Acta de decomiso de la Virgen, las cartas y el dinero del pueblo.
Reprimidos actos de fe no institucionales, la Virgen de la Caridad dejó de ser del pueblo cubano para ser institucionalizada, siendo intervenido el diálogo del pueblo con sus santos.
Después de haber caminado casi 500km y pasando por todos los pueblos y capitales provinciales que se encuentran entre La Habana y Ciego de Avila, el día 16 de Octubre del 2013,llegando a esta ultima ciudad a las 3pm y agotados por la caminata de 43 km, nos disponíamos a buscar alojamiento en el Hotel Sevilla que se encuentra en el boulevard de dicha ciudad, estando este sin capacidades, próxima estaba la farmacia y aprovechamos para comprar hipoclorito de sodio. En este tiempo se nos acercó dos supuestos inspectores, que sin identificarse, nos pidieron nuestros documentos. Negándome a dárselos por falta de identificación, solicitando la presencia de un policía; en poco tiempo se presento el oficial,que ya nos había maltratado en una ocasión anterior interviniendo un trabajador del gobierno provincial, sin mas trascendencia que movernos del lugar donde estábamos descansando. Este policía después de maltratarnos nos dirigió a la estación uniéndose en el camino un aproximado de 20 personas que expresaban disímiles cosas ante todo esto, se acercan mas oficiales que tras quitarnos los teléfonos móviles me amenazaron con golpearme sino dejaba de protestar por mis derechos ciudadanos. Al llegar a la estación, y dejar atrás una muchedumbre un oficial se me acerca y nos trata con mucha amabilidad, mandado por el jefe de unidad nos orienta que no estábamos detenidos, que solo era una investigación de rutina; nos devuelven los celulares y me dice que los inspectores me iban a imponer una multa de $300MN por estar en el boulevar, violando normas ciudadanas. Por parte de la policía, que esto no podía convertirse en un problema político, atemorizados por toda las personas que nos siguieron, saliendo libres sin problemas. Esa noche dormimos en un alquiler particular, donde la familia nos trató espectacular, super cariñosos y atentos, junto a todas las atenciones que tuvimos por parte del pueblo preocupado por nosotros, antes de encontrar esta renta.
Al otro día nos levantamos temprano, arreglamos todo para ir al próximo pueblo, llamado Gaspar que esta a 25km, pero antes visitamos la iglesia de San Eugenio, donde mucha gente se nos acercó para dejar sus ofrendas y cartas de peticiones a la Virgen de la Caridad que prometí depositar en el Cobre. Luego pasamos por la bici de Tanya que habíamos dejado en reparaciones, siendo llamados por el Gobierno de Ciego por la persona que atiende asuntos religiosos atendiéndome en su oficina. Con mucha amabilidad me pidió que le explicara de que iba mi peregrinación, la puse al tanto y le comunique de problemas que teníamos con nuestra cuenta bancaria, donde no pudimos sacar nuestro dinero. Ella muy atenta nos trató de ayudar; en ese caso no pudo, pero en el asunto de la virgen, después de contarle que era una promesa y demás, me orientó dirigirme al gobierno de los diferentes pueblos que llegáramos para evitarnos molestias con la policía,terminando en buenos términos y decididos a irnos nos intercepta a media cuadra del edificio del gobierno la policía y por no tener papeles que me autorizaran a pagar una promesa personal a la Virgen de la Caridad obviaron mis explicaciones y la supuesta autoridad del gobierno, me arrestaron y llevaron casi a empujones, a mi a la estación y a Tanya a inmigración. Al llegar a la estación un Mayor, maltratándome manda a que me ocupen todo lo que traía relacionado con la Virgen(la Virgen, la carretilla, el dinero que traía en la caja, dinero depositado por el pueblo avileño mas todo el dinero de las personas a través de toda la caminata, y las cartas de peticiones que venían dentro de la Virgen, todo esto sin explicación alguna) estando toda la tarde contando ese dinero peso por peso, peseta por peseta; al terminar me metieron en un calabozo de 10mts cuadrados sin justificación, con camas de piedra donde te daban un colchón de espuma a las 9pm, quitándotelo a las 8am mas o menos, mucho mal olor, ya que las letrinas estaban dentro de aquel pequeño calabozo con higiene pésima ; cantidad de mosquitos Aedes Aegypti junto a 3 presos uno de ellos portador del SIDA. El joven policía que nos cuidaba no sabia que hacer al no ser médico,que al no recibir orientación y tras nuestras quejas sacó al preso después de 1 hora, a otra celda al lado de la nuestra, con relativas mejores condiciones.El próximo día en la tarde, como un criminal, una oficial que no sabia de los cargos que me acusaban, me hace fotos y me abre un expediente criminal, devolviéndome a mi celda, que tras 4 o 5 horas mas, me vuelven a sacar para darme la libertad pero decomisándome la Virgen, la carretilla, el dinero depositado por las personas que era de $2577.75MN y $20.20CUC, mas todas las cartas depositadas por la gente; advirtiéndome que no podía continuar en mi promesa y para hacerlo debía pedirle permiso a la iglesia católica, diciéndome que el dinero iría al banco y lavirgen y todo lo demás seria quemado, autorizado por el obispo de Ciego de Avila, obispo que según el oficial que me atendió, se manifestó acerca de mi acto como diabólico e inmoral siendo una falta de respeto a la iglesia católica. Acto que desde su salida de la iglesia de la Caridad en La Habana el día 8 de setiembre, día de la santa, estuvo bendecido por el Padre que presidía la misa y siendo bienvenida por todo el pueblo en los lugares que llegábamos, tocando la mayoría de las iglesias de cada pueblo, incluso como un acto de sacrificio y devoción a la Patrona de Cuba que intercede por todos, siendo católicos o no, un acto donde el pueblo que es el mayor juez de tus acciones cuando se hace un mal uso de nuestra mayor representante divina, te esta apoyando incondicional mente.
Salí de ese lugar a las 5pm sin derecho a protestar por amenaza de desacato, llegando a la Habana tras mucho trabajo con el transporte alas 6am, teniendo todo el apoyo de mi familia y Tanya. Sintiéndome frustrado e impotente, medirigiré a las autoridades, tanto del Estado como religiosa para que me expliquen cual es mi violación y me ayuden a recuperar la Virgen y todo lo demás, para continuar con mi misión cuyo mayor dolor, es el compromiso que había hecho con todas las personas que depositaron su fe en esta caridad, en las miles de personas que nos habían ayudado através de todo este tiempo, personas que en acto de buena voluntad cooperaron en esta peregrinación, que sin toda esa ayuda no abríamos superado todas las dificultades que se presentaron en el camino: las malas noches,la soledad y millones de sentimientos negativos que se acercan en una empresa de este tipo, por toda esas personas y por el derecho a un dialogo libre con nuestros santos, pido apoyo para recuperar mi Virgen y continuar mi peregrinación.
la caridad, el pueblo, y la iglesia
my mother gave me a necklace with a stone on it that she said would protect me on my journey with la virgen de la caridad, and i feel like it works. wednesday, october 16th was a super rough day. the police put luis in jail and sent me back to havana. it all started tuesday.
we were in ciego de avila with our virgen de la caridad, about halfway through the walk. we´d completed about 500km of the journey and were set to begin our next 500km with the town of gaspar as our next destination. we went to deposit the money collected so far into our bank account, so we had the virgen on the town’s main ‘blvd’. unbeknownst to us we were unable to have her there, so while luis was inside of the bank a government official and cop came up to me and said i needed to move her from that specific location (not that we can’t have her on the blvd period). soon after they say this to me luis comes out of the bank and the cop starts shouting at him that he needs to go to the government to get approval to walk around the city with the virgen (which is not true). long story short (after some words) we move the virgen off of the blvd and i´m waiting for luis to finish in the bank. he comes out and we go to look for a room for the night. the hotel they tell us to ask at happens to be on the ´blvd´, so we take the virgen there again and ask at the hotel. there´s no space there, but there’s a pharmacy next door so we take the opportunity to buy sodium chloride drops for the water. luis goes in, i´m waiting outside with the virgen and my bike and a woman in plain clothes asks me who the bike belongs to. i say mine, and she asks for my identification. i start saying its luis’ cause i dont like to get involved in cuban matters and she asks for his id. he goes to get it and then some other guy in plain clothes comes up to us and asks luis for his id. luis is like who are you, and then that guy sends the woman to go get the cops. the cops come, one of the same ones from before, and all hell breaks loose. the cop is hell of aggressive with luis, so luis gets loud, and i get loud saying calm down here’s my passport, its my bike, luis doesnt need to be involved and so on, but it doesn´t matter. they take us to the station, immigration comes to ask me a bunch of questions about me being there without proper identification (i have a photocopy of my passport instead of the real thing cause, duh), the police are asking luis questions, and after 40 min or so they let us go. they say i can’t be in ciego de avila without a cuban carnet (id - which i left in havana cause it wasnt ready by the time we started the walk) and let luis go with a fine for disobedience or something. that night we find another place to rent a room, eat, sleep, everything is chill. then comes the next day.
my bike is getting fixed, and the repair shop happens to be right in front of the immigration office. we are chilling waiting for our clothes to be clean and my bike to be done getting fixed. the bike guys tell us 30 min so we order food next door. when we go back outside there is a government official there along with immigration to ask us more questions. we put our food in bags, don´t eat, and go to the governmental office to asnwer questions. they ask questions, we explain the situation, we talk normal, they tell us its all chill and that we won’t have problems when we go back outside as long as i go back to havana to pick up my cuban id cause i can’t be out and about without that (even though they had all of my information based on my passport number regardless of whether i had my carnet or not). so we say cool, and go to get the bike. i test my bike to see if everything is good and immigration comes, followed by the police. they tell luis he has to go with them and say nothing to me. then i try to go talk to the government officials that told us that everything would be chill and the cops chase me down. they make me go with them to the station and tell me i can’t leave, that theres a problem with immigration. i wait an hour and a half for them to tell me what i did, and nothing. then immigration comes and is like we didnt even know she was here she just needs to go get her carnet in havana, we dont know anything about the virgen thats up to you guys. so they let me go. i go talk to that government guy to try to help with luis and the sculpture, he says hes gonna help me, he makes a stop at immigration, then we go to the precinct. when we get there the cops are counting all of the money we´ve recieved for la virgen and are telling luis theyre going to decomission the sculpture and project and he won’t get the money. then immigration comes back for me and takes me back to the immigration office. i answer all kinds of personal and absurd questions about my affiliations - that without a lawyer they have no right to ask me - but i answer cause i know i´ll come out better on the other side than i would if i dont answer. they ask if i´m a dissedent, if i know about the blockade and what i think about it, if i´m trying to bring down the cuban government, why i´m with luis, what religion i profess, etc etc. they tell me which towns i was in the days before, obviously to let me know they have been keeping tabs on us. its about 5pm now, and they say theyre satisfied with my answers, treat me like a friend, give me kisses on the cheek, and say i´m done. i go back to the precinct and they´re still not done with luis. immigration officers come again and say i must leave ciego de avila immediately to get my id because i´m there illegally without it. ok. MIND YOU THEY KNOW ALL OF MY INFORMATION, where im staying in havana, what school im attending, when i got here when i leave, and they KNOW IM HERE LEGALLY AND WITH EVERYTHING IN ORDER. so they’re just trying to control me, and luis and the project so it can´t move forward. they escort me to the bus station and say i have to leave tonight.
thursday at 4am i got into havana. they didnt let luis out of jail until 4pm havana-eastern standard time the same day. they told him they were going to keep the money and burn the sculpture of the virgen, cause he´s not allowed to be doing what we´re doing. supposedly we´re not allowed to be walking with the virgen because it’s a cultural piece, and we can´t do that without government sanction. also i´m a foreigner, and they don’t want me involved in this because they think it might be some type of act against the government, or i might get hurt or something; i don’t even know, but i know they don’t want us to do it and in the last few days they found every way possible to shut it down. i don´t know what our next steps are - to walk without the virgen, to take a bus directly to santiago, to just abandon things the way they are, i don´t know, but for now we´re trying to make moves here in havana to get the virgen and the money back.
i held my mom´s rock around my neck tight on wednesday and thursday when everything was going on and prayed that they would let me come back to havana without a problem and that everything would be ok with luis, and here we are. so thanks to my mama for holding it down on the prayer tip and giving me stones that conjure energy of protection and clarity for her daughter.
i´m super frustrated, and tired. if walking cross country didnt make me tired enough, this put me over the edge. luis spent 6 hours in ciego de avila trying to find a way to get back to havana. they left him with no money, so he had to try to find a car that would bring him and let him pay once he got here. i feel rage and defeat against systems of control. i love this island, but this shit is fucking disturbing. don´t worry, i´m not gonna act up or anything, but this doesnt feel like an end. so when luis and i figure out an end together we´ll do that and try to close things out best we can. a very close friend of mine wrote this to me after reading my email about what happened, and i think it sums up my feelings politically very well:
¨The paranoia of the government is deep, historical, ill-suited, and perhaps to some extent understandable or very loosely explained by the struggle to survive in the midst of so much antagonism [from the United States], but as we have all seen through history, it is a shame when the beacons of hope and the communities struggling for freedom manifest the measures and tactics they once struggled against.¨
it saddens me to think that this project is over. first of all we didn´t reach the end we had set out to reach and that´s frustrating. add to that the frustration of being forced to abandon a harmless personal and artistic project because of political fears, and that frustration turns to anger. but that anger turns to defeat and shame when i think about all of the people we met along the way that touched us and were in turn so touched by our gesture. folks that looked at us in awe and disbelief when we told them we´d walked from havana to the town they resided in. the people that said they got goosebumps while standing in front of the sculpture of the virgen, or got down on their knees and prayed to her for all of the things they needed in their lives. i feel shame that i won’t be able to deliver all of the cards that people wrote to la caridad and deposited in the sculpture that we promised we would leave in el cobre at la caridad´s sanctuary. and i feel a heavy loss for all of the people we will not be able to meet and talk to and grow so tremendously from. i’m not saying it’s over, cause it’s not, but this is definitely the close of a chapter.
estamos en ciego de avila. lo mas interesante de lo que va la obra, mas alla de los contratiempos que hemos tenidos – tanto con el estado, la iglesia, o el tiempo – es la respuesta de la gente. la esencia conceptual de la obra ha mutado hacia nuevas percepcion de donde parte la idea y las primeras intenciones conceptuales. mi mayor temor en un principio era el apoya de las personas, y que nos fueran hacer daño, pero la respuesta por parte de la gente ha sido espectacular. gracias a eso estamos en este lugar.
we’re in sancti spiritus, about 387 km outside of havana. i got a bike finally, and its helping so much. my feet are chill, although i have two huge blisters that wont turn into calluses and still hurt like hell, but those started from the beginning of the walk. my knees are hurting and so are my muscles but duh we are doing like 30km daily. everything is good, we’re making it through. the living conditions have been crazy most of the time - sleeping on floors with all kinds of bugs scattering around us (luis scooped a turantula off of us the other night but i didnt wake up thank god!!!!!!) or in nasty hostels/old hotels where i dont wanna touch anything. but we sleep, and we get enough rest to continue walking the next day. the food has been terrible - ive been eating pork cause theres rarely anything besides pizza or ham sandwiches in most places - but i’m surviving.
its pretty wonderful to meet all the people we’ve had the pleasure to come across along the way. for some reason we attract all the crazies and all the drunks, hahaha - i tell luis its all his fault. i wanna quit every day because i’m tired, and i hurt, and i like nice things, and i love comfort, and good food, and rest, but the people keep me going. they tell us to keep going, that we’ll make it, and they\re hard workers. they give us cold water and fruit, and food, and sometimes a place to sleep. they stand in front of the virgen de la caridad and pray to her, write their ”peticiones” to her which we deposit inside of the sculpture to carry with us along the way, tell us they have goosebumps and that they believe in us and what we’re doing. i swear all the gangsters and drunks and crazies of the towns are immediately drawn to us and the sculpture, and they have been the most giving, helpful and protective people we’ve come in contact with. also, the poorest cubans have opened up their homes to us, and given us the little food they have to offer, which is crazy to me cause they have the least to give. it really is beautiful how giving everyone has been. on top of that, cuba’s countryside is absolutely stunning. grasshoppers at dusk that sound like bottle chimes swaying in the wind, sunsets and sunrises over luscious blankets of green, clouds you want to eat, and so much more. its beautiful and tranquil to be on a mission through cuban country roads, even with the sun trecherously beating down on us.
we have about 600/700km more to go, we’re a third of the way there. keep thinking of us, praying for us, wishing us luck - it’s helped wonders so far.
it has been a rollercoaster. great moments, super hard moments, disgusting moments, but mostly a lot of wonderful people who have made this journey inspiring and tremendously infomring of the human character. its been hard to get internet, and time to write, but i will try to write soon.
we’re getting off to a late start. the complications started upon my landing in havana. i arrived on monday, september 2nd at 12:25pm. i got off of the plane, after 12 hours of travel, and stood in the customs line. i walked to the kiosk, gave the customs agent my passport, she looked me up, and quickly asked me to wait on the side, saying that someone would attend to me shortly. i could see in the reflection of the glass behind her a red circle flashing right below my photo.
a man walked up to me in plain clothes, customary of many cuban security officers, and proceeded to ask me a series of very personal questions. my name and date of birth to start, where i live, what i was doing in cuba, why this was my third time visiting in two years for such extended periods of time, where i work, what my work consists of, and then the clencher…do i plan to walk across the country in a peregrination. this, which of course i said no to, seriously took me aback. i mean, its not like i kept things private about the walk across cuba, but the fact that state security would know about it definitely surprised me. i guess when you’re cuba you have to know everything that goes on ‘under your roof,’ so to speak. but that they knew about our piece, and that it was a matter of national security was shocking. then again i am american, and a citizen of the enemy state, and maybe i wouldn’t trust me either if i were them, who can say.
i spent two hours with security officials answering questions, many which were repeat questions, that i assume were asked by different officers to make sure that i was telling the truth. my bags were searched very thoroughly. i brought some ink for a printer for a friend and they opened each bottle to make sure i wasn’t hiding anything in the bottles. they catalogued every piece of electronic equipment i had and also went through all of my clothes. they happened upon an 8” chef’s knife that I brought for Samuel, and i quickly said it was a gift for a friend that likes to cook. finally after walking out of customs my friends were waiting for me beyond the glass doors.
fast-forward to wednesday.
we’re sitting planning our press conference for thursday 9/5 at 2pm, it’s wednesday the 4th. luis manuel gets a call from the president of the cuban association of artists and artisans (the ACAA), which has supported the project thus far, requesting an immediate meeting with him. luis obliges and meets the organization’s president in his home office. luis is told that our next day press conference is cancelled because the organization can’t stand behind the project anymore. i, an american, cannot be involved in such a project without much more paperwork done to notify every province of our arrival, to construct some special route that doesn’t involve cars since there’s the off chance that a car might hit us along the route, and to make sure that every police department country-wide is on alert to ‘help’ us out along the way. they tell luis that with the ACAA’s full support we might be able to do the project sometime next year.
first off, i’m sure only the pope himself could organize such a country-wide organized effort, and we are not he. so if we wait until next year we would surely never get this type of clearance - we’re just not that important - and the project would have been stalled for nothing. so the press conference is cancelled, and supposedly it would be best if we didn’t do the project anymore. luis and i, along with a few of our friends, discussed what to do. we didn’t know whether to leave on the 8th, even though they were urging us not to, or cancel the project. later that afternoon luis got a call. the president of the ACAA wanted to have another meeting with him, along with other members of the org, on the 10th.
fast-forward to yesterday.
the meeting is scheduled for 1pm. they asked luis to meet with them, but as it’s our joint project, and i am the crux of the problem, i go as well. there are about 6 people in the office, 8 with luis and i, and the air is very informal. the president starts off by saying how great he thinks the project is and that with time and coordination it could really be successful. he isn’t saying we can’t do the project, but is rather strongly urging us not to. then he mentions an article that was written on a ‘dissident’ cuban news site, and how it startled him because it was written about our project, which they are supporting. he then proceeds to ask me if i had written the article, which i scoff at and say no to, because of course i didn’t and had never even heard of that news site before. all of the members talk about how great the project is, but about the various problems with trying to do it without country-wide institutional support. and then luis asks for a moment to speak.
he says he hears what they’re all saying, but that this project has taken months to organize. he says that i’m here for a limited amount of time, that there are plans to exhibit the piece at several art institutions, that we’ve made a general informal contract with the people who are following the story and supporting us as artists, and that we cannot, and will not delay or cancel the project. he assures them that we are not dissidents trying to cause problems in cuba or disturb the current political regime, and that we are merely artists carrying out our artistic ideas. luis says that he, as a cuban citizen, will be responsible for himself as well as me, and that they needn’t worry about the project, that everything will turn out fine.
after listening to him, and of course i threw a few words in there as well, the president says well if you’re driven to do it go for it, we just can’t offer you our support anymore. we both say fine, thank you, and leave on good terms.
so we leave tomorrow, 4 days after we intended to. but with this type of project there will be many twists and turns that we can’t predict that we will just have to deal with as they come. whether the hardships come from the people, our feet, or the winding roads, we’re flexibile and agile enough to deal with whatever comes our way. we no longer have the backing of the cuban art institutions/government, but i think this might be good in simplifying the decision making process.
here goes nothing…
our walking plan (about 12 miles a day):
Day 1. San Miguel | 2. Cotorro | 3. San Jose de las Lájas | 4. Catalina de Güines | 5. Madruga | 6. Ceiba Mocha | 7. Matanzas | 8. Day of rest in Matanzas | Day 9. Guanábana | 10. Limonar | 11. Coliseo | 12. Jovellanos | 13. Perico | 14. Colón | 15. Day of rest in Colón | Los Arabos | San Pedro Mayabon | Mordazo | Manacas | Veintiseis de Julio | Esperanza | Santa Clara | Day of rest in Santa Clara | Day of Rest in Santa Clara | Falcón | Placetas | Perotte | Cabaiguán | Sancti Espiritus | Day of rest in Sancti Espiritus | Sergio Gonzáles | Jatiboniko | Majagua | Jicotea | Ciego de Avila | Day of rest in Ciego de Avila | Colorado | Crucero de Caspar | Rabelo | Crucero Piedrecitas | Florida | Try to find truck to take us from Florida to Camagüey (40 km with no towns in between) | Day of rest in Camagüey | Day of rest in Camagüey | Vidot |Siboney | Sibanicú | Martí | Guáinaro | Bartle | Las Tunas | Day of rest in Las Tunas | Ojo de Agua | Vado del Yeso | Cauto Embarcadero | Las Mangas | Bayamo | Day of rest in Bayamo | Santa Rita | Baire | Contraemastre | Aguacate | Palma Soriano | La Palma | El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba (home of the sanctuary for La Virgen de La Caridad del Cobre)
In exactly a month I will begin walking 600 miles across Cuba with Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara in a performance art piece titled, ‘With Everyone and for the Good of Some.’ We will begin in Havana on September 8th and travel by foot to Santiago de Cuba with a 7 foot tall sculpture of the Patron Saint of Cuba, ‘La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre’ that Luis is making. We’ll stop in towns and cities along the way and I will photo and video document our journey. (Video about the project)
I’m nervous. I’ve never walked 600 miles straight, even if its over a few months. I’ve never walked across Cuba, let alone across Los Angeles or some other place I actually know. I’m nervous, but I’m excited. I feel like this is an amazing adventure that I wont get the opportunity to repeat. I mean, who gets to see all of Cuba by foot? Who gets to document the interactions between the most venerated Saint of Cuba - who is seen as the warrior virgin responsible for all of Cuba’s strength, resolve and good fortune - and the people of the small island that fights for its survival every day? I think the journey will be difficult, but more rewarding than anything else.
This piece speaks to me in so many ways. The fact that its out in the world and not in a white box; that it interacts with real people and not only the art elite; and that it functions beyond the aesthetic is all super important to me. I hope our ideas translate to the world outside of our heads and that it resonates with the people of Cuba.
If folks know people that might be interested in writing about the project on their blog/site, or in their magazine/paper/ whatever, please pass my information on to them. We don’t want this to happen in a vacuum, we’ve spent a lot of time on it. And if you feel inclined to donate towards the project, or know someone that would be interested in donating, you can do so here.
I’ll be blogging and posting photos as much as I can on the road. Wish me luck! And send out positive energy so that we have the safest, easiest journey possible.
san lazaro / babalu aye. the 18 mile trek.
i walked 30 kilometers yesterday. i woke up at 2am, after sleeping 3hours, and walked 30 kilometers. i don’t know what that translates to in miles, as i think ignorance is necessary for my sanity in this instance, but i know its a lot. too much in fact. as though i forgot that that’s probably like walking from the valley to l.a. far.
my legs are a wreck. my quads want to run away from my femurs; my hamstrings want to separate into playable parts; my feet wanna slap each other in the mouth for complaining so much; my shin muscles want to collapse to the floor and sit cross-legged in pouty protest; my toes want to cry wah wah wah all the way home. you know when you’ve been standing all day and your feet and legs do that intense achey thing where you can’t move around but you cant sit still either? well imagine that times 1,000. my butt doesn’t even wanna look at me right now its so pissed off. but it was totally worth it. it was worth it to be a part of the yearly pilgrimage that an estimated 5,000 cubans make to the city of santiago de las vegas to honor and pray to the patron saint san lazaro (catholicism) / babalu aye (santeria). it was worth it to practice meditating through the pain of walking so far. worth it to cry at times from witnessing the expressions of pain and fatigue on the faces of those crawling and dragging themselves along the hot concrete; to wonder what promises people had made in exchange for the miracles san lazaro had completed for them. it was a super intense day, but amazing.
for the last two months i’ve been walking the streets of havana, photo and video documenting my friend luis manuel’s san lazaro project. maybe you could say it was my training leading up to the 30K. i’m pretty sure i could draw a map of havana with my eyes closed right about now as much as i’ve walked around this city. i’ve walked through main streets and back streets, alleys and passage ways, and i’m feeling like i know havana pretty well. luis manuel, the same friend of the renegade mickey mouse sculptures of last time, has been doing a project dealing with santeria and faith. he’s built a 7 foot tall sculpture of a black san lazaro, which in yoruba is also known as babalu aye.
san lazaro/babalu aye is the saint/orisha that represents the downtrodden and sick. he is a saint of miracles, more so than the others, and in cuba people look to him for support when their needs are most dire. in san lazaro the people reflect their own daily struggles and ask for financial solvency, improved health and good fortune. in their darkest hours people promise things to san lazaro in the hopes that he may be more apt to complete whichever miracle they may need from him. they promise things such as making the pilgrimage barefoot, crawling the 3km from the the entrance of the city to the rincon, or dragging themselves along the ground from their home to the church as recompense for their blessings. all of these forms of payment we saw when we were there. during the last two weeks of december people sit on busy corners or walk through neighborhoods collecting money to donate to the rincon (the rincon is the church dedicated specifically to san lazaro, and the populace donates and prays for blessings with their monetary sacrifice). on the 17th of december hoards of people make their way to the rincon to pay homage to san lazaro/babalu aye and to give back to him in sacrifice whatever miracle he gave to them.
the state estimates that about 5,000 people make this pilgrimage yearly, but it felt more like 10,000 to me. hundreds of thousands of people dressed in purple and straw sacks (the colors/materials of san lazaro) walked to and from the church. there were about 10 of us that left out of el cerro yesterday at around 3:30am. a group of documentary film students from the university of havana chose to use luis manuel as their protagonist in a documentary they’re doing on spirituality in cuba; their crew made up the bulk of the group. outside of those six were luis and his friend, and me and my spanish friend olalla. it took us about 7 and a half hours to walk from havana to el rincon, having us arrive there around 11am. we took small breaks to rest and to eat snacks in between, but in total we didn’t rest more than an hour. like i mentioned before there were people paying back their promises in all kinds of way. people literally sat or lied on the hot ground and dragged themselves to the church. others crawled on hands and bare knees and feet, arriving at the church bloody, tired, and shaking. there were people in wheelchairs, on crutches, with apparent sicknesses and hidden ones as well. and there were also people who go for the special day, to pray for their things when the season is ripest. luis’ san lazaro was very well received.
luis’ objective in this project was to highlight the culture of spirituality around san lazaro amongst the people. he wanted to nourish their faith through this huge impressionable object. luis wanted it to disappear as a fine art object and to function solely as a religious one. he assumed, which was true, that people would believe that san lazaro granted him a tremendous miracle, and that he was walking around for 2 months with a 7 foot tall san lazaro sculpture collecting money to pay the saint back. however, luis doesn’t practice santeria nor is he catholic, so the piece doesn’t function for him in the way it functions in the mind of the people. it is a work of art, a sculpture that he made out of paper, paint, clay and wood. the fact that he is an artist and not a believer turns the action into a performance, placing it in an artistic context rather than, or perhaps
in addition to a religious one. the fact that he made san lazaro black, when he is usually represented as being white, also creates a dialogue around race. this was probably the second most commented on aspect of the piece outside of its size. lastly, luis plans to use the money collected to help repair a home for children with mental health challenges rather than donating that money to the church. this also complicates the work of art further and removes it from traditional religious behavior.
people responded to his sculpture in all kinds of ways. they showed awe at how well it was made or how big it was. babies cried and tried to run away from it while others kneeled down and prayed in front of it. some where appalled by the fact that it was a black san lazaro and others applauded its negritude. but no one ever questioned who the sculpture represented, and many placed money in the basket and prayed for themselves and their loved ones.
taking a hot shower and being home in my bed and sleeping helped me dissolve away all the hard parts of the walk. now all that’s left is to go through the 600 photos and videos i took (literally 600). it was definitely a new and interesting experience for me, that will indelibly alter my view of cuban spirituality. wish you all could have been a part of it.
(journal e-mail sent to friends and family on 12/18/2012)
more cuban artists
cuban performance artists
christmas in havana is not like the christmas i'm used to at all. the
typical u.s. behavior that i'm so accustomed to is absent. there are
some lights along busy streets, there are christmas trees (although
much smaller and much fewer), the 'feliz navidad' signage and the
santa hats are here, but the heavy consumerism is completely absent.
no one is running around looking to buy toys, or clothes or diamonds
or whatever else we buy. the kids don't expect to wake up at 6am to
open tons of presents that they'll probably grow tired of come
february. there aren't lots on every corner full of hundreds of trees.
the markets don't have christmas specific chai lattes, or red frosted
cinnamon buns, nor do they advertise christmas specific sales or
discounts. the lines and traffic around the stores is the same, and
although school is out for the winter, things are business as usual.
add to this that its about 85 degrees every day, and you have a
twilight zone christmas.
i don't miss any of the christmas crazyness. what i do miss, though,
is the tradition and spirit of christmas that my fam creates. our
family does it big for christmas. we always have a party full of
delicious stuff to eat, unless we go to another big party. we (mostly
my mom and sister) make candy's/sweets to give as gifts to friends and
family. we decorate the tree with ornaments that my grandma and aunts
have made since we were born. my mom sits down at the piano and we
even sing carols! we're that kind of family, lol.
but since i'm here, and not there, i've replaced christmas carols with
reggaeton; my christmas tree is a little green shrek looking money
bank that i bought for $1, put on the table and surrounded with
christmas lights; i'm throwing my own party; and my cuban fam will
stand in for my fam fam. even though i will miss my family terribly,
and miss my kids (nep waking me up at 6am to open presents, i'm super happy
to be here. my first christmas ever away from home and i'm glad its in
cuba. with the warm weather and the warmth of the people i wont want
happy holidays everyone.