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This post is based on stories about sex, love, tourism and identity relayed in Cuba in , and is loosely based on, and at times excerpted from, an article of the same name just published in Alternatives: Global, Local, Political. Most days, Jean-Claude is already there, ensconced on the terrace with a glass of dark rum, chatting amiably with the staff, or pensively smoking a cigar as he waits.
When she arrives, she kisses him discreetly before settling down for a drink on the terrace. The hotel is rather unassuming, but it sits just steps from the busy east end of Calle 23, known as La Rampa, and blocks from the historic University of Havana, and as such Hotel St. John has become a haven for tourists and foreign students who come here for strong coffee and cold beer.
She was 21 years old, living in a small flat with her mother, father, brother, two sisters, aunt, uncle, two cousins and her grandmother. After spending her teenage years at a boarding school in the countryside, she had elected not to continue to university and was back in Havana with her family. Not long after they met, Jean-Claude made her a proposition. He suggested that, since I was en la lucha [struggling to get by], you know, he suggested that I no longer be in the streets [looking for leads on work, food, clothes] and that he was going to help me resolver mis problemas [solve my problems].
As a retiree, Claude lives more or less permanently in Cuba, leaving only to attend to his affairs in France and returning laden with gifts including clothing, jewellery, and even a television. He provides her with spending money and helps to support her family as well.
She says she loves the independence he has given her, even though she readily acknowledges the implied contradiction — she has found her freedom in total dependence on him. They make a striking couple. Jean-Claude is a heavy-set Frenchman with thinning white hair, the quintessential European tourist with a gold chain showing through the loosened collar of his guayabera shirt, an ever-present cigar, and a burgeoning self-assurance that suggests affluence and social status.