Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Friday, 20th March

Cathedral Plaza with the Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Centre in the background

I find my way to Wilfredo Lam by bus; this process involves changing buses once and it takes me more than an hour. I am told a bus is called a ‘Güa Güa’, pronounced ‘wah wah’. Bus etiquette includes asking at the bus stop who is last in line, and then shouting ‘permisso’ to get through the people on the bus. The buses are packed, and on the next one I barely manage to squeeze into the doorway – with my toes just inside. Miraculously the doors close wedging us in. The fare is a token 40 National Cents. The bus driver, cigar in mouth, plays his own taste in music at whatever volume he likes. He also stops en route to pick up some food and run errands.

At Wilfredo Lam, I am introduced to a beautiful young Cuban lady called Susel who is to be my assistant. Together we go by bus through a tunnel under the Bay of Havana to the Fortaleza de la Cabãna, an old Fortress. At the Cabãna, I am shown my exhibition space. It is a long room with a curved ceiling that was used to store ammunition or house soldiers. There are many of these lined up next to each other, making up the fortress.

Susel and me

Together we unpack and loosely arrange my installation. We share the lunch Susel has been given as a worker there. Afterwards we have a mojito at an outdoor restaurant where we meet some of the other artists. There is Ishmael from Peru with his assistant Dan from the UK. I also bump into Marcio who I know from São Paulo. We arrange to meet up later.

Susel shows me some of Old Havana and then we take an old American car to the neighbourhood of Vedado. Many of the old American cars work like the taxi vans do here in S.A, working along certain routes and picking up passengers on the way. Inside they are often heavily modified with seats taken from other vehicles, but with no door handles or window-winders.

In Vedado, the university district, we visit her friend Yacksie (no idea how this is spelt). In her street there are men playing dominos and a neighbourhood dog called Charity that everyone feeds. At Yacksie’s we eat some rice and beans. The women shower and dress and then we set off into the night.

We walk down the Avenue of the Presidents, the main emo hang-out in Havana. Later we end up in a club with Ishmael, Dan and some artists from Brazil. At 3am the club closes and we go back to Yacksie’s where we microwave a pizza and I pass out.

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