I share a genuine breakfast with Elle Johnson, a member of my workshop group. We get down to politics, which is sort of satisfying, yet sort of beside the point. She is wearing a navy blue t-shirt featuring a cat in a pussy hat. Still, Trump is far away, and our discussion, though righteous, feels flat. We’re in Cuba, fer fuck sake.
What we have here is a morning of free time. Linda and I amble off to find the Museo de Cuban Art. On the way, we stop to gaze up at the glorious Bacardi Building. Is it Deco? Maybe, but certainly not streamlined Moderne. It’s a sui generis world-class beauty. The museum doesn’t open until 10am, so, after acknowledging the ‘Granma’ (the yacht from which Fidel and crew began their ultimately successful revolution and, yes, named for the previous owner’s grandmother and the name of a Cuban province since the mid-70s), under glass in a park behind the Museo de la Revolucion (the former Presidential Palace), we find coffee in the courtyard of the Hotel Sevilla. A lovely woodwind trio – two clarinets and a bassoon – play pop songs and movements from Baroque trios. The music, though a room away, couldn’t have been more enchanting.
The Museo building dates from the 60s. Three floors of galleries surround a large courtyard with the typically afunctional fountain. Havana abounds in dry water features. A wide ramp leads upward. Linda and I decide to trek to the top and work our way down, Guggenheim-style. The first room we enter is devoted to Wilfredo Lam, a mid-century Cuban artist represented prominently in MoMA’s collection. His work owes a huge debt to Picasso, yet seems more graphic and kinetic (art crit word). Some pieces are truly striking. As we venture deeper into the galleries, the art becomes clunky and derivative, cribbed primarily from Diego Rivera. Our pace quickens. There’s a loft space that features works on paper and these are much more original and engaging. When we begin the descent to the second floor we catch Nancy and Sue on their way up. We continue to banter as a large group, betraying entourage-like adhesion, parts and flows around us. “Jesus, that looked like Will Smith,” I say. “It is Will Smith,” says a passing young woman who has caught our bafflement.
I leave Linda to examine the contemporary art on floor two and head back to Telegrafo, stopping at Museo of All Other Art. It’s on the Parque Central, like Hotel Telegrafo, and a big Beaux Arts pile with turrets and balconies and lampposts. The interior is just as complicated and entertaining, however, the great swooping central stairs are beset by grim scaffolding. I can’t get out of the rooms of Spanish painting quick enough. Cuba evidently was a dumping ground for fourth-rate portraits of over-dressed, over-varnished grandees. Later for France and England.
After a quick pick-up lunch, I maneuver my boney/not boney ass to Plaza des Armas, our appointed afternoon rendezvous point. The group reassembles itself in a desultory way under the trees and we proceed down the Avenida del Puerto to listen to Michel Encinosa Fu, a Cuban science fiction writer. The air conditioning is brutal, but I snooze anyway. Sorry, Michel.
Back to Telegrafo for more aimless downtime. Soon another Tim Talk will begin, this time on the Cuban Revolucion and the island after. We fend for our dinner again, taking guidance from Brandon, who finds us a semi-okay paladar on Mercaderes. Tim’s secured a reservation for us to hear big Cuban music with remnants of the Buena Vista Social Club. Mojitos appear with relentless monotony and I soon amscray. In the meanwhile, there had been a downpour and the streets shimmer. I take a new way back to Telegrafo and don’t get lost! I am my own conga line.