Just working it out in Cuba, one day at a time

Posts from the ‘Family Stuff’ category

If you live in New York, you’ve surely seen the “Shit New Yorkers Say” video which seems to be doing the rounds this week. Being a mystical-phile, I must admit that “Shit New Age Girls Say” was a comical second treat this week. It wasn’t until today, that I happened to bump into the most niche of the “Shit Says” series… “Shit Abuela’s Say”. Lordy, this brings it all back. Here’s something only a Cuban can understand — the benevolent smart-ass Cuban grandma. God Bless them all!

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One day I visited the restaurant my grandfather owned in Cuba. It was a hub for all things cool in 1950’s Cuba. Several years earlier, during the Spanish Civil War, he was fighting on the Basque revolutionary, and finally decided it was time to leave his country, so he headed for Cuba. He built Centro Vasco and made it into a meeting place for athletes, business folks, movies stars, and political figures. It is located one block away from the old Meyer Lansky Hotel, Habana Riviera, where casino’s reigned supreme. Lucky Luciano’s office was tucked beside the restaurant as well. After Fidel came into power in 1959, my grandfathers business was nationalized and taken away from his custody. My father, who was 23 years old, moved to Miami with Abuelo Juan and decided to relocate the family business to Miami, where Centro Vasco was launched in 1963. This is where my mother and father met and fell in love and produced a little baby girl named Jauretsi (me!). I was raised around all the exiles in my dads bar waxing poetics about the good ‘ol days. It always made me yearn to see this original building in Havana — an idea that made Cuban-exiles angry just at the suggestion. Anyways, I finally decided to listen to my voice, and took the short (but psychologically long) journey back to the motherland. I had finally reached my mecca… and made my peace. Here’s some of the images from that day.

(Abuelo Juan Saizarbitoria and his kitchen staff)

One day I couldn’t wait anymore and broke all the rules — I decided to visit the homeland. The following photos are Centro Vasco today, 2011. All the photos of my grandfather are still hanging on the wall. The employees running the restaurant, including Luis (one of the longest standing waiters) were open armed and together we had a lovely afternoon reminiscing about the history. They cooked me a paella (my grandfathers old recipe) as I sat underneath a painting of my grandfather holding a big rock, a classic Basque sport. Here’s some photos of the building today.


(Current Waiter in modern-day Centro Vasco, Havana)










(Abuelo Juan Saizarbitoria, Abuela Carmen Saizarbitoria, and Father Juanito Saizarbitoria)


(Current Bartender at Centro Vasco, Havana)

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