A Cuban Christmas story - part 1

Escalation, excess and extravagance of a Cuban Christmas

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"Oh, Christmas is nice. The calm, the leisure and comfort. Isn't it Cuba? ”I ask the Caribbean island.
"Fuck you!" Says Cuba and throws his accumulated madness around my ears.

December 24, Remedios / Cuba

I am bleeding on my left leg, my lungs are burning and two questions are manifesting in my head:

1. Where did I end up here?
2. How do I get out of here?

What I want to say is that Christmas where I am right now does not consist of a cozy get-together and kitschy Christmas poems, but can be largely divided into three phases: rum, doomsday, more rum.

But let's go back a bit:

It is Christmas Eve, I am sitting on the bedspread of my bed in Santa Clara, which is embroidered with pink flowers and decorated with ruffles, and I have a fever. Headache, body aches, dizziness, the whole program.

"It's Christmas, pull yourself together, damn it!" I try to tell myself. I also have an appointment in ten minutes.

So I throw in all the pills, capsules and tinctures that fall out of my toilet bag, dispense with the suppositories and put them on my bed at a safe distance, while I wash the rest down with a sip of rum. Santa Claus, I am ready, I think, heave myself out of bed and set off.

I meet three British, Andy, Debs and Sophie in front of the Hotel Santa Clara Libre. I met the three in front of the ticket counter at the local bus station this morning because they, like me, no longer got a bus ticket from the city. However, this is a problem that I have postponed. At first it was about somehow coming to Remedios, a small town that is supposed to turn into the epicenter of pre-Christmas madness and chaos once a year. At least that's what I was told.

"Las Parrandas de Remedios" is the name of the spectacle, of which I have heard something from a few sides, most recently from a group of drunk Cuban baseball fans in Havana, but I cannot really imagine anything about it.

Once again I was left in the dark about the exact details, but the vehemence of persuasion did not allow me to miss it, but it did not go away.

"You HAVE to go to Remedios! You HAVE to!

"Ok, why?"

"It's crazy!"

"Cool. Crazy sounds good. How crazy? "

"Really fucking crazy, man"

Most of the time it was information.

"Do you know what to expect there?" I ask Andy as I throw myself behind him on the back of our taxi.

"No, I only heard that it should be pretty crazy"

"I heard that too. Let's see what happens. If it sucks, we can leave again ”

Since there are no buses back to Santa Clara at night, all beds in Remedios seem to be occupied and the chances of a taxi back are probably zero, we had no choice but to book a taxi for the entire evening. For twenty euros per person we have a personal chauffeur until two in the morning.

I sit back and wait for the painkillers to start working. The journey takes about 40 minutes and I dozed off quickly.

When I open my eyes again, I can hear the muffled roar of music and a monotonous hum from a beehive that seems to be coming from hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

We agree with the taxi driver where he is waiting for us and set off. Remedios looks more like a village than a city. A pretty full village.

Whole pigs are spinning over some fires, music sounds from large loudspeakers through the market square in the city center into the alleys, street vendors sell home-made paper roses and the bars in the street bars are booming.

We go across the square filled with dancing and drinking people to get an overview and head into the first bar to order a drink and do the same.

"Four cuba libre and a mojito," I say to the bartender who looks so old that he probably knew José Martí personally.

In any case, despite the huge crowd around his counter, he doesn't seem to know stress. He plucks each peppermint leaf individually from the shrub, examines it briefly and then leads it towards the glass at the speed of a demented sloth. He continues in the same way with the ice cubes.

I usually envy this kind of perfectionism, but now, right now, I just want my mojito.

Why did I have to get to the slowest bartender in the world?

"If you are even slower, the ice cube will have melted before it is in the glass," I want to tell him, but instead continue to smile as unimpressed as possible. The era in Cuba is simply different. One of the first lessons to be learned as an economically-minded European. Time is money? Not in Cuba, Amigo!

This experience is doubly hard as a German, who gets his milk from birth with the time clock.

Only those who have had to deal with the authorities in Cuba know what it means to wait.

After what seems like an eternity, we are all stocked with alcoholic beverages and ready for the evening.

The drinks are empty within a minute.

We take a quick look at each other, go to the next kiosk and buy a bottle of rum and a box of beer.

We stand in a circle on the market square and quickly get into conversation with other people, talk and laugh, drink rum and decide to celebrate Christmas this way from now on.

Suddenly the lights go out and men with torches make their way through the crowd.

"Cool, I think the fire is about to start ..." says Andy. The rest of the sentence goes down in a deafening bang as hundreds of rockets shoot into the night sky at the same time.

The black firmament suddenly lights up in all imaginable colors.

Not as crazy as advertised, but very colorful and beautiful to look at, I think.

Then I get a little puzzled.

Are the missiles getting closer?

My question answers itself when three seconds later one of the rockets hits a few meters next to me in a shower of sparks.

Then the chaos breaks out. The rockets, which just a few hundred meters above our heads caused a play of colors at night, do not go out, but instead, when they reach the zenith, turn around and come back at a frantic speed, glowing and pulling a long tail of fire behind them Earth shot.

In the middle of the crowd.

I lost everyone in the group within a second. People screaming around me, running with a panicked laugh in all possible directions. The entire space is enveloped in a single large cloud of smoke. The smell of burnt black powder takes my breath away when I hear nothing other than the explosions of hundreds and hundreds of firecrackers and other fireworks. A brass band plays in between.

If "The Soldier James Ryan" had been shot by Monty Python, the film would have looked something like what is going on in front of my eyes.

It's like World War II with trumpets

I run, my shirt pulled over my face, my eyes pressed into slits and my arms crossed over my head, senselessly around, trying to dodge the missiles, which ricochet horizontally through the crowd or hiss vertically from the crowd, glowing and sparking vertically from above.

A rocket hits my leg and leaves a black, burning streak, I try to dodge and hit my knee on a wall.

My leg burns like fire as I try not to get more burns. The coolest thing is: somehow I think it's pretty cool. I am in a constant adrenaline rush, which together with the alcohol in the blood makes me feel immortal.

In between there are a few short breaks, but before you get to rest or even find your friends, the madness begins again in another corner of the market square.

The spectacle lasts almost two hours. It always starts again. Occasionally I run into Andy, Debs or one of the others, we look at each other with wide eyes, laugh and have to take cover again in order not to go up in flames.

Then it's over.

The floor is littered with the charred, smoking remains of thousands of rockets.

My adrenaline level is still at the limit. It still takes a few minutes for my pulse to drop again.

Music still sounds from the boxes that you couldn't hear during the fireworks and people immediately start dancing again as if nothing had happened.

"Lenni, over here," Andy calls to me from a distance. I push myself through the billowing dance mob towards Andy and see that Debs and Sophie are also with him. Together with a group of Cubans. Students who, like us, came to Remedios to party.

In the meantime, small stages have been set up in some of the streets where DJs play and the party has quickly moved from the market square to the side streets.

We circle the rum bottle, drink ice-cold beer and enjoy the music and the mild Christmas air.

One of the girls from the group dances towards me, smiles at me and begins to rub against me in time to the music and moves her lightly clothed body up and down on mine before she turns around, hugs her buttocks in my soft parts and starts rotating it.

"Sorry, but I have a girlfriend," I try to tell her about the loud music before any misunderstandings arise.

"All right, no problem," she calls, turning around and letting her ass continue to circle in my crotch.

I'm confused. What do I do now?

"I have a girlfriend," I say a little louder again. Maybe she just didn't understand me.

"Cool," she screams into my ear at the booming bass and continues her twerking marathon.

Damn ... what am I going to do now ??

"I'm going to get something to drink," I say, pushing her circling butt into the crotch of the guy next to me, who looks at me briefly and then enjoys the show below his navel.

I turn around and can't even take a step before standing in front of the next lovely Latina, who smiles at me briefly, turns and docks with my soft tissues while her friend dances at me from the side.

What the hell is going on here? I think and hope that my girlfriend doesn't have the great idea to call me at this moment to wish me a Merry Christmas.

"Sorry honey, I just can't. Two hot Latinas rub against me "

"Ah alright then. Then I'll call again later "

What would probably be just one wet dream for many is a nightmare for me right now.
If I were a well-educated Catholic, I would have to sit in the corner and cry.

It is not the freedom of movement with which the people around me move their astral bodies and rub against each other, but the associated request to do the same to them.

And that's exactly where the catch lies, because:

Dancing in general is just not mine.

It's not that I can't, I just don't like it. Besides, I can't.

In principle, my dance partner even led the dance course. (Thanks for that, dear Juditha) And I had no problem with it. Not because my feminist, feminine environment has instructed me from a very early age to have a strong image of women as a general norm (thanks for that, dear Thea, Gesine, Anne etc.) and outdated gender roles are a thorn in my side anyway, but because I do was simply overwhelmed with the overall situation.

I just feel much more comfortable at the bar than on the dance floor.

Strictly speaking, I wouldn't even have to get up to dance. To rock in time while sitting is completely enough for me. If I'm really in a good mood, I may nod my head or drum on the table and if I can hardly keep myself from musical euphoria, sometimes one of the feet is added.

Damn, I'm East Frisian. For me, anything that goes beyond swaying is expressive dance.

Here and now, however, I am far, far away from my north German home.

Here I am the weird outsider who stands out from the crowd like Olivia Jones at the NPD party convention .

The people around me nod to me promptly, someone gives me a Cuba Libre.

I do some awkward dance steps, of which my now somewhat hazy memory tries to convince me that I once learned these as salsa steps in the dance school. I immediately feel like one of those mid-fifties in khaki pants and white tennis socks who has been taken to the prom by his daughter and suddenly feels like 18 again, while every movement branch around him is probably torn between the two Desire to look ashamed and the desire to film the spectacle with the cell phone.

I am not to blame. The others are.

Latinos and nas probably have some hidden rhythm chromosome that has been lost in the Low German gene pool. In any case, there are clear differences in terms of dance, what can I say, not to deny overall motor skills.

Now it is out. I'm a dance Nazi ...

My anatomy is just not designed for rhythmic movement. When I dance, I look like one of those inflatable American advertising characters, the "Whacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men".

"What's wrong with you, man? You look so tense, ”says Luca, one of the students from the group.

He dances so excessively with the woman in his arm that I can now imagine that there could be something in Boris Becker's theory of flying seeds.

I try to explain to him that I'm a) still too sober, b) drunk not a good dancer, and c) apparently too prudish for Cuban life.

"I also have a girlfriend"

"I have too"

"And she thinks it's okay that you go out with this girl like that?" I ask him.

"Sure, that's my sister," laughs Luca.

His sister ... For the dance moves that he pulls out with his sister, he would go to jail with us and be tarred, feathered and driven backwards on a donkey from the village in Bavaria.

"You wouldn't dance like that with first-degree relatives, dude," I tell him.

With second degree relatives maybe, but only in the country.

But you shouldn't be so picky anyway ...

"Amigo, it's just dancing," he says to me and shoves his sister into my arms, who immediately grabs me and whirls around.

I don't know if it was Lucas' little speech or the last glass of rum that triggered it, but with a mental "Fuck it" I decide to ignore my inner East Frisian and instead give myself rhythmically to the moment.

I can't defend myself anyway.

Besides, I will most likely never see all of these people again in life.

I stand in the middle of the dancing crowd and try to watch as many dance moves from Luca and the other Cuban boys as possible, the dancing as if they had never done anything else. They probably don't either.

In terms of dance technique, I still resemble Ricky Gervais more than Ricky Martin, but honestly, I don't give a shit now.

I loosen up, move without really thinking and pour more and more rum into me so as not to give my brain the slightest chance of generating something like shame.

Everyone dances with everyone, I turn in a circle, get whirled around and turn others. The rum bottles are circling and the panicked ecstasy of the day has given way to a pleasant high. I am in the arms of people I didn't know a few minutes before and lose sight of for a few minutes later.

After a few hours I'm in a trance. My sweaty shirt sticks to my body, the tired point has long been overcome and the exhaustion has given way to a tingling feeling of euphoria.

I am in the Caribbean, it is Christmas and I dance salsa to Son and Raggaeton as well as I can, I think and look around me in the faces of the people who laugh, dance and love and I start to understand what Cuba Libre really means.

"We have to go," Andy's voice suddenly pulls me out of my Caribbean dream.

I look at the clock. It is actually two o'clock.

"Seriously?" I ask, amazed.

"No, I just gave the taxi driver $ 20 so we could stay here for a few more hours," laughs Andy and gives me a beer.

We clink glasses and continue dancing through the night.

At some point it thunders.

Fireworks again?

When the first raindrops hit me a few seconds later, and a few seconds later a cloudburst pours out over us, I recognize my mistake.

Another mess on the streets of Remedios. Most people take refuge under the narrow canopies of houses, while some steadfast ones just keep dancing.

I see our taxi on the corner of the road and run towards it to take shelter from the pouring rain.

Sophie probably had the same idea because she runs towards the taxi from a different direction.

We jump in and slam the doors behind us.

“We just wait for the shower and then go out and continue dancing,” I say and fall asleep at the same moment.

When I wake up we are back in Santa Clara. Andy, Debs and Sophie are also in the taxi and look out of their laundry in a confused way like I do.

Debs and Sophie want to share a taxi with me to Trinidad tomorrow, Andy drives the other way and wants to chill on the beach for a week in the north of the island before he flies back to England , so we say goodbye to each other, swap our Facebook Data out and stagger away in different directions.

My internal clock is still in party mode while my body has already switched to hangover mode.

I stumble through the narrow streets of Santa Claras in the rough direction in which I suspect my Casa and actually find it after I have probably walked in circles at least twice.

I try to hit the keyhole for the third time, look at my watch with one eye wide open and one pinched, and try to make sense of the dancing numbers on it.

Six o'clock ... in two hours I have to be at the taxi and in one there is breakfast.

Headaches are spreading in my skull. I will never survive the day like this.

Where the hell did I put my painkillers earlier?

I remember that I took the last ones before I left.

Damn it…

My gaze falls on the suppositories that lie lonely and alone on my bed and look at me sneeringly.

Well then ... Feliz Navidad.

  1. Oh weia. That sounds really a bit crass. What prevailed? Joy? Pain? Craziness?

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