Cuba's digital destination
Going to the movies seems like a pretty straightforward and harmless activity, until you go to the Cine Payret in Havana. It’s across the street from the Capitol and the Gran Teatro, bordering Havana’s Central Park, and from the outside, looks like a charming, vintage-y movie theater with lots of character. A group of my friends and I decided to go one Friday night because we thought it was showing the Martin Scorcese Hugo movie, which we wanted to see. When we arrived and walked up to the box office, we discovered that Hugo had shown earlier and that the 8:30 showing was another flick, Ataque del tiburon con dos cabezas. I translated it: Attack of the Two-Headed Shark. Hm. Weird. I’ve never heard of that. Is that the Spanish name for some other movie that I have heard of? After all, in Spanish, The Sound of Music is La novicia rebelde (the rebel novice), so it wasn’t an unreasonable thought.
Despite being unable to figure out exactly what we were getting ourselves into, we decided to give it a whirl and stepped up to buy our tickets. The Cuban Typhoid Mary was standing by the ticket counter, coughing into a handkerchief and asking us, in Spanish, what the word (in Spanish) is for the little pieces of paper they give you when you pay them money. I’m thinking, “Oh my god, is this what comes from free socialized education? Not knowing what a ticket is?” and also wondering if her phlegmy coughs are carrying some communicable disease that I might catch (after all, my friend had already contracted a parasite in Cuba). I tell her that the word is boleto, grab mine, and let whoever is behind me buy their ticket and field any more of her questions.
While waiting for everyone to get their tickets, I venture over to what is functioning as the concession stand at this theater: A lady with a handcart selling plastic bags of popcorn and paper cones of peanuts. Since I probably already caught the worst of the diseases from Typhoid Mary, (or Tifoidea Maria, en espanol) I decide to risk it and buy popcorn. The woman selling it holds out a one-pound bag of salt, which I can only assume dozens of other clients have pinched salt out of. I decide to keep my sodium-intake down for the day and pass on the salt.
Armed with boletos and bags of popcorn, our little crew opens the door to the theater, which has a hand-scrawled sign on a jagged piece of cardboard announcing that the A.C. is broken. Normally, I wouldn’t care, but walking in to the Payret, I can see that the lack of A.C. is going to be a problem. The theater is musty and an unpleasantly sticky and humid. The lights are low and there are creepy statues of angels leering at me and the rows of sparsely populated creaky chairs. Now I’m thinking “Oh god, this is a jack-off theater. I thought porn was illegal in Cuba,” and wondering if I can just turn and flee now.
We find some seats in the middle of a row, and my friend and I make the mistake of going to use the bathroom. It’s not like I choose to have to go to the bathroom in inconvenient locations- it just happens (possibly because I drink between four and 10 liters of water a day). I’ve found the bathroom in many memorable locations- the Smithsonian Air and Space Musuem, Golden Gate Park, all of Disney World, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, just to name a few, and I was able to add the Payret to that extensive list. The bathroom was in a subterranean hallway off the main “lobby” and the best adjectives to describe it are “dank” and “terrifying.”
When we walked in, a hag shuffled up to us, the top of her head barely reaching my chest. I’m five-two. She rasped “Papel?” and extended a claw clenching some two-ply toilet paper. I guess the upside is that at least she gave me toilet paper, instead of the piece of notebook paper I got from the bathroom attendant at the baseball stadium. I gingerly held the toilet paper between my index finger and thumb, held my breath against the smell, and went into one of the stalls, squinting in the bad lighting. Like most bathrooms in Cuba, this one was lacking a toilet seat and running water, so I did my business without thinking of thousands of microbes tangoing around the toilet.?Cuba travel tip: Always carry hand sanitizer if you like to wash your hands. The old lady shuffled up to me again, her uneven gait making me suspect that she might have been missing a limb or a bone or something. This time she was brandishing a bucket of questionable water and a bar of soap and wheezed out “Jabon?”. I squeaked out a “No gracias,” and ran out of the bathroom, heart racing but bladder relieved.
I took my seat just as the movie was beginning. It looked like it had been downloaded off of the worst of bootleg movie sites, with grainy pictures, bad audio and a little emblem in the corner the entire time. It was in English, but with Spanish subtitles. I don’t think whoever wrote the subtitles was a native speaker though- I’m not fluent by any means but I saw more grammar mistakes in those subtitles than a middle-school yearbook.
The movie, “2-Headed Shark Attack” was, not surprisingly, terrible. It was produced by the same studio that brought us those classics, “Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid,” and “MILF.” Carmen Electra was in it (need I say more?) and it followed a group of semester-at-sea students whose boat gets stranded on an island terrorized by a two-headed shark. The shark looked like it was made in a Windows 97 animation program that never made it past the beta stage. All of the actors were probably “adult film stars” trying to make it in legitimate cinema. After about 45 minutes of watching the tiburon pick off student by student in a series of badly-animated attacks, we decided that we’d had enough of this unique experience and called it quits.
I didn’t get a souvenir from the Payret trip. Luckily, I didn’t contract any diseases from it and I’ve long since lost the ticket stub. But when I see my little brother’s inflatable Air Swimmer gliding around my house, I’ll always remember the attack of the two-headed shark.