Aedan stepped out of the store and into the bright sunshine. Of course he had been there less than a day so the newness of it all still embraced him. There seemed to be nothing exceptional about the hat he had just purchased though. It was the typical ‘Cuban fedora’ that he had seen on so many while walking the streets. The brim was rolled down in the front to better block the sun. He wondered to himself if it would block rain as well.
Around the hat ran a band of leatherette – at least he hoped it was leatherette since he would not normally purchase anything using real leather. He had little choice in this matter though. The instructions were passed to him without a chance to question anything. Presently, he was more concerned about wearing the hat because it was certainly meant to identify him. It was the only way to meet the contact that he had come to Havana to meet.
He flipped that hat over and examined the inside band. One side of the band was the same material but it was sewn to a plastic backing. This pleased him that is was probably leatherette. He looked closely for any sign of tampering…for anything that looked out of place but he found nothing. After several moments of analyzing the hat he was satisfied that there was no electronic device attached to it.
As he slid his head into the hat he was pleasantly surprised to find that it fit perfectly without adjusting the strap. He wondered if this was a lucky guess or if the person he was meeting actually knew his hat size and if so, what else was known?
The relief from the sun provided by the hat was nearly instantaneous. It didn’t take long to figure out why they are so popular here though he guessed that he had paid a premium as a tourist. Though he noticed plenty of people staring at him, often children and younger people, he reasoned that to his being a foreigner which was not something he could hide. It wasn’t just his blondish hair or inability to speak coherent Spanish but even his clothes seemed out of place. He mused to himself that the hat might have been overkill if anybody were looking for him.
For two hours he walked the streets of Havana. He wandered through stores of all types but was turned away when trying to purchase a souvenier to take home. The merchant would not accept his American currency but did draw him a map to a bank to exchange his dollars for pesos. After a second merchant also refused to accept his cash, he pondered that the old man with the hat must have been expecting him…of course he was!
Along the path to the bank, Aedan remembered he hadn’t really eaten yet today and began paying more attention to the restaurants. He didn’t have much hope of seeing ‘Vegana’ pasted to any windows but still he could hope. He spotted one advertising fish and BBQ attached to a fresh produce market and noted the location in case he needed to return. If they had could prepare nothing he would eat, he would just eat it raw. It’s something he had been considering anyway. Perhaps this would be the push he needed.
The bank was a grand building that took an entire city block. Upon entering the front door, the high ceilings and inornate classical decorations were beautiful to gaze upon. Some seemed to be in pristine condition while others showed signs of actively being restored or badly needing restoration. Like so much he had seen today, the Cuban people are doing wonders with what little they have to work with. Throughout his day, he found them to be extremely hospitable and friendly. He nearly forgot he was wearing a target on his head.
The teller in the bank was no different. She began speaking english as soon as it was obvious that Aedan was struggling to speak spanish. She was also quite talkative so Aedan took advantage of this and asked about places to see….places to eat. She rattled off a few near by restaurants that she highly recommended. Some he had seen during his walk today. Others he hadn’t but the names of most of them didn’t appeal to him. Finally, he asked about vegan or vegetarian places.
“Oh! “ she rolled her eyes “you and my daughter…” She smirked then paused to think. “You won’t find much here. There are a few downtown but you’ll need a taxi to get there. We don’t have all the opportunities you have where you come from. We’re happy to eat whatever we can. My daughter doesn’t go out much for that reason but she has mentioned a place a few blocks away. They’re not vegan but they have stuff you would eat on the menu and a great salad bar”.
Aedan got the directions from here and thanked her for being so helpful and friendly before departing. On his way out of the bank it occured to him that the architecture was very similar to that in the older section of the Court House in Seattle. He guessed they might have been built around the same time…a time when Cuba was flush in foreign investment. That single decisions can lead countries – people – to such different outcomes was never more obvious to him. He mused that he was finding the people he met on the street friendlier than a walk through Seattle for the most part. Perhaps it’s easier to be friendly to strangers when one has less to be taken from them. Of course, this isn’t unique to Cuba, he had witnessed this many times in he traveled much more in what seems like a lifetime ago, now.
With the directions he was given, Aedan found the restaurant exactly where the bank teller said he would. When he opened the door he stepped back into time. It was a diner from the 1950s. Old Chevy and Ford bumpers hung on the back wall. There were a couple he couldn’t identify.
Even before the door had closed completely, a smiling young lady met and welcomed him. There were no other customers. An older man wearing an apron sat on one of the stools at the counter, eating. He merely glanced at Aedan then continued eating. It was the middle of the afternoon and likely between any rushes if they happened.
The young woman took Aedan to a booth along the sidewall and offered him a menu as he slid onto the bench seat. He removed his hat and set it on the seat beside him then managed to ask for a glass of iced tea with lemon and ice all in Spanish. She replied negatively so quickly that he wasn’t able to decipher. The puzzled look on his face was obvious but before he could say any more she explained in english that they had run out of ice at lunch but assured him that the tea is kept in the refrigerator. They established that he needed a few moments to look through the menu and she left him to his own.
As Aedan read through the menu, occasionally translating words on his phone, another man walked in. He was a large and rather serious looking man but seemed to know the hostess as they had a few lines of friendly chatter. She pointed to a booth near Aedan but he nodded to the one nearest the door and sat down with his back to the door.
Aedan watched the interaction from the corner of his eye while trying to translate spanish to english. He was carrying a briefcase and newspaper. The briefcase went on the seat beside him. He asked only for coffee then opened the newspaper he had brought with him. A few more friendly words were exchanged when she poured his coffee then she returned to Aedan.
There was nothing marked ‘vegan’ on the menu but most of the dishes could be easily made so. She seemed unphased by his questions. With minimal effort he placed his order. It had been so tempting to just go for the salad but not knowing where he would eat next, he went for broke..and got a salad too He had put on a lot of miles and the day was young. As he waited for his order, he pulled out his map to identify his location and plan the rest of his day. Before he could finish, his salad sat before him.
He was quite engrossed in the map sill before him while he ate when the door opened again. He didn’t even bother to look up until he heard a woman’s voice struggling with her spanish as he had. He looked up to see the woman dressed casually with her platinum blonde hair pulled up on her head. She and the waitress quickly broke into english as she asked for a set next to the window. The waitress advised her that it might be a bit warmer there with the sun still pouring in but she was undeterred.
Aedan tried to not stare as he listened. She was quite attractive and he could detect no accent in her voice. Certainly she was American too. She wasn’t the only blonde he had seen all day but of the small handful he had seen, she was the first he heard speaking english.
Returning to his map plotting, Aedan continued listening to the two speak. He really had no choice made all the more difficult because it wasn’t in spanish as most of his day had been. She was indeed from the US but what got Aedan’s attention was that she was asking about meatless dinners. With her order placed, the waitress turned to Aedan and let him know in english that she was coming with his dinner next. At that, the blonde customer turned her head just enough to look at him, half smiled and then turned back straight and pulled her phone from her purse.
The man near the door was also paying attention. His eyes met Aedan’s for an instant before he looked back down to the newspaper he was reading.