I left the theater crying after “Sweat.” It wasn’t just the tragedy of the story. It was Lynn Nottage’s writing — at once brilliant, on-point, multi-layered, and funny. Her words moved me to tears. The story takes place in a factory town during what Nottage calls “America’s de-industrialization.” When the characters are shut out of their plant, they lose their jobs. We watch as their lives and relationships change and collapse. Continue reading
“When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky…” I woke up to this song going ‘round and ‘round in my head this morning. Yesterday, it was, “I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” And the day before, “If I were a bell I’d go ding, dong, ding, dong, ding.” All because Gary and I just returned from Ashland, Oregon and a joyous performance of “Guys and Dolls.” I had to restrain myself from singing along with the actors. At the end of the show, I sang my way out of the theater. I could have imagined it, but I saw other people dancing. Continue reading
This was published today in Huffington Post. The photograph tells the story.
Ariela loved music. She took almost every music appreciation class City College had to offer — Jazz, Latin, American Folk, Traditional African, Black Tradition in American Dance, Classical and Opera. From years of listening to books on tape, she had developed an incredible auditory memory. After hearing a piece once, she could identify title, composer, and genre. Class assignments often included attending and critiquing live concerts. That’s when she searched and found Noontime Concerts. Continue reading
Gary handed me a CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso used by tourists) and motioned to the boy on the sidewalk. Candy bars were arrayed on his wheelchair tray table. He could have been fourteen or fifteen. I wondered why he wasn’t in school, and how he managed to get to that spot on the pavement. Continue reading
The artist who sketched my portrait was so fast that I didn’t know I was a subject. We had stopped to gaze at some of the rehabilitated buildings in Plaza Vieja, Old Havana, where they stand waiting for tourists to appreciate their splendorous arcades and sunshine color palette. (Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)
Gary paid the artist and handed me my portrait. “Looks just like you,” Gary said.
“He gave me big boobs and took away part of my brain. Is that the trade-off?” I compared my caricature to the fine lines and love note on Gary’s picture.
The artists don’t ask. They just sketch and then hand you your likeness assuming you will pay.
The Cuban government pays all workers at the same rate — engineers, construction workers, and bus drivers all make the equivalent of $20 per month. With food ration cards and free health care, this may be just enough to get by, but not enough to live well. Cubans who work catering to tourists in hotels or in restaurants or with their 1950’s era cars they use as taxis can make more.
In Havana, all of our taxi cab drivers were engineers. Education, at all levels, is free in Cuba, but there are few engineering jobs. And, as one driver told us, “I can make more money driving than working as an engineer.”
“You’re an entrepreneur,” said someone in our tour group.
The cab driver looked over his shoulder. “What’s an entrepreneur?”
As we leave Santiago de Cuba, we see less and less cars. Except for the occasional horse drawn carts, some lone riders on horseback, and a couple of pedestrians, we have the highway to ourselves. We ride over long stretches covered with potholes. At some point, the bus makes a sudden stop for an ox to find his way to the grassy embankment on the other side of the road. We pass open fields, green sugar cane plants, and small shacks built with wood and cinder blocks. A lush, and for the most part, untouched landscape. In the distance, we see the Sierra Maestra mountains, where Castro hid out and plotted the revolution.
More than an hour after leaving Santiago, the road improves, and we enter Guantanamo. We are still in Cuba, a few miles from the U.S. military base. We drive through a residential neighborhood. Houses are in varying states of disrepair. Our bus stops in front of a house in better shape than its neighbors. The ornate columns and stucco façade are painted a color reminiscent of grasshopper pie. This is the synagogue. We climb a long flight of stairs to reach the sanctuary where we are greeted by people singing “Havenu Shalom Aleichem” (We bring peaceful greetings to you.) I don’t know who started the singing, our tour group or the congregants. Our voices join together in the language we share.
The leader boasts that this congregation is 86 years old. Once, there were 1200 Jews in Guantanamo. Most fled after the revolution. Now, there are 54 members of this congregation. The group survives with the help of Jewish communities from abroad. Not many Jewish tour groups make it this far east on the island. We bring them the bulk of our donations.
They give us sticky sweet treats of coconut and syrup wrapped in dried leaves. Does anyone know the name of these addictive concoctions?
A handful of the religious school students entertain us with Israeli dances. We stand watching. Their joy and vitality are contagious, and we join in.
Conversation is limited. My Spanish is poor, and none of the Cubans are fluent in English. We embrace before we leave. As I descend the stairs, I hear one of the woman say, “Esto es dios.” This is God
Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about Leap Transit and other new alternatives to public transportation. These private, luxury buses offer Wi-Fi and Blue Bottle Coffee. You can spread out, even sit at a desk. What else would you expect in San Francisco?
In Santiago de Cuba, privately owned covered trucks are the alternative for crosstown transit. Far from luxurious, they’re not even quaint. They roam the streets in greater numbers than the government run buses. There’s a driver in front and another man in back collects the fares. Passengers climb on board and take their seats on the benches that line the long sides of the trucks. The trucks we saw crammed in at least twenty people.
Our air-conditioned tour bus takes us to Santiago de Cuba’s main plaza. Trees, benches and a fountain painted peacock blue decorate the center of the square. We ride an elevator to a rooftop restaurant for a bird’s eye view of the activities below. It’s too hot to be indoors. We watch as the street lamps turn on and the townspeople fill the plaza.
Children entertain themselves with a single pedal car. An older child pedals while younger kids pile on behind. A toy convertible appears for the toddlers. One trip around and another little one gets a turn.