Tourist Art

Lisette Poole for the NYT
Lisette Poole for the New York Times

 

From the New York Times:

HAVANA — Kadir López was working in his studio at his elegant home here when the doorbell rang. It was Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

“I had no idea they were coming,” said Mr. López, whose work incorporates salvaged American signs and ads that were torn down after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

About an hour and $45,000 later, Mr. Smith had bought “Coca Cola-Galiano,” an 8-by-4-foot Coca-Cola sign on which Mr. López had superimposed a 1950s photograph of what was once one of the most bustling commercial streets in Havana.

A year later, recalling the event, Mr. López is still happily incredulous.

“Where else in the world does Will Smith turn up on an artist’s doorstep?” he said.

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A Havana Welcome

English: Fishing at the Malecon at sunset. At ...
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(Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a novel or a memoir, still not sure. This is a first draft so I hope you can overlook any typos or imperfections. The action being described by the narrator corresponds to events that happened on a day like today thirty-three years ago. The previous installment can be found HERE. Thanks for reading).

“The next day we flew to Havana and the crew on the flight was the most serious crew of stewardesses I had ever seen. Attentive, but serious, like they didn’t care if you ever flew their airline again.

But when we landed and they opened the cabin door and I started walking down the steps and the Caribbean breeze hit my face and the smell of Cuba hit my nostrils like the aroma of an attic full of memories that you haven’t visited in a decade, I found myself crying and the emotion I felt wasn’t one of sadness or joy either, it was a mixture of the two, almost in equal proportion.  I looked around and I saw tears rolling down my father’s face and the other passengers were no different and I saw a black stewardess pretending that she had something caught in her eye but I suspected that, forgetting the instructions she had received, she was caught in the enormity of the moment for a group of returning members of a dysfunctional family searching for meaning, and connections and some peace under the blue of tropical sky.

“The same tension we had felt in Mexico followed us through customs. The fact that most people we came in contact with wore the olive green of the Cuban law enforcement apparatus –- which had not been the case in Merida -– was a stark reminder that we were back, voluntarily, in the island-prison everyone had fought hard to escape. I noticed how the older members of our traveling party grew more apprehensive, especially when it was time to open up the bags to be inspected before proceeding. Again, the demeanor of those responsible for examining the contents was striking in its seriousness. Not a smile, not a word, except the very necessary, not even a look into our eyes as if we were all dangerously contagious and a friendly exchange of any sort would be fatal.

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Everything Changed Then

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(Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a fictionalized memoir. This is the final scene in this chapter. These are the most difficult words I’ve ever written. The action being described by the narrator corresponds to events that happened on a day like today thirty one-years ago. The 1,800 + paragraph without a break is no accident. It felt as if I wrote it without breathing. The previous installments can be found HERE, HERE and HERE. Thanks for reading).

“The drive west to San Juan y Martinez would normally take a little over two hours. It lasted a lot longer. At times I feel that I am still driving the Carretera Central, the distances measured in inches not kilometers, its stretches and turns, holding, but refusing to release, the answers to the central questions of my life, the original destination continuing to elude me. Continue reading

Visiting Grandpa

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(Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a fictionalized memoir. This is a first draft so I hope you can excuse any typos or imperfections. The action being described by the narrator corresponds to events that happened on a day like today thirty one-years ago. Tomorrow I will post the final chapter. The previous installment can be found HERE. Thanks for reading).

“I heard my father’s voice talking to my Aunt in the kitchen when I first opened my eyes. I stumbled to the bathroom and threw cold water on my face and changed my shirt before joining them. My Aunt had a buttered piece of Cuban bread and a couple of hard-boiled eggs sitting on the counter for me. I couldn’t eat eggs with the kind of night I had. My Dad told her that my Uncle Heriberto was waiting downstairs to go to the cemetery and we didn’t have time for breakfast. My Aunt Eloisa wrapped the bread in a piece of brown paper after she gave me a cup of black coffee to help me wake up. We would take the eggs as a back up on our trip later that morning to San Juan, just in case we didn’t find any food store open on the road. “Go visit your grandfather,” she said, as she handed me the bread.

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What Happened?

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(Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, a novel. From Mountain Road to Easy Street is the working title. This is a first draft so I hope you can excuse any typos or imperfections. The action being described by the narrator corresponds in the calendar to events that happened on a day like today thirty one-years ago. I will post each day — if I can find the fortitude — the corresponding chapter. Thanks for reading).

“What happened?”

“A fucking car accident happened. We were visiting Cuba, year before last. Someone came back and told him to hurry if he wanted to see his Mom alive. He jumped at the opportunity when the government opened up travel. If you didn’t have any problem with the law there when you left, then they would allow you to visit. Castro called it the Family Reunification something or other but this wasn’t about the family, it was about dollars. Cubans bringing dollars to prop up the economy after the Russians couldn’t help anymore. We had to pay for the hotel in Havana as part of the deal, even if you were staying with relatives. We were registered at the Habana Libre which used to be the Hilton back in the day, before the Revolution.

“So we made the arrangements through a family friend and off we went. I was floundering at work, jumping from job to job, unhappy as a motherfucker and my Dad asked me to go with him. He said it could clear my head, you know, help with the process and besides I wanted to see the family and my friends from when I was a kid. Hadn’t seen them in almost ten years. My childhood sweetheart, Rosie. I said yes. It didn’t take much to convince me. I gave notice at work when they wouldn’t give me time off –- I had just started there, so I kind of understood — no lost love between us, anyway.

“My Mom owns a sewing factory, right around the corner, on Mountain Road and Cliff. We all pitched in, my sister and me and my Dad would also help before he went to work everyday and after work and weekends. Dad was very concerned about leaving my Mom alone for a whole week, so as soon as he found a friend of the family to come by and help Mom, he made the plans to travel. He was worried leaving her alone for a week, ten days, can you believe it? It’s been almost two years since she’s been alone. She got her driving license at the end of the first. I guess she realized that she was going to have to drive herself places, ‘cause he wasn’t going to no more.

“It was in February when we left for Cuba. There was snow on the ground, I remember. Continue reading