[Nedslist] checking in from the Hotel Capri, where the wi-fi is working today

Text by Ned Sublette from his newsletter nedslist, March 27, 2015

A quick music diary . . .

Saturday: Pedro Luis Ferrer
Sunday: Emilio Morales y Los Nuevo Amigos at La Zorra y El Cuervo
Monday: Harold López-Nussa
Tuesday: a triple play: the peña (regularly scheduled gig) of Pancho Amat at the Museo Nacional de la Música; Havana d’Primera at Casa de la Música Miramar; Aldo López-Gavilán
Wednesday: Roberto Carcassés y Interactivo at Bertolt Brecht
Thursday: Pupy Y Los Que Son, Son at Casa de la Música Galeano . . .
Tonight: Van Van at the Capri . . .
Tomorrow: Reguetón . . .

My overriding impression is that Cuba is in better shape than I’ve seen it, in terms of material conditions at least. People have more access to money and goods. There are more opportunities to monetize skills, and there is momentum and hope. There are fewer people pestering you in the street.

The #1 thing missing is modern communications. Everyone has a cell, but time is ridiculously expensive. (In contrast to Haiti, where cell phone time costs a fraction.) Internet? If you can get a connection, best time to check e-mail seems to be 11 at night or later . . . some people buy wi-fi cards (about $5 for an hour of connect time) and stand outside the hotels using them on their phones, since hotels charge a 1-drink minimum consumo for non-guests using wi-fi.

About those old cars: in every article you see where they’ve sent someone who’s never been to Cuba before — these articles are all pretty much the same — they start with the ’50s cars, right? But there is a reason for that: they’re more noticeable than every, because there are more of them on the street than ever before.

Previously (prior to 2003, my last previous trip to Cuba) I had noticed fewer old cars on the street with each trip. I was wondering, is it possible that there are more old cars now? It is. A taxista explained to us (I have not been able to verify independently) that they put diesel engines on the market here, so that people who hadn’t been driving their gas guzzlers could put in a more efficient engine, repaint the cars competitively, trick out the interior, put down shiny new floor mats, and use them as taxis.

And, of course, journalists and visiting tourists love them. There’s a certain feedback effect. The world wants to see old cars in Cuba? We’ll give them old cars! My skepticism aside, there are some pretty spectacular cars rolling around here. Some amazing Chevy convertibles. I saw a model T Ford in operation as a taxi. Et cetera. The problem is that now the street is full of old cars without any pollution controls and the air quality is . . . not good . . .

The CUC is the mightiest currency in the world. While other world currencies are falling against the dollar, the CUC has risen against the dollar, and is now at .87 official, .92 street (instead of .90 / .95). So that instead of losing 10% of your money when you get off the plane, you now lose 13%. (To complicate things, people use the word “dollar” when speaking of prices, though they’re speaking in CUC’s.)

Yesterday was a record hot day.

Back in my chair on Wednesday.