CUBA – FINALLY!
If Not Now, When?
Life is short.
I don’t want to miss a thing.
I often joke that when my phone rings, I answer, “Yes! Where? I’m on my way.”“If not now, when?” is the motto I live by and will be the guiding principal for my personal blog posts. Writing novels and nonfiction, as well as acting, satisfies most of my creative urges, but often things happen in my personal life that I want to share, too. Blogging provides a natural outlet.
I have wanted to go to Cuba since
I was in high school—and nearly did
when I was sixteen years old. I’d won a theatre scholarship to attend a summer program at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, a full day’s train ride from my home in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. Back then I considered a trip to Minneapolis exciting, but seeing Chicago for the first time was thrilling. I was so blown away by the intense nine-week theatre program that when it ended I didn’t want to go home to another year of high school. Boring! I was hungry for adventure. What I had in mind was Havana.
The newspapers were full of
stories about the young revolutionary Fidel Castro, who’d overthrown the Battista regime. But being on the spot to witness the political upheaval was not what seduced me. I was reading Hemingway. I knew about daiquiris at the Floradita. I’d pored over photographs in Life magazine of palm trees, white sands and azure seas. I imagined hot, languid Caribbean nights of deadence, glamour and intrigue. It was a place of rum, bikinis, cigar smoke and dark, dangerous men. It was not something you could find in downtown Minneapolis, no matter how hard you looked. I ached to go.
I figured I had enough pocket money left for a bus ride to Miami and from there I’d somehow make it across the ninety miles to Havana where, of course, I’d find work harvesting sugar cane. I’d grown up on a farm, after all, and knew my way around a tractor. Unfortunately, my parents got wind of my hankerings. They piled into the family sedan and made it to Evanston in time for graduation. The next day, I sat in theback seat with my kid brother for the long ride home to Robbinsdale.
Now, some 50 years later, I’ve made it to Cuba as diplomatic relations between our two countries begin to defrost. Traveling in the company of a group of friends, led by a brilliant art historian and lecturer, Mumsey Nemiroff, I attended the opening of the 12th Art Tempo Bienal. Everywhere one looked, one saw art installations, a thrilling spectacle celebrating contemporary Cuban artists. It was a weeklong immersion in Cuban culture, history, art and food, that included visits to a dozen artists’ studios, dining in private-home Paladars, a trip to an organic farm in the countryside, an evening at the exotic Tropicana night club, a whiz around town in vintage fin-tailed automobiles and, of course, a daiquiri at one of Hemingway’s haunts.
But surely the most unlikely sight I witnessed was a modern-day drone careening around inside a magnificent cathedral, an “art installation” that was mesmerizing.
If I were to draw on a single experience that would encapsulate my thrall with Cuba it would be an afternoon visit to a particularly dilapidated neighborhood in Havana and the home studio of Pedro Louis Cellar. This naturally- gifted 20-year-old sculptor works on small scale pieces using found materials—wire, nuts, bolts, nails, string—to create delicate but powerful works of art that evoke the precariousness of life. The pieces are both darkly comic and almost frightening in their intensity, a reflection of the young man’s own personal family history and the tragic death of his father. In this rundown neighborhood, the pin-neat, two-story house where Pedro lives with his mother and protective older brother, gleams like a jewel in
the dust, its handsome renovation made possible with the sale of only two pieces of his artwork. In Cuba, artists rank high among its most celebrated, prosperous inhabitants. Indeed, fine art is one of the country’s greatest exports.