The Last Mambo

By Whedon, Tony | Chicago Review, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

The Last Mambo

Whedon, Tony, Chicago Review

Down Calle 19, past the Museum of Decorative Arts--less a shambles than most with its sand-blown Ionic columns and corbeled gate--I fight off memories of my sleepless night, the plumber's candle sputtering. The apartment I've rented is decorated with family photos in the bedroom; the hallway is dominated by an unlikely half-wall-sized painting depicting, from the vantage point of the patient's incision, four surgeons in white masks. The painting's humor seems to me peculiarly Cuban in its laconic expression of the patient's helplessness; in a country where everything--even the polluted air one breathes--is political, it has more than allegorical importance. This is my fourth visit here. In conversations I've had in the past three days, people express to me an anger I've not previously seen in Havana. Their frustration with their ongoing crisis is heightened by the fact that they have no choice but to submit to el comandante's surgery.

It's a long walk from Avenida 16 to the paseo; halfway to my destination, my friend Arturo pulls up in a borrowed Suzuki hatchback. I get in. As usual, Arturo's talking nonstop Havana Spanish--I can't follow half of it. He speeds down Avenida de los Presidentes, takes a left on Fifteenth Street, then drops off the borrowed car at his friend's house and we walk to Arturo's flat.

Though he's supported by the government, Arturo's digs are not impressive. He lives in a ten-by-twelve basement hovel lit by a dizzying fluorescent light. The windowless room is obsessively neat. On the wall is a 1960s-style poster of the Pucho Lopez band climbing a stone wall in Spain. Tapes are stacked in the cubbies. Guitar paraphernalia is stuffed in the doorless closet. Arturo's recently divorced. He has a three-year-old daughter who lives with her mother nearby. "Mi esposa wouldn't stand it," he says. "She wanted me home after I played at night. But there was always somebody to talk to. I'd get home five or six in the morning and it was completely crazy."

We go outside, sit on the stoop, and wait for Manolito, the guitar player, who'll go with us to the rehearsal hall where they practice each morning. Arturo scrunches up on the balls of his feet and pulls off his cap to expose his bald head to the sun. He looks middle-aged. We talk a while about jazz. I'm surprised how much he knows about American music. He grew up in Santa Clara, a town that seems to breed jazz musicians. An FM jazz station from Key West pumps into Cuba the latest stuff, he says; Mike Stern, he says, I really dig Mike Stern.

He leaves me on the stoop to search out milk for his little girl. Despite the fact that milk is supposed to be available for kids under seven, it and other foodstuffs are near impossible to find. Arturo, himself, suffers from ulcers; in the morning the pain's intense, and the food shortage contributes to his discomfort. I've brought him a pack of Winstons and a can of pineapple juice (available only to tourists). After he returns with the milk, he swigs down the juice, lights a Winston; the guitar player arrives and we're off to the Teatro Granma where Pucho's band is rehearsing.

At ten in the morning, the rehearsal hall's stiflingly hot. Gradually, Pucho and the others wander in. Pucho chews a fat cigar. He's tall and black. He's got a long Fidel beard and wears an oversized Cambodian T-shirt. He sits at his Korg keyboard synthesizer to the right of the stage, facing the horns, raises two big fingers, and the players chug through an uptempo "Night and Day." Actually, it begins as "Night and Day" and slips into salsa, layering the Cole Porter melody, played by Pucho on keyboard, above brassy riffs.

The musicians, meticulous players, are inspired by two quarts of rum and at first seem joyful and mad. I sit in the front row and let the music carry me away. Pucho's a splendid keyboardist, shouty in a Jimmy Smith vein on jazz pieces and sweetly percussive in his Latin element. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Last Mambo


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.