On Cuban dancing lessons

But mainly Luis drank. When we strolled past his front door on a drizzling Sunday afternoon, he had clearly begun early. I thought he was promoting a bar, but it was just his home – into which he lured wandering foreigners like a kind but lonely trapdoor spider.

It was easier to accept a chipped dirty glass of cheap rum than pretend we had other plans. The rush from this latest flourish of alcohol moved Luis to give us an impromptu salsa lesson. He was surprisingly good for a drunk teacher – his instincts sufficiently hard-wired to over-ride the befuddlement of the rum. Angie’s well-honed technique made her a good student on which to add a few layers of polish, before he stepped down a few levels to hammer out some of my more glaring inadequacies. The booze blunted the pain of my stepping on his bare feet, but we were both happy to wrap up our increasingly public display before long. By now, bystanders were gathering in the street to watch.

The ‘dance floor’ was clammy and uncarpeted – the furniture a motley collection of failing stools and chairs beyond the mercy of upholstering. Our host’s possessions were stuffed into ripped boxes and contained little beyond stacks of disordered paper, a clutch of sentimental knick-knacks and the general detritus of a squalid and messy life. Before the revolution, the damp dilapidated apartment of two rooms might have been the salon of a wealthy family. It would now be condemned as inhabitable in the West.

Luis told us his story. He rambled, and the details are lost on me, but one theme stood out – of brief bright relationships snuffed suddenly and cruelly out like faulty candles. The drink accentuated the natural peaks and troughs of the personality beneath. His mood now pursued its periodic downward course. His tears, like the rum, soon flowed from a trickle to a torrent. He shuffled manically through a large pile of letters sent by our predecessors – mainly young women, from all around the world, German, Sweden, Canada, France... Several urged him to seek immediate psychiatric help.