#5 :: A Cuban wedding … and a bit of wind

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November 12, 2012 by vivalafiona

27 October 2012

I went to a Cuban wedding this week, in the middle of the afternoon, on a Monday. The ceremony lasted all of 7 and a bit minutes and was attended by the couple, two witnesses, 2 friends who snuck in to take photo’s and the lawyer/ notary. A very official ceremony during which the lawyer, a woman who dressed in a white suit for the occasion, read aloud the matrimonial documentation to be submitted to the government, and 4 sections of family law, whilst seated at a desk. Despite the seriousness of the proceedings the groom managed to break the ice when he interrupted the lawyer as she read out his name, claiming it was not his but his brothers. There was a stunned silence for a few seconds and then everyone cracked up as we all knew he did not have a brother. Once copies of the marriage certificate were signed by the couple and their 2 witnesses the formalities were complete and the lawyer expressed her congratulations. No exchanging of rings, no flowers, no trumpets or organs playing, no ludicrous dance routines down the aisle, no meringues, no aisle in fact or confetti. Very simple and matter of a fact. Many Cubans never bother to get married, as it is too expensive for most and although some aspects of Catholicism are alive and well sex is definitely not considered a sin here, nor are children born out of wedlock. Fidel sent all the fire and brimstone priests packing after the revolution. Hallalujah to that.

Property ownership comes about because of inheritance and so many women can own property if left it by their relatives. The casa (B&B) I am staying in was left to it's current owner by her aunt. She also inherited a farm from her father. It was only recently that laws changed allowing Cuban's to legally buy or sell houses from each other. Not that many of them could ever afford to do so, however.

The wedding feast was held that evening in a casa particular, attended by an Ecuadorian tourist who happened to be staying there, a newly married Slovenian and his Cuban wife, a Danish woman and her Cuban husband and son, an Australian and more Cubans. Friends and family all helped to prepare a meal that included lobster, prawns, fresh fish, fried plantain, fried potato chips/papas, rice and salad served with Spanish wine and Cuban rum (and much later in the evening some Cuban wine which was only consumed by those who were inebriated enough to brave it). A couple of local musicians played guitar and sang throughout the meal and afterward which took the pressure of conversing in Danspanglishitaliano.

Think I have found a furnished apartment to rent, with two bedrooms, 2 living rooms, 2 verandahs, a fully stocked kitchen with gas oven (very important as not all Cuban kitchens have ovens) and a bathroom with a bath! The rent includes a cleaner and laundry service. More luxury than I ever had at No 5 Herbert St. Booked your ticket yet???

Almost experienced my first hurricane, amusingly named Sandy! Fortunately it by- passed Trinidad, after devastating parts of Santiago and Guantanamo before heading out to sea. I did wake at 4.00 am to howling winds knocking over the wrought iron furniture on the terrace outside. A tormenta I was told, but not a hurricane. Lots of rain fell over most of Cuba in Sandy’s wake but again we were not too badly affected here. I believe Sandy notched up 200 km an hour. We are now experiencing the start of the Cuban winter, 31 degrees C but with a nice cool gusty breeze to blow away the humidity.

Passed by a very smart red and white chevrolet in the street this week and found myself giggling for some time afterward. To alert the woman alighting from the horse and cart that it was about to overtake the owner sounded his horn. Its sound was that of a wolf whistle. Bet ya that increases it value ten fold.

Ate the most delicious lolly/sweet the other day whilst waiting with a friend at the bus stop for the bus/truck to take him up to the mountains behind Trinidad. A bite sized coconut and caramel fudge ball surrounded by hard toffee. These are sold on the street out of buckets. You can also buy homemade brightly decorated cakes, savoury biscuits, cordial, bread and guava paste (think quince paste) from street vendors who set up small portable tables on street corners or cart their wares around in wheel barrows, all for a few cents – in Cuban pesos, not the tourist money.

I read to day that Cuba was expecting almost 3 million visitors this year, an increase of 5.2% on last year. Most of the visitors come from Europe, Russia and Latin America according to the article. I have noticed quite a few Aussies around of late too. A former South African, now resident in Melbourne, stayed here this week and was travelling in a small group organised by Intrepid/Cuban Adventures (Australian Company). His travelling companions included 2 Irish girls, and 3 Australian women including an 88 year old from Sydney. I made sure I met this woman after I heard she was out the night before till 2.00am at Las Cuevas, the disco in the caves at the bottom of the hill I climb most mornings. A most inspiring person who was winning the battle against old age. She picked the right country to travel in too as Cuba is anything but ageist.

Am getting my fare share of caffeine. In Cuba when you pay a visit to a neighbour or a relative or friend you are immediately offered or handed a small cup of black sweet coffee (think Turkish coffee). It seems that there is always a fresh pot on the stove or if not a thermos full nearby. Grown locally and sold in the markets or door to door, Cubans roast and grind it themselves in their homes. The grinding is done by hand and can be quite hard work.

My first world vision is beginning to understand more and judge less. What appears to be an unkempt garden full of weeds I can now see is in fact a garden rich in fruit trees, herbs (not weeds) and seasonal vegetables. It is also a feeding ground for chickens, goats and pigs. There are no compost heaps in the gardens because any leftover food or vegetable scraps are fed to the pigs and chickens, dogs and cats. The cat that lives in the casa particular where I am staying dines better than most, on pieces of lobster, prawn, chicken and fresh fish left by tourists. Very little goes to waste in Cuba and as a result the streets and countryside are very clean, save for the dreaded water bottles that are now filling up rivers, and coastlines all over the world. Cubans are in fact being encouraged by the government to have terracotta/carbon water filters in their houses and many do. As few can really afford to buy bottled water I suspect that it is tourists that are primarily to blame.

The same applies to cans of soft drink or beer. These are only available for sale in the tourist currency, which means few Cubans consume them except on really special occasions. Instead Cuban’s drink beer of perhaps a lesser quality and alcohol content which they purchase from large trucks that drive around the streets on the weekend. As with the tomato sauce in the markets you need to supply your own containers, so you will see men queuing behind the truck with jugs, bottles, jars and saucepans to buy their beer. An adults Mr Whippy meets the green movement.

I hear that Hurricane Sandy has disrupted flights out of Europe and Canada and that many tourists were evacuated out of Santiago. The reports of casualities are mixed in the papers and TV here but I have seen footage of significant devastation in Santiago and Holguin to houses, powerlines, streets, trees and crops. There has been a lot of flooding all over the country and certainly the banana plantations have been destroyed in the south. A huge burden for an already struggling economy. I believe food aid is coming from Venezuela and other Latin American countries. Brigades of aid workers have been sent to clean up the mess and repair power lines.

Trinidad has been unaffected apart from a dramatic climate change. The Cuban winter has arrived which means it is time to wear T-shirts and 3/4 pants rather than tank tops and shorts.


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