Cuba has dominated this blog’s thoughts of late as our upcoming trip coincides with the first US presidential visit to the Caribbean island in nearly 90 years. Obama’s announcement of this further thawing of diplomatic relations came after we’d booked our trip (Perhaps the NSA got wind? One can never be too paranoid). Then came the news that 150 daily flights would start flying from the US to Cuba in the near future.
Going for the first time to a place is the only way to confound your preconceptions of somewhere you’ve never been.
We all do it. We build a place in our minds, constructing narratives even though we’ve never physically been. They’re usually tangental collections of popular culture that you gather from one place or another. They fester in your dreams and slip through your daydreams – they are reductive, powerful and hard to shake, even after you’ve been.
Cuba is one of these places for me.
Currently my Cuba exists in an imaginative blender containing various snippets of history, pastiche movies and books. All I know about Cuba is what everybody knows, and I too had Che framed on my wall. Then came the Buena Vista Social Club, that album would be one of my desert island discs, I listened to it all the time. The refrain, “De Alto Cedro voy para Marcan/ Llego a Cueto, voy para Mayar,” was all I sang, without a clue of what it meant, just knowing it sounded great:
I developed this through Gilles Peterson. Taking his lead from the Buena Vista Social club’s millennial album, he modernised things by atomising more of Cuba’s rich aural tapestry within his Havana Cultura project; Cuba’s jazz, hip-hop and soul rhythms were captured in these compilations.
Reading some history and biography on the revolution, Castro and Che, particularly his motorcycle diaries, supplemented this interest further. Then somewhere in there came the real writers: Hemingway, Graham Greene and Hunter S. Thompson, with The Old Man and the Sea, Our Man in Havana and The Rum Diaries. In the last few years the latter was made into a glimmering feature film with Johnny Depp as the star.
You get the point, I have a vision of Cuba built up in my mind, and while it’s foundationed in cliché, I can only start to erode that the moment my foot meets what I hope will be tarmac. When I smell the aromas and hear, for the first time, their Spanish spoken, “Que mi punto?”
Wandering around La Habana Vieja, spying the 50s American vintage cars and travelling in the Caribbean heat via hand-me-down trains and buses to the old Spanish colonial cities of Trinidad or Santiago de Cuba is when things will start to separate.
It’ll help to inhale the cigar fumes, drink the mojitos and swim in the Bay of Pigs.
Somewhere along the way reality impinges on your mind’s eye and you’re left with only vague feelings of déjà vu to remind you of that constructed place you had.
I just hope that when I’m coming through customs in Havana they don’t take issue with my American J1 visa that’s stuck to page 8 of my passport. It’d be a shame to have to turn back.
Americans, I wonder what your thought dreams of Cuba must be like?
The increasingly effective lame duck president is on the legacy trail, lift the trade embargo. . .
What to go to?
It so happens that the Dublin Film Festival must have got our Cuba memo too; they are closing their programme with a screening of Viva, an Irish written and directed film which was shortlisted for an academy award in the foreign language feature category.
This project started when Paddy Breathnach planted an idea in Mark O’Halloran’s head – he was to go spend some time amongst the Cuban drag scene and see if he came back with a story.
O’Halloran, who wrote the lauded Irish tragic-comedy movies Adam and Paul and Garage, headed for Havana equipped with 20 wigs he’d been given by Pantibliss and some MAC make-up. These items he used as capital to trade in the gay clubs when he arrived in order to infiltrate the Communist seams of queer culture.
The blog hasn’t seen the results yet, but all the grumblings are positive.
Viva closes the Dublin film festival this Sunday, 28th, in the Savoy cinema.
Read this Maggie Armstrong interview with the writer for more insight into O’Halloran’s time in Havana and the creative process that spawned Viva.
For more deep background listen to Jarlath Regan’s Irishman Abroad. Here O’Halloran talks about grief, keeping a diary and slowly becoming the artist he is today. The conversation is full of warmth, which is a constant solace in O’Halloran’s dark stories and scripts:
Edited by Sue Rainsford, the latest addition to the burgeoning literary magazine scene in Dublin is launching on Friday, March 4th in the Winding Stair Bookshop with readings from Shauna Barbosa, Christodoulos Makris and Julie Morrissy.
some mark made is a limited edition publication featuring experimental and speculative writing in the veins of poetry, prose and criticism. It will seek to engage our ways of experiencing prose, focusing on the materiality of the literary pursuit in a dynamic live setting.
Literature starts on a page, but it’s never confined to that page:
“It is worth remembering that literature is by nature expansive, tactile and interrogative.”
Details of the launch can be found here.
CC Brez Nightfall Album Launch – Whelan’s, tonight (Feb 27th), €12
The former lead guitarist of The Republic of Loose, CC Brez, is thankfully still married to slick, groove-inducing guitar riffs which are best relayed on the dancefloor, even if he’s singing about “The Breakup.”
It took 18 months to hone this first solo album; along the way he’s delivered plenty of parties at festivals and gigs so get along to Whelan’s tonight for your fill of funk and soul.
What to read and listen to?
You get used to heavyweights in the New Yorker fiction section, but a new Don DeLillo story still has the power to shake a reader with its clarity of perception and the immediacy of the characters. This short story is about the loss of a parent, and it opens bluntly with the line, “He was a man shaped by money.”
DeLillo is a busy writer in 2016 with his new novel Zero K due out in May.
On a recent visit to the Parisian bookshop Shakespeare & Co the author did a reading from his post 9/11 novel Falling Man. In conversation after he discussed how images often trigger an idea for a story and how peopling a novel helped him process those tragic events – while noting the omnipresent effects of the threat terrorism on our modern cities today.
In the talk he paid homage to Ulysses, which was published in Shakespeare & Co by Sylvia Beach in 1922 (5 days ago, on February 22nd), citing particularly the first three chapters of the novel for their virtuosity and beauty, listen in full here:
A This American Life Collaboration with The New York Times
Recently a friend, who’s a cop in Chicago, came to Dublin for a brief visit. He told a story from his police training days and I’ve thought about it a good bit since.
In order to carry a taser as a cop in the States you must get tased on video during your training. It’s voluntary, opt in or opt out, but anyone who is not willing to take part and get tased doesn’t get to carry a taser on the beat.
The video is kept and can be used in court as evidence that the cop knows the force they’re using when they discharge their taser on a member of the public. All very logical, but I wonder was this logic ever extended to guns? It couldn’t hurt.
America has a well documented problem of cops shooting unarmed black men, Alan Pean’s story is another shocking example.
Brought to us through the collaboration of two giants of American journalism, This American Life teamed up with Elisabeth Rosenthal of The New York Times to tell, in print and audio, the completely insane story of the day that changed Alan Pean’s life.
It serves to highlight America’s bizarre and constitutionally ingrained relationship with weapons and where they’re willing to have them.
Read ‘When the Hospital Fires the Bullet‘ from The New York Times and listen to This American Life as they tell Alan Pean’s story:
The Gloaming Phenomenon – Take ‘2‘
Travellers to Cuba are encouraged to come bearing gifts. Locals often ask you to leave stuff behind, things we take for granted but may be difficult to get over there. Usually these are practicalities. But when someone this week mentioned that we should go equipped with a copy of the latest Gloaming album as a gift it struck me as perfect.
Immediately the effect of hearing that Buena Vista Social Club record came back to me, the ability it had to conjure a Cuban magic. Could it be reciprocated in an Irish equivalent?
What would Cubans make of this trad-super group:
Have a read of this interview by Hilary A White on State.ie. It takes a look at the band’s scientific approach to their music:
“The Gloaming 2 lands in all good record stores this Friday and sees lightning strike twice for a group who with every song and sold-out show seem to rewrite the periodic table of traditional music science.”
The Gloaming play five sold out gigs in Dublin’s National Concert from tonight, February 27th, to Thursday March 3rd. You will not get tickets for grá nor money, even dollars.
Listen to the results of their second stint in the studio, which was released yesterday:
In other music news, Roisin Murphy is ready to follow up her splendid Hairless Toys record with frightening alacrity as she’s been in the studio and seems happy with the results:
Almost there. Two songs left to mix and we’re done with this monstrous, preposterous, crazy, beautiful record. Best yet.
— Roisin Murphy (@roisinmurphy) February 25, 2016