We must pray.
Be in mindfulness… Presence, conscious intention. Awareness… Live, laugh, love… Cause and effect. Whatever you may call it, call it and listen; for the change is coming.
Family and friends, brothers and sisters I bid you peace. Peace from the air today as I fly over the Caribbean Sea and just now can see the verdant land mass of South America. I am glad that you have received this and I hope and trust that you are well. (Fasten your seat belts, it is nine hours off the ground!) You may be among my contacts who are just now learning of this particular departure. I have completed my desire to travel to Cuba during this time of epic change. This was the third, “January Jump” from New Orleans via Cancun as it was intended and yet; I am not returning to my home this time.
Cuba has taught me: Love, as if…
Such is my new understanding of this, the greatest power in the whole round world. From my experience, Cuba abounds with love and, bitterness. There is a street in Habana Vieja called, Amargura. As Louis Armstrong would say, “Hmp.” Hey, old New Orleans doesn’t even have a Bitterness Street.
“Mi amor!” Habaneras and… habaneros routinely punctuate: greetings, conversations, and farewells, often to strangers, with this declaration. Trite as it may come across through translation, I will tell you that the sound of the words comes with a feeling! One I would say, is all their own; for they have most definitely earned it.
Let’s face it. All of us have been in love at some point, some more points, many… We go thru the experience; sometimes it doesn’t last too long. Still, we know how it feels and, we like it. I do… It is a preferred state to be in. And I have decided to exist in it, one way or the other. Even, as if.
Cuba is an impoverished island nation, thus the population must bring the wealth from within. Life for Cubanos, to yours truly, does appear to be a significant struggle every day and night for most of el gente. Of course there are many instances when, like in New Orleans, people are seen sitting, standing, and seem to be doing nothing. And of course, there are great limitations in their employment and job economy. Nevertheless, the Cubans who do have something to do are doing it! Night and day, moving and busting… with a countenance of pure survival. More on this for another time. For now, I will say that it probably helps that: the island nation, Republica de Cuba, has some of the most, most bumping, swinging, and popping music the world has ever known. Hear and experience it in its natural habitat before you leave Planet Earth.
Like New Orleans, there are bands of varying size, shape, and color which play the same seven songs each and everyday, day after day after day… While there are basic similarities between music in Cuba and NOLA, there are distinct differences in form and function. Live music, Rhumba, is played throughout the official zone, which is an entire district of un-square kilometers, not a couple of “music corridors.” And it is played with a force! They lay into it and get the desired effect every time. When the musicians sense listener enthusiasm (often obvious from yours truly,) they send it higher and higher with not only the feeling of joy, but holy pride. It is terrifically compelling, and I had never really experienced the music quite in this way, until Havana. As the musicians work for the CUCs in the wallets of many internationals, and many from Latin America, one will see workers and people everyday stop at the open portals and patios to listen… become transfixed, and often, dance with each other.
“Love, it only seems to buy a terminal condition of the heart…”
Just Keep Dancing. I don’t know if among the thousands of song titles from the pen of the artist forever know as, Prince that there is such a song. Maybe half of his vast work is ultimately this terrestrial message. Nevertheless, it’s been one day and nine months since he left Planet Earth. Some of you are privy to the strange course of crazy sorrow that I have traveled since, April 21, 2016. I’ve been known to call it, my “Salieri moment.” I would like to, need to by now, take this time to document my thoughts on his passage.
I was never really a fan and certainly not in the family, as is my cousin, Ilona. I was a teenage Jazz nerd while she was awakening to, “Soft And Wet” - his first single. By the time, “The Beautiful Ones” closed the scene, I said to myself, Ok… this boy has got something. He had a few other things which I didn’t fully appreciate at the time when, Gisele (my sister) and I went to see him in, Purple Rain. I was becoming a full grown Jazz snob and Prince was Pop. He was there, I went on with my Jazz life. We were both running the same gauntlet. He began his already wounded and hungry, with much more talent and drive.
There are many signs. Many for all to see and hear and some appear to be ones for I alone to encounter. There are many questions and ideas regarding his tragic death; and many questions about his living - since that it is no longer. Perhaps the strangest aspect of my saga of sorrow now is a bargaining to acceptance that, Prince’s epic story was destined to a dramatic death scene. This thought wave is an uneasy ride since his untimely passage follows those of, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. All three of the greatest popular black entertainers of my generation having perished within a span of seven years.
The sun has set over a cloud shrouded Amazon jungle.
I took a copy of, 1999 - Prince’s first purple offering - with the intention of spinning it, and leaving it somewhere in Cuba. I only know of one record player there, a vacuum tubed GE (circa, 1957) at a small cafe near Plaza de Cristo, by the name, “El Dandy.” On my first visit, I discovered the quiet corner of, Brasil y Villegas and soon fell in awe of the box of records which was serving as a doorstop. Everything I couldn’t have imagined: Benny Moré, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, traditional Orisha drum and chant recordings, and Ella Fitzgerald and Nat ‘King’ Cole - who apparently was heavily marketed in Batista’s Cuba. It is at El Dandy that I discovered my first amigo Cubano, Diago Luis Angel, who bares a worthy resemblance to Angel Louis Armstrong. Diago was then managing the cafe, and functioning as what I can now refer to as, Cuban window dressing.
It just so happened, during my second trip, Diago was fired by the Swede owner/photographer who was exhibiting his large scale shots of characteristic old Havana, and slinging his table-top book. Diago soon gained a position in the kitchen of a haute Italian restaurant in the fetching Verdado district. We have remained in contact - when possible - via email. As we dined, during this visit, at an equally fine room, Decamerôn also in Verdado, I learned two facts of Diago’s life that have compelled me to share. First, that he arrived to Planet Earth a few days after myself and Ilona - Libras, late in the epic year of, 1963. Next, Diago had never heard of Prince, or Purple Rain until I spoke of him, the importance of his work, and the shock that his death has left.
There is a museum in Habana Vieja, Casa Africa, which exhibits a large relief map of the landmass of Africa like you have probably never seen before. And this year, at the doorway, stood a larger than life-sized statue of, San Lazaro - Babalu-Ayé - complete with Santeria artifacts and altar; or so I thought. The wounded healer was perhaps awaiting me in the previous two years when I headed straight for Africa on the other side of the gallery. This year there was no mistaking. Lazarus was clothed in a purple robe and matching crown. Scarred, hungry and bent with pain in his bones, he still offers the light in his eyes to whomever is willing to look at him and his old canine friends.
El Dandy, now officially a bar and gallery with a full array of alcoholic offerings, attracts a much larger and louder crowd of young travelers with CUCs and their retireé counterparts, still with even more CUCs - all of them seemingly enjoying large smoke clouds of tobacco. (Not my cup of tea…) So, I decided to make an offering of my own to Babalu-Ayé. The next day… Saturday, I brought the copy of, 1999 along with purple Mardi Gras beads. In my poor Spanish, I asked permission from the gatekeeper, a compact-waisted leggy Morena officia who Prince would have praised with the light in his eyes, that is - if he was into uniforms…
La leggy officia gave me a coy and bitchy nod of approval but, when I entered into a state, and moved slowly to my knees to light a cone of incense, she softly, yet sternly fired off a round of her native tongue. As she stood over me, I understood her point well enough: that this was not a church we were in… and that I would need to do such in a church. (That’ll learn me to not seek first, Elegua - the little boy in the corner.) I ceased the burnt offering and moved slowly to continue what I really was there to do. The used LP copy had both it’s original picture inner sleeves replaced with clean virginal white ones - which I accepted was a good thing and perhaps a holy sign since, the nude and very prone backside of the 25 year old Prince, lying on a bed, in a misty moody boudoir just might have qualified as contraband in Cuba. (They will request your declaration that you have no pornography, when crossing the border.)
The clean sleeves allowed me to ink my message loud and clear. I came to these simple words:
Paz a la gente
Paz a la musica
Peace to Africa
Peace to Cuba
As the Artist’s eye stared, I put the discs back into the jacket and placed the album on the right side of the display, leaning on one of Babalu-Ayé’s pack and then dropped the beads below it. I thanked the officia and slowly stepped onto the cobblestone bricks of Calle Obispo. I looked towards El Cielo where light clouds were characteristically sailing by slowly, in a blue, blue sky and sang the legendary lyric:
I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted one time to see you laughing
I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain.
By this time, I had attained the attention of three chicos who were about the age of seven, all of various skin hues who were playing in the street. Now, it’s worth pointing out that any child, a boy or a girl who grows in Habana Vieja witnesses many magical manifestations before the onset of adulthood. So, of course one of them didn’t resist the urge to offer his version of the Artist’s eternal title’s two words, after I had finished a full-throated chorus. A good tune plays well anywhere. I turned and grinned with my own eternal boy delight as they buoyed down the cobblestones out of sight.
Midnight in Buenos Aires.
“Lady cab driver, roll up your window fast.”
I had two, Damas Taxistas… in one day! One in the morning, and one at night. The first heard me singing, Come Sunday from the balcony over #405 Calle Muralla. It was apparent that I had an immediate fan in, Adele, whom I initially thought was a recent arrival retireé to Laura y Rodney’s Casa Particular. It took a couple of minutes to realize that yes, I had a lady cab driver to lift me to good winds non-stop via Cuban Airlines flight 360. I bowed my head, raised my hands in her LADA - there wasn’t any way that I could see to roll the window up, or back down in the well worn Soviet era sedan. (Atencion: Adele es la madre de Laura.)
So, you could imagine my wondrous resignation, after being in the air all day, into the night, in a crowded and cramped, made in Russia jumbo jet (my boarding pass stated my seat as, 30I although the original design of the interior allowed the seat indicators going from 30H to 30J.) At least I had a window! And then… after touch down, facing a rather rough and brusky, Papi guapo immigration officer - when I then met my second lady cab driver, a wistful Rubia around the age of 25, called, Clarisa.
“You look Cuban.” Those are the first words of English that Habaneros generally speak to me, once they realize that my replies of, “Luisiana…! Nueva Orleans,” means that yes, I am from Estados Unidos. I’ve got a room full of feelings now, overlooking downtown here in B.A., where Obelisco is illuminated in a pale lavender light. Do I desire to be leaving my home? No. Mostly; and yet, exploring Planet Earth seems like a worthy option at this point in our history… At the age of 53, I still enjoy “going native” and easily passing as an, International Lover. The vintage cotton suit that I travel in and faux Gucci luggage - previously owned by, Angel Nell - The One Who Made Me - helps to thwart the perception of, Arab.
Peace to my Syrian ancestry… Peace to Aleppo. And although the ruddy-red Porteños are by and large, Blancos, I shall cautiously await their general assessments of me.
And I shall master Spanish conversation. I will. Yo puede!
Need I mention… Tango? Know the name, Astor Piazzolla.
“I’m praying for all of you!” (us.)
Keep on living.