A new friend came to visit. He walked in the door and was immediately drawn to a painting that hangs above my sofa. He didn’t say a word. After several minutes, he took a step back and kept staring at it.
“It’s from Cuba!” I blurted. I could take the silence no more. “Well, the painting is from Cuba. I bought it from an artist in the park for forty bucks. The frame cost three hundred and fifty.”
And my mind wandered off to the day I bought the painting. It was 2002, and I had just moved to Miami. Meanwhile, I had booked a trip to Cuba with a California friend who knew about a special deal; a legal trip to Cuba as part of a cultural exchange under President George W. Bush’s administration. We were going as a group of salsa dancers. My friend dropped out at the last minute so I went alone.
Traveling alone can force you to meet new people or it can drive you further into your shell. Me, I tend to make friends easily, so I had a whole bunch of new playmates. We stayed at a first-class hotel and toured the island as a group. We went to the world-famous Tropicana Nightclub where we danced with the locals. We toured a cigar factory, sipped rum at the Havana Club, and visited the Hemingway house, six-toed cats and all. We took a dance lesson at the National Theatre of Havana where we learned Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religious cult ritual dance minus the chicken blood. Loved it all!
On the final day of the two-week tour, we were scheduled to go to the open-air market. A rare cold-snap swooped onto the tropical island and we were suddenly engulfed in thirty-degree temperatures. The vendors at the market were huddled under blankets, clutching steaming mugs of coffee with their teeth chattering. I’m thinking prices dropped so they could take their money and run home to hunker down until the cold front passed, and that was why my stunning painting was so cheap. There was very little haggling. He asked eighty dollars, I offered forty. Done! He quickly rolled up the canvas, thrust it toward me, and we both went on our merry ways.
Years later when I moved to Costa Rica intending to live out my days there, I shed most of my possessions. During my moving sale, my son had casually mentioned he always liked that painting. I snatched it from the sale, grinned, and said, “It’s yours! I’ll put it in your car!”
Little did I know that I would move back to Capitola, after the Costa Rica fiasco. See my previous blog, On the Verge of Homeless for details:
My son and his wife recently bought their first home. When they moved from their San Francisco apartment where the Cuban painting hung, they did not have a spot for it. I was sitting on a kitchen stool admiring the newly renovated, fully equipped kitchen when Tyler came down the hall carrying the painting. “Mom, would you like …”
“Yes!” I cried, jumping off the stool and grabbing the painting out of his hands. “I’ll put it in the car right now!” I didn’t wanna give him time to change his mind.
And so, the Cuban painting hangs on my wall bringing me joy and triggering beloved memories of my trip to Cuba so many years ago. And my new friend, Art, was as captivated by my Cuban art as am I. It has me thinking about taking a trip to the magical island.
Oh, but wait! I haven’t been to Machu Picchu or the Galapagos Islands yet. They’re on the list … so many places to see. Travel on!