Gotitas de sudor acumuladas entre mis senos. El ruido del ventilador que oscilaba de lado a lado. Circulando aire caliente, aire húmedo. En una silla se sentaba un radio, tocando un bolero, un son, un cha cha cha. Sus manos delicadamente rozaban mi espalda, mi cintura. Yo no sabía cómo dejarlo guiarme. Quizás él no me sabía guiar. En el espejo veíamos nuestros cuerpos moverse, nuestros cuerpos bailar, al ritmo del palmoteo del instructor, en el segundo piso de un edificio viejo en Centro Habana.
In Santiago people kiss. Publicly. The old and the young and the in-between. In the trains, in park benches, in grocery stores, in street corners, in bars, in restaurants, up against walls, laying in the grass. They put hands in each other’s pockets, whisper in each others ears, smile and hide their faces in each others necks. Public demonstrations of affection. Public demonstrations. Demonstrations. Like rebellious acts of love.
Me gusta lo cotidiano
La manera que la luz filtra por las cortinas
Las sombras de las hojas que bailan en mi pared
Los respiros de mi Lulú cuando duerme
El sabor salado de mis lagrimas
El romance de la rutina
La ansiedad en las mañanas
El hambre de medio día
La insomnia de la noche
Cuando no puedo dormir por pensar en lo que fue
Me gusta lo cotidiano
Banquetes literarios en los Domingos
Las risas únicas y distintas de las mujeres que amo
El agua que lava la tristeza
La piel que habito
Las caminatas diarias que hago con los ojos cerrados
Me gusta lo cotidiano
La manera que mis deditos mantienen tensos
Listos para lo imprevisto.
The air is hot and dry as I walk through the airport doors. I feel sweat drops on my lower back as I haul my backpack over my shoulder and make my way through a crowd of taxi drivers. As I wait for an Uber, I anxiously try to learn Arabic script in order to read the license plates. Cairo is exhausting, it’s masculine, loud, fast. Women in hijabs and burkas passed me by, they could have easily gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for their eyes, watchful and attentive, sometimes warm, wrinkled eyes as indicators of a hidden smile. Cairo is a megacity, with a metropolitan population of over 20 million people, but as I walked through el'arafa (City of the Dead) everything was still, the Necropolis was the quiet counterpart to a bustling downtown. While staying in a hostel in the city center, the noise became a buzzing in my ear, I would fall asleep with the frantic sound of car honks and I’d wake up with the calls to prayer. When I wondered the streets past midnight I saw the streets flooded with life, the summer heat becomes tolerable and people are eager for contact. I walked through a maze of markets that never seemed to end. Cairo is an organized madness, logical chaos.
I woke up before you this morning. The night before we clumsily built our tent in the darkness, the waterfall rumbled loudly and we couldn’t see past the few feet our camping headlights illuminated. I wanted to set up camp closer to the beginning of the trail, I was afraid of the impending darkness after dusk, but you said “let’s keep going a bit further” and you encouraged me to go forth, you talked me past scary climbs and slippery rocks, you were there the whole time, you carried my weight, you held my hand, you’ve always been brave bordering on reckless. I woke up before you this morning. I stared at you sleep, cocooned inside your sleeping bag, hair greasy and mouth slightly open. I slipped out of the tent quietly. We were surrounded by walls of rock, we were so alone with the exception of the giant cactus that stood guard, tall and ancient. It was cold under the shade so I made my way across the stream to a patch of sand already blessed with the warmth of the morning sunlight. I grabbed our gas stove and boiled water from the stream, I slipped off my clothes and with a canteen cup I bathe. I woke up before you this morning. When you arose, you found me naked on a blanket. We exchanged few words, you sparked the stove and took a bath. I looked at you stretch, much like I had done for over 7 years, you felt me photographing you but you ignored the camera, much like you had done for over 7 years. We made love, we ate, we packed up our tent. I woke up before you this morning.
It was winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but in Santiago, snow is a rare sighting. I flew into a snow dusted city. The Andes stood out, beautifully dipped in white. I was dropped off at an apartment I had rented, these old buildings were not built to insulate heat, it was cold and all I had was an electric heater which I quickly plugged into the wall and waited until it warmed my bedroom.
What: " Cuba - Decades Apart"
Cuba photographed in 2016 by Camila Bernal and in 1997 by John Kennard
Where: Pearl Street Gallery
100 Pearl Street
Chelsea, MA 02150
When: Opening reception will be on February 25th from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m
Details: This event is free / open to the public and handicap accessible.
RSVP, driving / mbta info and alternative gallery hours at:
The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro died on Friday November 25th 2016 at 90 years-old. It only seems appropriate to reflect on the complex and perplexing experience that is Cuba today. During my trip to Cuba in August, I spoke to locals who had opposing views, there was the idealistic older generation of Castro loyalists and the young and disillusioned who remember José Martí poems as pretty and unrealistic children's stories. I was there for the celebration of his 90th birthday on August 13th, where across the country celebrations were held. I visited museums, carefully curated and shrine-like, that elevated Fidel Castro as a sort of demigod. I stayed in casa's particulares where families offered the same rationed breakfast every day; 1 egg, small bits of ham, small basket of bread, coffee and a fruit salad. I walked through streets of dilapidated buildings where people refused to move out of, beautiful and rustic, falling apart just like the communist dream. There were tourists who ate expensive seafood dinners and comfortably had access to internet from their hotel terraces, in contrast to the local Cuban's who ate cheap ham sandwiches everyday and huddled in parks where for short periods of time could connect to spotty signals. Anthony DePalma from the New York times accurately sums up the legacy left by Castro in his recent article:
Cuba has a great track record in terms of free access to quality education for everyone and has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, as of 2015 Cuba's adult literacy rate was 99.7% according to the world development indicators. This is evident when talking to Cubans, anyone from a waiter to a security guard can hold an intellectual conversation. But there's no market to absorb the educated and skilled labor force in Cuba, leading people to take any job to make ends meat, you see increasing levels of poverty and inequality. The health care system is exemplary which has resulted in extremely low child mortality rates (4 per 1,000 lives births in 2015 compared to 5.6 per 1,000 live births in the U.S. in 2015) and access to reproductive services for women. One woman I spoke to explained how her abortions had been covered at no cost in her youth as well as her fertility treatments when she was ready to be a mother but unable to conceive. These social strides have been overshadowed by the oppressive conditions of the state and lack economic development. In the 90's Cuban entered what is called "período especial en tiempos de paz" a euphemism for the economic crisis that occurred when the Soviet Union fell. Levels of malnutrition increased as the state decreased rations to reflect the lowering of the minimum calorie intake per person, cars stopped running without access to fuel, and agricultural production came to a near halt. There have been mentions of another periodo special, Raul Castro has been preparing Cuba to deal with the effects Venezuela's economic crisis.
Cuba, with it's complicated history and it's existing contradictions has it's charm. Children run and play in the streets, not absorbed by technology and always eager to kick a ball late into the night. Couples sit on the malecón and drink rum from small juice boxes, they talk and watch people walk by for hours. The people are always willing to talk, eager to share their experiences and yearning to hear of ours outside of the island. They celebrate their Afro-Caribbean culture through dance and music and the liveliness is contagious and all-consuming. At times it felt like there was no world outside of Cuba, just hot and hazy tropical days where time seemed to have stopped.
Cuba was confusing, complex, you fall in love one moment and get your heart broken the next, it's beautiful, tragically romantic, absolutely unique. Below are photographs I took while roaming Cuba this past August.