Friday, March 31, 2017

The Colors of Cuba

There's something about the light. Some say it's the offspring created when the tropical white sun mates with the glittering blue-green sea, adorned with ruffles of primitive life; or when the wafting, healing breeze embraces the embers of a thousand pure cigars.  It could come from the rooster feathers that jiggle at the base of a red pineapple, or when the comic book taxis speed through Havana avenues, bouncing from corner to corner like pinballs in a diorama of the 1950s, creating blurs of hues and bravado. 

The artists know and trust that light, the musicians make the light dance, and the woman working in the tobacco shed yearns for a glimpse of the light outlining her grandson's thick African hair.

Maybe the light is simply the incandescent glow of the strength of a population unbowed by superpower bullies or home-grown bureaucratic bungling.  

Cubans thrive on art, music, literature.  "We export culture," a musician proudly told me.  "We create art from almost nothing," he continued.  "It's what we can do in any situation," he finished. 

Words like "bloqueo" and "the special period" pop up in everyday conversations. "Cubans know the faults and mistakes of their leaders, and everyone talks about those things," someone else said. "It's complicated," a few others repeated. 

The daily results of the World Baseball Classic were on everyone's lips, more urgent than anything happening in los estados unidos, and I came to understand that the passion for the series exceeded baseball. 

One afternoon we were on a beach – more like a rocky ledge from which we could gingerly ease into the water.  We nursed Cuban beers and papaya juice while we waited for our guide to return (long story.) The drink stand’s workers, three young men and one young woman, played checkers and listened to Yankee rock-and-roll.  When the Ritchie Valens’ rendition of La Bamba started up, I tried to explain why Richard Valenzuela had changed his name.  But they were familiar with Ritchie and his tragic story and it didn’t take them long to figure out that I was a pocho Chicano who spoke broken Spanish. They knew about Chicanos in the States. They started giving me an “órale” for this and an “ése” for that and a “qué pasa, güey” for something else. They laughed every time one of them said “güey.” They eagerly pointed out the original equipment on the 1955 cherry red Chevy that parked at their stand, and whose driver obviously was part of their crowd. Eventually, our guide returned and we set off.  The workers exuberantly wished us a good trip.  When I shouted, “Ay te watcho,” they looked at me like I had spent ten minutes too long in the Cuban sun.  I’d taken the Chicano thing as far as it could go on the road to the Bay of Pigs Museum in Playa Girón.

A few nights later we found ourselves in a bar that attracted tourists.  The place was overcrowded and loud.  A persistent rumor about Vanessa Williams had followed us around Havana and someone whispered that she was upstairs, eating beans and rice.  We had to wait for a table but we ordered drinks and food and I tried to get in the mood.  Then two musicians, stuffed in a corner with barely enough room for their instruments, began to play Night in Tunisia and we were suddenly in the coolest, most sublime bar in the world. The moon shone through the window, the jazz slipped into our mojitos, and Cuba entered my dreams.

The following photos were taken during a ten-day visit to the city of La Habana and the villages of Trinidad and Viñales on the island nation of Cuba. Click on the image for a larger version.

Color lives in Cuba.  

All photos © Manuel Ramos, 2017.



Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in October, 2016



msedano said...

Now I have to go. These fotos are wonderful!

Unknown said...


Odilia Galván Rodríguez said...

Manuel, que lindo! I am taking a group of poets to the Havana International Poetry Festival in early July. I keep telling folks if you've never been it's time. Thanks for these lovely photos, made me homesick for Cuba. Saludos!

Mercedes said...

Your writing is poetry, Manuel. Your photos invite one to look at each for a while. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your experience.

Rico said...

Manuel-I'm reading this as I'm totally enjoying that cigarro cubano you brought back. Your writing is superb, brother! Really took me there... Great stuff!

Shawn King said...

That looks dreamy. Hints of México and even New Orleans, but that vegetation is something entirely unique- thanks for posting these Manuel

Amelia ML Montes said...

Beautiful photos! Gracias!

Daniel Cano said...

Manuel, your photos capture the light you describe in your writing. Makes me want to visit the island again.