Day 2 - June 27, 2016
This trip we encountered lots of trouble with the internet (witness the date of this post). Our usual strategy—a hook up via a laptop entrepreneur offering Connectify at our local park, or an internet card near the government routers on La Rampa—failed. So here we are back in the U.S. posting about June 27th. Our friend, Ilmar Gavilán, featured in THE BROTHERS, explained that the unpredictability of life in Cuba accounts for their musicians' excellent improvisational skills. Life itself is an improvisation. We're trying to perfect ours.
In the morning we met with Angela Salazar, a friend’s sister who works for Witness For Peace, documenting human rights issues throughout Latin America. She spoke of the trade-offs of the economic shift here, more incremental than a sea change, which offers more opportunity to some but trouble for many. Those who can become cuentapropistas, self employed, have the possibility to earn more, and those who can generate tourist dollars jump to a higher level of privilege and access. But rising prices have a negative effect on those closer to the bottom. There are a record number of tourists this year, and many on the island will experience both the positive (more money) and the negative (more inequality, the selling of the culture).
Connor Gorry, one of the few U.S. citizens who lives here and has a business (the excellent cafe/free library/community center, Cuba Libro), tells us that some of her artist friends are shading their work in the direction of tourists’ preferences. A music repertoire or a painting that appeals to travelers will bring in more cash. Whether this will have a long-term effect on the art here, or simply be a subsidy for creative work remains to be seen.
Joy is still the order of the day here. We had an excellent visit with some of our past collaborators, spending Father’s Day dinner with our driver Javier’s family, followed by a visit to the classic outdoor dance spot, the 1830, where we shook it up a bit with El Oso and his partner Orgjuidia, featured in our recent short film, LA RUEDA DE LA VIDA/THE WHEEL OF LIFE.
An evening at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano is always energetic and fascinating. Many of the paintings are excellent and the current show includes several of our favorite Cuban artists, Zaida del Rio, Mabel Poblet, and the photographers Ludmila & Nelson. We also saw an alt music band from the Dominican Republic. While visiting with friends Inti Herrera, a filmmaker who is responsible for the Fábrica’s audiovisual everything, and David and Ernesto Blanco, popular rock musicians, Jon Bon Jovi strolled in. Cuba has become the place where celebrities want to be seen and photographed. This concerns us—while people we spoke to felt happy that Cuba could host The Rolling Stones, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Major Laser earlier this year, they grimaced when we asked about the Kardashians, or the filming of Fast and Furious 8 and The Transformers. They were impressed by the scope of the production but not the quality of the acting (ditto here). The director of The Transformers had never been here before, spent less than 24 hours on the island, did not connect with locals, and offered nothing but a wad of money to the country.
On the positive side, and there is always much to be positive about when here, we are planning our first shoot with Aldo López-Gavilán, one of our favorite pianists anywhere. Aldo’s father Guido is one of the best conductors you’ve never heard of; his wife Daiana is also a conductor, and this week he is coaching his star student Rodrigo Ameneiro in a competition, composing a score for a new piece by a modern dance choreographer, preparing for a trip abroad, and allowing us to film two days with him and his family. Oh, and ten days ago he played Rachmaninoff's 3rd Concerto to a full house. It is 45 minutes of tickling, slapping and pounding the keys without stopping—one of the most technically challenging compositions in the Western canon, with complicated fingering, tempo changes, chord progressions, and dynamics. We learned later that despite Aldo's virtuosity, the piano was slightly out of tune, a challenge in this resource-strapped country. Thanks to the help of our awesome Cuban Line Producer, Claudia Maria Bueno, we have footage of the event, as she gathered our crew and filmed the performance in the Jose Marti Theater in Old Havana.
Our camera rolls tomorrow. Adelante!