Day 9- Cuban Goodbyes…

Day 9- Cuban Goodbyes

This morning I woke up knowing that all good things must come to an end.  I didn’t sleep well at all because I was nervous about leaving, the flight to the Dominican Republic and all of the work that is waiting for me at home.  But before I had to deal with all of that, I had a few more hours left and wanted to enjoy them.  J I packed slowly, laying out the final gifts I had to give.  I left Mamma Ana some candy, a bottle of lavender shower gel and an Oprah magazine. J She doesn’t speak much English, but she can actually read it quite well from her years as a professor. She said that many genetics texts are in English, so she had to learn it.  I figure that Oprah magazine is as good a way as any to keep practicing that skill!  J

While I was finishing up, Alejandro knocked on the door and said that I had a visitor.  I couldn’t imagine who, since I was supposed to meet Merlin at his house in an hour.  I went to the front porch and there was David. J  He had been unable to come to the party last night and I was bummed because I wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye to him.  But there he way, grinning at me.  J  We talked a bit, and finally hugged good-bye.  He kissed me saying, “I will miss my ‘yes’ face!”  I laughed.  It had taken me forever to explain to him what that even was and when he finally got it, he loved the idea.  We were sitting at the table in Merlin’s house two days ago when he looked at me and said, “You really DO have a ‘yes’ face!!”  J J We agreed that we would email and that he would send me some of his model photos so that my friends could see what I was talking about.  J With that, he jumped back into his taxi and headed off to rehearsal.  Another good-bye down…….five to go.

As I waited for my own cab, I took photos of Ana and Alejandro, with us all taking turns with the camera.  Six days ago, I said, “Every time I go somewhere, the first few days are like a first date…..we are all formal and polite, not quite sure of what to make of each other.  Then it gets a little better.  By Sunday, I suspect we will all be one big happy family.”  Well, I was right.  Now these people all feel like family and even though I am sad to leave, they have a permanent place in my heart and I am ok, knowing that I can come back and see them anytime!!  J


When the cab finally showed up, there were hugs and kisses all around and I explained to the driver that we had to stop by Merlin’s so I can say good-bye to him and his parents.  However, when we got there, there was no Merlin to be found!  His parents got more and more agitated as we waited for him. It had started to rain lightly and they thought he had gone the three blocks to see me at my house.  But when 15 minutes passed, we knew that he had made other plans.  I stood there talking to his mom when I noticed that she was wearing one of the shirts I had given her.  Then I looked down and saw them.  She had on my tennis shoes.  I whooped and hugged her…they fit and she liked them!! She twisted around, showing them to me and we grinned at each other.  What a nice ending to the trip.  J


I finally hugged them once more and got into the cab.  I had exchanged tons of hugs and kisses with Merlin last night, and that would have to do.  As we drove down the wet road, I tried to fix the picture in my mind.  The buildings all shiny with rain, the plants and flowers bright and clean looking and people walking quickly to work and school, heads bent against the shower.  I was on the verge of tears when I looked up and saw someone in a red shirt riding a bike quickly towards us.  Merlin!!  I was so happy!! The taxi driver stopped in the middle of the street and I jumped out to grab him.  “I was at the house of my friend!” he said.  I was just glad to get to see him one more time.  We both looked down the block and could see the tiny figures of his parents waving at us from their front door.  Everyone was smiling.  J


So, Merlin rode off and I went to the airport. As I sat and waited for my plane, a guitarist sat next to me, playing for money. I explained to him that I had just exchanged all of my money, but he didn’t seem to want to take ‘no’ for an answer.  I opened my book and he sat closer and closer to me, his elbow rubbing up against mine in an attempt to keep my attention.  He went through his entire repertoire, concentrating especially on American music and when he finally broke into The Beatle’s “Yesterday”…. in Spanish….I got the giggles.  I just wanted to be quiet and read and think about the week, but I was in the middle of a Mr. Bean sketch.  When it was time to go through customs, they sent me back to pay the $25 airport tax… cuban money…..which I did not have.  I sighed and went back around to the money exchange to turn some of my recently converted Euros back into Cuban money. When the guy handed me all bills and one single CUC coin, I knew it was a sign from the universe.  I walked back to the guitarist and handed him the coin.  Sometimes persistence just has to be rewarded.  J


A four hour delay, a two hour flight, one cuba libre and a $25 cab ride later, I found myself back in Santo Domingo, DR, at the Quality Inn Suites.  I have shown that I can be at home anywhere… hotels, hostels, and hovels. J It is time for some hot water, air conditioning, and high speed internet.  I have an entire free day tomorrow, and while I might take a $40 cab back to the Cathedral, I just might hunker down and answer the 300+ emails that I got while I was gone. As far as I am concerned, this adventure has come to an end.  And oh, what an adventure it was………

Thank you for following my emails and for sending me encouraging messages. I leave this trip feeling even more grateful for the life that I am leading and the friends and family that I have.

Muchas, muchas gracias,


Day 8-Cathedrals, tennis shoes and blue beaded necklaces…..

Day 8-Cathedrals, tennis shoes and blue beaded necklaces…..

This morning, I slept in and leisurely went through my suitcase.  I have so much to leave behind and want to get it all divided up to give as gifts later today.  After organizing everything, I took some quiet time to sit and finish typing up yesterday’s report.  I went out into the main part of the house and asked Anna if I could sit at the dining room table.  She brought me fresh mango and café cubano and I, once again, was in heaven.


My main goal of the day was to go see the cathedral.  We walked by it several times in the last few days, but I did not get a chance to really enjoy the square and the church itself, so off I went to find a taxi.  Yes, I have made this walk many times this week, but at this point, it is about 845 degrees outside and I just don’t have it in me!  I chose a taxi from the long line of cars in front of the nearby hotel, going for the 1956 Chevy.  There are some newer, smaller cars…all of which obviously have air conditioning…but I do not care! I want to ride in one of these cool old cars!! I asked the gentleman, “how much for the Cathedral?” and he said something I didn’t understand, followed by ‘cinco’.  “Five?” I said, and he nodded.  Best five bucks I ever spent!  I jumped in the front seat and we took off.  He turned away from the direction we were supposed to be heading and started climbing the hills out of town.  Hmmm…..the cathedral that I want is actually downhill from everything else.  I know because when we went to it last night, Merlin warned me that after the cathedral, it was all ‘uphill’.    (which, of course, made me smile….).  Anyway, he was chatting merrily and saying Cathedral-something-or-other and I realize that we are going to a whole other cathedral, which might be ok, but could also be a two hour drive away!!  So I look at him quizzically and say, “Cathedral?  En centro de Santiago ?  (which I really hope means, “The Cathedral? In the middle of town? )   “Eiiiiyeee!”, he says and nods, speaking a whole lot of Spanish and smiling while he turns the car around.  We are finally heading in the right direction and the neighborhoods start looking familiar again.  I know that the fare was too high, but I do not expect him to change his mind, given the change in destination.  It is ok by me and worth it to take that ride!


When he drops me off at the cathedral, I take pictures and gaze adoringly at it. Seriously!  It is beautiful and was originally built in the 1500’s!! It actually stands way up high, sitting on top of a lot of small shops, all closed because it is Sunday. When I try to get in to the wrought iron gates that lead to the stairway, a woman says kindly, “Closed til 5:00” Of course, she says in en espagnol, but I get the drift.  Oh well….. I continue to stroll around the square, but by the time the fourth man has walked by me making kissing sounds, (turns out, I am fairly popular here!!), I decide that it is time to get off the street for a while and I head to Casa Trova.  Last night, I told you about meeting the two different musicians that both said that they were playing at Casa Trova today at 1:00? Well, I walked in, took a seat in the back and looked up to see them waving at me from the stage!!  The room was small and open on one side to the street.  It was full of small chairs covered in leather that still had the hair attached in places, and there was one lone empty chair in the back, with one tiny table.  See, it was meant to be.   I quickly tood a seat and looked up to watch my new friends.  They were both playing on a small stage with four other musicians. The place was small and full of locals…not a tourista in sight til me, (and then later two women).  When I walked in and the musicians started waving enthusiastically, all of the locals turned to look at me.   Then, as I sat down, a man came over to greet me.  It was one of the cellists whose bow I had rehaired earlier in the week!!!  He kissed me and sat down to join me for a beer.  Everyone was looking at me like, “How in the world does that tourist know all these people!!”  🙂 🙂 It was awesome!!  The music was awesome as well and I spent the better part of an idyllic afternoon sitting there, swaying and smiling to the beat.


At one point, two women came in, and I recognized them as they sat right in front of me.  I saw them two days ago and knew that they were tourists, but pegged them for Europeans, so I didn’t talk to them.  However, when they sat down, someone asked them where they were from and they said “Estados Unitos”.  I leaned forward and said, “Where in the US are you from?”, and they both started laughing.  One of the women turned around and said, “Oh, are you another disobedient servant of the crown?” 🙂 🙂  I laughed and laughed.  “Si”, I said. Turns out, she IS from Germany , (I knew she wasn’t your run of the mill American), but lives in San Francisco now, with her friend.  They were great, and are the first Americans I have met that aren’t here legally. It made me feel better to talk to them and laugh a little.


When the music finished, the band all gathered around me to sign the CD that I bought, (naturally, I had to have something to remember this by!).  They all knew that I was a cellist and bassists so I assume the guitarist and bassist had filled them in.  To feel so accepted was wonderful beyond words!  Have I mentioned how much I love Santiago ? 🙂


After the music, I finished the afternoon at the outdoor restaurant overlooking the Cathedral. I figure if I can’t go in the church, I might as well spend some time enjoying the view. 🙂  The pizza here…what is it with these people and not serving Cuban food?!?…was fabulous!!  Imagine a large, thin sopapilla with red sauce and a little cheese.  Not Cuban, per se, but it will do. 🙂  On the square, people are relaxing on the benches, not moving any more than they have to.  There is a nice breeze coming through and storm clouds are rolling in.  The line of taxis doesn’t move……there are no tourists here to hail them.  So I stare at a row of 1950’s American cars and fantasize about what it must have been like back then….the buildings freshly painted in pastels, the cigar smoke wafting by and the sounds of Cuban music spilling out of bars and hotels.  Funny….the only thing that is different is the age of the paint………..


Now, I have to go to my party.  It is raining and thundering furiously outside and I am hoping that Latin-time can apply to me tonight. J  Sitting on my bed typing with the windows and doors all open, the oscillating fan circulating cool air and the birds singing, I don’t really want to move just yet.  Yet….how often do you have people get together in your honor?  🙂 I better jump in the shower…..




Well, I am getting ready to climb into my bed here in my Cuban home for the last time.  This week has gone by so quickly!!  This evening, I headed to Martin’s place for our party, making a stop by his family home first.  It was drizzling softly and I walked slowly towards the house, carrying six bags of things I had brought from America for them.  His sister, Maline, saw me coming and ran out to help me.  Once inside, I started opening bags and showing them what I had brought.  I was nervous.  I read on the internet that everyday toiletries are very expensive in Cuba and not of a good quality, so they are very much appreciated by most families.  I was banking on that, since that is most of what I brought.  Lotion, sunscreen, new hand towels, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, tampax, etc.  The women, (Merlin had stepped out and his dad is out of town), were very excited and appreciative.  The real fun came, however, when I gave Maline the colorful headbands and fruity lip balm that I had purchased with her in mind. What 12 year old girl doesn’t like lip balm that tasted like Life Savers!!  🙂 One of our local Duluth women had donated a recorder and when I gave it to Maline, she squealed with excitement.  It was my second most favorite moment of the day. 🙂


She prattled on and on to me in Spanish, her eyes glowing with excitement.  Then I pulled out the bag of clothes I had for Mama Rosita.  She is my size and had commented on my tee shirt earlier in the week, so half of my suitcase ended up going to her.  I thought she was going to pop from excitement!!  She said that in Cuba , it is hard to find clothes her size and that she was so happy!!  It made me wish I had brought six suitcases full for her.  I also had new underwear for her and assorted other things.  And of course, I had to give her a Trail Dames tee shirt. 🙂  I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but someday she will be walking along the streets of Santiago and someone will say to her, “Are you a Trail Dame?! Me too!!”  🙂


At the very bottom of the bag were my tennis shoes.  Last Tuesday, she and I had a long talk about our shoe size and how it is so hard to find shoes for wide feet.  That was the only day that I even wore my tennis shoes and she commented how nice they were. This evening, as I was getting ready to leave for the party, I just wanted to cry. I sat there looking at those shoes…nice, but worn…clean, but scuffed and obviously used….and wished that I had something better to give her.  I wasn’t even sure she would want them, so it was with a little trepidation that I even packed them.  Then, when I looked at her questioningly and pulled them out of the bag, her whole face changed.  I thought she was going to cry.  She just hugged and hugged me.  That was my favorite moment of the night.


We finished up the gift giving with a bag of assorted candy and some bubbles.  They didn’t know what the bubbles were, so I had a great time opening them and cascading bubbles across the room. We all three squealed like little girls and giggled and giggled. I called to Merlin to come translate my explanation of the Pop Rocks candy that I had included and then we headed out.  Lasier and his wife Eunice were already at the house with their 4-year old daughter, Ariana. Later we were joined by one of Merlin’s bass teachers, and we had the best time sitting around and talking. 🙂 I broke the ice with a timid Ariana by taking her picture and showing it to her.  After that, I showed Ariana how to work my iPhone and it was official…I was her favorite person!  🙂 I showed her how to play Angry Birds and she and her mother, Eunice, were hooked in no time!  But Ariana’s favorite was the camera and we all laughed and posed for her as she wore out the batteries in both devices having a good time.


Shortly, Maline and Mamma Rosita came bustling in and called me into the kitchen. They presented me with a gift in a colorful bag.  They had wrapped a pretty three-stranded necklace with blue beads and matching earrings. They said that it matches my eyes. 🙂 Then they gave me a little wooden bracelet.  There was a card from them all, along with a Cuban postcard.  I tried not to cry as Maline fastened the necklace around me and I put the earrings and bracelet on.  How do you tell people that the greatest gift they could give you is letting you be a part of their family for a week? I was so moved and of course, I will treasure that jewelry forever.


Later, a dinner of fish, pork, rice and beans was served and soon followed by good-byes. Everyone has to work tomorrow and needs some sleep.  Lasier hugged me three times, and I tried to put a whole lot of gratitude into my returning hug.  This good-bye was soon followed by more of the same with Maline. I am going to stop by the house in the morning to say good-bye to Mamma Rosita, but she will be in school.  Oh, this is the hard part!

Merlin and I closed out the evening…walking for an hour and visiting a subdued Garzon (I actually spelled this wrong last night), before finally heading home. He, too, hugged me three times and kissed me at the street corner where he turns for home.  I teased him all week, “You will miss me when I am gone”.  I think he actually might…..I know I will miss him.

Buenos Noches,


Day 7- Unforgettable

Well, it is 1:30 in the morning and I am getting in after a long, marvelous day. J  I slept in a bit this morning, because Merlin wasn’t supposed to pick me up until 9:00 and as I sat waiting for him, Anna brought me a wonderful cup of Café Cubano.  This might just be my favorite thing about Cuba !!  cuba 2

After breakfast we took a brisk 45 minute walk through the city.  (Can you imagine… Merlin accuses me of walking fast all of the time!! ME?!?!?) We ran into David (the conductor) and one of the young violin students, who promptly kissed us hello and turned around to join us.   Our destination for the morning was a flute concert that Lasier is playing on.  We arrived at a lovely little white and blue courtyard, right off of a busy street, and this morning it has been transformed into a small concert setting. I am trying to relax and talk to David, who is delightful in every way, but mostly I am trying not to throw up.  The heat and my general state of dehydration have finally gotten to me and I am not feeling well at all.  I asked Merlin to stop for water twice on the way to the concert, but in the general camaraderie and excitement of the walk, we did not stop.

And you must understand, the walk is always exciting!  There are people everywhere, dodging each other and skipping over the big potholes in the sidewalk.  The sun is bright and the sky is a brilliant, brilliant blue, with the rare breeze feeling like utter heaven. The traffic whizzes by, a combination of old Chevrolets, Oldsmobile’s and Fords, mixed with motor bikes and huge trucks, all with their original mufflers. J The sidewalks are narrow and uneven in some places, forcing you to take your life into your hands as you step into the street to avoid a group of giggling school children, or a couple of elderly women walking arm and arm.  The smells of frying dough and men’s cologne mix with those of exhaust and stale beer. Merlin knows everyone and is very popular, so there is a constant stream of people stopping to greet him and say hello. All in all, it is like a big moving social event, albeit with a bit more road hazards than you would normally find at a party!!

When we arrive at the flute concert, Merlin says, “Anna, I must go for the work for 5 minutes….I will return”  This happens all of the time and 5 minutes truly means 45 so I ask him to please bring me water when he comes back and settle in for some flute music. There were five flautists, including Lasier, who plays on the only bass flute in Cuba .  These are all professional musicians and they were wonderful!  It was literally perfect, all rapid runs up and down and silky harmonies.   Fifteen feet away, the traffic raced by, offering a constant accompaniment of beeping horns and the above-mentioned ensemble of mufflers from the 1950’s.  But it didn’t distract me at all.  Between the truly beautiful music, the trying not to simultaneously pass out and throw up, and the listening to David’s thoughtful translation of the introduction to each piece, I was fairly focused. J

When the concert finished, each musician was presented with flowers and I turned to see Merlin in the back with my water.  I was so relieved….it was going to be very embarrassing to have a heat stroke in front of theses people!!  J  I drank a liter without stopping and felt much better. Lasier walked up and gave me his flowers with a smile.  These men are so wonderful!  After telling everyone that they were fabulous, we headed back to the workshop one last time.  We have about 10 more bows to finish before we are officially done.  David joins us, as does Lasier, and together with Merlin, the four of us spend the next three hours deep in bow work and conversation.  David and I have so much in common, (with the exception that he is a world famous conductor and underwear model- Oh, did I forget to mention that?) J.  We decide that if we were ever living in the same city, we would be the best of friends!  I hand out Tootsie Roll Pops to anyone that comes in and before we know it, we are finished.  We think that the final count is 53-ish rehairs, 12 faceplates, 2 stick cracks, one stamp protector and five thumb leathers, in four and a half days.  Wow………

When we are done cleaning up the tools, me leaving a big pile of materials for Merlin, Lasier asks if he can take me for a beer, so the four of us go across the street to a disco that is in full swing, despite the fact that it is 3:30 in the afternoon.  We descend into an air-conditioned, all-black room with TV screens playing loud Cuban street rap and take a seat around a small metal table.  Four beers and a Malta (some kind of sweet, malted beverage that David orders since he does not drink) appear on the table and I look around.  The place is mostly empty, but the people that are there are all families with small children running around.  It is a bit disconcerting to see all of the little kids while hoochie mammas shake their bodies on the TV, but it is normal life here.  I begin to tease Lasier about looking so cool and kicked back in his chair when he explains that he is the boss here. He is kind of the manager and he really is cool and kicked back!  It turns out that the plate of food he brought me several days ago came from this place.  I feel a little relieved knowing that all that meat was in an air-conditioned building at one point!!  J J As we start to talk about leaving, it is obvious that no one really wants to say good bye, so in a quick flurry of Spanish, the guys come to some sort of agreement.  “Anna, we would like to make for you a party at my house tomorrow night….is that good for you?” Ummmmm……….YES!  J J So we said good bye to Lasier until tomorrow and Merlin, David and I went to Merlin’s house for food.

We stroll down the neighborhood streets talking like we have all three been friends forever, which it kind of feels like. The guys head up to Merlin’s, while I go to say hello to his mother.  I have not seen her in a few days and feel badly. I knock on their door, crying out “Mamma Cubana…..Yo Anna” and she comes to the door with Maline, Merlin’s 12 year old sister.  Maline was shy the first time we met but now she prattles away in Spanish like I am her long lost big-sister.  She is bright as she can be and is the first to understand when I have no idea what someone is saying.  She also studied a little English, and while she can’t say anything, she understands the concept, so when she speaks to me, she speaks very slowly, always stopping to say the verb with raised eyebrows and a nod. She is fabulous!!

After greetings all around, I went back the three doors down to join the guys for lunch.  As we are waiting, David and I sit at the tiny kitchen table on a side porch while Merlin fusses around, doing dishes and straightening up.  The last time Martin was here, he left an iPod with small speakers and an incredible play list.  David plays DJ, switching between Smetana tone poems and we all hum the parts of our various instruments when The Moldau comes on.  Merlin goes outside, climbs a ladder and picks small, golden mangos from the tree outside of his window. He brings them in, rinses them off and gives them to us. David says, “You have not lived until you have had a mango, warm from the tree”.   He then says, “Wait, I have something for you!” and proceeds to play Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” on the iPod.  There we sat….a breeze coming through the slatted windows, Copeland swirling softly around the room, and warm mango juice running down our chins.  There are just no words.

Soon, Mamma and Maline come in, having made a wonderful meal, with rice and beans, fresh tomatoes, some kind of grilled pork and a little tiny banana (banana-nita? J). It is so, so good and I am happy that finally, at the end of my trip, I have a bit of appetite.   We sit for hours, talking about every conceivable topic.  David talks about how conducting makes him feel, and he and Merlin give me some insight into the Latino male mind….explaining their feelings about the women in their lives.  David talks about Serbia and what it is like to live in a civil war and Merlin’s face lights up when he talks about the bass part to Shostakovich’s 5th symphony.  The conversation dances from English to Spanish and back again, with David laughing and translating every time they forget and speak to me in Spanish.  However, I find it easy to follow the Spanish in conversations like these and love the feeling of understanding that comes from time to time.  As the sun starts to set, David puts Nat King Cole on, and as he begins to sing “Unforgettable”, David says to me, “That is what you are to us, Anna….Unforgettable”.  Then he says with a raised eyebrow and cheeky half-grin, “I know that you think that all Latin men say these things, …but this time, I mean it” J J I am half laughing and all touched.  And right on cue, another one of those moments hits me like a brick.  I am so sad to leave this place and these people.  It is amazing the depth of connections you can make in just a few days and my heart squeezes at the thought of leaving them.

Really, this time has been unforgettable……

The sun has set when we finally leave Merlin’s place.  David actually has no idea where he is (it turns out that he is a guest conductor from Havana and stays in a hotel when he is here), so Merlin is going to walk him home.  They are going in the direction of Hotel Santiago and I want to check email, so the three of us head that way, walking down the middle of the street, where the breeze is the coolest.  Conversation is easy and David talks about how happy he is to spend the day with us.  He usually holes up in his hotel room, but today he is happy to be sending time with friends.  They drop me off at the hotel and I go in to check my email.  Did I mention that a few days ago, I met a man and woman here from the United States ? And that he is a pianist from New Orleans ? Well, I did.  J When I first met him, he was sitting in with the musicians, playing a Joplin rag on the piano, and when I introduced myself to him, he said, “Isn’t it staggering how great these musicians are?”  That sentence has stuck with me all week long and when he walked up and said hello, I told him that. We ended up having a drink together and he explained that he was here on a music research visa.  His name is Tom and he really is an awesome pianist!  Since the musicians here all know him, and since the violinist in the group knows me, (My having rehaired his bow and cleaned his violin for him earlier in the week), the whole group comes and sings for us and hangs out for a while.  It is lovely.   Tom invites me out to hear some music, but I have Merlin coming to pick me up at 10 so I tell him that I will keep an eye out for him.


I finally end the day by going to Merlin’s house and pretending to be Martin, saying “Come Merlin!  Let us go to where the party it!!” J   We walk up to the main street and there is a huge street fair going on!  They have closed the giant four-lane road and there are vendors selling food, beer, bottles of rum, and jewelry for about a mile. It is called Garcon and Merlin explains that it happens every single weekend.  I love it!!  There are thousands of people everywhere.  Gangs of teen-aged boys elbow each other and glance covertly at the pretty girls, who all studiously look away, only to giggle madly moments later.  Men stand in discussion while women walk arm in arm, stopping to chat with friends.  Impromptu music groups have sprung up from place to place and as people sway to the tunes, dogs weave through the crowds hoping for some food dropped off of a paper plate.  It is my idea of a good time and Merlin quickly tires of me going to up musicians and talking to them. The funny thing is, I met both a guitarist and a bassist who are playing in a band at Casa Trova tomorrow at 1:00!  I met them literally a mile and a half from each other!  When I told Merlin that I thought it was neat that out of a million musicians in this town, I would randomly meet two from the same band, he was not impressed.  I surely need to spend some more time with this young man to educate him on the magic and wonderful-ness that is happening here!!  J J J

Now I am back home at 1:30 and I am sorry that this has gone on a bit.  But how can you pack such an amazing day into 3 pages of type?  I have left out a thousand stories and a million impressions, but I hope that you are getting some kind of flavor for this vibrant place.  For now, my bed is calling me loudly and I will say…..

Buenos Noches,


Day 6-Total Absence of the Blues

Day 6

It is 9:00, and I am sitting here on my bed in a pool of melted sweat, relaxing after a nice dinner of cheese pizza.  Ok, the pizza wasn’t that nice….but it was easy and fast and I was able to eat it after doing a quick internet check.  J  I think I might be the only person to ever visit Cuba and not eat at a Cuban restaurant!!  If I suggest it, Merlin gets very upset and says that it is very expensive, and that “we can eat at his house…..just let him go tell his mother to fix me something”.  The only other place to eat that I know of is the hotel down the street.  They have a snack bar and a hoity-toity restaurant that I cannot afford.  Since I am only eating one meal a day…the snack bar it is. J  When I get home, I will go to the Cuban restaurant in Norcross… is wonderful. J J

Anyway, it is dark outside, the temperature is cooling down to a nice 90 degrees and it is time for bed, right? Wrong!  Merlin will be here in an hour to take me to hear traditional Cuban music! It is about time!!  I am so excited and I will tell you all about it tomorrow!  J  Today was another day full of rehairing bows and seeing students and musicians. Many now greet me like an old friend, kissing me on the cheek as they say hello. It makes me feel so good!    We had another breakthrough today in Cuban/American relations, as well.  You know how I keep talking about these moments that always happen for me when I travel overseas? Well today, right on cue, came the next one.  (I could set my watch by these things.)  Today was the day that everyone forgot that I don’t speak Spanish.J  It always happens around the end of the first week…..people just look at me and start spewing Spanish in normal conversation. These are people that know me!  Trust me; this is not because of some new-found fluency on my part.  I think it happens when the novelty of having a foreigner (me) around finally wears off.  It is pretty funny, actually.  Merlin and I were having an in depth bow conversation when all of the sudden, he switched to Spanish, in mid-sentence, no less! .  When I just looked at him, he simply said, “I know…..I just don’t know how to say it in English”, and then proceeded to keep talking to me in Spanish.  I just laughed and laughed. What are you going to do?


My favorite part of the day (so far) was late this afternoon when Merlin, Lasier and I were working on bows.  Two of the young teenage students…both very pretty girls…were hanging out waiting for us to finish their bows, flirting lightly with both of the guys and eating the M and M’s I was sharing.  J  Merlin was playing music on his phone…some sort of Latin hip-hop…. and all of the sudden a slow, Latino love song came on.  Merlin started singing softly as he worked and soon, both Lasier and the girls all joined in.  They didn’t really know they were all singing together, they were just each caught up in the song.  It was one of those moments, you know?  One of those moments when everything got kind of quiet and everyone seemed so content and comfortable.  I just smiled to myself as I combed out the bow hair, thinking, “how lucky am I?”.  I know I say that a lot, and when I am at home, I feel lucky and blessed each and every day. But when I am on one of my adventures, things like this take on a kind of glow and it really brings home how great this life really is.


(Later…….. at 1 am…)

Ok, so if you are going to suffer permanent hearing damage, it should definitely happen in a Cuban bar, don’t you think?  J  I am back from my evening and it was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!  When we left the house, I could tell that something was different.  It is Friday night in Santiago and the town had a celebratory feel to it. The women on the streets were all dressed up and the children were completely precious, wearing little shawls, three piece suits….the ninas wearing flowers in their hair. We walked to the concert hall where we work every day and turned down a street that was full of people.  Every building had a restaurant or bar in it and they all had live Cuban music going on!  I think I have died and gone to heaven!!  We waited in a park for Lasier, and there were people dancing in the square, a band playing under a pavilion and old cars driving by, spewing exhaust from 1956.  It was awesome!  As we sat in the park and waited, Merlin and I played the ‘what country do you think THEY are from’ game.  England , France , Germany ?  I am usually very good at this game and it turns out, so is Merlin, so we had a great time talking about everyone that walked by. J


When Lasier didn’t show up, we started the evening in one of Santiago’s most famous clubs.  Merlin with a beer and me with a Mojito, we settled in for some music.  I have to say, the music was amazing…but very, very loud. I consoled myself by saying that it sure was a heck of a way to lose your hearing, but early on, couldn’t bring myself to leave.  I mean, I was in Cuba , listening to a traditional Cuban band, for Pete’s sake!!

Then they walked in.  Five adults.  Laughing, dancing their way to their seats, making a graaaaand entrance.  The man looked like a brunette Woody Allen and was dancing across the entrance way wearing a tee shirt that said, “F*#% you, you f*#^ing f*#%”.

The Americans are here.

For the first time, I saw how we really look to the rest of the world.  I have to admit, I was laughing at the tee shirt…you can blame the mojito on that.  I mean, who wears a shirt like that??? Then I realized that not only was I a little embarrassed, but I had reached my decibel limit.  Two professional salsa dancers had come out and were working the crowd. Merlin wasn’t so thrilled by the music either so I suggest (yelled, really) that we go find something better.  He was horrified that I would pay $5 for each of us and then leave 45 minutes later, but I explained that given my face, it was only a matter of time before that salsa dancer zoned in on me and that one mojito was NOT enough to get me out on the dance floor! He acquiesced and sure enough, as we were leaving, I glanced back to see the Americans being dragged onto the dance floor by the pros.  (Whew, that was a close one)  J

We strolled from place to place, checking out bands, making a quick stop in the middle of a square to visit with some bass playing friends of Merlins.  After talking about Baby Basses, (everyone here loves Ampeg!!!), we asked the advice of his friends and ended up at a delicious bar across the square.  Long and narrow, with a hundred plants hanging overhead and oscillating fans blowing the air around, the outdoor café with its live band was perfect.  We were soon joined by yet another of Merlin’s bass playing friends, and sat enjoying beers and the music for a while.

Several phone conversations took place  with Merlin on his cell phone and


it turned out that he was in the middle of a big personal problem involving women.  (Doesn’t it always involve women?!)  As he got more and more depressed, I finally taught the both of them about the blues.  Not playing the blues, which they both understood completely, but having the blues.  (Try explaining THAT in a second language!!)  When we finally closed the restaurant down, Merlin declared that he had the blues and needed to go home and play his bass for a while.  The three of us strolled through the darkened streets of Santiago laughing and joking, slowly chasing his blues away.  When we neared my corner, Merlin said, “Please to come, Anna….help me chase the blues away…we will play the bass!!”  I laughed and explained to him that I was old and that he and his friend would do just fine without me.  J  After a bit more cajoling, I sent them on their way and walked the last block home.  I am happy, peaceful, and about as far away from the blues as a girl can get.

Buenos Noches,


Day 5- Don’t tell my parents!!


Day 5

Don’t tell my parents!!!

So, today started just like any other day…….isn’t it funny that I can say that when I haven’t even been here a whole week?  But when it feels like you have been here for months, you can say….today started just like any other day. J  I got up and ate some of the fabulous fresh mango and pineapple Anna had made for me, before heading out the door for the half hour walk to the concert hall.  I now know my way there with no problems and would love to walk it by myself, so that I could slow down and take some pictures.  But Martin has told Merlin that he MUST take good care of me!  In fact, Merlin says that he is my Cuban body guard and he takes being my escort very seriously.  By the time we are ten minutes into our commute, I am soaked with sweat.  It is really, really hot here. The humidity is soaring and luckily, I came with my Haiti mindset. That being… dress comfortably, pull your hair back, prepare to never be dry and step in front of every fan you see!!  J  Even the Cubans are hot.  You can see them all fanning themselves and keeping to the shady side of the street.  But they don’t seem to sweat much.  They look cool as can be and I find myself wishing I had a bit of their DNA.

When we got to the school, people started pouring in, picking up their bows from yesterday, dropping others off.  Did I mention that they were dropping more off?! You would not believe the pile of bows we have to do! I say ‘we’, but Merlin deposited me at the work bench and took off. He had lots of work to do elsewhere so I was on my own.  I started cutting and cleaning and filing and polishing and combing and tying and rosining til I thought my hands would fall off.  Official count as of now is 20 rehairs, 5 faceplates and four thumb leathers in two days.  J Please don’t tell my parents because they might seriously start to re-think their expectations of my work at the shop!!  J  Merlin did help with some of those faceplates…in fact, if you count the ones that he did by himself, we are up to about 8 faceplates.  Not bad for two days!!  J  At one point, an elderly man brought me a bass bow and asked for hair and a faceplate. His faceplate was bad, but it was still in one piece, so I told him that I would try. I would definitely do the hair but that I would have to see, time-wise, if I could get to the faceplate.  He walked out and returned several minutes later, walked up to me and handed me a huge, beautiful mango.  I laughed and laughed and told him that presents would get him special treatment.  I looked at that mango all day long and his bow was finished by 6 oclock. J

Before lunch, David, the conductor of the symphony came in to sit and talk to me while I worked. He is a few years younger than me and has lived all over the world.  He speaks good English and I enjoy hearing about why he chose the music that they are playing for this concert.  After hearing him discuss the difficulty of playing Faure with the orchestra, I finally asked him, “How is it possible that these people play so well with such terrible equipment? “  Earlier I had heard a Paganini Caprice being played in the court yard by what could have been Jasha Heifetz….seriously.  David said, “When I was growing up, my bow was terrible….it had no camber and a third of the hair.” When I would say something to my teacher, they would say, “You make it work….if you have no hair, you find more power in your bow arm…..whatever it takes, you find a way”.  And that is exactly what these musicians have done.  These are not, ‘oh-bless-their-heart-they-are-poor-and-have-no-resources’ musicians…..these are ‘thank-god-they-aren’t-showing-up-for-major-symphony-auditions-cause-all-those-Curtis-kids-would-be-screwed’ musicians. J And it is a pleasure to be rehairing for them.


My wonderful friend from yesterday, Lasier, is back and watching most of the day. He can still read my mind and when I figured out how to say it to him in Spanish; he grinned and said that the last LSF guy said the exact same thing to him.  He brought me two cookie-type things at one point for breakfast and later offered to go get me a beer.  I tried to explain to him that drinking while working didn’t really work for me and that I would wait til later, He smiled and took off, coming back 15 minutes later with a heaping plate of food!!  He said that I had not stopped or eaten all day long and that I needed food.  He took the lid off with a flourish and showed me a giant plate of meat. Yeeesh.  Some of it I recognized…ham, cured ham (I think) and some sort of shrimp heaped on what looked like white worms but wasn’t pasta.  ???  The rest of the meat ….there were six different kinds circling the plate…looked tripe-ish.  Oh my…..  Oh, and there was something that looked like Vienna sausage.  The whole thing was covered with slices of cheese.

Most of you know that I was a vegetarian for 10 years.  Now I eat meat all the time, and I have no problem with it…mostly.  But this…..there was a whole lot of pig staring at me off of this plate.  How was I ever going to eat it?  This was street food at it’s finest……all at room temperature.  I just didn’t think I could do it.  But really, you cannot just travel somewhere and turn down kindness like this!!  I didn’t want him to think that Americans were too good to eat their food….or that I didn’t appreciate it!  So, I took a bite of ham in front of him….”Yummmmm’, I said, smiling.  Then I took a bite of Vienna sausage.  Umm… definitely NOT Vienna sausage. After he stepped out, I started pushing the food around like crazy, trying to pile it up,  leaving big empty spaces on the plate.  That plate of meat sat their all afternoon.  Cubans would come in, I would offer them some, they would dig in and the blank spots would grow.  At the end of the day, there was STILL meat on that plate!  But there was a lot less and I didn’t feel so badly.


Towards the end of the day, Merlin’s bass teacher came in for an emergency rehair. He is flying to Havana to play a Donzenetti opera tomorrow and was having bow problems.  Merlin did it for him while we talked about bass players we knew.  I shared some M and M’s with them and he showed me photos of his two year old son.  It was a great ending to the day and it stressed for me again, just how small the music world is and how we all have this great thing in common that brings us together, even when we know nothing about each other.

After work, I went home, walking part of the way by myself. Merlin quizzed me on directions and finally seems to feel that I am ok.  I go in to tell Anna that we will not be going to Guantanamo after all and that I will be staying another three nights after tonight.  She smiles and hugs me and says that she is so glad and that I am part of the family.  J  When I ask for directions to the laundry mat, she insists on doing my laundry at no charge.  “It makes our family so happy to have you here”, she said.  How lucky am I?  I gave her my mango, explaining that it was a gift to me and that I wanted to give it to her as a gift. She laughed and said that tomorrow morning, she would make me more mango for breakfast….”not THIS mango”, she said, pointing at the one that I had given her, “I will make you a different one”.

I feel so cared for. J


Tomorrow, I think we might finally be going to hear some music, so if you don’t hear from me, it is because I am salsa-ing with a good-looking Cuban man.  J I will follow up with all of the details later. J But for now……

Buena Noches,