On the Malecón

A weathered individual stood against the sea wall of the Malecón, holding a battered guitar. He made a comment as I walked past him, chatting with Amanda and Cristina. We’d just come from dinner at El Patio, an architecturally lovely restaurant, with unusual stained glass windows and divider screens, on the Plaza de la Catedral. It was a muggy night and lightning was flashing in the sky where the moon should have been. “¿Quieren poquito musica?”, or something like that. I’ve decided never to pass someone by just because I don’t understand what they’re saying.

We stopped, the three of us. At first I was unmoved when he suggested Besa me mucho. A cliché; but all classic Spanish songs are a cliché, as they rightly should be.

But by God this man played with such grace and such soul, grinning beneath his Cubana Airlines cap, that our mouths hung open. The capo was up three frets, and the guitar was held together with what looked like blue masking tape. It sounded otherworldly. Beyond the guitarist the ocean lay still, expecting a squall. Behind us, cars (very few of them) rolled along the roadway as garish LED signs ticked off the seconds between red and green, red and green.

I was surprised by the Malecón; how closely it borders the main thoroughfare. I’d expected something with a bit more distance from traffic. But when Cubans sing, they are not distracted. The two songs that we purchased from that musician, for one American dollar, will be as beautiful as any songs I will hear in Cuba.

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