Sunday, 1 May 2011

Magic moments: Your table awaits...

I’ve been thinking about magic moments this week, those times, often unplanned or unexpected, which instantly become treasured memories. And I started thinking about a trip to Cuba my husband and I shared a few years ago, a (very well) organised small group tour.

It pains me to admit this, but at that time I was hardly writing at all, and didn’t even keep a diary of the trip. Tsk. So many wonderful memories lost for ever. But one very special one does still stand out.

We had been told one afternoon that dinner that evening would be a 'memorable occasion'. So it was that later in the day we found ourselves sitting in our mini-bus at the side of the road, ‘waiting for a signal’. This eventually arrived: two motor cycles swept past our bus, and our attentive driver immediately set off in hot pursuit.

I should explain at this point that Cuba is a Socialist state, where, supposedly, everyone is provided for, and free enterprise is both unnecessary and non-existent. 

I’m not here to talk about politics, which is a tricky business and could get me into all sorts of trouble. So, for the sake of balance I will just say this: Cuba has a lot of problems, along with an exemplary education system, and excellent health care provision.

It also has a thriving and imaginative culture of free enterprise.

We drove for roughly half an hour, the rear lamps of the motorbikes glowing just ahead of us in the growing darkness. The bus eventually pulled over to the side of a remote country road where the motorcyclists were dismounting, and our intrigued little group piled out.

I’d love to be able to describe the scenery to you, but the fact is that the sky was pitch black by now, and in the absence of houses or street lamps, we could hardly see a thing. We were in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps it looked like this, in the day time - I honestly don't know:

Tobacco-drying hut in Pinar del Rio province.
There followed a ten minute walk along an uneven dirt track, lit only by the flash light of one of the motorcyclists. I must admit that it did occur to me at one point that perhaps we were being kidnapped and were about to meet our collective deaths in a nearby field, but I wasn't being serious.

Making our way gradually uphill, our dusty walk was eventually rewarded with the appearance of some farm buildings, and then one of the most magical sights I have ever seen. In a field, nestled in a little grove of trees, a long table was laid for dinner. A delicate table cloth flapped gently in the balmy evening air, and the whole scene was illuminated by candle light.

We dined on lobster that evening, not for the first time that trip. We ate from pretty, mismatched china, and chatted happily, our laughter drifting away into the night on a warm, gentle breeze as congenial as the company itself.

At the end of the meal, our friendly hostess presented our tour guide with a hand-written bill for our meal, watched as he checked it, and then... set fire to it with a cigarette lighter, to destroy the evidence of the transaction.

The atmospheric setting, the amiable company of new friends, and the creativity of our hosts, combined to create an unforgettable experience. And this spell could never be re-cast, even if the circumstances could be replicated. Because the magic of that night lay, in large part, in the element of surprise, of the gradual revelation of the delight that awaited us.

For your delectation, here is the Buena Vista Social Club performing 'Chan Chan'. Goodness me, but this sound brings those memories flooding back!

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