If the first thing that you should see on entering a Cuban’s home is an elephant’s derriere, try not to be overly offended. Cubans are generally very warm and hospitable people and mean no insult. But elephant trunks bring good luck, unless you have them pointed towards the front door, in which case all the luck will flow out as you walk in.
And speaking of front doors, if you start to wonder why many of them have little strips of red cloth tied to them, as do the back bumpers of many cars – especially vintage ones - wonder no more. Its not to remind people to shut the door after they leave, nor is it an attempt to prevent vintage bumpers from falling off. Its more good luck. And given the impressive age of many of the cars around, you’ll appreciate that a little piece of luck can go quite a long way.
A few days ago, a little piece of luck dropped straight from the heavens and landed right on the top of my head. This was thanks to some spiteful little Cuban bird which I had chosen not to share my lunch with while eating at the Al Medina restaurant.
Apart from the wildlife, Al Medina is a very nice little Arab restaurant in an old colonial casa in Havana Vieja. Many of the dishes will be familiar to Jamaicans – Lebanese or Syrian delicacies like hummus (not as good as ours in Jamaica – too grainy and not enough garlic) kibbie, salads, grilled chicken (which tasted very much like every other piece of chicken I’ve had in Cuba), pita bread, babaganoush (or however that is spelt – but its the eggplant dip), lobster kebabs and other bits and pieces. You can sit in the courtyard, with grape vines above and an old gurgling fountain behind, stupid little birds flitting around and looking harmless. Nearby there is a well behaved parrot chatting away to no one in particular and sitting safely in a cage – no threat there.
A Cuban band plays on – “Guantanamera, guajira Guantanmera..... Guantanameeeeeeera, guajira Guantanmera” – is obligatory. Much like ‘One Love’ must be heard by tourists in Jamaica at least 10 times per day. But you may also get some Stevie Wonder. And the Beatles ‘old hit “Hey Jude” lives on in Havana and the Al Medina – but with a salsa twist.
Back to my little piece of luck, which is still sitting on top of my head. Oh, how the band smiled. Oh, how my Cubana laughed. Its good luck she said – it will bring you money. I quickly wiped the stuff off – only to find out that bird excrement is the colour of all other types of animal excrement and not white at all - shattering another of my treasured myths. As I went to the bathroom to intensify my clean-up campaign the lady outside (who expects you to pay her a couple coins for keeping the bathroom clean) smiles and says “Suave – mucho dinero” – Good luck – much money. Perhaps she meant much money for her. She got that one wrong.
I can’t promise you the same kind of luck – but I can promise you a most pleasurable dining experience at the Al Medina. Expect to pay about 25 convertible pesos for a meal for two, including beer (I needed that trust me). And its a good opportunity to vary your diet from the usual Cuban fare.
Please though, if you do go and see a stupid little bird with an evil smirk on its face, do me a favour and throw it a piece of bread. Directly at its head, and as hard as you can. And while I’m still waiting for that big bundle of dinero, I do feel lucky that at least elephants (trunks pointing where they may), cows and pigs don’t fly.
Copyright © Richard Browne