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

NOVEMBER 16TH, 2012

i moved to a new apartment and i'm so happy i did. when i first got
here i was staying in a little apartment in vedado that was attached
to the home of two doctors with a 5 year old child and a dog (vedado
is where i stayed during my first trip too). it had a private
entrance, its own little private kitchen and bathroom, came furnished
and "decorated", someone cleaned my place every few days, and it was
all pretty sweet; but i had to get out.

vedado is kind of like…silverlake. before the revolution it was an
upper middle class neighborhood with palatial homes, gyms, private
clubs, shops, beautiful parks, galleries, music & performance spaces,
movie theaters and nice restaurants. now vedado is the same, but in a
socialist context. the homes were divided into apartments, or
dedicated to cultural and social centers, the restaurants are now
either state run or small paladars inside of private homes, and
everything else is pretty much the same. theres a mix of professional
and creative types, and basically all of havana's night life happens
in vedado. the clubs are here, half of the galleries, the theaters and
music centers, the university, and so much more. outside of miramar,
vedado houses the most embassies in havana, so there is also a lot
more police and access to resources you can't find in other parts of
the city. its very residential and quiet off of the main
thoroughfares, and most foreigners shack up in vedado to be in the
middle of it all. i moved from vedado to a more independent apartment
in centro habana.

moving from vedado to centro habana is like moving from the valley to
l.a. amplify the noise, people, cars, smog, and dogs of vedado about
10 times, get rid of most of the foreigners and you're in centro
habana. i love it. i'm in the middle of the city, close to everything,
surrounded by cubans on their grind, and my apartment is the best. i'm
on the second floor of a 4 story apartment building called 'edificio
california' (totally didn't notice this when i first moved in but i
guess it was fate). although my building is called california, its
more new york city in its design; most of my windows open up to the
interior of the building and the other ones open up to the building
behind me. although the sun only finds me for about a half hour
through a crack between two buildings in the late afternoon, i always
have indirect light. when i lay on my bed and look through the window
above me i get to see my personal square of sky, which makes me
happiest on its blue days. the only drawback to my place is that i
don't have hot water so i have to boil water and take bucket baths
(d'lo!) its not so bad though, and i actually think bucket baths are a
genius third world way to conserve water. i'm bucket bathing it up
when i get back to l.a. best believe. but for real my apartamentico es
lo maximo. its completely independent, not attached to any home or
family, no one has a key to enter but me (and the landlord of course),
and i get to decorate it all on my own. living independently has its
consequences though.

everywhere in havana, unless you're staying in a hotel, there are
moments (and sometimes hours) when the light and/or the water go. this
happens frequently, and without notice. in centro habana, this sort of
thing happens with more frequency than it does in vedado and you just have to deal with it.
theres a solution for this, however. in order to deal with the loss of
water most apartments have tanks in them. you fill these tanks when
the water comes in so that you have water when the pipes go dry again.
this delicate balance has been a very interesting learning experience
for me. i've not had water, on several occasions, because i've
forgotten to open the tank valve and let the water in. or a couple of
times i've left the building valve open at the same time as the tank
valve, and all of my water has gone to other apartments in the
building. but the best of the best experiences that i've had with the
tanks has yet to be discussed. here it goes…

before i start let me preface this with an image of my valve system.
there are three valves - seems simple enough, right? one valve to
control the water from the street, one to control the tanks in the
kitchen, and one to control the tanks in the bathroom. like i said
before, in order to get water i have to open the valve that controls
the water from the street, but i also have to make sure that the
independent tank valves are shut as well. when you've never had to
control water in this way, though, these valves turn from 3 into 15 in
your head.  you twist the nobs and listen for the water to figure out
what water is entering and leaving where, but you don't really know
what controls what. usually i don't leave the outside valve open to
fill the tanks when i'm not home, for fear, and recognition, that i
don't know what the hell i'm doing. but one desperate day, when i
forgot to fill the tanks and was without water i decided to leave the
outside valve open so the tanks would fill while i was away.
unfortunately though, i also left the bathroom valve open, and with
that ill fated move the tanks didn't know when to stop filling.

when i got home, at midnight, i came home to towels in front of my
door. my heart started racing, and my mind darted to the dammed tanks
that are my daily torture as i frantically tried to undo the 17 locks
on my door. my neighbor immediately opened her door, as if she had
been waiting for me to return all night, and told me to call my
landlord. apparently, according to the landlord, the tank valve that i
left open in the bathroom prevented the tank from knowing when to stop
filling and it overflowed, overflowed, overflowed. water just kept
pouring over the edge, so much so that it flooded the bedroom and
living room, and started leaking out into the hallway and down the
stairs. my toilet paper was soaked through, my pads were spongey, my
detergent became a weird multicolored soup, and everything else was
sitting in about an inch and a half of water. luckily my neighbor
noticed the water seeping out from under my door and called the
landlord to shut everything down, or who knows what disaster might
have occurred.

after i talked to my landlord i mopped up all the water, with towels,
bucket by bucket, until my apartment was dry and impeccably clean.
luckily the cubans are prepared for this type of experience because
everything is covered in tile. the floors are tile, the moulding is
tile and the walls are tile, so no major damage was done. also, i was
lucky enough not to leave my laptop on the floor next to my bed like
usual, so that was fine too. in the end i laughed about it, but
believe me i now know how to use my tank/valve system with sharp
accuracy.

you can imagine the panic i felt a week later when i walked into the
building and was greeted by the smell of something burning. i ran to
my apartment, but luckily it was someone else that messed up this time
and not me. oi.

love you all!!

OCTOBER 11TH, 2012

its different this time. i knew it would be, but i'm never really
prepared for change. i'm trying to find my bearings, anchor my feet to
the ground. all of the immediate newness of this city is gone and its
truths are starting to find their way from my subconscious into my
conscious mind. the sweet freshness of spring, the chaos of summer,
and the constant stream of biennial events has been supplanted by a
quieter and less densely packed cuba with a population preparing their
abodes for the approaching winter months. the winds have been stunning,
causing the waves to assault the malecon with huge sprays of water.
its colder, and there's a charge in the air. reminds me of october in
the valley, with the santa annas sweeping through every corner.
october is my favorite month, and it hasn't let me down in havana.


i feel great, happy to be here, excited to experience cuba from a
different perspective, to conquer my fears once more. i have friends
here, i know my way around the city, i know what to expect of the
food. but knowing doesn't relieve the feeling of longing for home, for
the people you've spent years with, or the spaces that are etched so
deeply into your subconscious that their value is attached to their
respective memories. its as though i've lost a limb, and the only way
to be whole again is to grow it back. a painstakingly slow and
involved process, that in the end leaves you profoundly wiser and
stronger. as you can tell, longing and melancholy is present, but i'm
stubborn, so its what to be expected.

there was a hiccup with my classes because the system wouldn't process
my card; but three weeks later, with constant and varied attempts to
pay, it has finally worked. such is the way of cuba, and patience and
persistence are key. so in my fourth week i've started my engraving
classes, which are beginning with lithography. i've been reading up on
the lithographic process and its very very strange - like magic. some
combination of stone and grease from lithographic crayons combine with
chemicals to create a tacky surface that when washed with a barrier of
water first and then cover with lithographic printing ink becomes a
matrix for a graphic print. a supremely complex process which i don't
fully understand yet, but i will by the time i'm done.

i've been running around the city, going to all the shows i hear
about, partying on my off days. i went to a halloween party in baracoa
(west of havana) this weekend that was a surprisingly successful
combination of a bunch of u.s. med students studying in havana and
cubans. it was very very fun. myself, samuel (my frof), my friends
luis and anabel and anabel's friend eduardo pre-partied it up on
the beach with some rum and coke, so we were loose and ready to act a
fool when the party started at 11. i was dressed as a diva devil, of
course, and danced to a combination of hip hop, pop and cuban
reggeaton that night. things are moving slower this time around, but
that is undoubtedly related to the fact that i have 5 months here
instead of 2.

send me your halloween pictures please, i'm gonna miss all the
goodness that goes down. miss you all.

t

p.s. thank you again to all of you who helped me get here through
purchases and donations. i feel supremely grateful and humbled by your
generosity and love.

APRIL 21ST, 2012

it's raining this morning, for the first time since i've been here. i

woke up around 8am to lighting, thunder and pouring rain (ace you would

have loved it ;-) and i was like, NOW im in cuba. it just didn't

feel all the way like the caribbean without the rain. i've ben waiting

for this, hoping it would rain, asking for it to rain, and it finally

has. the downpour of water, the impressive gusts of wind, the thunder,

they have quieted everything this morning - even if only for a second.

 

the usual ruckus that happens on the street is absent right now. cuba

is SO loud, ALL the time. and i'm on a residential street though, not

a main thoroughfare, so really theres no excuse. i can basically watch

the world from my window, cause theres so much going on all the time.

i swear, the other night around 2am in my sleepy haziness, it sounded

like they were trimming a tree right next to my bed. the city has a

soundtrack 24 hours a day 7 days a week - no sunday rest day for these

cubanos. you hear people talking to each other as they walk down the

street; or more commonly, someone on the street talking to someone up

on their balcony or porch - which is a loud ass conversation; or

someone on the street calling up to someone in one of the apartments

for them to come down or open the door; you hear cars, taxis and small

buses passing by, often honking - multiple times - which is followed

by an 'aha!' or 'voy!'; you hear women and men who sell

all kinds of things from ice cream and pastries to brooms yelling out

'helados helados, tengo helados' or similar phrasing for their

specific item for sale. if, none of that is happening, which is very

seldom, you hear the birds chirping, hooting, or there is one that

even makes kissing noises. that 'kissing' bird must be the national

bird of cuba, cause thats how people get each others attention here.

i'm not talking about men cat calling women, i'm talking about you're

walking down the street and you see someone you know, you kiss at them

to get their attention; you're downstairs and you left your key

upstairs, you kiss up at the open window and someone will buzz you in.

i swear cubans must have super sonic hearing, or they must be tuned

into some kind of cuban frequency, cause outside of the loud ass

things that happen, the rest are too quiet for me to hear. such as the

kissing up to the window, or when the 'machina' (cab) driver asks me

what street i'm getting out at for the second time. i have to ask,

'que' for a 3rd time, because he's talking so low. in those moments

i'm like, 'yo, i know you be screamin up to windows having

conversations, so can you please speak up.' i'm in a country full of

loud ass people, and i feel like i have arrived. :-)

 

its really coming down right now, it's beautiful. and it smells so

clean. treesy asked what it smells like in cuba, and honestly, it

smells like diesel exhaust. in the moments when you get a break from

that it smells like hot bread and pastries. i'm glad it's saturday

today, because i would have skipped class if it weren't.