Cuba -The Beauty and the Beast

By the time we left Cuba we were in love with the country and its people. We had many discussions, political and otherwise with our various hosts in the Casa Particulars where we stayed, inside the privacy of their homes and in cars whenever the driver could speak a bit of English. No one would dare to speak about the dictatorship freely in the plazas or the restaurants for fear of being overheard; the police were ever-present. We spoke, sometimes in whispers, about the inevitable change of power when Castro died, having no idea how eminent that was at the time of our conversations.

Since that trip to Cuba in early November Castro has died and the country has mourned. There was no dancing in the streets – that would have been foolish. The next shoe might already be dropping. The beast of communism is very much alive as I write this and the uncertainty of Cuba’s future looms large. The industrious, inventive, energetic, constantly musical and delightfully humorous people of Cuba wait and wonder what is to come next. There is a high degree of melancholy underneath the bustle of Cuba but hope is very much alive; I hope that their powerful hope is rewarded in the months to come. The contrasts are sharp between the arrival of the cell phone and the women lowering their baskets on ropes from 4th story windows in the early morning light to buy bread from a kid on a bike yelling “Panooooo.”

Change is a constantly grinding wheel and it will not be denied. But at what cost?

Attached are some photos; for more please visit my recent Archives about this enlightening journey to another exotic world just 100 miles from our shores where dictators deny their people freedoms and basic staples of daily life. The beauty is evident, the evidence of brutality is everywhere. More blogs to come, including the Ernest Hemingway experience…

Author & Artist Jo Ann Brown-Scott – http://www.thecreativeepiphany.com

New novel – http://www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com

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The Confetti that is Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad is a gutsy but laid-back lady of many moods and faces – she has a twinkle in her lovely eye, lives with constant music, she loves Americans, she enjoys a hearty laugh, she offers you her roof-top restaurants and a day at the beach, she has contemporary art for your viewing pleasure hung on old painted fresco walls because she likes the contrast of the very old with the brand new, she becomes one loud and crazy broad when the sun goes down and she dances and sings with wild abandon. You would love her – she will become your best friend in Cuba. She knows everyone!

We took a bus trip across country of such deep green density and beauty that it took our breath away and reminded us of Hawaii…wandering valleys and streams, endless rolling hills toward distant mountains, and finally into the beachy little coastal village of Trinidad. Our Casa Particular hostess had walked to the bus station to meet us, greeted us by name from pictures she had seen of us on Air B&B, and led us back to her home with white grillwork fronting the street and then directly through the door to her life. The magical little world we entered was colorful, to say the least, with grape vine roof over head (and clusters of hanging purple grapes ) on the secluded outdoor patio,  a tiny but comfortable air-conditioned bedroom behind a window-paned door, and a newly tiled luxury bathroom, all to ourselves. (see photos in my gallery with this blog)

We could not wait to get acquainted with Trinidad. Such contrasts – the shops with fresh hams hanging in the open windows, the bread delivered daily along each skinny street by a horse-drawn buggy clop-clopping along and a guy yelling “PAN! PAAANNNOOOO!”, the stray dogs and cats, the music coming from several homes at once, the garlic salesman, the produce guy with his cart on the corner, the old ladies hanging out of windows watching as we passed, the 2 amigos posing for my camera as one says “Amigos!” and loops his arm around the others shoulder. It was all as if from a storybook.

Trinidad gave us one particular treasure we will never forget – Manuel G.- a hysterically funny guide who we enlisted to drive us around for about 2 days, including a day trip to sugar plantation country where we saw ruins being restored of an old but very extravagant mansion house accompanied by a slave village just a few hundred yards away from the house in a grove of trees. A tall bell tower for keeping watch on the entire operation was strategically placed so that there were no slave escapees. In the event of that occurrence, the bell was rung and other plantations for miles around knew that there was a runner; everyone dropped what they were doing and gave chase until he or she was tracked down and returned. We saw exactly where the sugar was distilled in gigantic copper pots and the ingenious process that made use of every single part of the sugar cane plant so that wealthy families in America and Europe could enjoy the new imported sweetener that was sugar. When it was discovered that rum could also be manufactured from sugar cane, the wealthy plantation owners became even richer. I will do another blog with pictures of this plantation…

In the several hours spent with Manuel as he drove us around in his AC car, we were treated to some crazy funny conversations about women, marriage, old cars, new cars, and Cuba in general, frank as frank can be in a car where no one could be overheard. You do not want to say anything about the Castro brothers where you might be overheard by the Policia and they are always listening. But with everyone we met, humor is firmly intact in the Cuban people and it is brutally honest at times, because if you are sick and tired of crying and complaining about the dictatorship and the food rations and the impossibility of ever getting off the island, you try your best to make it funny.

I would be glad to provide links to Casa Particulars that we used on this trip if you can manage to get my email address and contact me personally – I do not want to get any Cuban in trouble by mentioning them by name in a blog where I talk so openly about my strong distaste for the dictatorship.

The long, nearly deserted beach just outside downtown Trinidad is gorgeous in its privacy and simplicity. But we were way to busy for the beach. We are both artists. We soak stuff up like giant sponges and take pictures until our arms fall off and we talk in paint color language. The confetti colors of Trinidad are there for us.

For music – and I do mean !MUSIC! – that is authentically Cuban and nearly free almost every night please, please go to Café de la Musica, with its large outdoor stage situated at the side of some wide old stone steps just off the main plaza. You cannot miss it by late afternoon, if you are wandering around looking for a place to have some cocktails and have dinner later. You will hear it! You will feel the ground vibrating! Or just ask anyone… The band and singers number 11 or 12 guys and gals and they are energy personified. You sit at café tables on the steps and order whatever you want to drink and you might be there for hours on end. The people watching is magnificent and the entertainment is the best we had in Cuba. One little snapshot in this gallery does not do it justice.

Our best sunset dinner in Trinidad was eaten on the rooftop terrace of a restaurant near Café de la Musica – there are several rooftop hot spots in that area – just pick one and go with it. They are probably all good. We ate grilled shrimp, onions &black beans with dark rice of some kind, vegetables, shrimp cocktails, bread and salad with flan for dessert. It was delisioso. Of course we continued our research about where to find the best Mojito in all of Cuba, an extensive study requiring hours and hours of dusk time and beyond into the dead of night.

to be continued…..

Snapshots of Cuba

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Some random snapshots of images that grabbed me along our way around the city of Havana, where the people are gracious and eager to be of help, the colors intensely beautiful (whether shiny and bright or well-worn by Father Time), the food is always interesting and often gourmet, the energy is high and the hustlers are hilarious. I found fascinating views in every direction, often unable to capture the action fast enough on my camera. Later on this day we took a bus to Trinidad, Cuba, a village along the southern coast, where all the colors, patterns and textures of Havana morphed into a more casual, beachy vibe that we found delightful. Let me say this again – the best thing we did for this trip, as we researched and planned it on the computer back in Colorado, was the decision we made to stay at Casa Particulars (Air B&B) rather than in hotels – the knowledge we gained from long conversations with the residents, living under the same roof with authentic Cuban families in their charming, tiny but tidy, immaculate homes – watching breakfast being prepared in the kitchen, seeing what the kids do for fun and what they are learning, being offered a tour of every room – were and will always be invaluable to us. There is nothing like the special experience of that, and the people of Cuba could not have been more hospitable and open with us. They love Americans. It is a sobering experience, at times, hearing about life under the dictatorship of R. Castro. The ways in which families cope, how they improvise, how they make the monthly food rations stretch, what their lives are lacking in, all reveal how hard it is to maintain faith and hope that things will ever change for the better. They would like a better life for their children, but they do not want to lose the soul of Cuba in the process.

More on Trinidad, Cuba in my next blog!

 

The Personalities of Cuba

The faces and facades of Havana are never-ending and always fascinating…every street brings a new discovery and a different jolt through the sensuality of color, the sounds of music and the aromas of exotic food. We wandered for 9-10 hours a day with no destinations in mind, allowing our senses to lead us. These photos were taken on our first day out in Havana, a city crumbling in many locations, ravaged by time, yet revealing older textures and paint colors newly uncovered.

 

…and then we went to Cuba

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” And you came to Cuba so you could touch it with your eyes,” said our unforgettable friend and guide of two days, Manuel Gonzalez of Trinidad, Cuba.

Never before in my personal writing history, including this blog and the three books I have published, have I felt the burning need to get out of bed in the middle of the night and put down words. Until now. I don’t want to lose the freshness of my impressions about Cuba; its lush verdant scenery, its grand but crumbling Spanish colonial cities reminiscent at times of both New Orleans and Mexico, its mysterious Mafioso ties to America and the hotels where “doze guys” partied on trips down from Miami, its sexy music, its beloved Ernest Hemingway whose books are still studied in Cuban schools, its crazy, off-the-wall humor and its brave, kind and endlessly resourceful people who get up every day and make the most of a difficult situation. Emotional evidence of the Revolution is plentiful; reminders of Cuba’s tumultuous history and its love affair with Che Guevara are alive around every corner of the Havana city streets and in the other cities we visited. The history of Cuba is sad and offers little hope of change under the Castro regime, but its people maintain a joyful Spanish facade. We see the motto Tu Ejemplo vive, Tus Ideas Perduran – your example lives; your ideas last  posted in many places with Che’s picture. Che is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of the Cuban people.

When they thought Batista’s dictatorship was brutal, they soon learned that Castro certainly did not have the welfare of the people in mind when he grabbed power for himself. Learning in conversations with the people of Cuba about how the current dictatorship and how the embargo (which by the way is still in effect, even though our President announced that it is lifted – it has not yet opened anything up for the Cuban people expect USA tourism)  applies to their everyday lives was enlightening in ways I never expected… sitting with people in their homes and eating delicious, generous portions of hand-prepared food from spotless Cuban kitchens during our Casa Particular ( Air B&B) stays was priceless. Every family is given a monthly ration of food – basics – eggs, 1 chicken per family, flour, sugar, beans, rice, milk. The “frills” such as produce, cookies – whatever else a family might need must be provided with income so pathetically small that we wondered how anyone could ever make ends meet. The bottom line to every detail of Cuban life is genius invention, constant recycling, trading among friends and helping each other. As our guide Manuel said, “If you can ever get the money together to afford a new car in Cuba, you are in big trouble! You will never be able to find parts for it!” Most of the iconic candy-colored older cars for which Cuba is known manage to be kept running with parts from China and Korea.

When people asked us where we were from they were excited and instantly curious about where in America. OH! Wow! Colorado! Mountains? Snow? Of course other countries have been traveling to Cuba for years and so the Cubans see tourists from Europe, China, South America, Sweden, Great Britain, etc but Americans hold a special place in the hearts of Cubans. “Americans are good people – Cubans are good people! What’s the problem? What took you so long? You need to all come and visit us. We love America!”

From Havana we traveled east by bus for about 5 hours through rolling, thickly forested hills set against distant mountains on our way to Trinidad, a charming village on the southern coast of the island where homes are the paint colors of Cuba – lavender, yellow, sunset pink, citrus orange…red, blue…old old homes often as tiny as an American walk-in closet and usually just a story or two, but oozing personality and radiating happiness. Music starts in the morning and continues through the old narrow streets all day long as we walk and roam. Speaking now with an artist’s voice, Trinidad is nirvana for painters. The ancient textures of stone and brick, peeling paint, iron grillwork painted white or left black, potted flowers and greenery – hidden patios and secret nooks where cats sit in the sun – carriages pulled by one horse clop-clopping on cobblestone streets and guys selling bread up and down every skinny street in the early morning. All this and the deep Prussian Blue Caribbean as a bonus. This is the Cuba I loved the most.

Outside Trinidad we were fortunate to visit the ruins of an old sugar plantation, including slave quarters and the current restoration of the big mansion itself to its former glory with its Italian Cararra marble floors and painted frescoes. We saw where and how the sugar cane was refined, the enormous copper pots where they boiled it down and the ways they used the leftover pulp. We learned about the daily lives of the slaves, who were shipped in from all over the world to begin working at age 4-5, and the tall white stucco tower built for the only purpose of keeping watch over the slaves in a landscape of tall sugar cane. When a slave was observed running away, the tower bell was rung and slave owners for miles around took that as a warning and a signal to drop everything and search for the escapee.

Cien Fuego (100 fires) was our next destination, a morning’s drive west of Trinidad – Cuba is a big island so we saved far eastern Cuba for another time… Cien Fuego is quite different than Trinidad, with an outdoor mall of nice shops and some great restaurants on roof tops and terraces. Mojitos flow, and if you know even some of the words you might be asked to sing with band…oh my god!  I had a lot of authentic Cuban food while on the island, but the best spaghetti I ever ate in my life was in Cien Fuego. But – the outskirts are very poor, the hovels are dirt-floored and similar to those we saw in rural Cambodia. Horses, cows, cats and dogs are brittle and emaciated, skin over bone; the people are painfully dulled of any signs of a happy life. I was terribly upset by what I saw there, just a few blocks away from the city. I actually had to fight my impulse to get out of the car and start handing out money, as small a difference as that would have made for just a day or so.

In Cien Fuego on the main plaza is a lovely old mansion that has been made an art gallery – the inside of the building itself was as interesting as the art. Contemporary Pop Art set against centuries’ old frescoes and floors was a fascinating contrast. The art scene in Cuba is quite active – the dictatorship subsidizes artists to some extent. But we talked to many artists and a tiny tube of paint the size of a child’s little finger is the equivalent of 15 dollars. We do believe that studio space might be cheap, however, because there were some wonderful old buildings with spacious art studios in them. The art ranges from realism to abstract, as one would expect, and I am happy to say that mixed media has made a bit splash in Cuba! Very nice examples were to be found in every genre and I bought a few small pieces. Many Cuban artists have been educated formally in fine art and art history, some outside of Cuba. Art is respected and artists are prolific, turning out a lot of work – we have no idea if any of them are making a living at it however. One artist we met was  lawyer. Doctors, lawyers and other professional people are paid by the state, and many of them have free time to do other things, we learned.

This is only my first installment about our trip to Cuba. The subject of Cuba is vast enough for 10 blogs and I will be writing other posts about it in the days to come. I took over 1000 pictures and am attempting to categorize them for easy access while writing. The people of Cuba are very pleased to know that so many of us here in the USA are interested in their lives. We noticed a lot of people on cell phones in Cuba but only in WIFI hotspots – just a few wealthy families actually have internet access. Public internet is still a few years away but things are changing very rapidly there now. They are quite aware that the next Revolucion with be in communication and they are also aware that it could be both the good news and the bad news, because they want Cuba to remain unspoiled.

The country of Cuba is in dire need of money to save its infrastructure, because it is centuries’ old and falling down around them. The tax money the Cubans pay goes…..where? Nothing gets done. I could go on and on…but for now I will leave you with my humble thoughts and my cherished photos of a place I now love.

to be continued…

 

 

 

Daily Prompt -Original

 

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Original Mixed Media painting by Jo Ann Brown-Scott, 18×24, titled FLAG

Here is a painting that encourages you to fly your own flag and be your very best version of the original you were meant to be. As they say, “Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

 

 

This post is in response to the Daily Post Challenge – Original

Sustaining Your Creativity

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When it comes to creativity, many complicated layers are worthy of discussion, and at this moment in time it is a hot topic. In my book titled THE CREATIVE EPIPHANY, available on Amazon and Kindle, I explored, with a select 18 highly creative individuals, the process of choosing and defining your creative direction. The subject common to all of their chapters was the event of experiencing a creative epiphany. I have written many blog posts about such an experience, (see my Archives) how I define it and how to encourage and recognize the epiphany event that will change the course of your life for the better, if you remain open to hearing it.

When a person is super creative, it oozes out in many directions, seeking the most fulfilling path that will bring the best results (not usually the path of least resistance). I do not believe that a person must confine her creative work to one lasting lifetime lane that moves forward like a turnpike and allows only one facet of creativity to get anywhere, with no exit ramps and no room for further adventures. What I do believe is that selecting one or two dominant and slightly meandering creative avenues will bring the best enlightenment and satisfaction in your journey. Certainly not at the dictatorial extinction of everything else – but to allow adequate concentration of time and energy in the primary pursuits that offer you the most potential for a life of moral and career enrichment. If you dilute yourself too much, you water down all your creative  endeavors to a thin, weak soup that never tastes very good.

Many creative people re-define themselves over a lifetime, using chunks of time to do one thing very well, then switching to some other choice and doing that quite well for another period of time. That is a wonderful way to keep things fresh, avoid boredom and follow the money trends to a creative work that will bring in some bucks. I love that. That is a fun way to live.

Through the years I have been advised to produce greeting cards, write children’s books, become an interior designer, run my own B&B, be a painter of faux finishes on walls, design clothing, manage art galleries and decorator fabric shops and the list goes on. Some of those things I did, some I wish I had done and some I may still do…. Underneath it all, however and sometimes on top of it all, I was an artist. In spite of being an artist I have spent embarrassing  amounts of time diluting myself to such a degree that I was crazy with juggling it all, and yet what ultimately happened was that I learned from it so that now I can write confidently about it with a high degree of credibility. In retrospect, perhaps in doing this writing that time spent has become worthwhile…even valuable and necessary. Phew – because I hate wasted time. Now I am an artist and an author and you can be sure that any advise I offer to you was gathered through my time in the trenches.

I am now beginning a sequel to The CREATIVE EPIPHANY,  title to be determined. I have more to say – I would like to assume that you have chosen a creative direction; you are immersed in it, devoured by it, and perhaps being driven crazy by it. I have some observations about all that…. I would like to get them all gathered up, organized and put them between the covers of a new book. I do not want you to smother the flames of your creative fire. Help is on the way! Stay tuned!

http://www.thecreativeepiphany.com

http://www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com

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