Cuban city's music attracts musical great
Maybe he was Amazed.
In fact the immigration officer who processed Paul McCartney may have been absolutely shocked when he realized the man standing before him in Santiago de Cuba’s airport was indeed the ex-Beatle.
Santiago de Cuba residents still happily recall the brief, unannounced, Jan. 14, 2000, visit McCartney made to their city, with the musician and family members having lunch at a prominent local restaurant and visiting a nightclub to take in some traditional Cuban music.
McCartney arrived in a private jet, announcing his impending arrival to an airport official who also was initially sceptical that the man in the approaching plane was indeed a household name in music.
Tourist guide Jose “Joe” Cardosa adds the immigration officer either didn’t initially realize that the man who stood before him and sported a hat and sunglasses was indeed the former Beatle known for such classics as Maybe I’m Amazed, Hey Jude and Yesterday, only clueing in when he saw his passport.
“It was a huge event. He would show up everywhere,” says Cardosa, who saw McCartney “in the distance. Tourists are unaware of the McCartney visit and are surprised (to learn of it).
“It was a short visit but they (locals) are still talking about it.”
Santiago de Cuba is considered the epicenter of Cuba’s music scene, which prompted McCartney to visit it rather than larger and better-known Havana.
Cardosa’s fellow guide Hector Gonzalez Perez labels Santiago de Cuba “the home of traditional Cuban music,” with, for instance, a local cemetery being the final resting place of Compay Segundo of Buena Vista Social Club fame.
McCartney bought CDs of Cuban music during his stay.
Fernando Leon — involved in Santiago de Cuba’s cultural scene — recalls that McCartney’s visit excited locals, who are familiar with Beatles music and are proud he visited their city. “It’s another event in our history.”
Among those that hosted the former Beatle was the open-air El Morro restaurant, which placed a plaque commemorating his visit on the wooden chair he sat on, with restaurant guests now routinely having their picture taken with it.
The plate, utensils and napkin McCartney used are now displayed on a restaurant wall, with the notation Paul McCartney Was Here. (McCartney signed the napkin and also wrote that his food was “Muy Bueno.)”.
The restaurant — found a stone’s throw from the massive, landmark Castle San Pedro de la Roca — cheerfully accommodated the famously vegetarian McCartney’s specific food request.
Paul Nielsen of Toronto’s Paragon Travel recently visited the restaurant on an Hola Sun fam and said it was “fun” to have his picture taken by the chair. He plans to show his picture to his musician brothers.
Nielsen confessed to having “no idea” of the McCartney visit until having lunch at El Morro during the fam.
Leon says a return McCartney visit to often-steamy Santiago de Cuba would be more than welcomed by Santiago de Cuba residents.
“People expected him to come back but he never did,” Leon says. “It was too hot for him I guess.”
Tour operators that can send people to Santiago de Cuba include Hola Sun.
In the photos: Uniglobe travel agent John Coletta and El Morro server Limay Perez point to the plate and utensils McCartney used during his El Morro visit. Tour guide Jose Cardosa and Hola Sun’s Veronica Duenas flank the chair McCartney sat in during his El Morro lunch.