Friday, March 17, 2017

Cuba: The beautiful

In the two weeks since our return from Cuba, we have pored over our photos, and remembered, again and again, every moment. We agree it was, maybe, our best trip ever. We have realized how little we knew and that what preconceived ideas we had didn't quite line up with reality. We went with open minds and hearts and realize that our brief time, while enlightening in many ways, was a mere glimpse of a complex culture. What I keep remembering, though, are moments of grace and beauty, that are a thread, a theme. Art, in all its incarnations, is, it seems, Cuba's heart. Music everywhere. Not the kind of elevator music we experience in our "everywhere" but real, live, excellent music—the violinist in the breakfast room, the guitarist in the square, the combo on the patio, the chamber orchestra in the museum.

Art everywhere—

In Havana we visited a professional dance company, housed in a derelict old building with boarded up windows and dangerous stairs, but the young dancers thrilled and amazed

In Cienfuegos we fell in love with a company of children carrying forward traditional dance of Cuba.

In Santa Clara, Senior Citizens taught us the basics of traditional Cuban danzón.

Most beautiful, in Cuba, are the people. Did you expect them to be downtrodden, heavily burdened by an oppressive system, suffering? I confess, I kind of did expect that, but it is not what I saw. What I saw was a vibrant spirit, humor, intelligence, pride and an enthusiasm for life.

And for natural beauty, it is just hard to beat a tropical island.

So, I will finish my Cuba posts with this iconic Cuban image—Havana sunset along the Malecon.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Cuba: Life on Havana streets

Much of our time in Cuba was structured around educational activities—lectures, performances, museums, but equally interesting and wonderful, for me, was our time spent walking and riding through the streets of Havana and observing life in the city. The day we arrived we had some time, after checking into our very grand hotel, to rest or explore on our own. Ray and I chose to head out, on foot, to get a feel for the neighborhood. We found ourselves in an area of well-worn mid-century office and apartment buildings and old cars. Despite a general grittiness, I was charmed by the decorative panels inset into the sidewalks. They spoke of a definite '50s design aesthetic and seem to have held up quite well—better than most of the buildings of the same

The next day we were headed into the heart of Havana Vieja (Old Havana) and our route took us through the crowded semi-old neighborhoods, filled with the life of the city. Beautiful children, workers, public servants and elders living the lives of average Cubans. To our American eyes they may look poor, even impoverished, but our Cuban guide was quick to correct that notion. There is no unemployment, there are no homeless. Everyone eats. Everyone receives excellent free healthcare and all children attend good public schools. You may wish to debate the finer points and nuances of life in a Socialist society, and wonder how they live without the internet and free press and clean, drinkable water and so many of the things we find essential, but those first statements are basic truths about life in Cuba. We saw, of course, what they wanted us to see, but there was no denying a beautiful spirit in the people

The heart of Havana Vieja, in contrast to the neighborhoods, is dressed up for company! The buildings have been, and continue to be renovated and beautifully restored. The people dressed in their colorful colonial dress are hoping for a small tip for having their picture taken, or offering up some live music. The lady in red will tell your fortune and vendors will tempt you with local treats.

This lady advertised her paper cones of peanuts by singing out out "maniiiiiiiiiiiiii" in a rich operatic alto that could be heard from across the plaza. All requests come with a smile or a wink.

In Havana, all is beautiful...

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Cuba: Hemingway in Cuba

Growing up in Idaho in the '50s, Ernest Hemingway was a local celebrity, living in the center of our state in Ketchum, near Sun Valley. He showed up in our local newspaper frequently and everybody knew someone who knew him, or had met him, or had spotted him in a bar or at the train station. We didn't have many famous authors in Idaho. At the same time he also maintained a home in Cuba.

On our walking tour of old Havana, we stopped to see this hotel where Hemingway stayed when he first started coming to Cuba. It was just down the street from the Floridita Bar, where he hung out, and apparently he liked to drink daiquiris on the roof of the hotel and watch the sun set over the water.

Later his wife convinced him to buy a farm in the country, where he could write and relax away from the city. It has been preserved exactly as he left it when the revolution started.

You cannot go inside the house, but you can view every room through the doors and open windows.

Peaceful, comfortable, unassuming. I remembered Mary Hemingway, who I knew very slightly in the early '70s. I worked in a fancy furniture store in Boise, Idaho and she was a regular customer. This was after her husband took his own life. She remained in Idaho with their family and she was involved in charity and community projects. I remember her as a vibrant, but down to earth woman—very kind and easy to be with. I could imagine her in these lovely rooms in the Cuban house.

We walked around the lush grounds and saw Hemingway's boat, The Pilar.

Back behind the main house was a small tower, with his writing room at the top. This is where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea.

I have seen Hemingway's grave and monument in Idaho, but I somehow imagine that this place is where his spirit resides. A beautiful hilltop in Cuba.

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