We fall asleep accidentally—exhausted, accidentally—after weaving our way in and out of the streets surrounding Aguacate and Lamparilla. We’re sprawled on the bed in the descending darkness of the afternoon of our first day in Havana, and something wakes me after 20 minutes. Something. Something that sounds like a being—some sort of presence dragging its feet against the tiles just outside the bedroom door of our 3rd floor apartment. And then, wait. What’s that? A drumming. Now a drum-drum-tap against the thin plastic cover of the toilet seat in the adjacent bathroom. It’s a ghost, it must be. My imagination runs wild while I listen closer. Finally, deciding that this spirit is disoriented—he’s lost, and is probably drumming and dragging away in mourning, missing his Cuban band. (I swear I can feel their overwhelming presence in this city.)
And the minute I get up to investigate his sound, he stops. I feel his fright at the thought of being discovered and instantly, like a loose dove, sense him fly out through the balcony of the salon and down Aguacate street to haunt something else in peace. I grab my pen to write all of this down in a frenzy while Aviv continues to breath softly, sleeping through every creak of the door, every drum-drum and honk-honk from the 1950’s taxi cabs downstairs dropping newbies like us off to discover their Havana Vieja.
Indeed, this is Havana. A mess of majestic grime and spirits—both alive and deceased—still looking to swing their hips.
Cuba is the first time that I allow myself to revel in the disorientation of travel. It’s that ghostly feeling that tells you that something’s there but you’re just not seeing it; at least not yet. I’ve learned that if you remain curious, to your luck, with a few more days you’ll become privy to the truth: it’s you that’s changed. That sense of being lost was you gone from yourself for the first few days—spooked away, down and out the window, through the streets of the old city.
And perhaps what I wanted to write about all along was how the ghost sounds I’m hearing are familiar, but different. Throughout the disorientation, it’s as if I am hearing these sounds with my feet, and ultimately, curiosity wins and tells me:
“Get down there you fool! Let your feet indulge.”
And so I did, we do—and perhaps this is the only way one can navigate a world so different from the one they grew up in. Perhaps this is the only way one can navigate Havana. One must become so totally irritable and confused inside that your feet sprout ears, and you have no choice left but to dance yourself into all that life calling out to you from behind the doors and down below.
So down, down you go…
into the sound of a puttering motorbike; of the whistle policing. into the smell of sweet bread, shimmying out of that bakery that looks like it’s been locked up and closed for weeks. into the roasted pork that continues to roast and sizzle through the streets. into the aye aye aye’s!!! and que bonitaaaa’s! with howls that scare the roosters off their streets—and in fact, there they are! on the rooftops! roosters on rooftops clucking in and out of the ropa vieja blowing in the wind like Cuban flags for miles.
Oh! and then there’s Reggaton suddenly, and then Salsa in the streets and a million reminders of The Revolution. A place of dilly-dally service but wonderful smiles and beautiful women. And people of all colors and mixed races, loving loving loving each other. And oh! That short Cuban man who sells his galletas—rolling his cart back and forth from Brazil to Aguacate all day. His voice and his whistle crawl up the walls, through the windows, and wet the kitchen floors with words I don’t quite understand, and I’m not sure I ever will…
But because I’m dancing, I don’t care anymore. I’ve surrendered.
This. All of this is what happens when you venture out into the shock that is Cuba—and once you’ve allowed yourself to be curious and courageous and free enough, you wonder how on earth you could have ever felt like a ghost in the first place. You’ve transformed.