Live from Havana - Day 7

Havana Day 7

After my morning rite of logging in to the nearby wi-fi hotspot, I meet San Francisco pals Debby, Boaz, Tal and Idan Arzt-Mor, just in for a few weeks of vacation. Trying not to act like a grizzled veteran (I’m not, actually, I still love this place, just a little less agape), we strolled until we found a local restaurant, consisting of a counter, a few tiny tables, and the odd chair. A fish and rice plate later, and I was off again to Roberto Salas’ house where I wanted to share a creative idea with him, one that came to me on the previous day’s shoot, involving GIF files, new to a 75-year old photographer schooled in the darkroom. He took to it well, and we decided we would connect again. He explained his creative process. He’ll have an idea that germinates, gestates, iterates, and eventually flies away or becomes solid enough to warrant a photograph, or a series. “Send me a script,” he said, when I asked if he wanted to be profiled for our series. I gently reminded him that our documentaries are not shot to script, and he laughed. It’s always fun to talk to him, as he has stories, and more stories.

Spent an excellent afternoon with Kadir Lopez, a mixed-media artist with a very cool studio in the Kohly district. He did a large format (3 or four feet square) piece called Havana Monopoly: Deluxe Edition, a monopoly board where the spaces are occupied by old hotels, mafia men, and bond certificates of the companies that used to run the island. He has also taken old metal signs from the companies (large Coca-Cola, Texaco, Esso, etc), in various stages of elegant decay, and printed, painted, and lacquered collages of similar iconography. Powerful stuff. Apparently Will Smith and Jada Pinkett strolled in on their way from the airport and were so taken by the place that they asked if Kadir had an extra room. Being Cuban, he said yes, and they stayed for three days, while their luggage waited at their hotel.

Kadir is the subject of one our films, and his current project centers on repairing the marquee lights of theaters throughout the city. He calls it, bringing light to the dark. He is a neon artist, among other things, and he fired up the flames to give me a little demo. We shot a small bit of material and said farewell, sure that our paths would cross again soon.

My last jazz show (or so I thought) was at the National Theater—a fabulous performance by the Gastón Joya Trio: Gastón on bass, Rodney Barreto on drums (I sat with Rodney’s mom, whom I met last year) and Rolando Luna ticklin’ the keys. After lingering a bit to talk, I was about to head home to pack my things when I was seduced into one last trip to the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans was ending their three weeks here. I ended up hanging out with Danny Scher of the Bill Graham Foundation, who had been to Cuba many times but not to the Fábrica. I gave him my version of the tour and we saw a very fun performance by Preservation Hall, whom I had last seen in New Orleans around 1988. It was quite crowded and sweaty, and I was reminded of some of Kerouac’s descriptions of jazz and blues clubs in On the Road.

When I say a week is not enough, I’m not referring to the things I wish I had seen or done. I am referring to my hunger to be culturally embedded here. Visiting artists in their studios, visiting people in their homes for conversation, food and drink—this is the stuff of Cuba. This was my seventh trip, and every day I bump into someone I know on the street—one of the techs from last spring’s tour of Havana Curveball, a cinematographer, someone involved in the arts or music, someone I met at the Fábrica. My next trip must be longer. When I return in March, I need a full month, to experience life at the Cuban rhythm, continue what feels like a long and not easy process to retrain my ear to better understand the Cuban version of Spanish (not the same language I spoke as a student in Spain the 80s), and, of course, to make our films at a leisurely pace.

Hasta luego,