Todo porque te amo, Habana!
I thought the flight was never going to end. I really thought so – I was to spend eternity in the airplane. Time zone differences, jet lag, baggage robbed in Mexico, airport, airplane, airport, airplane…
But finally, here I am, I’ve landed. In Havana. The dream holiday. I’m determined to leave all worries behind and have a great time. The airport is old, it reminds me of Bucharest’s main airport 20 years ago. We get a cab (I had read they were safe) and we head for the city. The driver, joyful and talkative, tells us all kinds of things in Spanish. He laughs and we laugh with him even though we don’t understand a great deal. We’re nearing the city.
The sun shines bright over a devastated settlement that looks to be fresh out of a conflagration. One of my daughters asks me if this is Havana. I answer softly. Oh God! – she says involuntarily. I feel like echoing her exclamation but I restrain myself; I’m pondering, however, what we’re going to do for 10 days in a city looking like a ruin. Where are the glamorous, colourful sights I saw on the Travel and Living channel, on the Internet, in every Google search result? We make it to the Telegrafo Hotel, high marks from Tripadvisor. The cabby names a fair sum,
I’m relieved. I get out of the cab and notice a woman in a baggy yellow shirt coming out of the crowd and heading decidedly towards me holding a sheet of paper with my name on it. She stops and asks if my name is Mena Ianculescu. It is. Cautiously, I tell her that’s me – all the while, I’m slowly starting to panic picturing what might follow; my guess was she wasn’t there to welcome me. Oddly enough, that’s exactly what she was there for. Her name was Julia and she was going to be my assistant over the course of my stay in Havana. Julia sets things straight: If I’m Mena Ianculescu, then she’s my assistant. I can see no flaw in her logic. I persist, though, saying I don’t need one. She calmly replies telling me to calm down, she’s not going to leave my side at any moment for the entire duration of my stay. I make a mental note to solve the issue after I check in.
I head for the reception desk with my assistant Julia right behind me and, with what’s left of my smile, I explain to the receptionist there should be a reservation on my name at the Telegrafo Hotel. The receptionist smiles, I smile back, Julia smiles as well. The receptionist’s answer leaves me perplexed: “That’s true, you do have a reservation, but we don’t have any free rooms”. Wait, what? The receptionist tells me that I’ll just have to find a different hotel. That won’t do, I say. Julia agrees, she’s outraged as well. The receptionist is unfazed…
The argument carries on, my assistant Julia grows tired and goes to the couch to sit next to my children. It’s been an hour, I’m exhausted, Julia, my assistant, looks exhausted as well afterhaving listened to the lifestories of my children. I decide to go to the nearby Hotel Florida. Julia retires for the night, but she’ll beback tomorrow, after breakfast, to set the schedule for the next few days; our fate seems sealed. We get our keys and head for our rooms. Just past the modest (to say the least), reception room, we arrive in a spectacular colonial style patio: highceilings, warm natural light, palm trees, marble.
The rooms, on the other hand, are damp, stale odour,they’re dark, the bathroom faucets keep drippingand the small windows let in a distinctive cookingsmell from a small inner courtyard. Next morningwe have breakfast in the marvellous patio. The selection at the buffet is beyond minimalist: tea, coffee, bread, some pastries and one large plate of exotic fruits. I make for the fruit plate, but my attempt to transfer some into my bowl is deterred by the fact that the papaya slices can’t be separated. I check them more closely: they’re stuck together because they’ve dried up – they must have been there for days. I decide to stick to bread and butter. I see there’s no more tea, so I ask if I could get a cup of green tea. There’s no more green tea. Any kind of tea. At all. I ask if they could point me towards an open cafe or any other place where we could grab a bite. There aren’t any, the polite answer comes.