At The End Of The Day
December 9th, 2011 continued.
The day was my last day, and it was already half over. After seeing Hemingway’s upstairs suite, I returned to my room and decided to walk over to the open market about a mile away and buy some stuff with the few bucks I had left. It was still overcast and clammy but the rain had stopped. The market was a mile away but I didn’t want to spend the money for a cab so I limped over on foot. The market is a large open sided enclosure with tents set up like cubicles and the locals sell cheap trinkets to tourists. However there is a section of very large paintings done by local artists that are incredibly beautiful and not cheap. I knew that after my surgery next week I would need a cane so I searched the place and found a really nice wooden one that fits my height. It screws apart halfway down and has a carved elephant’s head on the top. I love elephants so I thought this was perfect. The price was great too at 10 pesos, about $8.50 American. I could barely walk at this point, the pain finally beginning to defeat me, and was now pressed for time. So I hailed a taxi back to the taxi stand at the Plaza De Armas and walked over to Luis who was standing there. I asked if he could drive me back to Muraleando one last time. I knew that some of the people from the group were coming to the unveiling of the interior mural that night and would be getting a ride back to the hotel later so this would be the last time I would be seeing Luis. I asked him if I could meet him in a half an hour and he happily agreed. I limped back to the hotel and dropped off my cane (that was all wrapped up and ready to be backed away) and rested my knees for a while on the bed. The rain had long stopped but I felt I was under water all day because of the high humidity. Arthritic knees don’t like humidity at all and I was so happy that I had finished the murals and did not have to stand up and paint today.
Good ol’ Luis and I shared our last ride together and we arrived at Manolo’s house quickly. He hugged me and as manly and firmly as he could, shook my hand once more and said, “I love you, my friend.” Cubans are amazing.
Manolo nor Maira were home so I walked over to the mural and saw that the rain was no match for Snoopy and Woodstock. I was relieved to see that my mural had weathered the rain. I was a little concerned about the tan coating that was covering the wall behind my painting because it was very watery when I used it to cover my stray pen marks and guides. It was very runny and I was concerned about it loosening up and running all over the stuff I had painted but it was fine. Of course these people know what they’re doing and I felt kind of bad for even worrying about it. I thought I might find someone over at the arts center so I walked over there and sure enough, Manolo and another artist were there, writing the message above Snoopy and Woodstock that we had agreed upon. They were working so carefully and intently that they never even noticed my approach, even though I walked right behind them and entered the arts center. I stood behind them for a while, admiring their control with the brush and their ability to letter so well. I can’t do that. The message read in Spanish: “A greeting of Snoopy for the friends that make real their dreams in this cultural house.”
Someone from inside the round arts building stood in the doorway and when he saw me hollered, “Amigo!” Manolo turned quickly and looked at him like he was crazy. Then he saw me and jumped so hard I thought he would fall off the bench he was standing on. He grabbed the guy who was lettering, just to stay steady. We all laughed for quite a while at that. I was greeted warmly and hung around for a while as people started to arrive. They wanted to have a big party to celebrate the new murals. Our bus came, ol’ 1961, and a few people from our group came to the event. Sadly only three of them decided to come but that was OK. It was a bigger deal for the community anyway. One of the gentlemen from our group who came brought his trumpet with him. Parents from the Muraleando community brought their children, most of them students at the arts center where they learn dancing and other arts. The artists of the community were there and ultimately about 25 children. Even Paolo and Melis came. Joseph the dance teacher started playing music and the little girls, ages 6 to about 10 I would guess, all began to dance for us. They played a very cute dance game where they were all paired off, then Joseph yelled, “Rojo!” and they froze like statues. He waited a few seconds and yelled, “Amarillo!” and they all scrambled to find another partner. The one left over in the odd number of dancers had to wear a large funny straw hat as the others danced around her. There was a percussionist, another local artisan, who had constructed a four and a half foot high mobile percussion unit out of a cart on wheels. It had a drum, cymbals, bells, blocks of wood, and various metals of differing shapes and textures welded onto it. He would push it around town and throw down beats wherever he went. He and I were up on the high area near the entrance to the round arts center above where the girls were dancing, watching the festivities below us. He joyously pounded out his tinny and knocky Latin beats as Phillip played his trumpet and the little lovely Cuban flowers all danced before us.
Among other songs, La Cucaracha was finally played and everyone formed a conga line. They yelled for me to join and I really would have but my knees were not letting me walk around hardly. I was even having trouble standing.
We had dinner reservations with the rest of the group at 8:00 and it was getting near time to leave. Manolo asked me to say a few words to the group and everyone there gathered before me. The children all sat on the concrete floor and the parents closed in. All eyes were upon me. I hadn’t seen Mario my faithful helper and interpreter in a while, and I looked to my left to try to find… He was right there. I smiled and he said, “I will speak for you.”
With the beautiful Cuban children before me, their eyes wide and dark, looking upon the pale foreigner, I spoke of how honored I was to be brought into this wonderful community as I have been and to have become a part of this place that I love so much. I told them that a part of my heart will always live here with them and that I loved them like family. I explained how Snoopy was a symbol throughout the world of fun, and hope, love, and a limitless imagination; that his presence here should be a reminder to always be creative and to work hard for your dreams.
We were just about to leave when the camera crew showed up from the local news along with an attractive news reporter. I was interviewed through the interpretive help of Mario and I explained what the mural meant and why I had done it and how warmly I had been accepted by the community. I explained how much of an honor it was to be a part of Muraleando. It was over quickly and painlessly and then I was given a large black bag which contained a piece of artwork from every artist in the community. Wood carving, paintings, even a doll made by a sweet elderly woman just for me. I went inside the round building to gather my things. There stood the old Snoopy Flying Ace suitcase, half opened with bubble wrap and unopened cans of paint and brushes leaning out of it. I patted it and said, “Good bye, old friend.” And left everything to the community.
Manolo’s wife Maira and I saying goodbye.
Sad goodbyes and hearty thank-yous were given and then we were gone. We, the people of the group who had come, caught a cab at the end of the street and we went back to the hotel. There was just a little time left to freshen up before the big farewell dinner, which was on the rooftop of the Hotel Inglaterra, a gorgeous 19th century hotel by the park and right next door to the National Theater. It was a tad blustery up there when we arrived but it died down soon and the clouds parted and the moon came out and painted them a sweetly spiritual silver. The gothic old towers atop the National Theater looked amazing in the white light.
I sat next to my buddy Jeanne and she said to me, “I’ve figured out how I’m going to define this trip for my friends. Yes, it’s beautiful, yes, it should be seen, but you have to be flexible. Not everything is going to work the way you want it to.”
My buddy Jeanne Johnson and I.
That’s actually a perfect way to look at a trip to anywhere in Latin America, the philosophy that must be adopted is- ‘ya gotta just go with it’.
The bus brought us back and I was in the front seat so that I could just get out and get home, I felt like walking alone. As I walked the two blocks to the Ambos Mundos, I reflected on the country, the Cuban people, how poor yet cheerful and resilient they are, how lovely they are and what a shame politics is. As I approached the open doorway of the hotel for the final time, I stopped and listened. The piano player was playing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. If this week had been a movie, it would have been a perfect time to roll the credits.
Jan. 25, 2012
Here I am, a month and a half later, copying this journal down for the blog for you all to read. My left knee was operated on and replaced with a metal one on December 19th and I’m getting around pretty well now with that wooden cane with an elephant’s head that I bought in Havana. It’s a slow and painful healing process but it’s getting better. I look forward to having the right knee operated on in a few months and then hopefully I’ll never again feel the pain I felt that last day in Cuba. But nothing that valuable in your life, that deep and meaningful, should be received without some measure of suffering offered. Copying this journal and going over these pages again as I’ve done recently, I have been able to relive that week again and so many images and feelings have returned that I know that I must go back there some day. Every creative person, no matter what art they pursue, yearns to leave something of themselves after they are gone. Struggle as I might with my own creations and endeavors, I think this might be it for me- these murals. And if they are my only artistic children then I will be happy with that and accept them as my legacy. Those walls standing out there in a forbidden, foreign land, I can only hope that someday the larger invisible ones can come down and we can all come and go to Cuba as freely as we may visit any other part of the Caribbean.
Also of value to me in copying down this journal I was able to see what a marvelous story this all was and how I did not have to make up or embellish any one moment or observation. It was all true, every bit of it. Havana is a marvelous place when you open up your arms to it. For it will open up and enclose you too.