When Lis and I were talking on the phone the other day she told me that when people ask her what her favorite part of the trip was, she answers, "The art museum."
It wasn't my favorite but it sure was interesting. A new, modern building with sparkling bathrooms (but you had to pay an attendant to get toilet paper) and some of the areas even felt air conditioned. Though not all.
The picture above, Ruben told us, is known as the Cuban Mona Lisa. I took a few shots of pictures with my iPhone before the guard (a woman in a government issued uniform shirt with a short skirt and the black lace panty hose, of course) told us we could not do that. Which was fine. I couldn't believe they were going to let us anyway.
There was the pre-revolutionary art spaces and then the spaces dedicated to the time after Castro rousted Batista from the country.
Pre- . Of course.
The artwork got darker and darker and odder and odder and so, you can see why when I came to the place in the museum where that picture by Thomas Sanchez was, I cried.
Such peace. Such promise. Somehow.
Cuba for me was, as I keep saying, one mystery wrapped inside another. I went with very few preconceived notions. The images which have come from that country for so many years have been few and not vastly informative. And now I realize why- how can you sum up a country like Cuba in a picture or a portrait? How can the truth of such a place even begin to be represented, even in art, which does a better job than anything else I know?
One of the very few ideas I had was that after fifty or so years of revolution for the people, ALL people, that the inhabitants of Cuba would have settled into a sort of mocha color as to skin. I have no idea why I believed this. Do I not know more about humans than this?
Although I saw many couples of varying skin tones together, there still seems to be a great divide as to the very dark and the very light. The descendants of the Spanish, of African slaves, of the indigenous people (and there were indigenous people and if I start to research that, I'll never finish but here's one link) and Asians. I just read on another site that 50% of Cubans are classified as "mulatto" (a word which has gone completely out of favor here in the US but a word which I think is beautiful in a way and I apologize if that offends anyone) so I was not entirely off-base in my assumption. There are many, many people of mixed race in Cuba BUT, there are also many, many people who seem not to be of mixed race but hey- what do I know and this is a touchy subject and one I was a bit shy to ask about.
Here's what I did see though- absolutely beautiful faces everywhere we went.
We spent a lot of time in the FAC. The club where our musicians played. The place would become packed with young people every night and their clothes, their hairstyles, their sense of personal style just knocked me out. I desperately wanted to take pictures of the faces of some of the people I saw, but again I was shy. So shy. The second night at the club, I did work up the courage to ask this man if I could take a picture because he was so obviously proud of his tattoo. And rightfully so.
Finally, on the last night, I had an experience which emboldened me. One of our party, Tim, insisted that I finally had to go upstairs to see the photography exhibit and so he and another woman named Toni, and our bus-driver and all-around-favorite-Cuban-in-the-world, Sobe, and I climbed the stairs.
A photographer named Entique Rottenberg had an exhibit up and this is one of the first things we saw:
I did not take this picture myself. It came from this website.
It's a huge long thing, all of those women in nothing but panties, a long line of women. Stunning. Beautiful. Very, very real.
Anyway, the photographer himself was there and had a backdrop set up, his camera, an assistant. He came over to our little group and asked me if I would pose for him. My immediate reaction was "Oh, no. No, no, no."
"You can keep on your clothes," he said.
And then I thought, Hell. Why not?
And so I did. His instructions for the pose were this: To cross my arms in front of me and look bored, straight into the camera.
I did my best. He studied me, adjusted me, studied me, shot.
This happened several times and then, he was done.
"May I take your photo now?" I asked him.
"If you will be with me," he said.
And so there we are.
Here are my compatriots in this event.
I made them pose in front of another art work, a long, long length of iron chain with the word "deseos" formed into it. That word means yearning, a wish.
I wish I knew more about it. Being at the club was such an all-sensory experience. The heat was unimaginable, there was music, art, film, people, people, people. And mojitos. So many mojitos. There must be more acreage planted in mint than in sugar in Cuba. I swear.
But anyway, after that, I grew less shy and began to ask people in the club if I could take their pictures. And to a person- EVERY ONE OF THEM thought I was asking if they would take a picture of me.
And when I made clear that no, I wanted a picture of them, they were curious as to why.
"For memory," I told them. "Because you are beautiful."
Here are some shots I got. Not nearly enough but what I have. And the lighting in most of them is horrible but I got what I got.
I so wish I had not been so reticent on the nights before. This was a Sunday night and the crowd was sparser, less dressed-up. Oh! The people I saw! The images I will keep in my mind forever. One night a couple was sitting in front of me in the space where Lis was playing. He was light skinned as could be and she was of a much darker hue, wearing a simple dress that hugged her every beautiful womanly curve, her hair twisted up so that her neck, a slender stalk of human glory, was bare. He had his hand on her back, down near her ass, and she sat as straight as a column. I could have taken a picture without anyone knowing but somehow, that would have been disrespectful and I could not do it.
Still, it is in my mind and I can see it whenever I want.
There. I think I am ended. Maybe.
A week ago we sat in the Havana airport for hours, waiting for our plane to leave. It was delayed because of a sudden storm which cracked the building with thunder and we watched rain falling down on the tarmac. A week ago.
A week ago.
And I realized, when we got to Miami, finally and at last, that I had changed in some way. I was a fiercer woman. I felt stronger. I felt as if in some ways, I am done taking shit off anyone.
Do you know that I suffered hardly any anxiety or depression in Cuba? A little. Not much, though. And since I've been back, hardly any either. This has given me a great deal to ponder on a very personal and perhaps narcissistic level. I did something I never even imagined I would do.
I went to Cuba. I did that. Oh, sure, I might as well have been wrapped in cotton batting, protected and sheltered as I was by Soledad and Yosi and Sobe, too. By Lis and others in our group. But I said "yes" to so many things that normally, I would say "no" to and in some cases, I hardly had the chance to say no. But I said yes, over and over again and I am changed.
I would wish with all of my heart that this feeling of fierceness does not fade away completely over time. That I can remember that I am stronger than I thought I was. That new experiences, that new adventures are good things. That they can pique my curiosity which leads me to want to know more and more and more. That I can be aware that I want to learn new things. That I can laugh freely and cry freely and get lost and get found. That I can meet new people and fall in love with them. That I can fall even more strongly in love with people I already love.
And that all of us, no matter where we are from or what the color of our skin is or what our experiences are, are connected, related.
The title of that painting I love so much is "Relacion" and the translation into English of that word can mean relation, connection, relationship.
My gut was hit with that over and over again.
Will I go back to Cuba?
I cannot foresee that. If I did, I would want to go someplace like Baracoa, I think, in the country, away from the huge city of Havana. The place that Sole and Jim Quine love so much and return to over and over again.
I don't know.
And isn't that the point? Not knowing?
This I do know- the smell and taste of mint, of guava, of mango, of certain spices will forever and always shoot me right back to Cuba. I also know (and this sounds ridiculous but it's the truth) that the fact that President Obama and his family and the Rolling Stones visited that island right before the opportunity arose for me to go made it somehow easier.
And, to be honest, more special.
I feel humbled and beyond grateful that I had that opportunity and I never, ever would have gone without having Lis by my side. I just wouldn't have.
It's another hot day in Lloyd. Mick is dancing around Nicey, trying to get a little action. She seems completely uninterested. Mr. Moon is back out, doing something with that fence. The crickets are singing of heat and air and life. My red passionflower is starting to bloom. My garden calls me. My dishwasher (I have a dishwasher!) needs unloading. I have leftovers of the very best venison I ever cooked from last night. I am about to be sixty-two years old. I have so many reasons to stay alive- not just children and grandchildren and husband but also the prospect that there can be more adventures, that there is so much more for me to learn.
All right. Time to stop talking about it, although I am incredibly loathe to end this chapter. This post. And I'm sure I'll speak of it again.
But for now, time to get on with where I am now.
Happy Independence Day. I feel that more deeply this year than I ever have, perhaps. Not in the sense that oh, I went to Cuba and now I'm so much more grateful for our freedoms here in America.
Freedom has to start in our hearts and I feel freer now than I did two weeks ago by far.
I'll celebrate that.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for coming along with me on this journey. We'll now return to our regular programming.
I believe I shall go eat a mango.
All love...Ms. Moon