Three strikes…  This was the third taxi ride, none of them cheap, that Celi and I took up to the FAC — the Fabrica de Arte Cubano at the far Western end of Vedado.  The first time was about a month ago, when we met Tomas, the curator from the Factoria de Arte in Old Havana, and got mixed up about these two.

The second one was last night when, after a nice dinner, we arrived at the FAC around 11 PM.  The line of people wrapped itself around two blocks.  We had barely gotten out of our taxi, completely flabbergasted at this hopeless sight of lined up humanity, when we were approached by Mario, a lad in black.  He was part of the ushers of the FAC and he had some powers, he assured us.  For a mere 10 CUC per person he could get us into the place in about 10 minutes.  Why us?  I guess, at a bit of a distance from the crowd we provided a safe target.  We did not know how he was going to accomplish this speed-demon’s task, but for 15 CUC (we bargained), we were going to give it a shot.  But when he simply cut us in line at the turn of a corner, leaving hundreds of patiently waiting people in the dust, we backed out.  These people in the queue had been there for 1.5 hours.  One of the reasons they were not moving was that people like us were constantly fed into the line ahead of them, enriching some of the wheelers and dealers we had encountered everywhere and appreciated to some degree.  But there is a limit.  Celi called it bad karma, and that’s exactly what it was, or would have been.

So, we took a taxi back home.  The taxi driver was a cool guy who knew the deal of the FAC.  It is only open from Thursdays through Sundays from 8 AM until 3 AM.  Fridays and Saturdays are crazy — just as we saw it.  A venue with about 800 capacity is often packed with up to 2000 people, he told us.  This was no good, given my claustrophobic tendencies.   I am glad we left.  But we did not give up.  It was a must-do on our list for Havana and we were just going to come back on Sunday and earlier.

The plan worked.  I had spent most of the day home resting after an onslaught of diarrhea in the morning.  I was bummed as there was so much more to see and to do in Havana, but…  this was close to the end of the trip and a day of rest seemed appropriate even if forced upon me.  In my casa and in the comfortable proximity of a clean bathroom, I caught up on blog and photo work, but I am still behind…

Celi had spent the day with Roy’s family, whom she had met 15 years ago.  They were going to speak Spanish for the most part, they would all talk on top and over each other as I had already experienced, and they would have a delicious meal which most likely could only be eaten by my eyes — it was just as well that I did not join her.

At night I was ready.  Once again, we fetched a taxi to the FAC.  Today, and completely legitimately, we started at the very same corner we would have cut into yesterday.  We were there 20 minutes prior to opening.  All was orderly and legit.  We did not know what to expect. 

If you google the FAC, you will know that it by now has gained international recognition as a contemporary art center.  It is also a bar, more accurately a multi-bar venue and one of the hotspots of Havana’s night life.  It is housed in an abandoned factory (or fabrica, as the name indicates), divided into various performance spaces on two levels.  It feels like a maze in there as you completely lose sense of where you are or how big the space actually is.  You just follow corridors, turn corners, pass by various art exhibition spaces which open up into two or three larger courts used for live performances or big-screen backdrops.  Loud avant-garde music is drowning out the conversations and multi-colored disco lights flicker through the air.

The place began to fill up quickly.  We roamed around, trying to get a sense of the layout; hopeless.  By mere chance we found ourselves at one of the courts when a series of performances started.

The first act:  a short, black woman, completely nude, loosely wrapped into some bright-red, tentacle-like silk sausages sat on a chair (accompanied by loud music and ever-changing lights).  She was circled in fast motion by a photographer who held out his digital camera videotaping her slow movements; stretching a leg, raising her arms, bending her head — while trying to prevent everyone else from taking pictures.  This went on for about 10 minutes.  Without warning, the show was over, the lights turned dark and the woman jumped, ran through the crowd and disappeared. 

The second act:  A bunch of characters in absolutely astonishing, creative, fanciful costumes paraded in slow and dignified motion up and down an isle that had been cleared in the crowd.  They were joined or rather disturbed, by a bunch of “alien-type” characters which seemed to be their “antidote”.  They interacted for a while also accompanied by lots of lights and sounds until this too, ended abruptly.

The third act:  As the costumed characters cleared the stage, a man drew the attention of the crowd screaming.  Was he a lunatic?  Was he part of the act?  It was not clear for a while.  The limelight moved over to him.  He acted crazy and irrationally mainly screaming, undressing himself, and rolling around on the floor.  His act lacked both the grace and the exotic nature of the other two.  It was simply disturbing.  And that’s when we decided we had seen enough.

The people in attendance were tourists.  I would say that no more than one in 50 people were locals.  English was spoken everywhere.  One drink cost 6 CUC — almost as much as some low-level government office attendants make per month!  The venue was as hip as any, with large flat screen TVs, modern sound and light equipment, ultra-modern music.  This could be a hotspot in New York or Tokyo.  But it was Havana.  Something was utterly fascinating about this. Something was horribly wrong with this.  If this is Cuba, what does this mean?  As everything else in this country, this must be a government-operated venue, or at least government approved.  But what is the government thinking?!  Is this just another plot to rake in CUCs?  Is this an indication of opening the doors to western ideas?  Is this art for art sake in the famous Fidel art doctrine proclaimed long ago:  Anything is possible within the revolution, nothing is possible outside the revolution? 

You be the judge of this.  And if you are ever in Havana, don’t miss this.

Good night.