I caught up with Aldo and Ilmar, on tour in the U.S. for the first time (due to the loosening of U.S. restrictions on Cubans) in a downtown Vegas hotel. I filmed their concert with Ilmar’s Harlem Quartet at the Troesh Theater, part of Vegas’ new performance center intended for locals, away from the strip. After the show, hot and desperate for a cold drink, we shared cocktails and hit the boulevard, braving the crowds, taking the elevated tram, and descending into the lobby of the Bellagio, a Technicolor show somewhere between Candyland and Christmas. Walking through a world of chocolate fountains, talking trees and high-end shops, we arrived at the famed fountain and enjoyed the show. Ilmar loved it, in all of its tackiness; When Aldo asked me what people actually do here, I explained about the gambling, the weddings, the shows, the ability to drink alcohol on the street and buy absolutely anything one can afford. He mused that this is a city where people find many ways to waste money. I agreed.
It was fascinating to see Vegas through their eyes—the immigrant who loves his adopted country and the brother who remained in Cuba, appreciates the generosity of American audiences, and is still skeptical of our various offerings. As I’ve often felt, there is nuance flying everywhere in their stories.