It’s raining outside and I’m listening to Buena Vista Social club, spurred by an article informing me it has been 20 years since the album was released.
I’m taken back immediately to the season of my life studying abroad just outside of Paris. I’m a wide-eyed young girl in my last year of college still holding onto the frame of my strict upbringing as I took my time to bloom slowly. But here I was, on a different continent, thrown into the cauldron of another language and culture, bobbing alongside my compatriots from across the globe. English, tinted with varied accents (Italian, German, Spanish, Swedish, etc), was our common language at first as we fumbled together through technical classes and living in French. Clumsy as teenage boys trying to unlatch a bra, we felt our way into the language, hopeful and excited.
And soon enough, she revealed herself to us. We tumbled into the language then, and into our friendships, forming around a French sense of life. Our saluts and putains began to sprinkle easily as we navigated the adventure of wine at lunch and learning advanced math in a foreign language. There was one other American in the program with me. He had been to Cuba that summer and fallen in love with a girl with a tumbling mass of tawny curls. He played Buena Vista Social club for me, and my timid hips started remembering something from a previous life. Just like with the language, my body clumsily tried on salsa dancing. One of the other students came from Mexico and helped us out with the steps and spins. Our Italian friend kept watch from the couch with his coffee as I struggled to follow anyone’s lead with hip hop rhythms driving my rebellious form.
Then, our French friend invited us to go exploring the city on the weekend. We took the train the 30 minutes into Paris, and my American friend led us to a little Cuban restaurant in the 1st arrondissement – La Bodeguita del Medio. Run by Cuban expats, the cozy space full of twinkling lights against white brick walls and small tables set close together was magic to my innocent heart. The band of older Cuban men played the music I had heard on the album with zest and life as they whipped the whole place into a dancing frenzy. Our bodies navigated between the tables and we stepped on each other’s feet as the music swept us into its arms and took us for a spin. I danced till I was sweating and laughing. Here I felt the very first laces around my heart begin to undo. I was tasting a freedom of being for the first time and …it tasted like mint-laden mojitos and sweat.
And so, we kept going back to this tiny bar, looking for our own buena vista of life. The five amigos from separate corners of the world finding ourselves drawn together for this sweet chapter of our lives by music and dance and taking those first few steps into becoming ourselves out in the world. Thank you universe for the lovely reminder today.