Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sketches of Cuba - Part 2

In the bar of the Hotel Telegrafo in old Havana we were enjoying a mojito in the late afternoon when we noticed a peculiar character at a nearby table. He was engaged in animated conversation with a handsome Spanish-looking women in her early forties. He was compeletely bald and vaguely reptilian looking – it was hard to determine his age but I reckon in his fifties. (For an idea of what he looked like do a search on “Gollum” in Google images.) But it wasn’t his grotesque appearance that caught the eye, it was his peculiarly animated manner. He was hunched forward talking to the woman in a very intense fashion, there seemed just too much intensity for such an innocuous scenario. There was also some coming and going with the bar staff and the security guys – with all of whom he seemed familiar and at ease. He was either a local or at least a regular and he spoke the local language. A little later a young girl (15 or 16?) joined the couple – she was tall slim and extremely beautiful – more Spanish than Cuban looking. She looked timorous and apart from her very manicured nails and the tatoo on her lower back seemed an innocent abroad. It was also clear that she hadn’t met the old creep before. After a little conversation between the three of them, the older woman got up and left. And Gollum then gave her his undivided attention. He ordered some food for her and as she picked at it he hunched forward talking to her intensely - all the while gripping her thigh. Her body language bespoke her unease as she tilted backwards away from him. We left them to it but speculated at what on earth was going on. Was this a flagrant example of underage prostitution in broad daylight – or was there an innocent explanation.

It seems not, for the next morning when we came down for breakfast, there was Gollum and this girl dining together. While they hardly acted like a loving couple, she went about the breakfast buffet in a blithe and unconcerned fashion. He maintained his creepy intensity of manner as he devoured his breakfast. The strange thing was not the apparent prostitution per se, but rather the flagrantly obvious way it was conducted. Prostitution is illegal in Cuba and the security forces do clamp down on it from time to time. The only explanation I could venture was that our friend Gollum was in fact a member of the security forces. And, given his command and ease in a very upmarket tourist hotel, a senior member at that.