Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"C'est Cuba"

Kaitlin Gillespie,
Reporting from Havana

A dark-skinned girl in a mustard yellow skirt stands before a crowd of about 50 Cubans and American journalism students. She holds the violin to her chin, and begins to play in a competition that may mean a better future for a 15-year-old.
The notes that pour out of her violin and soul are beautiful. Someone more knowledgeable in music than I am tells me later that her interpretation of the Italian piece is advanced for her age. From my seat, the mahogany of her violin gleams in the low light of the ballroom.

But they’re not flawless. On one or two occasions, the notes squeak out. When I get closer to her afterwards, I see places where the finish on her instrument has worn off. The girl tells me that music is her passion. Both her parents are musicians, and it’s all she wants for her own life.
But I wonder if her dreams are futile.
Here at the Instituto Superior de las Artes, students study music and fine arts. Our guide tells us that the average artist who graduates from ISA will make somewhere between 20 and 25 CUCs a month—about the same as everyone we’ve talked to on this trip.
As we walk deeper through the school, I meet more artists like the little girl: Painters, sculptors, ceramicists. Their pieces cover every surface of the school. A girl’s face is painted on a mural of a 10 CUC piece, her eyes full of tears. A man licks his blood-soaked fingers, his mouth foaming.  Hitler’s face is superimposed on a magician’s body, while Obama’s stands on a Nazi uniform, representing what those men could have been in a past life.
Here, for the first time, I see the anguish of the Cuban people. It’s everywhere in their art, the only way they can express it. Later, I’ll meet an artist on the street who speaks fluent French. We’ll talk, and I’ll buy a piece of art from him that reflects the burning in my heart that I experience here: black palm trees tied together with barbed wire, preventing them from truly being free.
“C’est Cuba,” he says, darkly. It doesn’t take much convincing for me to hand him the 10 CUCs he asks for.
Back at ISA, the little girl clutches her ragged violin, toddling after her instructor into the next part of her day, and the next part of her life. I watch her as she leaves. With each step, she walks into her future, one I hope will be better than the Cuba I’m living in now.

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