Thursday, May 30, 2013

“Cuba-Love is The Meaning” Artwork, Coffee, and Possibilities for the Passionate"

Madison Horner

Reporting from Havana

Thursday, May 16th

The whistling espresso machine and sharp smell of freshly roasted coffee beans almost made me forget I was in Havana as I sat on the patio at Café Escorial in La Plaza Vieja.  Unlike the other local cafes that can’t seem to shake the smell of raw sewage lingering in the damp humid air— all with menus limited to the usual pizza, fish,
mojitos and sparkling water—Café Escorial has a Western European feeling and sells the novel Cuban coffee.  Tourists from around the world looked at maps and read guidebooks as they sipped cappuccinos on the patio. Inside, a few privileged locals waited in line to have a bag of beans ground to take home.  In the square in front of me, school children sang and danced, and the people around seemed exceptionally hopeful this morning.

Our waitress spoke little English, but was very curios to learn from us Americans and was eager to help Kelly with her story on coffee culture.  We met a Jamaican man whose English was almost as tragic as my own Spanish, however we learned that he is working on spreading the hip-hop culture in Vedado. He left us a drawing that read “Cuba- Love is the Meaning.”  It’s true. If there is one thing that separates the Cuban people I’ve met from Americans, it’s the value they place on love. Compared to my peers in America, these young people seem to carry a greater passion for life and empathy for humanity. It’s apparent in their eagerness to share with us and especially through their artwork, which is highly esteemed here.

 Later in the afternoon we ate lunch at the house of one of Cuba’s most
famous artists, José Rodríguez Fuster. Fuster studied at the National School for Art Instructors in Havana, and dedicated the next few decades of his life to rebuilding his neighborhood. Unlike many of the streets in Havana with rows of dusty and deteriorating housing structures, Fuster’s beautiful tile-work glistens along the streets in Jaimanitas, where homes are decorated with vibrant colored hearts and mystical creatures, such as mermaids.  Fuster’s artwork has afforded him opportunities that most Cuban’s don’t get. He’s traveled the world, gathering inspiration throughout Europe and showcasing his work in New York.

Friday, May 17th

Julio outside his home in Nuevo Vedado
            Julio César Lópiz Pacheco, a Cultural Affairs Assistant at the U.S. Interests Section brought me to meet a very different artist for an interview. As we walked through Nuevo Vedado, Lópiz talked about “possibilities.” He explained how his job gives him, more possibilities than his family on the Eastern edge of the Island.  He rents a nice home, buys coffee at Café Escorial, and can send a little bit of money to his children every so often. I thought his word choice was peculiar, but it made sense. Even these smallest luxuries are not possible for the average Cuban, whose salary is roughly equivalent to $19 per month.

Eventually we arrived at the house of Michel Martinez Herrero, a 26 year-old tattoo artist. Martinez is one of very few tattoo artists in Havana. The business of tattooing used to be illegal and frowned upon by society.  Today, Martinez is licensed as an “artist” and his craft allows him to live in an upscale neighborhood where two and three story homes all seem to have gated garages, many with cars inside.  Walking into this neighborhood in Havana was like driving into a gated community in America, where million dollar mansions sit on acreage with swimming pools.  As I interviewed Martinez, I recognized the same kind of passion I observed from the server and music promoter that I met earlier at Café Escorial. Martinez lit up as he showed me pictures of his work and talked about the books and souvenirs from Canadian and European travelers who’d 
inspired it

 My earlier conversation with Julio resonated as I reflected on my day during the taxi ride back to our hotel.  The school children I’d seen earlier, the Barista, music promoter and Michel have a reason to be optimistic. These young people all have possibilities. They have choices for their future career paths and opportunities to pursue their passions, more so than their parents and grandparents did.  Taking in the art, the people, and the love, I leave Cuba inspired and hopeful. Hopeful for the                 future of these young people; hopeful for Cuba. 


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