Thursday, March 15, 2007

Two David

This exchange lasted several minutes between Cito and Leonardo. The two boys were bitter friends. Cito, 8 and Leonardo, 9 lived in the small fishing village of Casilda, 6 Km south of Trinidad, Cuba. Their fathers worked as fishermen for the state and they lived a decent and quiet life.

I found myself in the middle of this arguement outside Cito's home. Cito had asked if I wanted to play baseball and naturally I jumped at the oppurtunity. I soon found out that my acceptance included much more than just a baseball game. Cito had a tennis ball that he brought with him outside where we met Leonardo. This is when the arguement began between Cito and Leonardo.
From my high school spanish I gathered that Leonardo had slapped a woman across the face, thus reducing him to the title of 'Poopie'. Leonardo, to his credit remained cool and simply called Cito a liar whereas if I had been falsely accused of such a grievance at the age of 9 I would have started a fight. Regardless, Leonardo was to be known as poopie throughout the entire game.

Cuban baseball, at least for 8 year olds in Casilda consists of one tennis ball and three rocks. The batter holds the tennis ball in his hand at home plate and uses his fist as a bat. The fielder then attempts to field the ball and race to either first or second or home (there are only three bases in Cuban baseball) to get the batter out. Three outs for Poopie, six outs for Cito.

As I was hesitant to get in the middle of such a divisive game I could not resist the temptation to run the bases and see Cito and Poopie chase after the ball. I got up to bat and with all my power (and a little deviousness) hit the ball as far as I could. Cito and Poopie just watched as the ball soared over their heads and own the dirt road. They looked at me as I rounded second and headed for home, a look that showed they were obviously not happy with my flagrant display of seniority. I got home laughing and smiling and looked at the two boys. Simply, I had cheated according to them. My record breaking home run was illegal and the run did not count since it was too far away. While I tried to reason with Cito and Poopie I could tell that at the ripe age of 22 that I was no match for Cito and Poopie, two experienced Cuban baseball players.

I dropped my head further when I was informed that not only did the run not count, but that since I cheated I had lost my turn at bat and had to return to the field. This is how the afternoon went as the sun wanned and set over the horizon to the west. We went back inside Cito's home to the cool concrete floors and the sounds of Bucanero beer popping open. The world of Cuban baseball in this quiet town is a mural of passion, absurdity and laughter. Much like that of the Cuban people.

We were led down the cobblestone streets, past the tourists, across from the museums, and onto a dirt road that resembled so many I saw in Haiti. The dirt road was uneven and jagged rocks marked the detours you had to make along the way. We had come to dance and we were being led to the end of civilization. A fitting place in all honesty for one to learn the provocative dance of the salsa.
We came to a door that opened into a cool, spacious living room filled with family pictures and a few small chairs. The woman, rather large but in a way that said she lived a good life, called herself Danielle. She led us to the back of her home and down some steps into an empty room with a concrete floor. The two of us novices smiled at each other nervously. What had we done? How had we ended up in this godforsaken place, with our pale skin, gringo accents and classic tourist look?
Danielle returned with a fan and a CD player. As she plugged the music into the socket she shooed her chicken out of our dance hall. Clearly we would not be alone during our dance lesson.

As our lesson began I vacated my nervousness with a false sense of confidence. "Nostros aprendemos rapido" We learn fast. This phrase would be Danielles favorite for the next two hours as I stepped on toes, spun the wrong way, tripped, fell, and generally learned very slowly. Despite this however, we spun, shook our hips, stepped "adelante y detras", and by the end of the two hours had gotten through a whole salsa song with as much as a single noticable slip.

We were experts. Or so we thought. What Danielle neglected to tell us as we headed out her door and to the Cuban salsa club that night was that we had no experience and the two hour lesson included no instruction on the thousand of other intricate dance steps of the salsa. Not to mention the style we so dearly lacked. In other words, we learned the notes, not the music.

While our evening was filled with large spins, subtle trips and lots of expletives from this perfectionist it was remarkable how we were accepted by the other dancers. We were two gringos who braved the beast and stepped "adelante y detras". Danielle would have corrected us and laughed at our mistakes but we were happy. The salsa is not about the notes, its about the music. Cuba is not about the notes, its about the music. We left the club and walked out onto the Plaza Mayor into the cool, breezy night content and happy.