On the Saturday after the show I was physically wiped out from the lack of sleep, coupled with poor dietary choices and all of the walking I had been doing. I ended up meeting a friendly couple who were selling bootleg Stones shirts that they had screen-printed by hand. The Rolling Stones had wisely not brought their vast merchandise operation to this particular show, apparently having run out in Mexico. Either way, the cost of one of their official shirts would be the equivalent of two months wages to the average Cuban. Opportunists seized this moment, and I saw at least five different bootlegged T-shirts. I bought one for $15 and put it on. Together, we combed the streets of Old Havana as I dutifully helped my new friends move the product just by walking around — even selling nine shirts to a group of high school kids from Aspen. Afterwards, the young artist couple introduced me to their friend who had a place for me to stay on my last two nights. This was lucky, because the town was full to capacity and most of the casa particulars were occupied.
I spent Sunday afternoon walking the streets north of the old town. I ventured down smoky and loud Neptune Street and then back up to the steps of the University, joining various games of baseball that I found on side streets along the way. Everywhere I looked there was a classic photo opportunity. In Havana, it can be hard to put the camera away. Every few steps you see something else that captures the eye.
In the late afternoon, I sat with my host and openly discussed the politics of both of our countries — something that was new to me in Cuba, having only encountered silence and averted eyes when the subject came up before. It wasn’t even acceptable for a random Cuban citizen to walk in the streets alongside a foreigner unless the Cuban was a sanctioned tourist board member (a.k.a a “protector of the Revolution”). On this day, we walked the streets and neither the police nor the citizen police said a word.
In keeping with the Musician To Musician incentive, I distributed several packs of guitar strings around the town to various players. I also left the guitar I was traveling with, an Epiphone flamenco, with my host.
Perhaps something like a Velvet Revolution will occur, similar to what happened in Prague, where incidentally I once attended a performance by the original members of The Velvet Underground. The concert was held at a former communist meeting hall turned cultural palace, where President Václav Havel, a formerly imprisoned poet and playwright, sat only a few rows ahead of me. That was 1993: just a few years after the old guard fell.
A somewhat disturbing notion then came to light in that the Cuban government may have shut down Internet and cell phone use during the night of the Stones concert. We all know how people use today’s Internet to mobilize others, but on that night there would be no communicating among anyone.
Either way, I feel the Cuban people will always persevere and flourish on their beautiful island in the gulf stream. If you visit, be prepared to experience something vastly different from your life in the First World. Bring gifts for your hosts who simply don’t have access to many of the things you do. Most importantly, do the world a favor and help prove everyone wrong who says we Americans will ruin it.
Tim Easton’s forthcoming record, American Fork, will drop July 15. You can pre-order the album at TimEaston.com.