Monday, March 14, 2011

Journal Entries IV


Much sooner than I usually wait to update this, but I’m consciously trying to keep an even more detailed account, hoping that it will come in handy for my Division III or something else in the future. This will probably be a much more brief entry.

Thursday, I ventured back to the Cohiba hotel to use the internet, with blog posts and messages to family and friends ready and waiting to be sent. I realized that I hadn’t used the Internet in over a week and a half, and that I’ve probably used it no more than 4 or 5 times (for an hour or 2 each session) this semester. I thought about the fact that, at most, that adds up to 10 hours of internet use, which I could probably tackle at Hampshire within 2 or 3 days. For obvious reasons, it baffled me to think of how much time I waste online, and how much more active thinking I’ve been able to do here with that distraction wholly nonexistent. Here, the internet has become a tool of work instead of play – I use it only to do what is absolutely necessary – get in touch with Hampshire, and my closest family and friends. It feels good. I with I could say that it will continue when I’m back in the states, but I know it will not (although I’m sure I’ll heavily cut back on my use no matter what).

While checking my messages at the Cohiba, I noticed I had a string of them from my mother, and opened them excitedly, as I now open any messages from my close contacts in the outside world. I read them chronologically, each mounting my excitement as she informed me she had her passport, was trying to find a way to visit, asked me where I staying and then finally – the dates were set, she was coming to see me in April.


Despite knowing of my mother’s ingenuity, I couldn’t help but be surprised that this plan was coming to fruition, knowing how difficult it is for Americans (non-students) to come here and then get back into our country. But it was just the lift I didn’t know I needed. I had something to look forward to in the second half of the trip, that would break up the tedium of all the work that I’ll be doing on my final project. It was also a chance to share all the places I’ve started to frequent with someone in my family. I was and continue to be so excited. I can’t help but worry it won’t pan out, that something unforeseen will go wrong. But I honestly hope it doesn’t, since I’ve already started a list of things that I want to show her and David.

I finished my brief work at the Cohiba and headed back up Paseo towards my home stay. On the way back it began to rain, and as I bopped along in the light drizzle, listening to Beach House on my headphones, I couldn’t help but feel at home.

Thursday meant a return to the final project seminar, which passed with no real conflict or event to talk about. As always, people talked in depth about their projects, and I continued to be impressed with the work of my peers – nearly all the projects sound outstanding, tackling work that has not widely approached in English academia as of yet. While the class always goes on for too long (3 ½ hours or more), it is always a good means to become re-inspired by each other’s work.

After the class, Andrew and I set out in search of food, walking down to 23 and Calle J for a late night hot dog at the 24 “Perrito Caliente” stand (which, while satisfying, could never beat the quality or variety of my summer employment, Top Dog). We sat by the street and inhaled our food, exchanging current anxieties about our semesters and projects.

Friday was going to mark the start of a crammed filming schedule for my final project. I had already told Celia that I wanted to make sure that most of my filming was done by the end of March so I could spend April struggling through my first editing process. That being said, she had begun setting up meetings, interviews, and rehearsal that I could attend and film, all within the next 2 and a half weeks. As the schedule was laid out, Friday would mean my attendance at another Maria Antonia rehearsal, followed (over the weekend) with interviews with Eugenio Hernandez, Hilda Oates, and Roberto Blanco.

Yesterday (Friday), I showed up at Celia’s with my mindset prepared for the swift work weekend. But when I arrived, Celia informed me that there had been a few changes of plans, due to the fact that Eugenio had to suspend rehearsal due to a talk he was giving at UNEAC. The schedule (as it stands now) is as follows:

Friday: 1:30-2:45 – Meeting with Celia to go over new schedule, interview questions, afro-cuban myths; 3:00-4:00 – View/film 3 short shows at Teatro Guinol (Teatro para ninos); 4:00-5:30 – UNEAC to watch Eugenio’s talk on Maria Antonia.

Saturday: 5:00 – Go to park on Calzada and Calle D to view performance of Medea de Barro, figure out time to meet with Hilda Oates (perhaps on Tuesday).

Tuesday: 2:00 – Go to Maria Antonia rehearsal, interview Eugenio (and possibly Hilda), set up short interviews with cast members.

Wednesday: 9:30 – Go to Roberto Blanco’s house to talk and look over his direction work from original performance of Maria Antonia as well as seminal work with Electra Garrigo.

While it is nice that the schedule is now more spread out, it is still a very daunting agenda. I’m trying to take it one day at a time instead of seeing it all as one huge list of things to do. More than anything, I feel as if I am underqualified to have access to these amazingly talented people, and am worried that I am going to waste their time. I know that if I am to take a “big picture” approach, these worries won’t even matter 2 months down the line, but it is still very difficult to think that way.

Anyways, we carried out the prescribed Friday schedule without incidence, going to both Teatro Guinol and UNEAC – both of which were extremely enjoyable and worthwhile. At Teatro Guinol, in particular, we sat in on the shows that are designated for elementary school groups to come visit, so I was amongst a large group of younger Cuban children, who were extremely energetic and quick to participate. The performances were primarily puppet shows, which were also great to see (and different from a lot of other shows I’ve watched – already I’ve seen and filmed a wide variety of performances for my final project, which is very exciting).

After UNEAC, I parted ways with Celia and walked back home. I feel bad, because I address walking home and around so often, but I never really explain it in a way that truly captures how I feel towards it. Walking around Habana is one of my favorite parts of this semester, and probably the thing I will miss most about this experience once it is over. It is perfect to feel that you are physically moving your body somewhere, more slowly than in a car but also more satisfying when you reach your destination. It is the perfect time to merely think, gather thoughts, analyze past, present and future events. I can people watch, I can be out in the sun, I can stop whenever I want to find a bench, or an outdoor book shop, or some peso-coffee. It is a space I can be left alone with my thoughts, but not feel the weight of loneliness.

That is really all I can update as of right now. The only other real noteworthy news to share is that Andrew found a pastry shop, which was the destination of my walking last night with him and Oskar, to eat flaky cannoli-like treats before they went out to find other people and I headed home to watch a movie and get some more sleep.

Today is Saturday, and its already proving to be a lazy one at that. We’ve just finished breakfast and it seems that I’m just now finishing my update. We have plans to walk to Habana Vieja so that Andrew can get in touch with more musicians for his project, but as of now it seems like those plans are on hold, since he’s fallen back to sleep.

I think I will go wake him up.


Here I am writing more frequently once again – this time due to the arbitrary policies of the Melia-Cohiba’s wifi system. To explain again for those who may have forgotten (aka vent my frustrations) – the IT office has again decided that they “don’t” sell the cheaper 1-hour time card and only sell the 2-hour one…despite the fact that I have been here multiple times and know for a fact that they do. They change this policy as they see fit and, since I arrived with a group of clearly foreign students, they are trying to get us to pay the highest amount. Its frustrating because even the cheaper price is excessively expensive for the shitty service, and I just really want to get in touch with my family. I also just don’t like the feeling of being “had”, “taken”, or “ripped off”.

Anyways, as I await for someone to split the more expensive card, I suppose I should use this time constructively. So allow me to pick up where I left off: Saturday.

After waking Andrew up, we exercised, showered, and set out for food and a taxi to Habana Vieja. After enjoying a few personal pizzas, we arrived around Parque Central, on the hunt for musicians that Andrew could talk to for his project. I was tagging along to enjoy the sunny afternoon and his company. We walked through the narrow streets of Habana Vieja, listening for the particular sound of a tres.  After looking at a few bands playing in outdoor cafes, we headed back to the hostel that we had visited during Orientation so many weeks ago, in search of the tres player that performed there in the afternoons.

Unfortunately, his schedule had been interrupted by a special event being held at the hostel…that event being the gathering of Cuban Harley-Davidson enthusiasts. I kid you not. I continue to be confused as to the facets of American culture that make it past the embargo: Ed Hardy clothing (and “Jersey Shore” fashion in general), Nickleback and Guns & Roses music, and mediocre television shows (“One Tree Hill” and “Young Hercules”). I could now add Harley-Davidson culture and fashion to that list. There were bikes and leather vests and vaguely-terrifying-facial-hair everywhere.

After snapping a few pictures and making some very obvious jokes, we continued on our way. The afternoon was waning though, and it seemed we had temporarily exhausted our leads. We walked around some more until we stumbled upon the large shore-side market, filled with scary vendors that begin to yell at you about their wares if you enter a 15 food radius of their stand. I have also found that many Cubans assume that I’m French, which I don’t know whether or not to take as a compliment – during our time in the market I had some yelling at me in French, while others just kept asking what part of that country was I from.

After Andrew made some lovely purchases (of which I will not reveal, as they will become gifts for loved ones upon re-entry into the US), we hurried out of the market and back into the streets and sun. We returned to Parque Central so that we could catch a cab to Calzada and Calle D, where we were going to watch an outdoor performance of Medea de Barro.

We got to the park early, and made small talk until the show began. As 5pm approached, we watched the cast begin to assemble. I must mention – as it is one of the most interesting aspects of Teatro D’Moron – that the “De Barro” part of the title refers to the actors and set, which are covered in barro, or clay (orange-brown clay to be specific). The effect is that the actors resemble moving statues – the action of the play itself is very slow and choreographed, without words, so that the show appears to be a picture in motion. It was very beautiful, and attracted quite a large crowd as the sun began to set on the park. My solitary complaint about the show is that the score (that sounded like GarageBand-Epic) did not match the aesthetic of the rest of the design…also, it was played far too loudly and subsequently gave me a headache. Aside from those small complaints though, I enjoyed it very much.

Also worth noting were two members of the audience – theatre lovers if you will. One was a 16-year-old boy, who was strangely (or, not so strangely, based on the level of maturity that he soon revealed to us) hanging out with much younger boys. He yelled and joked through the entire piece, trying to distract the performers as they desperately held onto their focus. Later, he realized that the woman who was playing Aphrodite had one of her breasts exposed (it was covered in clay, it was clearly not an accident). I have never seen a boy react so enthusiastically to a single boob. I mean, he was at least 15 or 16 years old. He should have seen a boob before. But by his reaction to it – yelling, giggling, pointing – you would’ve guessed it was the first he’s ever seen. And it was only one, it wasn’t even like it was a complete set.

The second theatre lover that we encountered was an older man who was clearly drunk and had probably been drunk for a few years now. As the performance was entering its last 20 minutes, he began getting on the ground, trying to look up Aphrodite’s skirt (that poor girl was harassed excessively for that solitary breast she exposed). He also tried to “tip” a few of the other actors with a 10 peso bill. He yelled about the death of his lover, but how he would gladly take any of the clay-covered women in the show. He rolled around in the street. The most entertaining of his many exploits, though, was his exclamation towards the end of the show. He fell to his knees in the middle of the street, raised his arms out and above him, and bellowed, in anguish, “YO SOY YO!”

Yo tambien, hombre. Yo tambien.

After the performance(s?), Andrew and I headed for home, to rest a little from the busy afternoon before dinner. We spent the evening lazily (and rather unefficiently) attempting to get homework done, but mostly ended up joking, playing music, and free reading. Andrew is now reading 100 Years of Solitude and I have begun Inferno by Eileen Miles – which is quickly becoming one of my favorite recent reads…I know I said the same about 100 years, but I’ve just been extremely lucky with my reading choices as of late.

Sunday morning shared the laziness of the morning before, but the day indicated a landmark for our trip to Cuba; Saturday was the half-way point of the trip and Sunday marked the beginning of the “descent”, which means the real work on my final project is starting to spread itself out before me, in all its anxiety-inducing glory. I’m ready for this second half, I’m looking forward to this work.

The only other real notable event of yesterday was the surprise visit of a dear friend: for the past month and a half, Andrew and I have been stopping next door to “get licked” by a small, adorable dog that resides behind a fence. We’ve never seen him free from the shackles of his domicile (said fence), but he is always happy to see us when we pet him through the chain-link.

But yesterday, as Andrew left his room to get some water from the kitchen, he was greeted by our little “Licky Friend”, who our hermana cubana had brought over for play-time. He was so excited to see the two of us, running around, finally free, licking everything in sight. It was just the excitement we needed in the afternoon, to break up the homework that we were (again) trying to accomplish. It was another of our small triumphs.

After dinner we wasted a little more time by watching “District 9”,  before settling into our respective reading.

Which brings me to today. This morning, I woke up early to have a meeting with Carol about my final project and Division III. As we found out last week, our preliminary Division III proposals are due next Friday, which is slightly terrifying. Luckily (and thanks to the way that Theater Div III’s work, in which you slot whatever you want to do as your project the Spring before), I already have a pretty good idea of how I want to allocate my time. Even better, Carol agreed to be a member of my committee, which means I officially know with whom I will be working in my final year at Hampshire (which is all so very exciting). The meeting was very productive and put me at ease about the work that I’m accomplishing and will accomplish in this next year. Despite the waves of concern that sometimes wash over me, I know that I am “on-track”…whatever that means. More importantly, I’m completing work that I can be proud to claim as my own.

After the early morning meeting I continued my morning schedule as usual, before setting out to Spanish class. And now here I am, still putting off using the internet as a matter of principal and the fact that I didn’t bring enough money to buy the 2-hour card. Will I break down and ask someone to spot me a few CUC so that I can post this?

Only time will tell.