier forming again, this time from complete humiliation. I also felt dinner's multi-course shrimp extravaganza rising in my throat. Juan whispered to me not to worry, to just enjoy how ridiculous this was but all I could think about was how idiotic I must look on-stage, in front of this crowd, trying to waltz. When the dance ended I tried to escape back to my seat but the host was not through with us. He teased me about finding a Cuban boyfriend in Camaguey, wondered why I went all that way when there were so many available men in Havana (with a wink wink nudge nudge to indicate himself). The crowd laughed, I stared at the floor, waiting for it to open up and swallow me.

The floor did not open up. Instead a tie was announced, Juan and the Italian were both crowned dance victors and all the dancers from the show appeared around us dressed in white. Juan somehow slipped away to grab my camera and only the Italian and I were left on-stage, forced into some sort of hellish, never-ending chachacha circle. I kept my eyes on the feet of the dancer in front of me and mimicked his moves, swearing to myself that I would never again come to this city without a plan.

When I got back to the table, the Os were grinning like fools. They were so excited after the dance performance and my 'participation' in the dancing. My angry glares had been making them nervous earlier but after seeing me onstage they were convinced that they had chosen wisely when they decided to bring us to the Havana Cafe. They knew it was popular with tourists, I was a tourist, ergo it would be popular with me. Seeing their eager smiles, and realizing that this debacle of an evening was for my benefit, didn't improve my mood but it did convince me to fake a better one. I dug up the best smile I could muster and told them I loved the show, that I was having so much fun, that I was so happy we were all able to enjoy this awesome place together.

Their smiles got bigger and they grabbed my hands, leading me towards the dancefloor that was filling up post-show. Juan followed close behind me and spoke quietly into my ear.

'Thank you'
'For what?'
'For pretending you're having fun. I know this isn't what you wanted. I guess they just didn't understand.'
'It's okay. They tried their best.'
'Still, thank you.'

With the warmth of his breath on my neck and two grinning cousins in front of me, I realized it really was okay. Maybe this wasn't the 'real' Havana I had hoped for but it was a real experience with real people. I let the last of my bad mood slide away and started to dance.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

Picture Time

We did manage to squeeze in a little sightseeing in between our lazy days of mostly doing nothing

The Cathedral Church in Old Havana with its convenient next-door brewery

One of many bougainvillea plants I oohed and awed over

















 
El Floridita, the tourist daiquiri-mecca

The most artistic photo I've ever taken

Che graffiti in Vedado

I never get tired of the old cars

The National Hotel (soon to be featured in an upcoming blog post!)

Nice building, nice sky

This guy couldn't have been more rockabilly if he tried

Another nice building



Saturday, August 11, 2012

Season of the Snob - Part 2

As we walked through Vedado towards La Rampa, the tension began to ease up. Without his cousins to keep him company, Juan seemed to realize that it would be a lonely night for him unless he got on our team. He started to join the conversation and by the time we reached our destination the four of us were all talking and laughing together with ease.

We weren't exactly creative with our nightlife in Havana. I hadn't had any particular expectations of the city when I decided I wanted to go there. I wanted to see the old cars and the Malecon but there wasn't anything else that I had been dying to see. Cuba and its capital had never held any fascination for me and even in my post-first-trip infatuation with the country, I hadn't uncovered any landmark or activity that really grabbed my interest. I had figured we'd let the city reveal itself to us in its own way, not force its hand with heavily regimented planning. However, without a plan we simply fell into a routine and ended up going back to the same cafe/bar we'd landed at on our first night out.

There was nothing particularly special about it, even now I can't remember its name. It seemed to be a live music venue but there was never any live music. A large sign proclaimed that it was the 'Mejor de Cuba' but I figured that a country with so little advertising probably lacked an advertising standards council to demand verification for 'best of' claims. It did boast a location across the street from the Hotel Habana Libre, a landmark hotel that unfortunately is butt-ugly to look at.  There was really no reason it had become our local favourite other than the fact that we liked the outdoor patio and we were both creatures of habit.

The Habana Libre Hotel in all its ugly non-glory
After a few beers at our favourite, forgettable hang-out all the awkwardness of earlier had melted away. Pedro and Juan were cracking jokes and laughing til they could barely breathe, Olivia and I were alternating between the deep, emotional conversation of women who are forming a new friendship and laughing at the guys. Juan's worries about their nefarious plans for me had proved fruitless, as had my worries that they wouldn't approve of him or understand what I saw in him. We were just four friends having a fun night in Havana. And that's when the magic started. Literally.

A group of 3 Cuban guys had sat down beside us a few minutes before. I'd noticed them due to the large amounts of gold they were wearing - gold chains, gold watches, gold rings, gold teeth. But what really caught all of our attention was the magic. The biggest, most gilded of the group was entertaining the other two with a variety of simple magic tricks. When he saw that the four of us had stopped talking in order to watch him, the tricks got fancier and more theatrical. We handed him coins, they reappeared in our drinks. He placed an ashtray in Olivia's hand, seconds later she discovered a pile of ashes in her other hand. We yelped in honest amazement and joy at every new feat. He played it cool but obviously enjoyed entertaining us, as every trick was followed by a bigger, better one.

After he was done the show, we decided it was time to leave. Pedro and Olivia had to work early in the morning and had a long bus ride home. Juan was having none of their bus-talk though. He cleaned out his wallet of all his CUCs and CUPs and forced the money on them, telling them that they shouldn't be riding around on a bus at this hour, that they needed to take a taxi home. They were slightly embarrassed but he called a cab over and pushed and cajoled until they gave in and agreed to take it. We all hugged good night and agreed we'd meet up again the next day for dinner.

With magic on his mind and his new friends being safely shuttled home, Juan was practically dancing down the streets back to his cousins house. Every few steps he would stop to hug or kiss me and then he'd grab my hand and prance us down the street again. He went over every trick we'd seen, questioning how it had worked, how it could be possible. He couldn't wait to tell his friends back home about what he'd seen. He recapped the funny jokes he and Pedro had shared, talked about how it was so amazing that I'd found such nice Cuban friends on the internet of all places!

I reminded him that only a few hours before he had felt quite differently, that he hadn't wanted them to come over, that he hadn't wanted either of us to get to know them. He stopped and looked at me very seriously.

'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I didn't trust you or believe you when you told me they were good people. I listened to my ideas and my cousins instead of listening to you. I know I made a mistake but I now know I was wrong and I hope you can forgive me.'

Of course, I forgave him. We'd both been guilty of underestimating people. We'd both been wrong. Luckily neither of us were so set in our ways that we couldn't learn from our mistakes. Luckily both of us were still open to the possibility of magic.

Thanks to a commenter, we've figured out the name of the bar. Yeesh, it's even uglier than I remember!


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Season of the Snob - Part 1

Remember back to the beginning of this story? My dalliance with Interpals? It's a creepy name but a decent website for (virtually) meeting people from all over the world for chatting and language exchange. It's not a dating site, though many try their damnedest to make it one. In any case, I was really into it for awhile. I like learning about new places and having 'a friend' in every country in the world. However, after awhile I just couldn't keep with emailing that many people every day. Not to mention, after the initial excitement of meeting a new person from a new place wears off, you usually realize you actually don't have anything in common and you both lose interest. That's how it went with most of my interpals - except Pedro and Olivia.

Bayamo, capital city of Granma province aka 'The Sharktooth of Cuba'*
Best friends from Bayamo, Pedro and Olivia had moved together to Havana a couple years before to work for a TV station there. The three of us instantly clicked. We would spend hours every day on gmail chat talking about music, books, politics, language, culture and relationships. Pedro was a metalhead and Olivia loved poetry and jazz. Both of them were fiercely loyal to Cuba yet readily admitted there were problems in the country, problems that they insisted should be dealt with from within.

Though we talked about everything, I held back when it came to Juan. They were edgy, urban intellectuals, he was a jock from the beach. I am ashamed to admit it now but I was afraid they would judge me, I was afraid they would judge him. I told them I was coming back to Cuba and that I would see them in Havana. I told them first I'd be going back to the resort from my previous trip but I was vague about why.

When we arrived in Havana my dilemma grew. I wanted to meet them, to move our online talks into reality but I was scared to have my two worlds collide. I was scared that these people who knew the intellectual snob version of me would never approve of my mingling with a mere entertainer from a resort. I was scared that they would take one look at us and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. But as my time in the city started to draw to a close, I knew I had to face my fears...so I gave them a call and invited them over.

With all the coming and going of neighbours and friends in and out of the apartment, I figured a couple of my friends in the mix wouldn't make a difference. But Juan and his cousins were not impressed. And they were worried. They tried to explain to me that Cubans don't just get on the internet and make friends with foreigners without an agenda. That people in Havana are on the make and a naive tourist like me is exactly who they are looking for. I explained that they were actually from Bayamo...this made a small dent in their argument, they felt that southern Bayameros could be trusted slightly more than northern Habaneros...but still, they wanted to formally assess these internet chatters for themselves before letting them near me.

When Pedro and Olivia arrived they waited outside the apartment while Odalkys went downstairs to interrogate meet them. I was left to wait in the kitchen, Juan sitting across from me frowning. A nagging thought kept trying to push itself to the front of my mind, 'Are they being protective because they care or possessive because they don't want to share their tourist?' I had spent so much time with Juan's friends and Juan's family, I thought he would be happy to even the scales by meeting some people from my life. His crossed arms and deep scowl told me he was not happy at all. 

Pedro and Olivia passed the test and were allowed, but not exactly welcomed, into the apartment. They joined me at the kitchen table and Juan, after a brief and cold hello, went to sit with his cousins in front of the TV in the living room. The three of us sat around the table, trying to make conversation while attempting to ignore the hostile atmosphere emanating from the living room. Finally I couldn't stand it any longer...

'This is really weird. I'm sorry that they're being so unfriendly. Do you want to get out of here?'

They both exhaled huge sighs of relief and whispered yes in exaggerated tones. We gathered our stuff and headed for the door, me stopping to tell Juan that we were going out for a drink. Without unsnarling his face or saying a word, he let us know that he would be joining us. A few minutes later, three relieved friends and one grumpy wet blanket headed out into the balmy Havana night looking for a drink...

The not so bright lights of Havana at night

*Granma province is not actually known as 'The Sharktooth of Cuba', I just thought it sounded cool



Sunday, August 5, 2012

Olympics Break

I normally don't pay attention to the Olympics...but this year am kind of into it. I'll get back to writing once this festival of sports is over!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The First of Many Cousins

When I'd been planning the trip to Havana from Canada, I assumed we'd stay in a casa particular, basically a Cuban bed and breakfast. Of course at that point, I did not yet know the size and national reach of Juan's family. Like some math-based nursery rhyme his great-grandpa had had 8 brothers who each had 8 sons who each had 8 sons and so on. It was a very male family line. But there were a few girls sprinkled in there. Two of them, with the matching names Odalys and Odalkys, had moved to Havana in their late teens about 15 years before and hadn't been back or seen Juan since. As soon as the travel plans had been set in motion Juan's mom had called ahead to the Os, arranging for us to stay with them and have them watch out for us in the big city. I had explained to her that I had traveled before, that Toronto was pretty big, that I'd lived in bigger cities. She was having none of it though, this was Havana and there was family to take care of us.

Living large in Vedado
We rolled up to their apartment around noon and a great flurry of hugging, rapid talking and hand gesturing began. They pinched and prodded and poked at Juan, and in simple words and gestures explained to me how they had babysat him all through his youth and how he had been soooo small and now he's all grown up. I smiled and nodded along with their excitement, honestly happy to be a part of this family reunion. As the cousins caught up on 15 years of news, I ended up deep in 'conversation' with Odalkys' four year old daughter Paola.

Paola had taken an instant interest in this this strange, pale creature in her midst who had a bag full of shiny jewelry, shoes and make-up but seemed unable to string together a sentence. She took pity on my odd inability to understand language and simply repeated her questions and statements over and over until I understood. Every day we would take some time to sit together on the bedroom floor, her rifling through my suitcase holding up each of my possessions asking '¿Que es eso?' until I found the name for it in my Spanish/English dictionary. She would then ask if it was mine. I'd answer 'Si' and she'd move on to the next item. What is this? It's sunscreen. Is it yours? Yes. What is this? It's a necklace. Is it yours? Yes. After each item was named she'd ponder it for awhile and then either place it on me or herself. For sharable items, lipgloss, nail polish, Canada flag stickers, we'd both get a turn, her using me as a walking, slowly-talking doll and then getting me to make her up in the same fashion.

I don't really know a lot of children and am never sure how to act around them. But with Paola I was comfortable and grateful. She was taking the time to try and understand me and to help me communicate. She was patient with me. When I couldn't get a point across she was happy to accept a goofy face or silly dance in its place. She would lead me around the apartment by hand pointing out and naming every detail. When I didn't understand, she'd start from the beginning until she saw a spark of understanding in my eyes. At meal times, she'd jump up on my lap and explain what I was eating and how I should eat it. When it was time to sleep, or to wake up, she'd appear at my side to let me know.

¿Que es eso? ¿Que es eso? ¿Que es eso? Spanish 101 with Paola
There wasn't much activity in our first couple days, the cousins were taking their guardian roles very seriously and seemed afraid that I would burst into flames if touched by sunlight, but I didn't mind. The Os, their boyfriends, Paola, Juan, me and the neighbours constantly popping in and out of the house was entertainment enough. We'd eat, we'd talk, we'd drink 1000 little coffees , we'd watch music videos that Odalys had danced in, rewinding and fast-forwarding to her parts again and again and again, Paola would direct all of us in her games and we'd obediently follow her directions. I would come up with excuses to buy water, bread, beer, anything just so I could throw the paper bag on a string out the 4th floor window and wait for the entrepreneurial boy on the street below to fill my order. They laughed at my excitement each time I got to lower and raise the delivery bag but it truly was the highlight of each day.

At night we'd walk over to La Rampa, drink a few beers and soak up the atmosphere. There was no rush to get anywhere and no rush to get home. There were just simple moments flowing together. It wasn't exciting and it didn't signify anything but for the first time in my life I didn't mind. The calm, insignificance of it all was soothing. There was no meaning to any of it, hidden or obvious, and I started to realize that I didn't need all this to mean anything. I just needed it.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Functionality Issues

So I had a few people let me know my blog wasn't working quite right. I had tried to get fancy and add some html codes. I ignored the warning that they weren't done correctly and all my old posts and info slid right off the page. I learned my lesson and took the code out. Things seem to be back to normal and working fine...I think. Let me if it still seems wonky to you. Thanks!


Monday, July 30, 2012

The Love Bus

The drive from Camaguey to Havana is around 7 to 8 hours. Later, when were neck-deep in paperwork and bureaucracy and running back and forth to Havana constantly, my brother-in-law, our personal driver, would cut the drive down to 6 hours at top-speed. But back then, on our first trip, on the bus, it was a 12 hour trip.

I've taken rickety bus trips through the terraced fields of Southern China fearing for my life at every turn, I've taken the Greyhound all over Canada, once barely surviving a 4-day bus marathon from Montreal to Vancouver Island, I've traveled across the world on planes and trains and ferries and boats and even ended up sitting on a trucker's lap once as he let me, the deeply-stoned hitchhiker, steer his 18-wheeler down the highway towards Calgary. Some of these adventures were terrifying, some boring, some awe-inspiring...none of them came close to the pure bliss I felt curled up against Juan for 12 hours as we traveled halfway across Cuba.

See ya later striped building in Camaguey!!!
The air conditioning was too cold. I didn't care. The music too loud. I didn't care. I was hungry. I didn't care. All I cared about was the man in the seat next to me. We would take shifts, him sitting up with his arms around me, trying to make the small space as warm and comfortable as possible for me so that I could sleep. After an hour or two, I'd sit up and let him rest in my lap, softly rubbing his arms and back, twisting his frizzy hair up into funny shapes and then patting it back down. I'd catalogue every bit of him - here a small scar on his forehead, here the curve of his forearm, here the way his mouth opens slightly to push out breath while he sleeps, here the way he purses his lips to the left when he wants to kiss me, here the way he scrunches up the space under his nose to say 'Que?' (I did not yet know this was a mannerism shared by 11 million other Cubans). I wanted to memorize every part of him, build a sense memory of him that could either help me get through another separation from him or let me keep him with me as I moved on completely.

Yes, even in the midst of these simple, beautiful moments, I was still looking for a way out. I still believed that there was no future for us, that at the end of this trip I'd say goodbye and mean it. Every sweet word he said, every soft touch, every tender moment was tinged with both sadness and intensity....little memento moris peeking up behind everything whispering 'This will end this will end this will end'. I tried to block out their voices, enjoy the moment, not worry about the future but in every pause I'd hear a door slowly creaking shut.
'Alas poor Juan I knew him well'...picture it with orange hair and a sunburn and you've got me 
Around 3am, we pulled into a road-stop with a few fast-food type restaurants selling pizzas, ham and cheese sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs. As it was intended for Cubans they charged in national money (CUP), not the convertible pesos used by tourists (CUC). Juan told me to put away my money and walked off confidently to buy us each a hot dog and a pop with a dancing lime on the side. I was so proud as he reappeared back at my side with the food he'd purchased me. So happy to have our busmates see him paying for this meal. I didn't care that it was just a hot dog and a lukewarm sugary soda, it was him taking care of me, that was what mattered. To this day, it remains the best meal I've ever eaten.

As we finished our food and drinks the driver called out to those of us still lingering around outside the bus. We all hurried back on and found our seats. I don't know what the driver had eaten at that road-stop but his mood was just as good as mine as we drove off. He cranked the reggaeton music as loud as it would go and got on the loud-speaker. Juan interpreted for me but even without knowing Spanish I understood the gist of what he was saying...

'Hey sleepyheads, why aren't you drinking? Why aren't you dancing? We're on the road to Havana...let's have fun!!!'

I decided that bus-driver was right. I pushed my worries down as far as they could go, hugged Juan close and told him that I loved him. Sure everything in the world has to end at some point...but not on that bus and not on that night.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On The Road...Almost

With the coffee drank, the bags in the car, Juan hugged by his mom 1000 times, Juan having agreed he would call twice a day, both of us having promised we would be careful who we talked to and that we'd stick close to Juan's cousins whose house we would be staying at, we were off. We both waved at his mom through the back window until she was out of sight. It was the first time he'd ever gone to Havana and really the first time he'd gone anywhere, other than the army and university, without her. She had laughed when I told her that I'd make sure I returned him to her in one piece but the worry never left her eyes. Her baby boy was going on a road trip to the big city with a strange yuma...this was no laughing matter.

Five minutes into the drive, we were at our first stop - the gas station. As Javier filled the tank, Juan looked at me awkwardly and seemed to be working up the courage to say something. I knew what he was getting at and told him not to worry, I'd pay for the gas. We'd discussed money before I arrived, after I told him that I wanted to travel to Havana. He'd been honest and told me he couldn't afford to go. Though he worked at the resort most days it wasn't actually his real job. He worked for a national sports organization as a baseball coach and umpire and occasional soccer pro which paid about $25 a month. The resort filled up the rest of the time and paid nothing, except for the presents and tips he received from the guests which usually worked out to more than his real salary. All of this combined did not add up to much though. Most of the time he kept a little bit for himself and gave the rest to his mom. No matter which way you sliced it, he was poor. Yet I wanted to go to Havana and I wanted to go with him. I accepted that fact that I would have to pay for the trip and simply asked him to try and help me keep it as cheap as possible.

When we arrived at the Camaguey bus-stop an hour and a half later, a couple tough looking characters in brightly coloured La Puta Madre tanks tops and glittery belt buckles sidled over to our car and started talking to Juan and Javier. The four of them grimaced and glared as the conversation became increasingly louder and more intense. I started to get nervous, thinking something serious was about to go down. I tried to get Juan's attention as quietly and unobtrusively as possible to avoid upsetting the balance even further.

'What's wrong?', I whispered, 'What do they want?'
He looked confused, 'Nothing's wrong. They're just asking if we want a ride to Havana.'
Now it was my turn to be confused, 'Then why are you all so serious and angry?'
'Angry? What? Nobody's angry, we're just talking,' he said and re-joined the negotiations.

After about twenty minutes of this angry-looking non-fight about travel options it was settled...we'd be paying them 50CUC a person (just over $100 total) for a ride to Havana. Or rather I'd be paying. I knew the bus would be cheaper and I didn't want to immediately take up the role of sugar momma but I felt that the comfort of a car would be worth it. I didn't want to splash too much cash around with Juan but I also didn't want to suffer.

We went to grab a quick lunch before hitting the road once again. We also swung by Javier's girlfriend's house to see his baby daughter. I've never been much of a baby person but even ended up holding her for a couple minutes in an attempt to not look like some strange, cold, baby-hating foreigner in front of the extended family. Finally we were back at the bus stop, the tank-topped toughs sidled up to us again and another heated conversation ensued.

After another half hour of intense negotiations, Juan let me in on what was happening. While we'd been away a new group of travelers had arrived at the bus stop looking for an immediate ride to Havana. They, and our ride, were long gone. However, a bus was leaving in ten minutes just down the road and if we hurried, they could get us on the bus.

I wasn't sure why exactly why there needed to be so many people involved in getting us on a bus when we were already at a bus station, not to mention the long, drawn-out discussions about it, but I was eager to get moving and they'd dropped their fee to nearly half of their initial offer. I recognized that I really had no idea what was going on...but also recognized that I really didn't care. Juan and Javier and the two negotiators seemed to have it under control, I told Juan to agree to whatever it took to get us on the road to Havana.

Five minutes later we were waiting on a corner a few blocks down the street from the bus stop. An Astro bus belching out black smoke screeched to a halt beside us, the driver hurried me inside and then went back out to help Juan put our bags under the bus. The bus was almost full but we found two seats together near the back. As I looked around I noticed that I was the only non-Cuban on the bus and, more importantly to my small bladder, that there was no bathroom. This clearly was not a bus intended for foreign tourists. I started to worry that it was possibly illegal for me to be on this bus. But then decided if the folks overcharging me for tickets and the driver getting a cut of it didn't care, I didn't care either.

We were finally on our way to Havana, that was all that mattered.

For the right price, I'm pretty sure we could have gotten a ride to Havana from one of these guys



Friday, July 27, 2012

Meeting The Family

The next morning I woke up without Juan beside me which already felt unnatural. He had gone home for the night to avoid being caught sneaking into my room by security. I hated the idea of being in Cuba and not with him, even for one night, but I understood the gravity of the situation. I wanted to be selfish. I wanted to ask him to defy authority and responsibility to be with me. But I also recognized that asking him to throw away everything for one night 4 hours of sleep with me was over the top, even for me.

He called around 6am to tell me his brother was on the way to pick me up to bring me back to their house. I hastily threw my messy piles of clothes and shoes and makeup into my suitcase and crawled around on the floor checking under the beds and tables to ensure I hadn't missed anything. As I left the room I encountered my first sunrise of the trip. The vibrant pinks and oranges and purples painted across the sky were like a beautiful omen telling me that things were going to get easier...or at least shinier and more colourful.

After the darkness comes the dawn...and after the resort comes the road trip!

Juan's brother, Javier, arrived in a rented car he'd borrowed from some tourists he was working for. Through Juan's and his work at the resort, he had acquired a network of male tourists who would hire him as a driver and local 'fixer' every time they came to Cuba. There was enough of them making repeat visits throughout the year to ensure he almost always had a car on hand to drive us around with. Especially during the day since his clients/friends rarely rose before dinner-time.

I knew that these guys were coming to Cuba to pay for sex. And Javier, despite just barely scraping 5'2" and 100 pounds, was always surrounded by drop-dead gorgeous women. I figured I knew what was what here. I had tried asking him and Juan, in both subtle and blunt ways, if he was a pimp but they assured me it wasn't like that, he was just a driver...and, despite his small stature, extremely popular with women. I wasn't convinced but decided to drop it for the time being. If my free rides were a result of a bit of pimping, who was I to complain?

Their house was only a five minute drive away from the resort, a real town but, by nature of its proximity, home to many of the employees of the four resorts in the area. I'd passed by it on the bus and with Juan several times before but had never actually been over yet. Javier walked me down the little dirt path and opened the gate for me, pushing away their pitbull Rambo who was trying his best to jump up, over and through my body to lick my face. Despite the two strikes of breed and name he had going against him, this leaping and licking did seem to be generally a friendly, un-menacing affair.

A woman who was hanging laundry beside their house seemed very happy to see me when I finally disentangled myself from Rambo. She told me, in English, that Juan was inside and to head in. She looked vaguely familiar to me, and definitely had a family resemblance to Juan and Javier, but I couldn't place her. I found Juan inside and asked him who she was. He looked surprised by the question.

'What do you mean who is she? She's my mom! Don't you recognize her from the resort?'

I stared at him in shock, my mind attempting to organize several thoughts at once. How old is she?!!!! She looks like she could be your sister!! What do you mean she works at the resort?!! Have I met her?!! What? She's a bartender?!!! Was she working during my first trip? She's been working there for 20 years?!! Does she remember me from December?!!! Oh no oh no oh no, has she seen me drunk?!!! Does she think I'm a stupid drunk slutty tourist?!! Does she think I'm nice?!!! Have I given her good tips?!!!!

I knew that Juan was a momma's boy, he'd already told me many stories about his mom and expressed his deep love and respect for her several times. I had been looking forward, albeit nervously, to meeting her and planned to be on my best behavior for that meeting. I was not happy to learn that that first impression had already come and gone several times over drink orders. I peeked my head out the door again to see if any memories of her would flood back now that I knew who she was. Nothing. She smiled another friendly smile at me though and asked if I wanted a coffee...which seemed positive.

Unless, of course, she was planning on poisoning the coffee before I could steal her baby away to Havana. I decided to take a chance. It was really early, I could possibly survive a poisoning but there was no way I could survive this morning without caffeine.



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sparkly Chancletas

This is not about my shiny flip-flops, just a simple shout-out to the ‘also about falling in love in Cuba’ blog Sparkly Chancletas. Seriously, if you want to laugh your face off go read this. The recent post about Cuba love forums had me laughing so hard I didn’t think I would survive. Thankfully I did survive long enough to tell you about it.
I very much covet these sparkly chancletas!



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Negotiations

By Day 4, I was totally over my love-affair with the resort. The repetition of participating in uninspired activities and drinking weak drinks from small plastic cups and swimming in suspiciously yellow pool water and avoiding patchy sunburns and eating the same lukewarm food over and over and over, all the while holding back from showing any affection towards Juan during his working hours, was mind-numbing. Although it was the same elements that had composed the most amazing trip of my life a mere 4 months before, they didn't fit together in the same way. Now they just jammed up into annoying roadblocks standing in the way of being with Juan.

I told myself that this boredom was a good sign. When I'd returned to Canada after the first trip I had worried that I was just infatuated with my memories of Cuba, that Juan was merely a symbolic body-double for the country itself. I feared that the combination of rum and sun and uninhibited fun had tricked me into thinking I felt more for this man than I really did. But here I was, back in the same place, going through the exact same motions, already losing interest in all of it, except for him. I still wanted him. It was no longer Cuba that had my heart, it was Juan...and I could only sneak it to him in tiny, incremental pieces between heavily monitored split-shifts.

I was not in a good mood for morning activities. My mood fouled even more in the afternoon when I was put in charge of entertaining and translating for Ming, the newly arrived guest from China. Despite the fact that most of the entertainment staff were fluent in about five languages, I was the only person around who could speak Chinese. Ming, who had actually been getting by quite well with her English vocabulary of about 7 and a half words, was overjoyed to discover a white girl speaking Mandarin on a beach in Cuba. I merely resented her for cutting into my Juan-time. But as soon as she recognized me from my glory days of TV-stardom in Beijing, I knew I was screwed; I had a new best friend and my few moments alone with Juan were now group-time.

After a full day of this I was nearing something that was either total heartbreak or breakdown...or possibly both. But I knew there was still the dancing before the show and going out to the club after and then sneaking back to my room and holding each other close all night, so I tried to hang on to my sanity. I got two Spanish coffees from the bar before heading over to the stage, figuring a double dose of caffeine and alcohol might perk me up. Then I sat, on edge, through the kid's show, waiting for the moment when Juan would pluck me out of the crowd and dance with me and make all this stress and anxiety disappear.

As the music piped up and he walked towards me, I started to get to my feet...as he walked right past me and asked some gawky woman in an ugly floral dress to dance. I felt an angry fire rip through me from my toes right up to the top of my head. I started shaking and sweating. I could feel him avoiding my eyes, which was quite difficult considering they were shooting hot beams of hate onto his face. When the song ended he immediately was at my side, pulling me towards the dance-floor.

My body was stiff and non-reactive with rage as he tried to manoeuvre me around to the music. I still hadn't removed my angry-laser-focus from his face and he was starting to look scared.

'What's wrong? Why are you looking me like that?', he asked nervously.

I just huffed and sighed and said nothing, figuring I did not need to explain his obvious crimes to him. When the awkward dance was over, I walked away from him without saying a word and went and sulked on a lawn-chair beside the pool. I committed fully to my anger and stayed there for the entire show, not moving even when the mosquitoes found me and started in on their biting. That's the thing with dramatic sulking, you have to be willing to stick with it til the end or it's not worth it at all.

The general look I was sporting during the evening show
So there I sat until 11, when the show finished and Juan came looking for me. I saw him wandering through the crowd, growing more and more anxious but I wasn't willing to meet him halfway. Finally he located me, came and crouched by my side and whispered to me...

'I'm sorry I've been ignoring you. But the security guards have seen me coming in and out of your room. They told my boss, he says it's ok but I can't do it any more. I can't be with you when you're here. They said if they catch me again, I'll lose my job.'

All the anger slid out of me and was replaced by pain and shock and the distinct feeling that I was going to vomit. I'd come all this way to be with him and after four days it was over. I jumped up and started running to the beach. I heard him call out my name but I just kept running.

He caught up with me on the sand, in the darkness with nobody around he tried to hug me but I just wiggled out of his grasp.

'What's wrong? Why are you so upset?', he asked

'What do you mean why am I upset? I came here to be with you, you know that, I didn't come to party at a resort and pretend I don't know you. I thought we were in love or seeing if we were or could be or something. But just never mind, forget it, it's fine, I made a mistake. Just go back to your friends or whatever, I'll leave tomorrow or change hotels or I'll just go to Havana by myself, it's fine.'

I tried walking away from him again, wanting to make a cool exit before I started crying. But he grabbed my arms and wouldn't let me go.

'What are you talking about? That's what I was trying to tell you...I can't be with you here, at work, so that's what I meant, let's go already, let's leave here together. Tomorrow morning, let's just go to Havana.'

I didn't make a cool exit, the tears started flowing, but I wasn't angry anymore and I wasn't sad and when he pulled me towards him this time, I didn't try, not even for one second, to get away.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Forbidden Love

The next few days were...well...heavily scheduled. I knew that Juan would have to work for the first week of my holiday but I hadn't really thought through the implications of that. I had had so much fun the first trip with my co-worker and the other guests we'd become friends with that I didn't consider what it might be like when I was there on my own. Also not taken into consideration was the fact that I can get really awkward in uncertain conditions. I've always felt that I have a lot in common with a goldfish. In my usual waters, I'm a fearless, fast-swimming, leaping, wiggling, air-bubble-making fiend. But put me in a plastic bag and throw me in a new tank full of even newer fish and I will stay in the comfort zone of my bag as long as possible. There is actually a very good chance that I will never come out of that bag.

This is not what I actually look like, just a photo of an over-extended metaphor
As it turned out, the end of April was not exactly a hopping time for travel to Cuba. The resort was half-empty and the half-full part was not filled with very fun people. The tattooed Windsorites provided a little bit of companionship, until they both got food poisoning on the second day and retired indefinitely to their room. I settled for trailing Juan from activity to activity, feeling nothing like the exciting, vivacious woman he'd met in December.

From 9-12:30, I would participate half-heartedly in morning beach activities - stretching, bocce ball, aquacize, merengue...I would do it all, except for beach volleyball...there are some lines I just don't cross. From 12:30-3:00 we would leave the resort for lunch with a side of kissing and hand-holding at the Commercial Centre next door. 3:00-6:00 was pool-side darts, Spanish lessons, salsa, steppercize, ring toss, beer barrel balancing, throwing of balls through holes, throwing of suntanning people into the pool. From 6-6:30 the entertainment staff would have their daily meeting in front of the stage, I'd creep around the area, trying to act like I actually had some purpose in life besides counting the moments between Juan's breaks.

Through all of this Juan would try to throw me what scraps of attention he could - little surreptitious glances, a hand grazed across an arm, a wink, a foot against mine underwater, a quick pat on my head as he walked past my chair. But he was working and there were bosses everywhere. The entertainment boss, the restaurant boss, the head of security, the manager of the resort, they did not approve of inappropriate mingling between guests and entertainers and they were always watching. I tried to reason with Juan, we'd been flirting and touching up a storm on my first trip, why was he so scared to come near me now? He said it was different now, that he couldn't hide the fact that he had real feelings for me, that he couldn't act playful with me without it being obvious that it was not play.

Sometimes he could sneak off with me from 6:30 until 9, which is when the evening show began. Unless during that time he had door-opening duty at the main restaurant, in which case I would eat alone...or sometimes with a table of seniors who felt sorry for me. After the kids' show, and before the cabaret, there was social dancing, Juan's first dance of the night, every night, was with me. Of course the next dance was with a 13 year old girl going through an awkward phase, next up a cougar divorcee wearing her teenaged daughter's clothing, after that an extremely sunburnt woman on her honeymooon...but the first was always mine!

When the show was over and Juan had changed from his actorly clothes into some bedazzled evening wear, we'd sit around by the DJ booth with the other entertainers, all of them speaking rapid, slang-filled Spanish. I suspected even if I hadn't have dropped out of Spanish class after the 5th class, I still would have understood nothing. As it was, I would simply paste a fake smile on my face and try not to look as out of place as I felt.

Finally, just as I would be hitting a wall of exhaustion, the group would all stand up at once and start walking to the resort gates, heading to the one decent club in town. My heart would race in anticipation as we neared the exit, knowing as soon as we turned the corner past the last security guard, Juan would pull me towards him and hug me tight and kiss me and touch my face sweetly and tell me that it wouldn't always be like this between us, that someday it would actually be real.

How To Get More Pool Boy

Sorry ladies (and gentlemen who swing that way) this post is not as titillating as it sounds. It's just about blog updates...

I'm not really sure what following a blog does or how it is useful. I've tried following a few and I have no idea where my alerts go when they update. If you are like me, want to get blog updates but aren't sure how to make that happen, I've got a solution:

I Married The Pool Boy is now on Facebook

Then again, what isn't on Facebook these days right? Well my dad for one isn't but that's a rare anomaly. In any case this blog is now most certainly a social networker. I'll send all the updates over there when I post something new and you can check them out at your leisure. Or you can give me your address and I'll pop by your house to let you know every time there's some action on the blog. It's really up to you!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Making Love and Killing Flowers

When I got back to the lobby, it was chaos. More buses full of tourists were pulling up and cranky, tired guests and their bulging suitcases were everywhere. Trays of Rum Punch were being distributed throughout the crowd to try and keep people happy and Guantanamera was being played over and over by a 3 piece band set up in the corner.

I didn't want to join the disorganized line-up at check-in quite yet knowing that the 2 bored workers behind the desk would need some time to deal with 200 new guests. Instead I chatted with the other entertainers as I stood shyly next to Juan, feeling energy sparks flying between our almost-touching arms. Some of them knew through him that I was coming back, others were happily surprised to see me. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. Juan was working and I didn't want to be jumping all over him, drawing attention to the fact that I was there because of him. But I also wanted him to know that I was, in fact, there because of him. That he wasn't just the cherry-on-top of another vacation...he was the reason I'd returned.

When there was finally a break in the line I darted to the desk to get my room assignment and resort bracelet. Juan made some hand motions that seemed to indicate I should meet him at the Cafe Bar once I had everything sorted. As soon as I got my room key, I turned into a speed demon. Ran to find my room, threw my suitcases into the closet, showered/brushed teeth/got dressed/did hair and makeup almost simultaneously. About a minute and a half after entering my room, I was on my way back out to find Juan.

He was sitting close to the Cafe Bar with some of the other entertainers. They were deciding whether or not to go out to the club. He asked me if I wanted to go out or just go to sleep. I said I was tired...but then regretted it, unsure if he knew that I wanted him to join me in my room. He also looked nervous, asked me if I wanted to be alone or? I told him I definitely didn't want to be alone and he jumped into action, said goodbye to everyone else and led me towards a dark path that meandered just outside of the main resort thoroughfares. He whispered his plan, I would head back to my room, he would take some back routes and meet me there in five minutes, then he looked around to ensure no bosses or security guards were in sight and kissed me quickly.

Back in the room I'd just recently left, I sat nervously on the edge of the bed, trying to massage out the pain that still gripped my head and neck. There was a subtle knock, I answered and found Juan smiling and holding out his arms. I dragged him in for a hug, no longer shy, no longer worried about who was watching us and what they were thinking. We just stood there hugging and hugging, not really saying anything, not really needing to. And then...

Well, you can fill in the blanks on what happened next. Suffice it to say I did end up marrying this guy (we'll get to that eventually!)

Later we lay in bed talking. My head on his chest, his arm around me with his hand in my hair, our feet intertwined (this would come to be our favourite way of being together, the natural way our bodies just fit). He asked me where the flower was.

'What flower?'
'The one I gave you in the lobby.
'Mmmm, don't remember any flower.'
'The one I picked for you...with my own hands! I gave it to you when you got off the bus, before you ran away to the bathroom.'
'Uuuuuuhhhh...'

I started to vaguely remember a flower. I tore myself away from him and we both began looking around the room. In the bathroom amongst my toiletries already laying about on the counter, in the pile of dirty airplane clothes I'd left on the floor, amongst the wet towels I'd flung down the hallway. The flower was nowhere to be found, until Juan lifted up the suitcase perched precariously half-in and half-out of the closet and found his Hibiscus, flattened and squished into the corner.

He held up the bruised and battered flower accusingly, 'So this is what you like to do to flowers? Is this your Canadian way?! I gave my mom a flower like this 3 weeks ago and she put it in water and it's still alive. That was a symbol of my feelings for you and you just dropped a suitcase on it!! I will have to remember not to give you any more flowers, EVER!!!'

I was surprised and felt a little guilty but mostly was trying not to laugh. I told him I saw these flowers everywhere in Cuba, that the housekeepers left about 10 of them strewn around my room every day, that they were kind of flat and dead-looking to begin with, I had no idea I was supposed to hold onto them.

He muttered 'Flower Killer' a few more times but finally decided that my willingness to fly back to visit him for 2 weeks was a show of faith that my evil, flower-killing ways could be overcome. He hugged me again and we fell back into bed, knowing that with two weeks of discovery ahead of us...we needed our rest.

I was on flower probation for about a year but I'm happy to say I finally have been forgiven




Diving Back In

If you know me in real-life or have read more than one sentence of this blog, you will have already realized that I put the ART in Worry-Wart with my amazing ability to conjure up mental demons. I have always been this way. As a young child I would give myself stress ulcers by laying in bed at night worrying that my house might burn down while I slept. I chalk it up to having been cursed blessed with an over-active imagination. Unfortunately it has always been a dark imagination, it never imagines sunshine and smiles but instead takes me to straight to the worst possible outcome of any situation. Tell me that the lottery ticket I'm holding is a winning one and, instead of celebrating, I'll wait for a gust of wind to rip it out of my hand and throw it down a sewage drain. I wouldn't say I'm negative exactly, I'm just overly-prepared for disaster.

While this mental set-up might be helpful if I was the Managing Director of the Red Cross...it is not exactly a calm, cool place to reside when you're setting off to further romantically entangle yourself in a foreign country. To say I was stressed by the time I got on the plane is an understatement. My head, neck and shoulders had fused together into a solid block of pain, I couldn't feel my hands, I could over-feel my teeth, I hadn't slept for two nights, I wanted to barf. Oh love, what an amazing feeling!

I ended up sitting next to a young, heavily-tattooed couple from Windsor on the plane and the subsequent hour and half bus ride to the actual resort town. They helped distract me from my nervousness a little bit with their questions about which restaurants to eat at, which excursions to take and which to avoid, the nightlife of the area, the towel policy of this particular establishment - can you get a new one every day? what are towel-returning hours? how much do they charge if you lose it? do you leave it in your room at the end or return it to the Lord of the Towels? This is not a topic you want to tread lightly on, towels are serious business in Cuban resorts.

With all the talk about beach towels we didn't even have time to discuss towel art
 By the time we reached the first resort of the area I was feeling a little more relaxed thanks to the conversation and the Cristals I'd bought at the airport. Peeking through the throbbing pain of my head/neck/shoulders and the sour aching in my stomach was a feeling I hadn't let surface in a while - excitement. After 4 months of spotty communication and misunderstanding, longing mixed with sadness, tenderness mixed with fear, I was about to see Juan again, for real! With that thought, the beer hit my bladder.

We pulled up to our resort around midnight to the sound of bongos and singing. I ran off the bus and straight to Juan. We smiled like idiots at each other for a couple seconds, he handed me a flower and we hugged (chastely as his boss was standing right beside us). Before he could say a word, I blurted out 'I HAVE TO PEE SO BAD!!!' and started running for the lobby bathroom.

And they say romance is dead!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Booked!!!

During these months of confusion and relaxed morals, I didn't know where or who to turn to for advice and understanding. My friends enjoyed hearing my adventures from the United Nations of Dating but grew bored quite quickly when it slipped back into reminiscing and worrying about Juan. The internet terrified me with its tales of romantic terror in Cuba and I did my best to avoid it entirely. I watched movies that I figured might prove educational - Dirty Dancing, Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, How Stella Got Her Groove Back - but ended up no further along in my understanding of what I should do. All that developed there was a creepy crush on Diego Luna playing a teenager...which was no help to me at all!

Diego hard at work as a seductive Cuban sixteen year old




Later on I would join the ranks of People In Relationships With Cubans and learn to share my most intimate secrets with people I knew only by forum usernames like QueRicoMangoCubanitaIslaPinga74. But at the moment, I was alone. I didn't realize that I was holding out longer than most. That it was de rigueur to run back within the first month or two to see your new love again. That most people upon meeting their Cuban lover knew immediately that they never wanted to touch another. That the thought of continuing to date in Canada never crossed their mind. That to marry on your second or third trip was considered a reasonable possibility. I just assumed I should fight these feelings and fight hard. I thought that sooner or later I would reach the point where I had to give him up.

But I also decided I wasn't ready to do that giving up yet. By the beginning of April I was tired. I was tired of dating men that weren't Juan. I was tired of pushing him out of my mind. I was tired of wondering and worrying and questioning and replaying our few small moments together over and over in my mind. I was tired of waiting for emails and a weekly phone call that was never long enough. I was tired of it all.

I told him I wanted to see him soon, that I wanted to come for two weeks and travel with him across Cuba. I was worried that he'd think it was too much, too long, too intense. That, like the men I was used to in Canada, as soon as I told him I wanted to be with him he'd start running. But the only direction he started running in was towards me.

I didn't know exactly how things would work but I decided to stop thinking and make a decision. I found a one week deal to his resort...and added another week to my flight. I told him the dates. He said any time worked for him, he would make it work, he would be with me whenever and wherever I was (in Cuba at least). So I took out my credit card and paid. And immediately headed to the gym. In 3 weeks I would be back on the beach with Juan. I didn't know what shape my heart would be in by then but I could at least control the shape of my abs.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Break In Programming

I just wanted to thank everyone for stopping by! I hit 1500 pageviews today...is that a lot?...probably not, but it feels like a million to me!!!

I was nervous to start this blog, waiting for the haters and naysayers to immediately be jumping down my throat. But I've got nothing but kind words and support from you so far and it's amazing. No pressure...but I'd love to hear from you. I know you're reading but I don't know who you are. I don't know your stories. And I'd love to know what brought you here and what brings you back.

Are you married to a Cuban too? Are you years along, looking back with fondness at the beginning of your relationship too? Or looking back...but in anger? Are you just at the beginning, in a panic, thinking WTF I am doing?!!! Are you just interested in Cuba but not in a romantic way? Are you in a similar situation but with a whole different country and whole different set of circumstances? Please, tell me more!

And with that I head back to the story. But before I go, here's a picture of Fidel Castro watching a dolphin show...

The so-called 'world's best dolphin show' at the Havana Aquarium

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Story About a Story About Love Birds

Through this time, Juan and I were still talking, still emailing. We'd made no promises to each other and simply tried not to ask too many questions about who and what we filled our time with when not sharing our few, brief moments of communication.We talked about our dreams, our passions. With him it was sports. With me it was literature. I told him how I'd always loved to write. He told me he'd never read a whole book in his life but if I wrote something for him, he'd read it over and over and over. I tried to write him something hopeful and encouraging but this was all the hope I could muster...

Love Birds 

I met this flamingo the other day. We were both waiting for our morning coffees. It was a long line. We got to talking.

I told him how surprised I was to see a flamingo in Toronto. Especially in the middle of winter. Turns out he’d fallen for a Canada Goose a while back. She’d gone South for a holiday. Landed in his backyard. And so they met. And so they got to know each other. They’d both agreed from the start they were going to keep it light, have fun and then fly their separate ways. But he couldn’t shake the memory of her. The soft curves of her white and black body. Her graceful power as she spread her wings into flight.

He accepted the fact that he needed to be with her. He accepted that he was built to mate for life. So he grew some down and followed her migratory patterns North.

And sure he misses home. The tropical breezes. The shooting stars. He isn't built for cold weather. The stress of the city. Of course he hates the snow. But he has her. And that’s what makes him.

I wanted to tell him that humans could be just as beautiful. That, sure, we’re not always faithful. But we can be true. But how could I? When ‘I’ll see you again soon’ so easily turns into ‘I’ll never be back.’ And ‘I miss you so much’ can mean ‘I’ve already started to replace you.’ When ‘I love you’ so often becomes ‘Goodbye.’

How do you start a story at its ending?

Instead I told him not to worry. That summer would be here soon. That warmer days were just around the corner. He touched his pink wing to my arm, softly.

‘Yes dear. Indeed they are. For all of us’

He said and then he walked away, shivering, to be with his bird.

And I didn’t move. I didn’t do anything. Not anything at all.


The Best Way to Get Over a Man

...is to get under another. That's how the saying goes right? Well, that's what I decided I had to do. With a vengeance.

Yes, I had told Juan I loved him. Yes, I meant it...sort of. When I talked to him, when I thought about him, when I read his messages, I felt this pure love and happiness flowing through me. Unlike me who could find 7,549,832,021 different worst case scenarios and caveats and difficulties and questions and 'what ifs' for every moment in life, he just seemed so simple and uncomplicated. If he liked something, he liked it. If he didn't want to do something, he didn't. Happy, smile. Tired, sleep. Hungry, eat. There was no overanalyzing, there was no overthinking. He'd decided he loved me and that was that, for him there was nothing further to contemplate. But simple has never been easy for me.

At the time, I found his attitude refreshing and inspiring but I was arrogant enough to believe that my way made me the more complex person. I assumed if I tried to make a real relationship out of this love, I would quickly grow bored and move on to more intellectual pastures. I decided I should put my love for him in a box, separate from my day-to-day life. It was precious to me but I assumed it was fragile and easily destroyed. I thought that this was the only way to keep it alive.

With my feelings for him neatly compartmentalized into the 'beautiful fantasy' area of my mind, I got down to the serious work of dating. I went at it with a scorched earth policy, weaving a drunken path of destruction through a multicultural cross-section of Toronto's love-life.

I finally gave in to my Iranian hipster co-worker who'd been hunting me with his translucent green eyes and over-confident swagger since the day I'd started. From the moment we'd met, the only thing stronger than our attraction to each other was our hatred. Our interactions usually consisted of either polite work-related topics barely concealing our disgust/desire for one another or full-out, no-holds-barred verbal takedowns. The end result of both always seemed to be us frantically searching for a room with a lock on the door. It was a to-the-death kind of sensuality, both of us hoping that the other would not survive the encounter.

I enjoyed telling him about the other men I was seeing. Not that he was jealous. But even the possibility of slightly injuring his inflated ego left me giddy.

I told him about the Ecuadorian DJ I'd gone home with. I left out the part where after he'd kissed me I went to the bathroom and cried, my attempt to simply swap Latino for Latino an obvious failure. I didn't tell him how the DJ had called me a cab while I dried my eyes. How he looked scared every time he saw me after that. That I had obviously been 'that crazy girl'.

I told him about the rich German I'd let walk me home from a financial district bar. How I'd let him hold my hand but insisted he go no further until he took me out on a real date, possibly even bring me flowers. I told him how the German had taken me out to a fancy, romantic restaurant.  But didn't mention how he ended the night by telling me that there would not be a second date because I clearly wanted something more serious than him. I glared at his annoyingly chiseled head and perfectly coordinated outfit and assured him I could never want anything as serious as him.

I ran into the enemy at a party I attended with my Grenadan boyfriend of 1 week. He was surprised, as I'd just left his apartment hours before. But he took it in stride, enjoying my discomfort as the three of us sat on a couch, one of them on either side of me. He listened with faked interest to the Grenadan as he told him how we'd met, how my dancing had caught his eye, how my intense stare had given him the courage to come talk to me, how he had theories about us being soulmates. I headed outside for a bit of fresh air, my co-worker caught up to me halfway down the stairs and led me out into the dark. The Grenadan soulmate got left behind.

The one man I didn't want to use in my war against Iran was Juan. I didn't want to taint Juan's beauty like that. It was my way of being faithful. But he found out. Called me a dirty sex tourist. Called me a fool. He told me he'd had a sexy little chica in Cuba too. That she'd begged him to return but he knew better. He knew the government paid them to stay in touch with people like us. That the phone calls and emails to tourists were part of their job description. That their rations were doubled if we returned.

I laughed, he'd gone too far. I waved my white flag. The war was over. I was tired of fighting these useless battles for causes that meant nothing to me. If I was going to fight, I wanted to fight for someone worth winning.

What an average night out looked like for me around that time


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dia de San Valentin

After the great, cold, emotional breakdown in Montreal, I decided it was time to start knitting my life back together. We were gearing up for a few festivals at work which was keeping me occupied and the fact that I appeared slightly less Cuba-obsessed was conducive to a more active social life. My friends were circling cautiously, when I didn't show any signs of proposing further salsa outings they let me back into their lives.

I'd even gone on a couple dates with a shy poet I'd known as an acquaintance for awhile but had never actually hung out with before. After a few drinks he loosened up a bit and even turned out to be quite funny. Despite the fact that our similar British backgrounds made me nervous that if you climbed our family trees you might eventually end up on a shared branch, I still took him home for a bit of a make-out. He wasn't perfect for me but he was available and living in Toronto, sometimes you have to get creative with the tools on hand.

I was hoping I could manage to keep the poet around to distract me during my Juan-Recovery-Phase but 3 days after our 2nd date I received an email from him 'So I don't know how to say this but I think you gave me...' I gasped and closed my eyes. I'd never received a message like this in my life, what was I about to be accused of?!!

I partially opened one eye and peeked at my computer 'bed bugs'. What?! I opened both eyes to clarify. Yes, he was definitely accusing me of infesting him. Jeeeez, what was this city coming to? I had done no such thing. I informed him I was 100% bed bug free but that if he found any dead rodents in his shoes or pockets, they were mine and I wanted them back. Then I got back to my regular programming of thinking about Juan.
 The unspoken danger of hooking up in Toronto in 2010
I hadn't heard from Juan since the angry email but was still holding out hope that I would at least get one more chance to speak to him. One chance to tell him how truly sorry I was. I'd sent him a couple friendly texts, testing the waters but got nothing in return.

I barely noticed when Valentine's Day rolled around. It wasn't a big deal to me at the best of times and this was not even close to the best of times. At least it wasn't until my phone rang and I saw his name on the call display. Times instantly improved. I leapt through the air towards it and unsuccessfully tried to act cool as I answered in an excited, breathless 'Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!'

He apologized for disappearing for the past 3 weeks. He explained that he'd been kicked and stepped on in a particularly rambunctious soccer game. Several people had got their cleats into his legs, he couldn't walk, he'd been lying immobile on the couch, that's why he hadn't emailed me again. But he'd missed me. And he wasn't mad at me. And he needed to talk to me on this special day, this Dia de San Valentin because he wanted me to be his, um, his, uh...

'Your valentine?' I asked (ignoring the fact that most people generally give up the tradition of having 'a valentine' in elementary school)

'Yes, I want you to be my valentine!' he answered confidently.

I considered punching holes in his story. Asking why he couldn't have answered my phone calls while lying on the couch. Why he couldn't have sent a text in return. Why I already had a vague memory of hearing about this injurious soccer game before our little fight had happened. But I fought the urge. I could see that he'd needed time to think. And I could see that he'd forgiven me. He clearly wanted to let it go...but not let me go. And that was all I wanted too. I decided it was time to stop dancing around my feelings, to trust that I had no idea what this meant but that in this moment, it was the only thing that felt right.

'Of course, I'll be your valentine!' I told him, 'I have to be your valentine because, well, because I love you!'