DECEMBER 18TH, 2012

 

i walked 30 kilometers yesterday. i woke up at 2am, after sleeping 3
hours, 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.

love you.

t