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!

 

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…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…

 

 

 

The Art Game – not for the faint of heart

 

 photo courtesy of larryvillephotos.blogspot.com

Who am I, standing in the midst of this thought-traffic?  – RUMI

The life of an artist is like being a one-armed paper hanger or a one-man band or someone who herds house cats. Anyone who still believes that an artist passes the days squirreled away in some romantic, sort of melancholy, splattered-up loft studio, sipping wine and adding a brush stroke here or a swipe there is sadly misinformed. Here in the 21st century, life has changed so dramatically that you would scarcely recognize it as being a quality life for the professional fine artist. It is rather chaotic, and requiring multi-tasking and laser focus. It can make you crazy.

With the evolution of the computer we artists have absorbed a relatively nano-second-ish,  lightening speed change in the way we do business. With digital imagery, social networking for marketing purposes, website maintenance, the need to write newsletters & blogs, keeping a database of clients on  spread-sheets, writing our own resumes, bios, mission statements, self-publishing brochures and invitations, then photographing and cataloging our work, cutting matts, framing our work, seeking gallery representation, shipping art and transporting it to and from shows, recording sales, bookkeeping and paying our quarterly taxes…..well you get the picture. A much smaller percentage of time is left in the day to relax and paint. In many ways it is easier to do all this than it has ever been – and in other ways it has become increasingly more and more complicated. The tasks have widened, deepened and intensified instead of narrowing and being more focused. Today’s artists can no longer afford to just paint; not that they ever could; and few to none are able to afford an art rep. And NOW! OMG there is mucho competition out there, and unless you can run with the wolves you will be trampled and forgotten. With all the ways to communicate now, an artist is constantly bombarded with the images of the others, the wolves winning the race. An artist can stay aware of everything else out in the marketplace and even make adjustments, if he/she is flexible within his particular genre, to what is more trendy and marketable if that is what he/she desires….  Or if he/she wants to stay totally off the beaten path, then at least he also knows what the beaten path is doing at the moment so he can travel against it. Never before has the world seen so much about what the rest of the world is up to. Ignorance is no longer an excuse for any single thing.

An artist has got to be clever. And very efficient. Organized. Charismatic, great with the public, charming, funny and able to speak well about what he does and why. Technologically savvy. A marketing genius. A true salesperson. Gone forever are the days when an artist got away with silent sulking, being disheveled and drooling, a cigarette hanging just off the lip, obtuse and inarticulate, not to mention solitary, antisocial and in need of personal grooming…. I can’t say these days that we are all polished up poster children for the perfectly put together artist in the 21st century, but we do generally look different now – almost like downtown city business people who are just dressed a little off. We are better now than ever, just still odder than most.

And that is how we like it. For god’s sake let us at least hang on to that, OK?

Let the beauty we have be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. – Rumi

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Yeah yeah yeah – the Year Long Canvas is  still sitting there staring at me. I am stalled out with her. I am becalmed like a sailboat at sea, but enjoying where I am. I am living in the NOW.

I am currently painting other stuff that allows me to arrive at completion, because I am a task driven person and I like a feeling of accomplishment. I have not abandoned the YLC Project, but I seem to be on summer vaca from her. I’m spending time with people I enjoy, painting just for the fun of it, tending to my sunburn, going to concerts and hiking in the woods, in the rain, wearing my sparkling tiara that I was urged to make mine at a mountain garage sale on Sunday. Of course that’s silly. Would you deny me the pleasure of being silly? You better not….because I am hangin’ exclusively with people who make me happy these days  – the ones who contribute positive vibes to my life – the ones who prop me up and make me laugh and leave me with a warm glow. You all know who you are.

The Year Long Canvas needs my attention, I guess, but she is a great looking painting just the way she is. I don’t have it in me right now to alter her. I am SURE I have learned whatever lessons she was supposed to teach me already….pretty sure.

So if you are one of the ones who keeps ragging on me about making some more changes to her, just for the sake of change, you need a really strong argument to convince me that I need to do something. Especially now. Maybe later in the summer when my back is against the wall and I know I am going to have to come up with some answers to questions from my esteemed instructor Homare Ikeda – maybe then I will panic and make some kind of change to her. But right now I am following the advice of that same esteemed instructor who commanded all of us students to HAVE FUN and ENJOY THE SUMMER and PLAY!. That’s what I want to do – that’s what I’m talkin’ about. I am going to do THAT.

photo 3 (3) Relax – YLC is just fine. Alive and well and living here, with other canvases…..the ones who are finished. She is in good company.

Jo Ann Brown-Scott – to see additional art, visit the links below:

http://www.epiphanysfriends.com

http://joannbrownscottart.artspan.com/large-multi-view/single/2357019-0-/.html%5B/embed%5D

 

 

The Creative Epiphany – The Schizophrenic Artist With Her Hair on Fire

?????????? Mixed media Collage titled “Broken Road” by Jo Ann Brown-Scott, copyright 2014

Remember a couple weeks ago I was talking about the creative person who changes his/her style and cannot please everyone in the process? I said it is no one’s business but your own how you paint, what you paint, and what direction your unique evolutionary process takes you. OK that is a given. But some of us do it a little differently, so it’s no wonder the innocent viewer is confused. This “being a creative artist”, meaning any kind of creative person at all, is multi-faceted, and it not only goes deep, it goes very wide, and then it goes deeper again. If you were fracking for the good stuff, the core, the gem of being an artist, you’d have to go in from the side as well as going deep. Very seldom do you get a gusher, and rarely when you do, it is not just about the art. There is just so much else down there….

So – your evolution within your creativity is your journey – your adventure – and no one else will ever truly grasp your struggle with it. Some people follow a straight path, sensible and logical, one style morphing slowly into another, evolving sanely; others do not. They take the broken road. Being an artist, writer, musician (such as the ones who are in the symphony orchestra but play rock & roll for fun), of many styles, all running consecutively throughout your career is insanely different and only once in a great while at some special intersection does it feel the same as those who go in the straight line. You do move forward, but in a more exhaustive frenetic pace. I guess you could put it this way – you are evolving as an artist just fine, thank you very much, but in so many arenas that you jump from one arena to the other as they all race along neck to neck in a parallel line, often changing lanes in the same day, because you could not possibly live long enough to wait until one style runs its course before you start on another. You are too impatient for that! You need to be trying out lots of ideas at once to see which one sticks and becomes the money -maker or the emotional shaker. You are a three-ring circus, a one-man band, or in the extreme a psycho artist with your hair on fire. I actually think many fine artists of the painting variety do this, and they are on fire in a good way. If you can manage the chaos it works to your advantage since one style or avenue of creativity feeds on the other, and is enhanced by the proximity of all the other creative outlets you are pursuing. So you multi-task and you get more done than if you did not. That is the fun part.

Oh but wait…painting the canvas is only one component of the puzzle. There is still much to be done after you have dripped blood onto a canvas and bled out, giving it all you’ve got. The rest is all done behind the scenes in the third world sweat shop studio where YOU are the one working 24/7 with no days off. After the styles and the choices and the evolution and the actual work all fall into place, then the real work begins. Unless you have hit it so big that you can pay $$$ to have the drudgery contracted out to about a half-dozen other worker-bees, you must do it yourself in your “off hours” from painting.

For instance, if you are an artist who is also a talented writer, those gifts combined feed the way you execute and explain your art, both verbally and in print. You will need to write a distinctive Bio, an Artist’s Statement, a resume, as well as keeping a detailed inventory of your work. If you are also a photographer, you can learn to correctly photograph your own art, saving hundreds of dollars and a boatload of time. If you are a computer wiz you can edit your photos and arrange them with text in your portfolio, after sizing them, cropping them, making color corrections and adjusting them for accurate brightness and contrast. If your work requires framing, well then frame it yourself or allow an enormous amount of money to have a professional do it – and allow plenty of time for that to happen. Weeks and weeks sometimes. If you understand the basics of sales and distribution, then you have a head start toward marketing your own art, or supervising the sales rep you pay $$$ to research galleries and sort through possible “good fit” retail and wholesale representation in your behalf. If you have an eye for display, you can offer an educated suggestion for how your work should be shown in a gallery situation where it must flow seamlessly from image to image. And last but not least, if you are a people person and you can bring a congenial first impression and a quality conversation under pressure, remembering names and faces and leaving a lasting impression, well then you have what it takes to be a success. Tired yet?

But wait again! How can you do all that and still have time to paint in several different styles all racing along at once? Therein lies the challenge. Good luck with that. But ask yourself, “Is there anything else I would rather be doing?”

If your answer is YES, then move on, and do it well.

The Creative Epiphany – Years and Peers

Well, we might as well get it over with. It is hardly a secret that I am not exactly a spring chicken. I live in a 55+ ACTIVE retirement community, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in northern California. We are halfway between San Fran and Lake Tahoe, and happy to be here thank you very much. Our community here in Lincoln prides itself on the word ACTIVE. To put things in perspective for you younger people, many of our residents are, shockingly, years older than the Rolling Stones (older than the actual ages of the Stones, not how long they have been rock legends) and these people are in great shape and holding, rather than being hit like a train by the passing years.  So who cares about age? They don’t care. We don’t care. I don’t care. We  could show those prune-faced Stones a thing or two, prancing and dancing all around the stage as they do, singing their faces off about getting no SATISFACTION… We can show you satisfaction.

For the past two years or so our community has been hit by a series of burglaries which seemed to be increasing in number as well as the threat of violence, and the local police department is stretched to the thinness of a potato chip in this California economy. The two cops can’t be everywhere all the time. So some retired cops, firemen, ex-military guys and amateur sheriffs formed a kind of volunteer security squad and it was not long until the thugs were apprehended. Oh of course there will be more thugs some day – but now we know we are ready for them. We are not sitting ducks here in this gorgeous, peaceful community. We are more like hawks, smart and vigilant and beady-eyed.

As far as retirement is concerned, we all feel that we have been blessed to be able to live here. It truly is a rare and wonderful place. A great emphasis is placed upon the arts, both in nearby local communities such as Roseville and also in  Sacramento and San Fransisco. I am happy to be an art instructor at the Orchard Creek Lodge in Lincoln, teaching Mixed Media Collage to an energetic group of adults who are open-minded, creative and eager to try something that many of them have never done. I am consistently pleased to discover that people who have put the art experience “on hold” for the decades when they held high-powered careers are able to now not only enjoy this class but thrive and produce extraordinary, frame-worthy art. These classes feed my artistic soul as well as theirs; they make my days productive.

Research has proved that people who live long, healthy, productive lives have several things in common. One of the most important of these factors is simply a reason to get up in the morning – a way of remaining relevant. If it cannot be an art class it might be a computer class, a billiards game, a marathon, a garden that needs tending, a dog that needs walking, laps to swim at the pool, grandchildren to visit, a pot of soup to make, a day-long hike, a bus trip to the Bay, a friend to check in on or volunteer work to be done. And we see all of those here in our community and much more. We are not all as old as the Stones, but if we are not we want to be. Nobody talks much here about being hit like a train by old age. Attitude is everything.