Serendipity

Many people have been asking how my husband Adam David Miller and I were able to go to Cuba without going in a group. The short answer is magic.

When I asked  Adam where he wanted to go to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, he said without hesitation, “To Cuba!”

Adam and me in front of the Hotel Nacional in Havana

Adam and me in front of the Hotel Nacional in Havana

He then said that he did not want to go illegally, and he did not want to go with a group. Even though I had been to Cuba with a group 15 years ago, I was a bit stumped as to how to do that with the idiotic travel restrictions the US government has placed on its citizens in relation to travel to Cuba. I started researching and trying to get in touch with Cuba sister city projects to see if we could go under the auspices of either the Berkeley or Richmond projects. But we kept running into road blocks—unanswered e-mails, locked doors when we showed up a meetings, etc. and it was looking iffy at best.

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Elise playing didgeridoo in Alameda at an Esoterica event

Then one day (you could say once upon a time…) I was visiting my friend Edie to play some music. And there was a woman there that Edie had recently met, Karen Lee Wald, who looked vaguely familiar to me. After we were introduced, she began talking about her connections to Cuba. At some point I realized that I had actually met her when I went to Cuba since she is a well-known journalist and expert on Cuba, and our group had met with her. I told her that Adam and I wanted to go there. I also explained that I thought maybe I could teach didgeridoo to people there because I am sure that they cannot afford C-PAP machines, the most common treatment for the disease. Since didgeridoo is a natural and cheap alternative that actually ameliorates sleep apnea and is also very good treatment for asthma, I thought it would be a perfect fit for Cuba. She was not only interested in that, but said that she herself used a C-PAP machine and would love to be weaned off of it. We started a trade where I taught her didgeridoo and she helped us set up our trip to Cuba.

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Adam in Karen’s house in Havana reading from Ticket to a community activist

She wasn’t planning to be in Cuba when we wanted to go (January or February) so when she did go in November, 2013, she began making contacts for us, places to stay, drivers, and people to meet. She read Adam’s autobiography, Ticket to Exile and began thinking of many people in Cuba, especially poets and writers who would want to meet Adam. And she kept saying that it would be so much better if she were there when we were to make sure these meetings happened. Finally she wrote and offered to come with us if we would just pay her expenses. To save money, we could stay with her in her house in Havana. What an incredibly generous offer which we, of course, took her up on immediately.

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Film maker Gloria Rolando

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Adam and Pablo Armando Hernandez

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Adam, Elise and Poet Nancy Morales

Karen became our guardian angel, advising us on what to bring, how to document our trip so that we were sure to stay under the exemption to the travel restrictions. And she proceeded to take us under her wing, advise us to go through Cancun, whisk us around Cuba where we met famous poets, writers and artists including poet, Pablo Armando Hernandez; Esteban Morales (expert on race and racism in Cuba), Gloria Rolando (documentary film maker currently working on a project about Haitians in Cuba), poet Nancy Morales, and activist Yolanda Gonzales to name a few. She showed us a side of Cuba that could only be shown by someone who lived there (she raised her kids there starting in the late ‘60’s).

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Karen in the studio of Cuban community artist Fuster.

Talk about serendipity. That seems to have been our mode of transport. Thank you, Karen!

I feel a responsibility to tell the stories of Cuba now that I am back especially since we get such warped reporting here in the States. See the last blog and ones to come.

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The Space Between Us

ScannedImageI was recently introduced to  a new-to-me author, Thrity Umrigar, an Indian-American. I was originally drawn to the title of her novel, The Space Between Us. In my philosophical work, I created the concept of The Between, the space which lies between the dichotomies this culture has created such as men and women, night and day, humans and the environment. The Between offers connection, creativity, and love. However this culture has for the most part amputated this rich and alive part of our lives. See The Emperor Has  Body: Body-Politics in the Between.

Anyway, I loved that first book. Thrity’s astute sensibilities picked up on the very things that interest me about human culture. She sees class, gender, friendship, parenthood with an eye for context, uncovering the underpinnings of culture that push us into places we can’t understand ourselves. I went on to read another of her books and got my step-daughter hooked as well. This week I needed a birthday present for her and went in search of more books by Thrity. I called four bookstores in Berkeley, none of which had her books. Since I was planning a trip up Route 101 anyway, I tried Book Passage in Corte Madera. What an amazing bookstore! They have a huge inventory and what looks to be a thriving author’s reading series. Not only did they have several of her books on hand, but the clerk, who knew her work, was able to suggest to me another author I might like.

I used to find myself in Cody’s on Telegraph quite frequently, but I must admit that I haven’t been in a bookstore in a while. I have gotten in the habit of purchasing used books online from bookstores all over the country. In Book Passages I was reminded of what I had been missing. I saw so many books that caught my eyes; the atmosphere was so pleasant I felt as if I was visiting an old friend. When I found the books I was looking for, as well as another one for my niece for her graduation, I leafed through them as if I had just drunk some kind of love potion. The smell of the books, their loving arrangement in neighborhoods, the familiar feeling of my love of reading, an electricity in the air created by the books themselves and all that went into making them, the friendly clerks who share this love—what an aphrodisiac!

Then in giving the books away, I felt as if I was giving some of that very feeling to my step-daughter. I could have given her the gift on Kindle but since I don’t have one, and I am going to want to borrow the books, I gave her the real thing. I can’t imagine feeling the same feelings if I had given her the books on Kindle. I feel as if I have created a reciprocal relationship with those books; this, even before reading them. I had gone on the first date in the dreamy atmosphere of the bookstore and I had established a loyalty, not just to the author, but to the beauty of the thing itself, the thing that I could smell and feel and rub against my face.

I feel as if I had awakened from a 21st century cyber-dream where I was beginning to wonder if we ever needed to see each other face to face or if e-mail and texting would do fine. Now I remember the value of something that I hadn’t even spoken of before. I hope we can articulate the value of unseen qualities such as touch, smell, and a kind of electric energy before we lose them in more places than bookstores, but surely there, surely there. As Joni Mitchell would say, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…