Yesterday I opted to spend the day solo, leaving Stripes and Noodles to stay poolside at their hotel. I started out at the Plaza de Armas, which is my favorite plaza for coffee drinking and people watching. It is leafy, has several nice cafes and is perfect for looking out at the sellers of books, Cuban posters, and antique cameras and odds and ends.
I then went to the large Cuban modern art museum, which had 3 floors of mostly excellent modern art. A lot of great abstracts and political art, as well as a number of statues of Jesus being maimed and impaled by swords and communist sickles. (No photos allowed.)
From there I walked through an area devoid of tourists to La Epoca, a department store, where I went to the basement, which houses a supermarket. The shelves were pretty sparse and had little variety (other than rum, which was plentiful).
I then walked to this large arts and crafts market, which was a delight to look at, though there was nothing I wanted to buy.
I finished my wandering at the Plaza Vieja at a wonderful cafe that actually had a good vegan sandwich (a rare thing here). After that I went back to my casa to shower and get ready for the big Partagas festival opening dinner.
The Partagas dinner was at the Hotel National. I went there by taxi to meet Stripes and Noodles. Stripes, as it turned out, was quite sick and had to stay at his hotel, so it was just me and Noodles for the evening. The setting was lovely and the crowd was impeccably dressed - except for me. I tried to cover up the fact that I was wearing the same sweaty outfit by putting on earrings and lipstick. The attendees were from all over the world: North and South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Japan. We sat at a table with a group of men from Switzerland, which turned out to be perfect because they were very reserved. Other tables erupted into spontaneous salsa dancing and whatnot which would have made me feel quite out of place.
The food was mediocre, but the service perfect. We were given an array of limited edition cigars, endless wine and rum, and were greeted by various cigar dignitaries. There was also entertainment: colorful couples of salsa dancers and locally famous singers. We saw many familiar faces from our past few days in Havana, including El Jefe, who made the rounds, never missing a photo op. The whole thing went on for hours. I knew it was time to leave when around midnight a conga line broke out. Noodles and I had a final piña colada on the outdoor lookout, where the sea was lost to darkness but the stars were exquisite.