Michel Ten

Your second-cousin Darnell has been talking about starting a horse-and-buggy tour of the neighborhood as a way to “support the community,” he says. Or a way to boondoogle the few tourists that we get out here so close the the ‘glades, I say.

“Just what will you cover on this tour?” I want to know. “Once you’ve gone by the Pie Shop, The Driving Range, The Swing Park, and Pancho Villas, what’s left? The bonsai forest?”

Darnell seemed a little puzzled by my lack of enthusiasm, which was tempered by the knowledge that he did not have a horse nor a buggy, and he sauntered off to The Swing Barn to see if he might have better luck with Sue Ten. I suspect that she probably gave him comments very similar to mine, with perhaps a bit less diplomacy and tact, two qualities which I am seriously trying to develop.

I do actually like the idea of the buggy ride, but I think there has to be an audience for it first, not unlike the Village Players recent production of The Mikado, in which Sue Ten had a staring role. Sadly, most of the people who were interested in hearing Gilbert and Sullivan were already in the cast, so that left but few of us to fill the seats. Still, we all had a good time, especially during Sue Ten’s encore, during which she sang the song Frank Mills, from Hair. The fact that she was still in her geisha costume made it all the more endearing, since her outfit gave the song more of a Teeny-Bopper Butterfly flavor.

Speaking of horse-and-buggy rides, Sue and I have been trying to figure out if Michel Ten, whom I met in Havana, could possibly be a relative, but we weren’t able to find a family line from here to there, so chances are that the similarity in names was either a coincidence or a misunderstanding.

Little Peach and I met Michel on our second day in Havana as we strolled past the horse-cabs. We were besieged by the drivers, a fairly raucous and noisy crew of men in crisp pastel-plaid cotton shirts and jeans. They are all cheery and optimistic that we would take them up on their tour offers, but we had already signed up for our bus tour, so we continued our stroll down the Prado.

Michel, bless his heart, proceeded to stroll with us, spewing his spiel, still, about how great his buggy tour would be. Little Peach took him aside for a moment and explained that we were in Havana without luggage or a change of clothing, and what we really wanted to know was where we could pick up a little dress or two, cheap. We also wanted such niceties as deodorant and shampoo.

None of that really stumped him, but we learned from him that most if not all the retail shops in Cuba were closed for Liberation Day, so with or without him, we would not be able to do too much shopping. We continued our walk, without Michel Ten, and admired the buildings along the Prado, and the young skateboarders operating mainly with lengths of wood and old roller-skate wheels.

Before we parted company, though, Michel Ten did warn us, “Those bus tours aren’t any good. You should come with me. If you change your mind, just ask for Michel Ten. That’s me.”

We asked his price, shook our heads, and said good-bye. When we returned to our hotel a few hours later, Michel was still out in the square, working his work, as charming as ever. That afternoon, we did go on the bus tour, where we met the Philosopher Detective and did have a pleasant afternoon and evening, but we both had to admit we could not always understand our tour guide, and Little Peach did not have an opportunity to ask the detailed questions for which she is so well known, and perhaps a little feared by tour guides everywhere.

The next morning, I told her, “I think we should go talk to Michel Ten and see if we can get him to come down on his price.”

We had a wonderful full breakfast in the elegant old dining room of the Hotel Inglaterra, admiring the tile work from days gone by and the contemporary painting of Cuba today. We chatted with the staff, sipped our juices and coffees, and smiled at the thought of where we really were, with luggage or without. Then, we went out to find Michel Ten.

Of course, he was not there, and several other horse-cab drivers claimed to be him. We said, “No, no, no.” Then they started to call from one to the other, “Michel! Michel Ten!” until suddenly he appeared, a great smile on his face. We proceeded to make our offer for a cheaper ride, but he looked said and said it could not be done.

“You see that man over there? That is my boss. I must give him the price.”

Little Peach and I suggested a shorter ride. He said no. And, great negotiators that we are, we said, “Okay, let’s go.”

I had forgotten that at some point I had tried to teach one of the other drivers how to sing “Una Paloma Blanca,” and as we began to pull away in our cab drawn by Michel Ten’s little horse Mulatta, that driver jumped up on the side of the cab and sang for us, getting the first line out perfectly, and then faking it after that, just as I had earlier. Michel shooed him away, and we took off on our slow, relaxing tour, with Little Peach asking every question that came into her mind, and Michel Ten doing his best to answer them in his almost-perfect English.

One word that he did have trouble with, though, was “horse,” which he pronounced as “whore.” We ignored that at first, until he got into an explanation of memorial statues of soldiers on horseback, and what it means if “the whore has all four feet on the ground” as opposed to “the whore has two feet on the ground.”

“I think you mean to say ‘horse’ said Little Peach, emphasizing the “s” at the end.

“Oh!” said Michel. “So what does ‘whore’ mean?”

I said “puta” and Little Peach said “prostitute” and then we all laughed, and continued our journey past Morro Castle, the open-air market, the booksellers, the museums, the Spanish Embassy, and more until we reached the bar where Michel promised us the best mojitos in Cuba. We each had one, at 11:00 a.m., and then with cups in hand, continued our tour, which ended up lasting at least 90 minutes of main attractions, side streets, and vignettes of daily life in Havana.

And was it better than the bus tour? Absolutely.

Was drinking mojitos before noon a good idea? Perhaps not, especially since we continued to drink Bucanero at lunch and through the afternoon, until the time that we decided to ride on the top of the double-decker hop-on-hop-off bus, our cans of beer neatly tucked into the drink holders. As the bus sped past the horse-cab area, we stood up and yelled, “Michel! Michel Ten!” but I do not know if he heard us.

If you ever go to Havana, please look up Michel 10. I have his phone number, and I’m sure he’d love to hear from you. Tell him that Una Paloma Blanca sent you.