| Club Cohiba |
Life is music. Every movement produces a sound. The easiest way for me to free my mind of past regrets or future worries is to meditate on the aural moment. The sleepy lull of a husky train whistle cooing in the distance. The happy vibrato of a cat’s purring. The tribal squeals of joy that rise and fall melodically from the laughter of children. The metronomic tick-ticking of a clock hanging over a faucet that drips on the off-beat, creating the bare bones of a reggae duet.
I began my New Year’s Eve celebration by observing the natural music of the street. Determined to add my own rhythmic contribution, I strapped on my one-(wo)man-band bodysuit. Created for me by a friend, the suit consists of a jacket dangling with various small instruments: harmonica, miniature hand drum, ping-pong-paddle tambourine, popcorn-kernel shaker, and plastic recorder. With this suit, I can wander around town and not have to settle on any one venue to enjoy the entertainment of a live band. And I could set my tempo to the rhythm of the street.
Walking to the Sheraton Gunter hotel, I let my equipment hang off me and I turned my ear to the night, listening for musical inspiration. It came first in the excited clicking of little feet, dress shoes shuffling down a crosswalk in a sort of fox trot. Behind him, the child’s father yelled, “Just walk! Don’t walk all weird.”
In defiance of the father’s non-creative sentiments (and in solidarity with his son), I grabbed my tambourine from my right-arm pocket and began to ching, ching, cha-ching into a rhythm that stuck for the rest of the evening.
Our group quickly broke into factions. Because I’d had so much fun at Travis 151 last year, I decided to lead our five-person group there. Back and forth we traveled up and down Travis, looking for 151, my wrist shaking the tambourine feverishly. My left hand, somewhere along the way, took the shaker from my front pocket and became the steady rhythm behind the bell patterns. The music was our anthem as we searched for the club.
Finally we realized that the establishment was simply not there anymore. A tiny sign (which had initially evaded our attention) said “Travis 151 has moved locations.” But no new location was given, so the Pied Piper marched on.
Around the corner on Flores, my music was drowned out by the festive Tejano band playing inside a small cantina I’d never noticed before. In fact, there were two small cantinas right next to each other, both filled with dancing couples and cheering onlookers. Out front, women who had clearly been drinking hard all night embraced us as we passed. The Pied Piper was about to lead the troops into one of these spots, but the troops rebelled, uncertain about joining what appeared to be an intimate private party.
So away we went to our new destination, Club Cohiba, the cigar bar in the basement of the Havana River Walk Inn (one of my personal favorite upscale bars).
Dark and dreamy, with its usual smell of old wood and fancy cigars, Club Cohiba was filled with mysterious masked faces. But instead of the typical scratchy old jazz tunes playing from the stereo, there was strange, ambient music that danced with the candlelight. We had found ourselves amidst a masquerade. We fell into deep, cushiony chairs surrounding a mahogany table and ordered ourselves some spirits. To blend with the atmosphere, we created our own masks by poking small eye holes in napkins and affixing them to our faces.
The waitresses wore satiny, laced bodices and black masks and floated seductively from table to table. Though everyone was laughing and talking around me, I was still in the zone; I picked up my recorder and began playing along with the music. Because of the repetitive nature of ambient jazz, it was easy to find the right key and add my own melodies. Time drifted as I became part of the music surrounding me.