Fruit, Havana

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CUBA: Story and Community

Barbara Trachtenberg | Massachusetts, Cuba

Daily Havana tumbles life onto the streets where bikes, wagons and hawkers of handmade brooms fill streets too narrow for the painted cars of the 1950s. At midnight I lean from a shaky balcony drawn to a party trumpeted by a band from a corner house. The barrio sleeps and sings at night. Rains come and go. People wait by day in thought and shadow for something unexpressed. Cubans are patient and used to disappointment and overripe fruit. Tourists bring nostalgia for a simpler life—neighbors looking out for each other and time to just be. The idea of Disconnect reflects both a time warp and Cuba's ration on virtual constant contact. Patterns repeat themselves in metal and metaphor—grids, a scrapped bedspring by an ornamental grille, lacework at a window, neighborhood networks—the web of woven patterns that record history and keep people inside and out. The past and the future resound. Juana, touching her wedding band, recalls a childhood of poverty. My landlady holds her first grandchild. And I'm invited to be a small part of their stories.

I visited friends of friends this fall in a Cuban barrio and photographed in color for a change. Throughout this first trip I met artists and had the freedom to walk the streets alone and with locals, staying in a casa particular with a woman who had just become a grandmother. My local friends live down the calle. Alejandro, who fought in the Revolution, is a self-taught historian who lives with his wife, Juana. It is their fourth-floor partly-lit staircase I climb to visit them as the phone they share with three others rings and they call down, "Alfredo!" or "Carolina!" and return to our conversation. Juana is analfabeta (illiterate), since, as a child, she was a fieldworker by day and housekeeper until the evening. Then, if she had the energy, she could attend school for one hour—from 8 to 9 PM. While Alejandro also grew up poor, he was able to attend school through fourth grade and became a well-read citizen with a job. Alejandro is proud of Cuba's medical knowledge and critical of uncritical thinkers. There are long stories in these people's faces, as with all of us, and through them, I more clearly understand my own story.

I recorded interviews and street sounds and am forming this exhibit into a multimedia installation for a local museum and elsewhere to offer interaction with the Latino and other communities.



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