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Brooklyn Eagle’s Cuba Journal: Brooklyn Bar Association’s final day in Havana

March 14, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Irene Rodriguez Cuban Dance Company, featuring lead dancer Irene Rodriguez and her dancers Centro Asturianos, gave the BBA a private dance performance. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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For its final night in Havana, Cuba, the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) went out with a bang as the members rented nine classic American convertibles and rode through the streets, horns blaring, on their way to the last supper of the trip.

The commotion certainly drew attention of the locals as people poured out into the streets to see if President Barack Obama had arrived ahead of schedule. Instead, they were merely exposed to the hubris of Brooklynites having the time of their lives.

“Someone ran up to me and asked if Obama was here,” one of the BBA’s tour guides Duni Buata said. “No, it’s just the Brooklyn Bar Association.”

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The final dinner at Paladar San Cristobal, one of Havana’s most renowned restaurants, was a special one, and a little bit sappy as BBA members who started out as mere acquaintances had developed into good friends by the end of the trip. The BBA also gave a big thanks to tour guides Duni Buata and Lazaro Rodriguez Calvo.

“At our last dinner, I think we were all flattered that our tour guide said that in his five years and 78 tours that by far, there wasn’t even a close second, that the Brooklyn Bar Association was the favorite group he’s had,” said BBA President Arthur Aidala. “It was very obvious that he was genuine and the feeling was mutual in terms of our admiration for him.”

As a gesture of appreciation, Aidala gave Buata his BBA presidential pin to name him an honorary member of the group. Andrea M. Arrigo also started planning a reunion party in May to coincide with Buata’s planned trip to New York City.


An Afternoon of Dance and Art

There was no lecture on the final day of the trip, which went over fine with BBA members looking to get some rest. Instead, the group was in for a real treat as it attended a private dance performance by the Compania Irene Rodriguez. Head dancer Irene Rodriguez is considered one of Cuba’s top flamenco dancers.

After the dance performance, the BBA walked over to the Museum of Cuban Art, a museum dedicated exclusively to Cuban art that could fit in quite nicely alongside some of New York City’s finest museums. Art historian Aylet Ojeda provided the group with a private tour.

After lunch, the group made its way to the Havana Arts and Crafts Market, which is essentially a giant flea market where local artists sell their paintings and other souvenirs and knick-knacks.


Aidala’s Final Thoughts Leaving Cuba

“The overarching theme of the Cuban people is that they are survivors,” Aidala said on the plane ride back to the U.S. “They have survived the government, the economy, the inclement weather at times and they do so with a smile on their face. They haven’t fallen into the trap that many people who live in the world of capitalism do where they are defined by the materialistic aspects of their life. These people seem to be more defined by figuring out a way to have joy, and it seems like they get a lot of it out of their arts and culture, paintings and music. It’s quite refreshing.

“Cuba will be a dynamic destination that will offer a balance between the type of destination resort where you can lay on the beach and have a drink and then go into a city that is really drenched in culture, not just a city where you can buy a Rolex at a discount,” Aidala continued. 

“I hope that is not too far off into the future, because when you listen to the people who spoke to us, the embargo doesn’t really make sense,” Aidala continued. “It seems like it’s there now because it’s been there and nobody has picked the flag up off the battlefield and advanced it through Congress to drop the embargo. When it happens, it appears that things will happen rather swiftly.”

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