Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Que Bonita Esta Vida

for someone who will dance with me 

My friend Anthony and I go to Happy Wine, this Cuban wine shop on Calle Ocho that turns into a little discoth√®que on weekends.  There, pockets of people hide behind huge boxes of malbec and pinot noir and boudreaux, nibbling on tapas.  We sit on boxes of wine stacked up like barstools and lean over wooden TV trays underneath florescent bulbs.  We order chorizo y manchego cheese y camarones and sip on a yummy ten dollar bottle of malbec.  Everything is yellow in the light and every detail—big magic marker prices, dirty carpets strewn with crackers, graffiti walls—everything lights up without apology. 
       Up front a man in a black guayabera, Panama hat and goatee sings at the top of his lungs to electric keyboards and synthetic drums.   Everybody is dancing in their place—old men and their old wives, a mid-thirties couple groping in the back, a group of gay boys behind a tower of sparkling wine and a table of nurses in blue scrubs—everybody is smiling and everybody dances. It is not exactly elegant here but that doesn’t matter because people here are HAPPY.  Everybody’s speaking really loud fast Spanish—ordering another round of tapas, popping open another bottle of wine and calling out the latest chismis.  Me and Anthony too.  You know, when in Rome … 
       Happy Wine is really all about Cuba (say Cooba). And even though sometimes I have been called China (say Cheena), I pass because when I am dancing, it is clear my ancestors shared the same oppressors as los Cubanos and if there’s any doubt, just hit the karaoke machine and watch me go.  Once when I was in a similar venue dancing with a circle of my friends, I heard them calling out, Mira la Filipina!
       Anyway, back to Happy Wine.  We are in the way back of the store and on either side of us are mountains of wine bottles.  We can just barely see the tops of everyone’s head.  And the singer in the front has inspired everyone to sing along, “Ahhhhh!  Que bonita, esta vida!”  And I have never heard it before, but there I am, happy like the rest, dancing on my boxes of wine and singing out, “Ahhhh!  Que bonita, esta vida!”  Do you know this song, Anthony asks me.  No, but that doesn't stop me from singing along.  Somehow that singer convinces me this life is beautiful and my whole being is filled with wonder. 
       At one point, an unknown woman belts out a bolero into the singer’s mic -- voice only, perfect pitch, strong lungs, the works and when I peek around the bottle necks who do I see standing there before the shelves of wine, mic in hand and crooning -- but a woman in her seventies -- all white haired and grandma looking in her blue slacks and flower printed blouse – an abuela! --- singing with the heart of a twenty year old!
       Later I see her dancing with her man—not slow dance and easy—but cumbia and salsa and meringue—the kind of dancing where the man bites his lower lip and the couple swings their hips like they're doing you know what.  They are so happy and I am smiling watching them and they are making ME happy, yes how beautiful is this life.  And I am thinking, that's what I want. Someone who will dance with me when I am 70 in the middle of a little wine shop, swinging me about like I am his one and only.
       The rest of the night, Anthony and I stroll down the aisles, pretending to look at bottles of wine, but we are just looking for a reason to dance all over the store and watch the happy people. Tapas nibbling, always smiling, look you in the eye and raise a glass to you happy people.
       When I leave, I dance my way down the long aisle, passing the abuela who winks at me and her man who sings to me.  And then I get into my red Honda and I follow the moon along Calle Ocho, leading me home, feeling so Miami.

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