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Fast and Furious in Havana

Fast and Furious in Havana

By Victoria Alcalá

It’s becoming in to say that Cuba is the in thing. Whoever repeats that phrase immediately waves a list of the celebrities who have visited the Island during the past year as irrefutable proof. But anyone who has even a sketchy knowledge of Cuban history knows that this vogue goes way back to the 19th century. Between then and now an incalculable list of famous people has visited Cuba for one reason or another, from the great Austrian ballerina Fanny Elssler to sopranos Adelina Patti and Marietta Gazzaniga—the latter was honored by Havana bakers of the time when they concocted a cake that has come down to our day: the popular gaceñiga. Twentieth-century Cuba welcomed Anna Pávlova, Enrico Caruso, Sara Bernhardt, Ignacy Paderewski, and many more, all of whom performed on Cuban stages. Igor Stravisnky conducted the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra, which played a number of his works; Albert Einstein gave a lecture at the Academy of Sciences; Ernest Hemingway set up general headquarters at his estate Finca Vigía where, so they say, Ava Gardner (“the most beautiful animal in the world”) occasionally took a dip naked in the pool; and Marlon Brando went out drinking in sleazy bars in the Marianao Beach neighborhood.

 

After the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, the country was subjected to an avalanche of the curious. Some of the people arriving in Cuba then were Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, filmmaker Agnes Varda and actor Gerard Philipe, just to mention the French visitors. Then came others both on private visits and engaged in intense public activities: Miguel Ángel Asturias, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, James Petras, Yuri Lotman, Eduardo Galeano, Günter Grass, Joan Manuel Serrat, Joaquín Sabina, Chico Buarque de Hollanda, Michel Legrand, Paul McCartney, Sting, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Alain Delon, Kevin Costner, Jack Nicholson, Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Pedro Almodóvar, Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg, Arthur Miller, Bobby Fischer, Mohamed Ali, Maia Plisetskaya, Maurice Béjart, Carla Fracci, Julio Bocca, Vladimir Malakhov, Paco Rabanne, Paris Hilton, Tom Jones, Beyoncé, Mick Jagger, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, and the list goes on and on.

So even though the international press loves to make a big noise from time to time, after December 17, 2014, Havana residents have seen a number of uber-famous faces around and they haven’t even batted an eye. And then came the announcement that several scenes of the eighth installment of the Fast and Furious series, due to be released in April 2017, were to be shot in Havana. The reaction was not so much amazement but sarcastic comments about how these scouts for exotic locations like Dubai or Rio will manage to film the de rigueur car races in Havana streets that have potholes so old they deserve to be declared national heritage.

Now, please don’t interpret that in any way as lack of interest in what is happening or rather, what is about to happen. I remember my grandmother would constantly say that “Cubans love the novel, and not just because they like telenovelas, which they do, but because they are crazy about anything that’s refreshingly new. Along these lines, there is nothing worse than greeting someone with an anxious “qué hay de nuevo” [what’s new?] and getting the disappointing answer of “el cuartico está igualito” [nothing has changed].  Perhaps because we want to counter the sense of isolation imposed by our condition of being islanders, we go out of our way to keep up with everything that’s happening, we profess to know both State and intimate secrets, and we always look like we’re on the inside.

So, competing with comments about the recent lowering of the prices of some prime necessity products, from 6 to 20%, we are now hearing talk about the “casting of almendrones” (those vintage American cars that still circulate around town) that took place in the vicinity of the Hotel Nacional. Word is out that the headquarters for the production crews of Fast & Furious 8, the next in Universal Pictures’ celebrated saga, will be the Deauville Hotel. And, we hear that the star of the film, Vin Diesel/Dominic Toretto, is already in Havana. And then there are those imaginative souls who dream of seeing a shiny new Dodge Charger Daytona screaming down the Malecón, being chased and obviously overtaken by a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.