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)