Thursday, January 29, 2009

Libertad para Cuba

There seems to be a sizable Cuban population in Madrid, and as a result, there are a fair number of Cuban restaurants scattered around the city. Last week I went to check out a Cuban place called La NegraTomasa . When I heard Juanes playing on their sound system as I sat down, I knew I was in for a good time. I had wonderfully marinated pork with black beans and rice, and – I kid you not – the best maduros I’ve ever had in my life (they were perfectly crispy on the outside and just sweet enough inside). Sadly, Materva was not available, so I opted for beer instead.

(On a side-note: If you live in the Boston area, do yourself a favor and visit Oriental de Cuba. I had never had Cuban food before Agent Sanz took me here and my life changed for the better that day. I had discovered the culinary wonder that is the Cuban sandwich, and there was no going back.)

After eating, I was finishing up my beer when a few girls who’d been drinking together at a table across the way started talking to me. It was a little cumbersome to have conversation across the room, so they invited me over to their table. It was a group of psychology students who’d gone out drinking (mojitos) together after class. It was quite an international group: Cuba, Argentina, Columbia, Spain were all represented. As we were chatting, they complemented me on my Spanish, and I had the feeling of, ¨wow, I’m really doing it… I’m having a sustained conversation with native Spanish speakers outside of class.¨

But I must admit it was mentally exhausting… even though they were affable and engaging, I knew I couldn’t keep it up. They invited me to come out salsa dancing with them, but I politely declined. The thought of a white guy trying to keep up with a bunch of Latin Americans on the dance floor seemed absurd. But I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and we exchanged information.

One conversation point that I though was particularly funny was when they were asking me if I dance. I told them, ¨No, I don’t dance… I can’t¨. They asked, ¨Why don’t you dance? For religious reasons?¨ I said, ¨no, religion has nothing to do with it. It’s just that I’m white.¨ They didn’t pick up on my sarcasm (sarcasm seems much less utilized in Spanish), and thought I misunderstood what they were asking. It took me a few minutes to straighten out the conversation and get my actual meaning across: to me, being white is a perfectly good reason for not being able to dance… but they didn’t buy it. It took several minutes of convincing to assure them that I was telling the truth: I cannot dance; I was simply not born with the ability. Even then, they seemed a little skeptical.

¡Abajo Castro, y libertad para Cuba!


  1. wow..just from the first paragraph..i can't wait to go to Spain. Thanks for the food education. Good for you for meeting peeps you can talk to. You should have went dancing though!!!! the way being white is no excuse for not dancing...I'm skeptical of you now too. :)

  2. you must be getting quite good with your Spanish! Hooked some ladies.

  3. cuba si! castro no!
    thanks for the info on materva. i had no idea it actually originated in cuba...

  4. Aight buddy, first thing we're gong to do when you get back is to sign up for Salsa classes. I know a few spots in the area. There will be no more excuses for you mi amigo. Once we got the basics down, we're headed over to the "Mayan" a few blocks down from your place to get to work. Preparate pai, porque vas a bailar!

  5. dude i am living vicariously through you! I just saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the new Woody Allen movie with Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johannsen and I must say that I am longing to go to be in Spain again. I can imagine you drinking beer, talking to the girls and refusing to dance cos you are white [which my friend is a lame excuse especially when senoritas are doing the asking]
    Keep it coming buddy!

  6. *sigh*... more people trying to convince me to dance. :) look people, i would love to oblige you, but i just don´t have it in me, de verdad. about a year ago, i finally let a few friends drag me to a salsa class, and to say that i didn´t enjoy it is a bit of an understatment. let´s just say i did not return. so i´m gonna stay off the dance floor and in the kitchen where i belong. :)