Life Inside the Pandemic

IMG_3720  The gorgeous cards in this post are the artwork of my gifted Cuban friend Lazaro Iglesias. You can find more of his artwork on FB under the name of La Vie Boheme. He currently lives in Santa Fe. His art always speaks to me, but especially now.

This pandemic experience feels to me as if we are all trapped in a big crystal globe – really pretty to look at – ethereal – the kind you shake to make snowfall – only it has a more sinister trick up its sleeve. I have never in my life felt more vulnerable and I am sure you feel the same.

Every day something happens that is weirder than the day before. We must remain learners now – not knowers who cannot be enlightened about anything at all. There will be many discoveries ahead and we need to remain open and aware, living in the moment and not losing our places in the plot that continues to unfold by the minute.

Concentration is key, but my mind pings around from one subject to the next like a pinball machine and I cannot come in for a landing on any one thing longer than a mosquito bite at twilight.

I decide I want to use my time to re-read the Constitution. No – maybe the entire Mueller report. Or do I want to search on Pinterest for that recipe for gooey sticky buns. I do manage to read an entire book that I absolutely could not put down titled AMERICAN DIRT by Jeanine Cummins. I have not read such a gripping book in 30 years, I guess because it is so real and relevant to our current world. It is beautifully written, expertly researched and so very uplifting in the bravery its characters display. Please check it out on Amazon and please read it. It is a true page turner.

Maybe I can make myself paint today, I think. While I decide whether or not I can find that illusive creative spark I will have my second Cadbury egg and keep my eye on the third…while I play some older CD’s I have almost forgotten about. John Mayer – I grab for anything of his and wind up with WAITING ON THE WORLD TO CHANGE. Couple minutes later SLOW DANCING IN A BURNING ROOM comes on and he croons “we going down….” I look for something more mindless.

The phone rings a lot. One friend who wants me to read a couple Bible verses that she thinks are pertinent. A second friend who wants to gossip….really? How do you know anything about anyone right now? A third friend, a decade older than I am who wants to talk about the good old days, at this sharp point in time when I am all too aware of how old I am in the time of the world pandemic. Each friend is dear to me and holds a place in my overall scheme of things, but I am not in the mood for the wrong friend at the wrong time.

My brother has a couple drinks every evening and two is enough to jolt out his playful side from the darkness of the day, and he wants me to kid around with him on the phone. I live alone, and I hate to drink alone. It does not take me to a happy place. So I am busy doing other things when he calls and starts his silly routine. Because I appreciate the effort, I endure…..and I do love him. Oh ha ha.

Both my kids now live at altitude, after being raised at altitude in Conifer and Evergreen, CO just up the mountains from Denver. I talk to my son or my daughter, who always make me laugh. Kelly and her husband Jay live at Lake Tahoe – I mean they really live AT IT, on the water. Looking out at the Big Blue all day long in its changing light and seasons will keep anyone stable, I think to myself. That scenery is restorative and cleansing. We have good talks and she does keep me just sane enough, but not toooo sane that I  completely lose my characteristic craziness. It’s a fine balance.

My outdoorsy, “wolf boy,” mountain climbing, 14’er gobbling  son always has a new adventure on the horizon and must have the lungs of a Japanese pearl diver. Every weekend he is Up There climbing something. He must be clean and deep and fine when it comes to lungs. We make a date for him to visit with me next week in the greenbelt space outside my condo. I will order a pizza and have it delivered there, half to him and half to me, 20 feet apart.

The days blend into one long ordeal of time, grinding along and revealing new information every day about what we are up against. I have had some bleak moments, some dismal periods of time that are based in much more than a mere pandemic. There was plenty going on even before the pandemic arrived at my door. But I do see good in each day and spring is coming and the sun continues to rise and set and shine down upon us. Let’s make every effort to keep our chins up, ok?

 

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Hemingway’s Home in Cuba

For weeks since returning from our trip to Cuba I have been agonizing over how to do justice to the Ernest Hemingway experience. This cold Sunday morning as I mindlessly began to paint an abstract composition while listening to the music of the Buena Vista Social Club, one art began to feed the other. I begin to write about Hemingway in my mind as I painted. Ten minutes in I drop the brush and move to my computer, where the calling was loudest.

I had been stuck, because I knew that there was no way I could ever do justice to the man. I like to think of myself as a (somewhat puny) writer, having published three books of my humble thoughts. I know something of the torturous endeavor of letting the words bleed out in a steady stream all the while wondering if anyone on earth will care. Hemingway is one of my idols; he was the master of the short, declarative sentence and the raw brutality of the honest word. He was the “no frills” genius. For that reason and many others his words have remained relevant; his prominence has not faded, his presence in Cuba is still palpable. You hear his name everywhere.

Oddly enough, the following quote from John Donne which provided the title for Hemingway’s war novel For Whom The Bell Tolls is eerily relevant in today’s volatile political climate. Hemingway decided to include it on the page that precedes Chapter One of that war novel.

“No man is an Island, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thin owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.    

John Donne 1572-1631 English poet and cleric of the Church of England.

Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1899. While volunteering in the infantry during WWI he was wounded and sent home. By 1921 he was living in Paris and became one of the expat community of writers there, including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others who would become prominent writers of that time and all time. In the 1930’s Hemingway settled in Cuba and the mutual love affair with that island nation began, but he still traveled extensively to Spain, Italy and Africa. His reports on the Spanish Civil War led to his highly acclaimed war novel For Whom The Bell Tolls (1939). His novel The Old Man And The Sea, probably his most popular work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, and in 1954 Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his powerful mastery of the art of narration.

He wrote seven books while living in Cuba including The Old Man And The Sea, A Moveable Feast and Islands In The Stream. He was the only American with permission to conduct patrols off the coast of Cuba, hunting German submarines in his fishing boat with a machine gun and hand grenades. Hemingway met Fidel Castro at his own fishing tournament ( The Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament which is still ongoing, in its 65th year) and there are photographs everywhere in Cuba of Castro and Hemingway at that event. One of Hemingway’s favorite “watering holes”, La Floridita, is still a wild and crazy, thriving bar and restaurant which I heartily recommend that you visit in Havana when you go to Cuba – and you must go to Cuba. There is a life-sized bronze bust of Hemingway there, planted forever in his favorite spot in the corner of the bar so he can watch who comes through the door, and you can have your picture taken with him. Sort of. Next best thing. Yes I did.

His tropical home in Cuba, the Finca Vigia, (Lookout Farm) is a magical place with lush grounds and far vistas – he was often photographed there with prominent friends and film stars partying down the path at the pool, and his boat “Pilar” is there also. The rooms are fascinating, frozen in time; we were only permitted to look through the windows to his interior world. It is now a national treasure, which we visited and where my photographs were taken. In his bathroom, on the wall next to the toilet and the scales, are periodic scribblings made by Hemingway, recording his weight over a long time. All of his personal belongings and collections including one of his many typewriters are there. His main typewriter is located in an adjacent white stucco “writing” tower which his wife had constructed for him but which he really did not like to use for writing. From the looks of it, he spent more time using the gigantic telescope there. All of his honored belongings are still exactly where he left them; never knowing that his hasty departure was going to be permanent. Because as much as the Cuban people loved and admired Ernest Hemingway and claimed him as one of their own, during the 1959 Revolution in Cuba Hemingway was forced by the powers that be (Castro) to leave the country. This exit, this deportation, was a source of profound sadness for him, and shortly after he returned to his home in Idaho (1960) he took his own life.

There is also a modest room that he called his own in Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana where he stayed while in the city, complete with his own desk and another typewriter, with nice views of the water and the old castle fortress from the balcony. It is certainly worthy of your time if you cannot make it to his country home. It is open most days – the door will be locked, but be sure to knock – someone is always inside watching over things.

There might be more about Ernest Hemingway – one little blog is hardly going to do it.

Jo Ann Brown-Scott, author and artist

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