Poster Havana
Rena Kraut

Notes from Cuba: Downbeat

I love the drive from a foreign airport.

Rolling out of the airport, as if on cue, our tour bus passed an old American sedan with four doors flung open, a man in the driver's seat half leaning out with a wrench in hand.

Then: Fidel on a billboard. A motorcycle straight out of Motorcycle Diaries, which, coincidentally, I watched on the plane ride down. Two men walking with umbrellas shading them from the searing sun. A banana-yellow car bumping by, belching smoke. A horse-drawn cart. A woman signaling for a sedan to pull over, not hitch-hiking as I first thought, but hopping on to the communal taxis (turns out Americans did not invent Uber). School children playing in a shaded yard, wearing white uniform tops and khaki bottoms. An army bus. More billboards: "Gracias Che por tu ejemplo." A man in a Ronaldo jersey.

Extraño: adj, 1. strange, odd. 2. foreign. noun 1. stranger.

How thrilling to be the stranger.

In the hotel room, I fumble with the heavy drapes, hoping for an ocean view. Victory! How could they close the drapes on that bluest of blue vistas?

An hour later, I stumble back in after venturing across the street for water at the mercado, sweat rolling down my back. My curly hair threatens to spring from my scalp and put down roots. The tropical sun presses down on Havana. The norteamericanos lug their water bottles across the street, wilting. Today was not a day for music-making, but for news-making: possibly the first ever direct Minneapolis-Havana flight. Camera crews at the airport at 5 a.m. Group photos on the tarmac of Jose Marti International Airport. Bus tours, walking tours, receptions and celebrations. Tomorrow, the music starts.

I close the drapes.

Rena Kraut is playing in the clarinet section during the Minnesota Orchestra's tour of Cuba, and she is writing about her experience for Classical MPR. Read her introductory post here.

Classical Minnesota Public Radio's coverage of the Minnesota Orchestra's historic tour to Cuba is made possible by Glen and Marilyn Nelson. Additional support comes from 3M, Pentair, Ecolab, and from Lorraine Hart.

Interested in writing about classical music for American Public Media? Have a story about classical music to share? We want to hear from you!

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