Life is serendipity. A Canadian friend called as I was en route to the opening Monday night party of the 19th Festival del Habanos—a heavy thunderstorm had washed out the event, and he said guards were turning people away from the gate at the Club Habana. David Savona and I quickly jumped to Plan B: dinner at Santy, a small, very rustic seafood restaurant on the river in Jaimanitas just east of Havana, where the family's fishing boat brings the daily catch to serve each night.
Through the dark night, puddles filling the potholes on the dirt street, we carefully wound our way to a small alleyway that runs down to the river. In the small parking lot, I got out of the car, vaguely remembering that you had to walk down an even narrower alley to get to a door with a dim blue light over a closed door. I rang the buzzer, and a crackly voice told me to push on the door. Inside, another long wood floor corridor ran towards the light. A woman was standing there. She seemed familiar, but I heard her as she turned to a man hidden behind a pillar, saying, in Spanish, "I think your friend Gordon is here."
Next thing I knew, I was giving a good old Mexican abrazo to one of my best friends from my home in Mexico. He'd been there since lunch, but no matter—he joined us for dinner and stayed with us until we left three hours later.
There's no real menu at Santy; they just tell diners what's available and start bringing it. Sashimi of tuna. Stone crab claws. A steaming bowl of clams floating in a broth of garlic and parsley. Two kinds of langoustines, one from the sea, one from the river (more like a crayfish), charred on their grill. Each dish was better than one before. Fresh. Perfectly cooked. All washed down with a Chilean Chardonnay.
As we sat back, our hunger sated, the cigars came out. A man named Frank approached the table with a guitar and asked if we wanted to hear some songs. He started with Mediterraneo, a favorite folk song, and ended with two of my favorite Buena Vista Social Club songs. We sang along, pounding out the rhythm on the table. The cigars were burning low. Another glass of rum didn't seem like a good idea.
In the car, I called my Canadian friend who informed me that they had finally opened the gates to the opening event, about two hours late. The party was happening. I asked him if it was worth stopping by. He asked, "Are you with friends?" Yes, I answered. He said, "Stay with them."
Just another night in Havana.