The Philosopher Detective

Little Peach stopped in at the Pie Shop the other day to show me some of the photos she took on our trip to Havana, and to reminisce a bit, especially about our dinner with The Philosopher Detective.  I wish we had a good shot of the him to show you. I know you probably think we made him up, but really he was our companion for an afternoon and evening, and quite a remarkable one at that.

We met him on our bi-lingual bus tour, the one during which I gave away my pink hat, as you may recall. By the way, I did look at a possible pink-hat replacement when I was in Costa Rica, but it still was not the same; nor was the one that I found today at the local thrift shop with “Vail’ embroidered on it. Perhaps next spring I’ll buy a Red Sox one after all.

To continue, as we all toured the Morro Castle, the Philosopher Detective and I began to chat, and then we compared our purchases back on the bus. He’d bought rum and cigars for friends, and I’d bought a single dark-rum nip for myself. Until that point, he may well have been one of the people who thought I was a Cuban. (In my memory now, as you can imagine, most people did.) I told him I’d only bought the nip to drink on the bus since I couldn’t take any of the lovely stuff home. “I’m an American,” I said, and he replied “I suppose someone has to be. Might as well be you.” He won me over immediately.

By the time we reached the walking tour part of our program, Little Peach knew much of his life history, including his long relationship with the marvelous Maggie, who was off on her own holiday with friends from way back when. By the time we all three decided to drop the tour and go off by ourselves for dinner, we were fast friends, at least for the one evening.

First, though, our tour guide did what tour guides tend to do: He led us into an establishment undoubtedly run by friends of his. We caught on to that when we noticed that the bartender already had an icy mojito waiting for our guide the minute that we walked in the door.  The place — a faux Irish pub complete with regulation mariachi band — was touted as yet another Hemingway waterhole. I think it’s safe to say that there was no drinking establishment in Havana where Hemingway did not knock back a pop or two.

We settled in upstairs, where we were pretty much a captive audience, for “a break” and shelled out a bit of cash for mojitos and beer, applauding on cue for the band. I could see that both the Philosopher Detective and Little Peach were getting a little antsy, but I wasn’t sure why until we were out on the pavement again, and TPD burst out saying, “It was all I could do to keep from leaping over the table to free that poor bird from its cage.”

Yes, a man of passion, and that’s when he won Little Peach, too. Allow me to insert a little background note here: If you were to arrive at Little Peach’s house with your car windshield smashed and cracked beyond belief, and perhaps even a shard or two of glass wedged into your forehead, she would help you mop up the blood, but she would first want you to go back and check on the health of the bird that you’d hit. (Yes, that’s one of the many reason we love her, isn’t it?)

TPD was cut of the same cloth, and we were delighted to discover that he knew of a charming rooftop restaurant where we would continue our conversation at leisure. The lower level of the place was a jazz bar, and the music was dead on perfect. We passed by the mahogany bar and beckoning chairs and entered the tiny grill-worked elevator that took us to the roof, where we were treated to a view of Morro Castle, the harbor, and the sea at dusk.

To our surprise, our waiter was reluctant to offer recommendations for dinner, but he explained that it was his first day on the job and he could not yet personally vouch for the quality of the food. I thought that was an interesting perspective, rather than telling us  “It’s all good.”

Once we had ordered at our own risk, TPD told us about his career in London, conducting investigations and interrogations, and we learned that the most valuable weapon in his considerable arsenal was silence. “Yes,” he said, “more often than not, you’ll find out what you want to know if you can just out wait the poor fool you’re questioning.”

I’ve understood that myself, by intuition, but I’ve never been able to put it into practice. I always crack first and spit out another question. What about you? Let’s try it sometime.

We also talked about humor and writing and learning to live a new life. I’ve done that as you know, as so has TPD, when his career as a working detective suddenly ended as his body collapsed and he found himself in a hospital bed, rather than at the scene of the next crime.

His dark world, in which he well knew the difference between the living, the just-dead, and the long-dead, rapidly shifted into one in which he knew he had to find a new better way to live and to cope and to communicate.

An introspective man, he shared his regrets and joys, with an self-questioning aspect that we enjoyed tremendously, as he played both the interrogator and subject in his own story. Part of the tale included a period in which he gained so much weight that he had become whale-like in proportion, but then took extreme measures to drop back down to “normal” size.

“What a pleasure it is,” he said, “just to go into a shop and buy clothes ready made. What a joy, just to walk down the street next to my Maggie, not lagging behind so people would not know I was with her.”

“I wondered about that,” I surprised myself by saying, “because you walk like a fat man, but you really are not fat at all.”

Yes, he did have that slow deliberate step, as if the ground might crumble beneath him, and he knew it.  I know what it is like to lose 35 pounds, but he’d lost 140!

As the evening danced on, we listened to the rooftop band play traditional Cuban music, heard the canon at the Castle fire, watched the sunlight fade, and saw the full moon rise among the dark tumbling clouds.

We talked of families, lovers, friends, travel, books, The Wind in the Willows, and everything else that touched our hearts at that particular moment in time, and we topped it off with some ice cream that the waiter could not identify.

“It’s tiramisu,” I told him, after a taste or two or three. TPD and Little Peach nodded in agreement. Yes. Tiramisu ice cream for dessert, on a rooftop in Havana.

Before we pushed back our chairs and headed to the elevator, I asked TPD how many people he thought were sitting behind him.  The terrace restaurant had been pretty much empty when we arrived.

“Six,” he guessed.

“Turn around,” I said. There were 18 people seated at one long table, just getting up to fill their plates at a buffet.

When I see people come into the Pie Shop and become so engrossed in conversation that they don’t even see the other people in the room, I’m always a bit jealous. Tthen again, I feel that pleasant isolation so often myself when you and I have the chance to talk the way that we do, connecting on so many levels. Let’s do it again real soon.