Day Three – Three Perfect days in Trinidad, Cuba
Three perfect days in Trinidad, Cuba – Day One
Three perfect days in Trinidad, Cuba – Day Two
It was another morning on the rooftop of Media Luna. The third of my three perfect days in Trinidad, Cuba. While she scrambled my eggs, Gela told me that in Cuba it was often hard just to find the basics. Gela was the cook at Media Luna. And the maid. Actually, she seemed like she did everything and she forced food on me like an Italian grandmother. “Come!” she yelled when I asked for more coffee instead.
Things like razors, pens, notebooks, markers, shampoo, shoes, sanitary napkins, hand soap…these very basic items are lacking in Cuba. Even for people with a little bit of money these things are simply hard to find. Gela asked me to tell other Americans who want to come to Cuba to bring those things along to give to folks who otherwise can’t get them. The other thing that I learned was how far just $1.00 can go in Cuba and I tipped as generously as I could.
Before the heat set in I decided to get out onto the streets. I wanted to see some of the artists involved in Trinidad’s growing art scene. The visual arts have been one of the more powerful pieces of Cuba’s cultural highlights for decades but it was in the 1980s that a group of powerful young artists registered on the international scene and laid an inspirational foundation that has influenced Cuban painters ever since. The diversity of visual arts I saw during my two weeks in Cuba was astounding.
At Espacio 217, a tiny gallery and workspace shared by several young painters at the edge of the historic district I met Rudy Rubio and William Bonilla, two of the artists. “We have more artists in Cuba per capita than anywhere else in the world,” said Rubio whose large paintings of Afro-Cuban women melting into…or growing from….staircases and forests and tables dominated the room.
Many Americans think of Cuba as isolated. But that is pretty myopic. While the United States and Cuba have an estranged relationship Cuba is indeed in touch with the rest of the world. Cubans in general are highly educated and know exactly what is going on in Europe and Asia, not to mention the rest of Latin America. The Cuban artists I met were well aware of the trends in the international art markets. That said, and as the men of Espacio 217 pointed out, because Cuba’s economy is run as it is, Cuban art forms are less driven by what the art market desires. “That will change as more Americans come down here and buy art,” said another Trinidad artist I visited, “but for now art in Cuba is perhaps more pure than anywhere else.”
I bought two small paintings from Espacio 217 and went out to people watch. In one of the plazas three men jammed away. All were dressed in blue and green shirts and straw fedoras. One worked the Cuban tres, one the maracas and one a cajón-type instrument. A Swiss tourist danced drunkenly in circles and encouraged her embarrassed husband to take pictures. He snapped a few and then walked away disgusted. The musicians laughed. Then they packed up. “That’s enough,” the singer said. “We do this in the morning when it is cool. Now we get out of the heat.”
On the last of my three perfect days in Trinidad, Cuba, Carlos found me wandering my way back towards Media Luna just before lunch. “I’m hungry. You’re hungry. Jump in the car, let’s go!” he said. “Best meal in Cuba!” We picked up Alfons and Renate and passed just outside of Trinidad toward the sea and the little harbor at Puerto de Casilda to the paladar La Marinera.
Every day Carlos told me he was going to take me to the best meal in Cuba. And then he did. And then he did again. “How is it that every day I get the best meal of my life?” I asked him.
“I told you,” he said. “Trust Carlos!” So I did.
La Marinara was filled with middle-class Cubans. The patio was large and covered and cool. In the back they had an extenuated garden under a shade net. The rows were thick with lettuce greens and cabbages and beats and onions. Chickens ran in and out of the rows and the farmer pushed compost in a wheel-barrow. “This is real farm to table!” Carlos told us and ordered up a round of cold beers and the sopa de mariscos. Next came the salad and then fresh fish cooked in an orange sauce. Oh lordy. Amazing.
And yes. It was another “best meal of my life”. And it wasn’t the last one I was going to have while in Cuba.
“Oh. There is a place in Bayamo. The best. I’ll show you,” said Carlos.
three perfect days