Full Title: My Seductive Cuba: A Unique Travel Guide
Author: Chen Lizra
Publisher: Latidos Productions Corp (2011)
Number of Pages: 328
How long it took me to read: 4 weeks
Where I got this book: Uncustomary Book Submission
Like a Moth to a Flame
The title was irresistible. My trip to Cuba over a decade ago left a lasting impression on me and with autumn fast approaching, I felt a little Latin sizzle would do me wonders.
I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:
5. “He plays these little games all the time, these tiny little things that crack me up. His tricks aim for my heart, but they don’t get to it. I can see through them, and I’ve been around Cubans long enough to know that there is usually a wife somewhere. I simply don’t get involved.” (p.15)
4. “I was surprised to find out that Cubans don’t hate Americans. Most simply wish the embargo would end. One day I asked a local about Americans, ‘Aren’t they your enemy?’ He just smiled softly and responded, ‘Governments are enemies. People are not.’ ” (p.33)
3. “You’ll rarely catch a performance of danzon, but if you do, this is what you’ll see, as a professional dancer explained to me, ‘Traditionally the novio (boyfriend) and novia (girlfriend) would go out with the abuela (grandmother) who would keep a tight watch on them, making sure no funny business was going on. The guy would show his interest in her by stopping and gesturing slightly with his pelvis, and the girl would show interest back by using her fan. Closing or opening it would tell him if she was interested or not.’ This is how traditional Cuba used to be before it started expressing sexuality openly.” (p.131)
2. “In a communist country where basic necessities are scarce, people really have to lean on each other. ‘I get text messages that say “Bring me eggs!” Not, can you, not maybe, but bring it!’ a friend tells me. ‘Because I work in a place where I can get eggs, and finding eggs is not that easy. Tomorrow I’ll need something else, so of course I just do it. We have to lean on each other to survive.’ ” (p.283)
…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…
1. “In an indirect way, this lack of advertising helps protect Cubans’ self-image. Women feel beautiful, sexy and seductive in their own bodies, just the way they are. As a tourist, you’ll notice that this will start affecting your self-image too. Cuban men and women alike do not seek perfection; rather they look for life energy. They simply live more from the heart, and it’s rare that anyone in Cuba will ask you how old you are.” (p.39)
Conversation with the Reader
While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:
“One of my friends makes a chocolate cake that is to die for. As soon as I open her front door, I’m enveloped by the seductive aroma wafting over from a freshly baked cake that sits on the kitchen table. It rests on a cake stand, like a queen, perched high above the plates that wait patiently to be graced by a slice of her chocolatey magnificence. Beneath the delicately crisp surface, there’s a plumpness that promises a soft, gooey, velvety, rich, utterly delectable taste of heaven. I am so engrossed by this cake that I barely hear my friend when she tells me that we can’t pounce on it just yet. She says we have to let the cake cool down. The smile drops off my face and I realize that this cake has me wrapped around its exquisite girth and plans to tease me within an inch of my life.
“Lizra tells us that over in Cuba, this is how men and women tease and cajole each other every second of the day. Their tool isn’t chocolate cake, however, but rather the art of seduction. It’s through this sexy, steamy lens that she introduces the reader to her Cuba. She’s an Israeli-born dancer who has fallen in love with Cuba and goes back whenever she can to train with Cuban dancers. I’m intoxicated by the prospect of immersing myself in her world and think to myself, ‘What better way to penetrate the real Cuba then through the sensual and seductive world of dance?’
“A few pages into the book, there’s a photo of a dangerously handsome man. His name is Giordano and he’s one of Lizra’s dance teachers. In Cuba, she tells us, there are no boundaries between people. She illustrates this social construct through a story about how she and Giordano tease each other in class. I picture them in a dance studio. It’s a room with high ceilings and although the windows are open, the blades of the fan do nothing more than whip the still, hot, sticky air around them. Sounds from the street—people calling to one another, the rumble of cars, the thumping music from a radio—jumble together into one big brassy mass of noise that hangs in the air. Up in the dance studio, Lizra and Giordano are weaving in and out of each other’s arms. The very air pulses with passion and desire. At this point, the book reminds me of a Latin American telenovela and me and my slice of chocolate cake are hooked.”
“I skim over the bits of the book that cover the ground of conventional travel guides—how to book a hotel, where to hire a car—and skip to the parts when Lizra describes Cuba and Cubans from the inside out. Her anecdotes ooze love for this country and its people but they’re not sentimental or nostalgic at all. She doesn’t mince her words when it comes to warnings about being fooled and cheated and swindled, all with the utmost charm, of course.
“Life isn’t all sunshine and seduction in Cuba; it’s also about rationing, struggling, and feeling trapped by a system many find suffocating. When I was in Cuba with a boyfriend, we stayed in an apartment owned by two brothers. They didn’t look at all alike. One was fair and tall, lean and bald. The other had a thick head of hair, olive skin, a moon-shaped face, and was all curves and soft edges. I thought my Spanish had let me down or that I’d misunderstood the Cuban accent when they’d explained their family relationship to me. I left it a few seconds and then asked them if they were cousins. Both of them shook their heads and repeated slowly and clearly that they were brothers. They lived with their grandmother who sat on the balcony most of the time while the two brothers ran the household.
“ ‘I’ll show you where you’re staying,’ said the tall brother, picking up our bags. We passed the kitchen, grandmother’s room, the bathroom and then another bedroom. The door to the last bedroom was ajar and reflected in the mirror above a chest of drawers was a double bed and a hook with two bathrobes hanging on it. The penny dropped—although homosexuality was no longer illegal, homophobia was still common in Cuba and it was easier to live as ‘brothers.’
“I let go of my curiosity and changed the subject by asking about breakfast. This noticeably lightened the mood and the tall brother’s eyes lit up as he told me eagerly that he’d get up early the next day to go to the market to buy papaya before they sold out. I’m not a fan of papaya—its smell is too pungent, it borders overripe and rotten—but I didn’t say anything for fear of hurting his feelings.
“The next morning, we went into the living room where the breakfast table was set. The tall brother came in wearing his grandmother’s frilly apron and a wide grin. He told us that things had gone very well at the market—he’d got there in time to buy some papaya so we were in for a big treat. I asked him what else there was for breakfast and he spread his hand to count all the ingredients on his fingers. My stomach was rumbling so seeing that he needed a way to remember everything on the menu made me hopeful I could busy myself with all the other dishes and avoid the papaya all together without offending him. He took a deep breath and my hope soared—this was going to be a veritable Cuban feast.
“He raised his other hand to grasp one finger at a time as he listed each item. ‘Papaya,’ he said, using his pinkie and reveling in the two plosive p’s in the word. There was a dramatic pause as he glanced at us, looking for the anticipation on our faces. He inhaled deeply and grabbed the next finger. ‘Bread,’ he said, enunciating each letter.
“So far, I thought, nothing really takes my fancy—I’m not a big fan of bread, either. This was just a fleeting observation though, as I focused completely on his next finger, salivating over what he’d list next—maybe some spicy Cuban dish, perhaps one of his grandmother’s recipes. Pinching his middle finger and tipping his hip at a jaunty angle, he said, ‘Butter,’ smacking his lips in delight.
“ ‘Not sure butter really deserves a whole listing to itself,’ I thought and looked to his index finger for the grand finale that would bring this whole, slow, agonizing game to an end with something spectacular and delicious. He read my mind, took one last breath, smiled and said, ‘Coffee.’ He straightened his back and stood there for a moment in silence. We looked at him and realized he’d finished; there was nothing more to the menu. A deep growl broke the silent; it was my stomach protesting.”
“I’m watching Lizra online, being introduced by the host of a series of TEDx talks in Vancouver. The audience claps and a slim woman with a dark mane sashays onto the stage, plants herself right up against the presenter and shimmies up and down his body whilst he breaks into a sweat and makes a quick exit. The way Lizra flirts with the audience, glancing at them from under thick eyelashes, reminds me of the descriptions in her book about Cuban women reveling in their power over men. Their senses seem to be finely tuned to feel the heat of a man’s eyes tracing their curves as they walk down the street. A Cuban woman ripens under that gaze, swings her hips, arches her back to emphasize her bosom, releasing gusts of pheromones and promises of passion that no man can resist.
“I think about walking down a street in Stockholm like that. Would any man notice, let alone look longingly at me, if I strutted my stuff in Sodermalm? It’s a little unfair to make the comparison at this time of year when everyone’s bundled up in wooly jumpers, mittens, and ski hats. We all look like tea cosys—great for coffee and cake but not exactly smouldering with sex appeal. But I somehow doubt that hot weather and bared flesh make any difference. In Lizra’s Cuba and in the Cuba I visited, the air crackles with the potential for love and lust; it doesn’t take much for sparks to fly between people. It feels to me like their zest for life burns close to the surface, dancing in the pores of the skin and instantly igniting when it senses a connection.
“Lizra lists the tools of seduction, among them being confidence and playfulness. I’d add one of my own to the list—time. When I was in Havana, it struck me that time was something that never ran out. Women waited in doorways all morning for the day to cool down. Men sat on the Malecon from noon to dusk, watching for something to happen. And between the borders of waking up and going to bed, anything could happen; that’s just how it is in Cuba. With that kind of mindset, a single event or activity has the potential to turn into an adventure. My impression, from personal experience and from Lizra’s insights, is that in Cuba, walking down a street might be the only thing you decide to do all day so you savour every moment of the experience, step by slow step. It’s the sort of experience where your senses absorb every stimulus—the sting of fine dust on your skin from the crumbling stucco mansions mixing with the jasmine perfume of the woman walking past you. Your next step melts into the sour smell of sweat from a man tinkering with his car engine. He feels the movement in the air as you amble by and looks directly into your eyes. Instead of looking away awkwardly, you measure each other up, meeting somewhere in the distance between his world and yours.
“This is what is sometimes missing when there isn’t time to stop and notice what’s around you because you’re so focused on getting from A to B. It’s a stab in the dark but I’m beginning to see the links between this kind of lifestyle—rushing about, every minute accounted for, no time to be spontaneous—and a kind of lethargy and apathy toward relationships. I’ve spoken to many friends lately who would like to feel passionate about someone but they haven’t got the energy to make the effort, nor do they have the time to allow the alchemy of two people mixing into each other to work its magic. Perhaps a gust of Cuban seduction would help blow away the cobwebs that have gathered around our hearts.”