The afternoon was somber, we cruised around, had our coffee and with such late summer sunsets realized that we had to get back to hotel to get ready for the nights festivities! It was the night of Sandra’s Birthday and we had a birthday dinner reservation for 9pm. The sun sank into the Sea and we went to our hotel wondering if our band was going to be there waiting. Sure enough, across the street on the Malecon, sat the 3 performers for 6 hours ago. They told us that they had been waiting for a few hours and we believed them. Not only were guitar strings the incentive but so were other wishes. Our lady asked if we could spare some soap and perfume.
Before leaving for Cuba, I thought, well, they must need soap toilet paper, shampoo and creme. In addition, I figured candy would not hurt so i brought about 200 pieces of candy as well. Thank god for cleaning out my closet – we ran up to the room, grabbed the guitar strings and I made a care package of good for the girl. Soap, Shampoo, Q tips, Perfume, and whatever else I brought. I think I even brought a roll of TOILET paper! When we brought it back down to them, the lead man made a speech. He thanked up for the strings and the woman thanked us for the goods. They serenaded Sandra for a few minutes for her birthday before they went on their way. We felt so good about what we had done! I was so happy!!!
We parted ways, and I find it strange that I might never ever see them again. We start walking towards our second Paladar for Sandra’s Birthday Dinner. As we walk along the streets, we are considered walking in Havana. It is not Old Havana so it is even worse off than what I saw today. NOT ONE BUILDING IS PRESERVED. There are piles of ruble outside peoples homes, dim street lights once in a while and people walking on the streets. There are stray dogs (or not) and music coming from the buildings. We keep walking until we get to a HUGE double door. When we walk in, we find 4 guys playing Dominos, seems to be the local game here and I feel as if I am in an Old Theater. I notoce a clothing line and a marble staircase. I also notice the Fidel’s picture on the wall.
As we climb the steps it is an erie feeling of being in an empty theatre. But you keep peeking toward the back and you see the clothes hanging, the water barrels andyou relize this is a place where people live. I have to look into it more, but people are placed in homes. It seems like once you are placed, you don’t leave, which is why generations send up living in the same space.
As you continue to climb the Marble staircase, you wonder, WHERE am I GOING? And then you learn. Welcome to the Paladar Guarida which means the “foxhole”.
This place is well – simple – beautiful. The Cuban tile on the floor, the gold walls and the history in between. We drink out of glasses from the 50’s east with forks from the 40’s. The table cloth is lace from the 30’s and the pictures on the wall, centuries. I would say that this Palador is the pride of Havana which is why they have a few more seat than what is leagallly allowed. Remember when I say – you learn one rule and it is broken around the corner. In Cuba, you have the black market, the grey market, the government run market. Then there is the cash market, the peso market and then the international tourism market. Rules break at moments when they are made. Even thought they call this a faimly run restaurant, it is a well oiled machine. The Servers are beautiful women in black dresses. They are well educated. The wine list is international, the menu is a combination of French, Italian and Cuban and they even wrote “infused” in one of the examples of the dishes. There are tourists in the joint and we have with us, 2 Cuban artists. This might sound strange, but they were all cleaned up and using both a fork and a knife when eating. They ordered the most expensive dishes and one of the artists decided it was too spicy. I can’t decide if this was the truth, they had been there before or this was their first time. The artists happen to be a couple, but I felt them to be unapproachable. You ask questions and they quickly reach a dead end. Cubans in general don’t talk much about important stuff. Politics, America and the things that we would really want to ask about. There is a shrewd unspoken rule that you feel that if you ask. “HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING IN THE FREAKING PLACE!!!!” that you might not get a straight answer anyway.
We dined and drank amazing spanish wine and had a fabulous time. Here are a few picks to get the gist. This Palador was written up in Cigar Aficionado. The creme de la creme of Cubans and tourists dine here. It was a beautiful place, but not “Cuban at all”. Another “Once Was” that totally “Is”.
After our beautiful dinner, we leave feeling full and tired. It is about 1 AM and we are ready to walk the safe streets of Havana back to our hotel. I did not know it yet, but I wanted sleep to be ready for my last day in Havana. Little did I know it was going to be one of the best days of my life.
p.s. Happy Birthday Sandra!!!