Wintering in Cuba
By: Brenda Fishauf Photos: PL & Courtesy of Parque Central Hotel
My family was aghast when, being of an advanced age, I made my choice to spend the winter of 2007 in Havana on my own. Upon the advice from a friend who had been there many times and, myself, remembering the ﬁne times my husband and I had ﬁfteen years earlier when we had taken a trip there, I decided on a stay of three months at the Parque Central Hotel situated in Old Havana. A couple of weeks in Varadero would not hurt, I told my travel agent, just for a change of scenery. This trip turned out to be the best decision I had made in a long time.
Frankly, I did not know what to expect. But when I was ensconced in my room, I turned on the TV and there was a message welcoming me by name to the hotel and I thought, yes, things will be all right. Little did I guessjust how all right they would turn out to be.
First, let me mention “location, location, and location." The Parque Central is right next to the Prado which is a beautiful promenade ofa street forming the boundary between Old Havana and Central Havana, Nearby was the Gran Teatro de la Habana , an elegant building housting the oldest functioning theatre in Latin America. There, I was able to see the National Ballet of Cuba's wonderful interpretation of “Carmen” and a vigorous ﬂamenco danced by the Ballet Espaﬁol de Cuba but the highlight ofthe winter for me was the National Ballet‘s passionate version of “Coppelia.” I had seen nothing quite so beautiful in ages.
Not far away and easily accessible by taxi was the Basilica de San Francisco de Asis where the acoustics in its main hall are said to be the best in Cuba. There, I listened enraptured to the ualhgemale violin group of the Camerata Romeu. The Palacio de Bellas Aries recently restored to a breathtaking, elegance, had a spectacular collection of international art in one building a.nd another housing Cuban art from its colonial period to today. The collection also including some art, I was surprised to learn, that came from artists currently residing in Miami. Farther away was the Amadeo Roldan Theatre Where I enjoyed the Cuban Symphony in the evening with a varied programme including excerpts from West Side Story and George Gershwin tunes.
But it was mainly the people. In the hotel lobby Where I had my daily aﬁernoon tea and where I held court, so to speak, travellers from all around the world would come up and engage me in conversation. I made friends with visitors from England who had come to do some ﬁshing and many others from different countries.
Nothing, however, compares to the Cubans themselves, intelligent, healthy in mind as well as body, whose loving care towards me I shall never forget. The hotel staff was so helpful and warm that I am looking forward to seeing them again. Since I have to walk with a cane, Tanya, for example, would accompany me to what became my favourite hairdressing salon. The sidewalks of Havana are not to be triﬂed with. After my hair was done, the salon would call her by phone and she would come to walk me back to the hotel. Would you believe that the two managers of the hotel came to say good-bye to me when I was leaving for Canada and offered the usual warm embrace that Cubans use as a greeting?
One family in particular, to whom I was introduced, stands out for me because I hung out with the young daughter, Anna, who said I reminded her of her grandmother. I hobnobbed with these young adults — her boyfriend, her brother, and his wife — who took me to various places includinga dolphin show at the aquarium. With Anna's mother, l attended a senior's party or “people of accumulated youth“ as they are called. They sang, they danced, and two gentlemen played the piano. Everyone showed such talent that I tried to persuade my travel agent, who accompanied me to this event, to bring them to Toronto as a second Buena Vista Social Club. I was happy to make a speech of friendship and solidarity with them, translated into Spanish, and I felt a bit like a star!
Two other Cuban friends, Jorge and Hector, would come to see me periodically at my hotel. Hector, still a young man, had suffered a stroke and was ﬁghting depression. While visiting with me in the hotel lobby, he was invited to sing to me with the musicians who were playing there. I ask you, what more could a young girl of 92 ask of life?
And as I waved good-bye to all these wonderful, happy people, the hotel staff passed on a letter to me which I shall cherish:
“Dear Mrs, Fishauf:
We are very happy to have you with us all these weeks and we have felt very pleased sharing all these good times ...
Your strength has impressed all of us and your affection to the staff has made us show our best feelings and attributes. These are the reasons we will always keep you in our memory and hope to have you back soon among us.
Our best wishes,
Parque Central Staff”
I shall never forget the Winter of 2007 and, by the way, I plan to study Spanish the next time I go. Just ask my two friendly travel agents who introduced me to their friends in Havana and who made sure I was looked after.