Havana, in February, is a charming place. The Jaimanitas Club, a Moorish palace of marble and mahogany on a private beach six or eight miles south of town, is the most agreeable seaside refuge I have ever seen. A tranquil place by day in the off season, its bar is cool and dark, its terraces are quiet and immaculate. It is not too difficult to come by a Jaimanitas guest card, but most of the visitors seem to prefer golf to the beach.
You reach Jaimanitas each morning at ninethirty. In its sumptuous locker rooms you shift to bathing trunks. The air temperature at that hour is around 75 degrees, about the same as that of the ocean. The day is cloudless, the coral sand is like snow. A quarter of a mile offshore huge rollers are creaming over the reef which affords Jaimanitas bathers a smooth lagoon. The wind is constant at around fifteen knots. You toast for a half hour or so in the sun behind a windscreen. You fiddle around in and out of the water until noon.
At twelve, you are rather hungry. A frosted Jamaica Rum cocktail, pale buff in its sweating glass, is taken on the terrace, at some leisure, in the sun. You resume in the locker room your cotton suit, shirt, and tie, and go to the bar. Here the formula calls for a frosted Daiquiri, as delicate in flavor as in hue, with its fine whiff of fresh, ripe limes. There may be one or two other people in the bar, sometimes none. You move on, then, to a shady porch, immaculate luncheon tables, and a fine view of the surf. You are out of the wind but you can see the palms all bending to it.
Your luncheon is always the same — moro crabs, cangrejos moros. The menu is large and varied, but it would be wild folly not to stick to the crabs. With them, because the Cubans have failed to appreciate the benefits of a high protective tariff, you have a bottle of Bass, and at a negligible price.
You lean back in an excellent chair. Your bare feet are in clogs or sandals. You watch the rollers and feel very comfortable, and the waiter appears with the crabs. It’s a platter bedded with green lettuce against which the black, coral-streaked shells of the enormous crabs — cold boiled — make a superb contrast. There is mayonnaise and you find that it is made with lime juice instead of vinegar, and it has a faint cast of green in its gold. The standard of excellence in a hot country is to serve cold dishes and drinks at just above the freezing point, and never was a salad so fresh, so chill. The crabs are so artfully cracked that one eats them without gymnastics. The bitter, full-bodied Irish ale fits them as nothing else could. They are, as I have said, extravagantly large and a hungry man can barely do justice to two moro crabs. They are one of the bestlooking cold dishes in the world, and as a light luncheon on a warm day, they are even better than they look.
By this time the temperature is around 85 degrees. The breeze on your porch is steady. The palms and the surf still beguile the eye. You conclude the meal (and by this time it is around two o’clock) with a coconut glace, a small cup of strong, fragrant Cuban coffee, and a splash of old Bacardi. Your hours were late the night before and you were up fairly early in order to reach Jaimanitas at nine-thirty. You are drowsy.
The breeze, enemy of a good cigar, is such that you move back to chairs in the bar. Your wife avoids the dark leaf of the island and smokes an American cigarette, but you have chosen one of the long, narrow, arrogant shapes so rarely obtainable at home — Generates, Fancy Tales, Invincibles. It draws like a cigarette, and you spin out the coffee interval for an extra quarter hour.
You return to the locker rooms, shift into bathing dress again, and meet on the beach at one of the little open-sided pavilions, just a roof on four legs to keep off the sun. With a beach pad under you, rolled up in a light steamer rug, for the sand can nip at you as the breeze picks it up, you sleep for the next three hours. It is impossible that anything could disturb your nap, for no habanero goes to the beach in the wintertime, there are only two or three other couples on its whole stretch, and you can hear nothing of them above the wind and the faint roar of the breakers.
It is almost dusk when you wake up. You realize that the chill of nightfall is somehow not there. You feel fully awake, refreshed, and at ease with the temperature. The water has taken on new colors but it is still warm, clear as a spring. You leave it reluctantly after a final half hour of lounging and splashing about.
You find that the locker room attendant has pressed your clothes and put an admirable shine on your shoes. By about half-past seven you are back in your hotel, pleasantly aware once again of the pale green and yellow tiles of the floor in your bedroom, the linen sheets and pillow cases. You move the mahogany shutters at the windows so that just enough of the warm breeze reaches you as you sit there thinking vaguely of how to spend the evening. By nine-thirty or ten you are on your way downtown to dinner. Around midnight you may be watching the Jai Alai, but more probably listening to the maracas or a guitar orchestra or a percussion band. If you like the music, you will find suddenly that it is very late indeed. But you can sleep all afternoon on the beach the next day.
How all this stands farther south is taken up by Ray Josephs (page 110). C. W. M.