Thursday, December 13, 2007

havana good time

I'm in the mood to go to Cuba. Havana would be nice. Where music wafts out of the windows through the streets. Where people, hearing the music, dance; their worries carried away on dulcet tones. Joyful jazz sounds make it hard to be anxious, annoyed with another or afraid about the future. People come together, united by the music and the moment. It feels like there's something to celebrate and whether there is or not, the feeling that there is, is all that is required for there to be a party - and what's a party without people - so everyone is invited. Bygones are gone. Tomorrow is too far away. There is only now - and being Cuba - the whole day and night in which to make the most of being alive. There may not be much food, not a lot of variety when there is. There's not much money - and nothing to buy anyway - except on the 'black market', if you have money. There is only the music, and the people but what a people! People who know how to make the most of whatever there is. Who can use whatever is at hand. Take those beautiful old pastel coloured rounded 1950's cars - still going because the Cubans have found ways and means to keep them going, since trade imbargoes mean there have been no new cars or replacement parts coming to Cuba from the USA for fifty years. Every part that breaks has to be manufactured from junk or spirited away from some less deserving vehicle. Its not just the parts but the tools with which to work as well that have to be conjured up via ingenuity.
My favourite Cuban story is one I read in a book of travellers tales. It goes something like this. A traveller was on board a public bus. The driver spies a beautiful woman standing, as though waiting. He stops the bus and begins to talk to the beautiful woman who ignores him. he persists. She continues to ignore him. He disappears into a shop and returns with an icecream, which he offers to the woman. She accepts it. The whole bus load of passengers, watching, cheers. The woman begins to talk to the bus driver. After quite some time it becomes clear that the bus driver and the woman are engrossed in conversation. Someone on the bus moves forward into the driver's seat and drives the bus to their bus stop. They get off the bus. Someone else moves forward into the driver's seat and drives the bus until their stop. When someone else moves forward to drive the bus....

I've never actually been to Cuba - just had an imaginery holiday there some summers ago when, despondent that I wasnt actually going away when everyone else seemed to be doing so, I read everything I could find on Cuba, listened to Cuban music, cooked Cuban inspired recipes, bought a bottle of bacardi rum and experimented with making cocktails. I wrote a journal, pretending I was there. Couldnt quite come at a cigar, though. My fascination for Cuba began with seeing a documentary produced by Wim Wenders and Ry Cooder about the Buena Vista Social Club. (watch extract here). That's when I really fell in love with the place - seduced by the music and the pastel patinas of peeling paint on grand old Spanish inspired buildings. That was some years ago now. So why should that longing to return (to my idealised Cuba) return now? There is something about joy and celebration that has not a hint of comercialised, consumerised, globalised, department store soullessness. There is something about the spontenaity and the inclusiveness. The way that it all happens in the street - in the public arena - and everyone is included. There is something in that that speaks of the kind of community i long for. And I like the serious bias towards having fun. Though the music allows for other moods as well, and I like that, too. No doubt there are the very poor and the very rich in Cuba, but the street is a great leveller and music a powerful catylist for creating a commonality, a communality.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

the art of city living

I love living in the city. I think it is because of the humanly constructed environment. Everywhere I look is a work of art. Even cardboard piled on the footpath, awaiting collection has artistic merit. The city is like an enormous house made up of many rooms: unique and distinct spaces. I notice the trend in cafes to create different spaces within the one space - the communal table, the comfy lounge chairs, the intimate table for two in the corner near the window, bar stools facing out to the footpath where you can sit alone and watch the "world go by". And all these spaces are brought together to convey an ambience, a mood. I favour the '70's style mismatched chairs with jazz music. They come from an era when life was simpler. I like to imagine that the trend for retro has to do with recycling and reusing some of the abundance of stuff that already exists.
All this constant created environment, is it humans just trying to convince themselves that they are in control? Or is it that humans are innately creative and cant help but shape, colour, design our surrounds? Does the focus on the outward save us from having to go inward? Does insulating ourselves with the material protect us from facing the spiritual? I think not. If anything, it creates a yearning for meaning, for mystery.