The Worst Kept Secret In Havana

Where would the President eat?

Faye and I  arrived at our host’s home in Havana on Monday and promptly heard that it was possible that the President was going to eat at Palladar San Cristobal, right across the street. I chuckled and thought it would be pretty cool, but it was six days away and I didn’t give it too much thought.

As the week went on I heard more rumors from more people on the street.  I began to think hard about the possibility. It IS a nice restaurant. Beyonce ate there. Hey, I even ate there once. But the street, San Rafael E. is very narrow and one way. It seemed to me it would be a security risk. How could the Presidential limo ever get out from the pack of cars in front and in back of it. Also, the nearest street where the limo would have room enough to make a left or right turn was five blocks away.

But I kept hearing that Obama was coming. I started to notice more police presence and packs of official looking Cuban cars stopping at the restaurant in the afternoons and evenings.

Everyone knew  Obama was coming. I was finally convinced.

On Sunday evening at about 6:30 motorcycle police appeared with lights flashing and quickly blocked off the streets for three blocks in both directions. Then the motorcade came cruising in, more motorcycles, followed by eight or ten Cuban driven Hyundais, followed by the Presidential motorcade. The lead Suburban stopped right at my hosts doorway with the President’s car third in line. I had a “front row seat.”

Everything happened very quickly (except the meal) with the President, the first lady, and their daughters trying to avoid the pouring rain. I shot a little video and a few stills before we all settled down to wait for the departure. I went down to the street from my second story vantage point to get some different images and promptly ran into Ms.Secret Service who would not let me get any closer than the lead suburban. I casually drifted to the other side of the street looking for other compositions. I got scolded again by Ms. Secret Service. I was told to get in MY doorway and stay there. I went back to the balcony to wait in the rain.

I should note that there was a Cuban security person on the balcony with us. He needed no invitation. He simply appeared. This caused my host to freak out just a bit. The last thing the average Cuban wants is to have state security people in their homes.

After ninety minutes or so the activity picked up. People started leaving the restaurant, engines came to life, headlights came on, and officials scrambled to their cars.

Soon the President appeared, waved to cheering Cubans, entered his limo and the entire lineup sped off to frenzied waves and shouts of “Obamá, Obamá, Obamá”

After the motorcade departed, people rushed to the palladar just to see where the American President had been.

If you ever want to know what’s going on in Havana, get out on the street and listen to the people.

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My little buddy, Ebaristo, the shoeshine guy in Trinidad, Cuba saw me before I saw him. He came running across the street to greet me. I made a big joke by sitting in his chair and asking for a shine on my sneakers. He called my bluff by painting the black soles with what looked like stove polish.

It took  two days of scuffing around Trinidad to get the “shine” worn down to a respectable level.

I brought him a new brush  and some real polish too.





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