Cuba Journal Part 2

Working Through It.

Dec. 5th, 2011

    While I was painting the mural this morning, I had a moment of temporal perspective. I was taken back to the sixth grade when Mr. Henry asked me to paint the backside of a bookcase that he was using as a divider in the center of our classroom. It must have sectioned off a reading area or something, I’m not entirely sure, memory fails. Mr. Henry knew I was a huge Peanuts fan because I always carried a Peanuts paperback book in my back pocket. I had several of the old comic strip collections as a kid, reprints of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s strips, and liked to draw the characters all the time and even on the papers I turned in. So Mr. Henry asked if I would paint the characters on the back of that big bookcase. I painted Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Lucy on the bookcase which Mr. Henry varnished to protect. I looked at that with pride every day that year, my very first mural. I hadn’t really thought of it much since today and suddenly I remembered details of it that I never new I retained. I recalled this with clarity this morning as I painted the mural of Snoopy and Woodstock on a 9 feet by 16 foot wide wall in an artists community in Havana, some 38 years later.

When they come, it’s important to notice and enjoy life’s little circles.

I worked in the muggy heat today from 9 AM to 6 PM. I knew that today had to be a big push and I had to get a lot done so that I could afford a day away from Muraleando on Wednesday. The group will be visiting western Cuba and I really want to see that.

So I worked hard, starting with outlining all of the ink pen lines with a black felt marker so that I could easily see the lines beneath the paint I hoped to apply by the end of the day. The outlining went very quickly. The group I came here with stopped by to tour Muraleando and to learn about the community and their mural project. It was nice to see everyone and they were excited to see the work, even though there had been no paint applied yet. Not long after they left, the actual painting of the characters was underway. The paint I had brought, a quality exterior latex, was applying well and I breathed a sigh of relief. Not being too used to painting murals, I really didn’t know how this was all going to go down but at the pace I was going, I knew I would finish by day’s end. I started with the red of the doghouse, then the green area of the grass. The black lines I had drawn were showing through the paint perfectly and would be easy guides when the final black outline stage would come.

There’s something childlike and playful in this island’s presence sometimes, and it can only be felt sans tourists, sans iPod, and with a solitary immersion in the culture and in the community of the Cuban people. Like in a drowning, the lungs eventually yield to its usurper and one becomes the water. You feel it when you are alone, a tickle of sorts around you at times. While I was using the two inch brush, painting the white area of Snoopy’s body, the large old tree that shades this area- the bus stop and now my mural- dropped a lovely yellow green leaf exactly in the center of my brush. It was delightful, and an old man who was quietly sitting on the bench near me, of whose presence I was not even aware, saw the moment and began laughing out loud. It was very funny, the tree’s trick seemed so perfectly and purposefully executed to the point of blunt absurdity. The old man’s laugh seemed knowing. Familiar, like he knew something I didn’t- he had seen things like this before it seemed. The tree played with me throughout the day, dropping nuts squarely onto my back as I painted. I laughed for the tree. He seemed to need humoring.

Painting in such a high profile spot as the community’s only bus stop, I received many passers by. The children delight me the most. These are my people, for my mind is like them.

An elderly lady came by, quite spry I thought, and we exchanged pleasantries. She told me that she was over eighty years old and that she teaches Tai Chi just around the corner. I knew Tai Chi about 25 years ago but could never recall it now. She was marvelous for eighty-plus years old. Childlike in her eyes, she seemed in spirit that, given a hardwood court, she could probably dunk on me. I politely declined her invitation to her class, I regret that now, but I did have a job to do that I didn’t know how long was going to take so I went about my work. About a half hour later I heard beautiful, mellifluous music coming from somewhere. Not Cuban, it was regionally unidentifiable- just slow and lovely. I asked Mario about it and he said it was the Tai Chi class. I pictured the lady leading it as I listened and worked.

By three o’clock I had all of the colors applied and started to paint the black outlines. This was the scary part, because if the black lines got too thick or too thin it wouldn’t look like Charles Schulz’s work and that’s what I’m trying so desperately to do. To keep a fidelity to the line that Schulz is famous for. To me that line is as delicate and distinctive as a museum porcelain, as true as any Wyeth, and as recognizable as a Picasso or an Ansel Adams. I had to get it just right.

By five forty five I finished outlining the doghouse, the grass, Woodstock’s tree, and the message of greeting to the people of Havana.

I was done, exhausted, aching, sore, and my knees were giving me all kinds of hell. It was starting to get dark and I could barely walk back to Manolo’s house. The taxi picked me up at ten after six. Good ol’ Luis my taxi man, a great guy and a new friend. It was dark as Luis and I drove back and there are very few streetlights on the roads when it gets dark. Luis had to keep turning his brights on and off as we drove down the main roads. It was a lovely night though.

I walked into the Ambos Mundos hotel and grabbed a Buccanero beer as I passed the bar and limped up the damned stairs to my room on the third floor. There is an old elevator in the lobby from 1925 but it doesn’t stop on three, even when you can find a bellman to operate it. I sat on the bed and slammed the cold thin grail dry, draining good and fast. I limped into the shower and was dressed and back down in the lobby at seven thirty to meet my friends from my last trip here, Paolo and Melis. They were late and I was early, so I had a coffee and a cheeseburger at the bar, followed up with an incredible snifter of eleven year old rum named ‘Santiago’. The rum is so different here, so pure and special and varied that it really should be called something else. Santiago eleven-year-old rum is like an amber fire in your nose and a clear soft caramel stream in your throat. The only thing I could think of to make that taste experience even richer would be pairing it with a deeply effluvious Cuban cigar. But I don’t smoke.

Paolo finally showed and soon Melis came in too. Paolo runs tours to Havana and Melis, a devastatingly beautiful young Cuban woman in her late twenties I’d guess, is learning the whole tourist trade from him. I suspect that they are a couple but I don’t ask, it seems impolite. They don’t display affection in public but you know when you can feel the connections sometimes. As I stated, I knew them both from my previous trip here a couple of years ago when they were getting their business off the ground. I always teased Melis telling her that she was the most beautiful girl in Cuba because she gets very embarrassed. I’m likely right though. I tell her that because I like when she smiles. Rooms lighten.

Paolo wanted to look around Vedado, the next neighborhood over from where I was staying, for interesting places to take group tours in the evenings. Melis knew of a couple of places so we taxied over to a jazz club called ‘La Zorra y Cuervo’, The Fox and the Crow. It opened at ten so we killed some time walking around Vedado. Paolo and Melis spoke mainly in Spanish and I, not being very good in Spanish just sort of followed them around. I didn’t mind, I was content to walk behind Melis.

We finally sat down in a modest little restaurant next door to the ‘La Zorra y Cuervo’ and they had pizza and I had a small bowl of rice and beans. At ten we entered the underground jazz club and the band were amazing. Highly professional, just hypnotic really, and we really loved the place. We split up around midnight and I came back to the hotel and started writing in this journal, Paolo and Melis took off to who-knows-where.

Havana has so much talent just bursting and needing to emerge from here, gifted in so many areas of the arts. The country is just so rich with talent, intellect, and embarrassingly beautiful people. Hardly anyone is fat and even the poorer people look really healthy. Strong people. I know that they don’t have much to eat but something good is feeding those muscles. And the women, with the afro-hispanic blending just glow like gold. You can’t find a straight line on any one of these women either. I can’t help but wonder if this is what people are supposed to look like.

  The mural is to my immediate left as I took this picture at the bus stop, looking down the main street of Muraleando.

I was finally able to call home tonight too, this was before I had my burger and coffee in the lobby. I called from the front desk at 2.40 CUC pesos per minute. I had no luck in finding an open place that sold pre-paid phone cards, and since I was working all day these past two days it just wasn’t going to happen. So I splurged for the call at the front desk. I had a conscious dream this morning in my bed where Tara, my little 6 yr old, climbed into my bed and hugged me like she often does at home. It was an incredibly detailed lucid dream, she was wearing a blue dress with flowers all over it and had a very sad expression on her face and it just seemed so incredibly real. I hugged her back, I’m not sure why, but it just felt like the right thing to do. I had never had an experience like that before, a dream unexpected, born somewhere between sleep and wake. “Calling Dr. Jung!” I had heard about visitations before and thought about that all day. Worried. When I called, Kim answered and the kids had a chance to say hi and they loved and missed me. All was well. So I could relax and have fun tonight, which I did with Paolo and Melis at the jazz club. Tomorrow I will finish the big mural and start on the small one.

As I start to fall asleep, I wonder if the little girl from this morning wasn’t really Tara after all.

Part 3 coming soon.


4 Responses to “Cuba Journal Part 2”

  1. Justin Thompson goes to Cuba The Daily Cartoonist Says:

    […] Go read Part 1 and then Part 2. […]

  2. yang style tai chi Says:

    Great blog; I intend to bookmark this site. I’ll check back for periodic updates.

  3. joe M. Says:

    …we’ll have to get you a derby hat to go with that cane and call you Bat for Bat Masterson.

  4. nightgaunt49 Says:

    Lucid dreaming. And considering it was a “waking dream” maybe something more. Of the mind it is so powerful and we rarely use it to its potential. Mine was about large spiders. The last one I flicked off my bed only it was a dream. A very realistic dream that intersected with the waking world.

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