Safe (and Arting) in Havana
For all your kind wishes — spoken and unspoken — for Cuban friends during the storm that laid much of the Caribbean low. Here in Havana we're safe after Irma — and still making art!
If you want an alternative to dramatic US news-bites, here's the easier-going, quietly colorful Cuban version:
After a week of waiting for Irma, here in the barrios of Old Havana we caught some harsh winds of the edge of the storm on Saturday night, passing the time looking out for neighbors, keeping our simple old homes as secure as possible, playing dominoes, chatting and…painting by candlelight. Two days later, folks here do say these were the strongest winds they remember, and there are bits of crumbling old buildings in every street — as usual after a storm. Forty-eight hours without power reminded many of the Special Period of the 1990s, with regular rolling blackouts and resourceful solutions. On Saturday night, water came over the sea wall, and in greener areas many trees came down, but the rain that seeps into these old buildings and can literally wash them away was very minimal in this storm, averting our worst fears.
We brought Angel's grandmother to my sturdy apartment — hers is quite porous — and she and I spent the gusty evening drawing and cooking by candlelight, worrying quietly about friends and family in less sturdy buildings. Fortunately no one was hurt, and all our homes are intact. She loves to draw and paint, so my kitchen table became a workshop of productivity during the house-bound weekend. In the quite Sunday that followed the storm, without electricity to power the usual music in the street or indoor fans, we made little parties with the extra food (and rum) that we all stocked for the storm, sitting on stoops and balconies waving to one another. We can read on one another’s faces, “it could have been worse.” Surely in other parts it was, and we’re all humble before nature.
Now as ever, I’m impressed how Cubans are calm, respectful, resourceful, and almost unanimously helpful. Whereas US news agencies seem to play on the American tendency toward drama and worry, here in Cuba the forecasting is pragmatic, accurate, and calm — to match the people’s tone. In our neighborhoods this week, folks shared information, got just what they would need for a couple of days survival without hording, and made quiet preparations to secure shutters and balconies. There’s always one stodgy neighbor who refuses to help out, but they’re regarded as crazy — “loco” — with a kind roll of the eyes by others who help and share without fuss in much greater numbers. Preparing for this storm, an elderly neighbor — I didn’t even know him but he recognized me — helped me carry extra food and water home from the nearby shop. My landlady kindly helped me accommodate my “abuela Cubana” for the weekend, called out greetings to her from the balcony, and bringing her a strong Cuban coffee in the morning. Angel stayed in his rickety building, securing as much as possible, taking a pragmatic approach to how much he can and cannot control, and keeping a balanced attitude about it. After the bags of cement were positioned to secure against flooding, he and his neighbors squeezed into his apartment playing dominoes and listening to music on someone’s phone as the wind racketed around. “If we’re going to die, we’ll be together — and happy” they said.
Between storms of mother nature and storms of US policy shifts, Cuba needs friendship from US people more than ever. And US people, more than ever, can learn and grow from this fundamentally positive, secure and resourceful culture. Cuba Art Adventures is going strong and Angel and I are energized to host creative visitors through the winter of 2018 — we're busy designing trips for dancers, fine artists, architects, and friends-of-the-arts in Havana, Trinidad, and Ceinfuegos.
Please send us your travel dreams and questions (firstname.lastname@example.org), and pass the word that travel to Cuba is still very legal, safe, fun, and very meaningful.