Well, here it is, the moment you've all been waiting for (and THE MOMENT that I had been waiting for my whole life!!)
We had dinner at La Guarida, made famous as a location in Thomas Guttierrez Alea’s film “Strawberry and Chocolate”, a paladar up three flights of broad marble stairs in the ruins of a once palatial building, with it’s waiting room full of old movie posters, it’s small crazy-quilt maze of dining rooms overlooking the black neon less night of Central Havana, and it’s gourmet Cuban cooking. The next day we ate lunch of queso and jamon sandwiches and Cristal beer in our favourite spot, the courtyard of the Hotel Nacional, overflowing with the film festival crowd headquartered there. A mad dash ride in the little taxis called Coco Cabs, which look like yellow baseballs on wheels – took us to the Plaza de Catedral in Old Havana, with it’s sprawling flea market and competing sidewalk bands in every restaurant and café, and a walk past the Ambos Mundos hotel with it’s sign advertising “Hemingway stayed here”, to the outdoor stalls in the park nearby, crowded not with Hemingway, but with every conceivable book ever written on the subject of Che Guevara.
Debra took us to an art exhibit in the gallery off the Calle des Oficios, a square of renovated office buildings on the waterfront that hinted at the possible, perhaps inevitable future of tourist-ready, shiny restored Old Havana gentrification. It was a stunning show of new work by Cuban artist Elsa Mora, a friend of Marguerite’s from her days as a visiting artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago years ago, and a beneficiary of Debra’s support and patronage.
Elsa moved from Holguin, at the tip of the island near Santiago, to Camaguey, where she first met Debra, and who now lives in Havana and is represented by the Phyllis Kind gallery in New York. Elsa has primarily worked and exhibited as a painter, pintora is what it says on her stylish calling card, but her new show is a fascinating combination of photography and bronze sculpture, small objects she forged in the “lost wax” process in Mexico and models in provocative and political poses in a series of large black and white photographs.
Later on we had the Alice-in-Wonderland experience of visiting Elsa at her “studio”, a non-descript block of grey apartments that have the look and feel of a 1950’s planned housing project in Queens and hold no promise of anything other than more greyness inside. After another “Cuban workout” trudge up long flights of stairs, her door opens on a magical world – a tiny apartment adorned with paintings, drawings, hanging objects, books, old photos and small sculptures, all infused with the spirit, intelligence and personality of Elsa, a small beautiful woman with a waterfall of curly black hair and an infectious smile. In a room no bigger than a large closet she churns out a prodigious amount of art to the rhythm of the constant street symphony outside her open window, a work habit which she credits to her astrological affiliation as a Taurus, her impoverished youth and her melodramatic family history.
TOMORROW: The final chapter!!