Havana domiciles, Part 1

I was only in Cuba for a week, only in Havana except for the day we went to the beach. So I’m hardly an expert on living arrangements on the island. I can, though, show you what I saw.

First, in this post, Monty’s apartment. He only recently bought it, so it’s still being furnished. (Thus, from my earlier blog post, the pillows, blankets, and hardware.) It’s on the 5th floor of a 7-story building constructed in 1958, designed by Maria Elena Cabarrocas, an architect from a distinguished family of Cuban architects. The light when you walk in is amazing: the front wall has two wood jalousie doors that open onto the terrace and two glass panels beside them, floor to ceiling.

View from the terrace

 

Shot with my back to the terrace, living room/dining area. (Though anytime we ate in the apartment we ate on the terrace.) Monty walking toward the bedrooms. Kitchen door on the immediate right, door to maid’s room (!) a little farther on right.

The building has 2 long thin apartments per floor, designed so every room has cross ventilation. Some of the windows are wood jalousies to allow the breeze; for some reason unknown to me Havana seems to have few mosquitoes* — although I came bug-ready, with repellent and anti-itch cream — so the jalousie windows have no screens. In each room at least one of the windows is glass, so in a rainstorm when you close the jalousies there’s still light.

My room

Monty had already bought a fridge; the way it works, sometimes there are fridges in the stores, sometimes there are stoves, sometimes there are clothes washers, depending on what ship came in. When we got there, lo! the store had stoves, so he bought one even though the kitchen still needs to be renovated. Right now, the stove in its box is serving as a coffee table.

One of the best parts of the trip was shopping for furniture. Havana has a number of stores selling mid-century modern furniture that was sold off or left behind as people fled the Revolution, or since then. Although the provenance of any individual piece might be a sad story — or not — the furniture is beautiful and Monty is happy to support the Cuban economy and give pieces new homes.

View from the building’s hallway into the apartment as the new bench arrives.

Next post, Monty’s cousins, two other homes we visited, plus some other residential exteriors, inhabited and not.

 

*There are those who say it’s the constant ocean breeze, and those who say it’s the government anti-mosquito program since the advent of dengue fever.

A week in Cuba

So there I was, minding my own business in early December, when my buddy Monty emailed and said, “I’m going to Havana for Christmas. Come with me?” Monty’s half Cuban and still has family there, cousins who supported the Revolution and stayed. He goes back and forth a lot, sometimes leading architectural tours; he’s an expert in Cuban modernism. A year and a half ago, with the help of his cousins, he bought an apartment in the El Vedado neighborhood of Havana.

I had three immediate reactions: I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, and I can’t just go to Havana. I mean, we have a 60-year embargo against Cuba. The list of acceptable categories of people who can travel there is pretty tight. I’d need to have set this up long in advance…

Monty stopped me. Nope, he said. Any writer can go. Journalists with credentials have always been allowed, but also, novelists and non-fiction writers doing research.

For real?

Yup.

Well, so much for the other two roadblocks. I checked the “professional research” category on the visa application and told the calendar and the bank account I’d talk to them when I got back. Christmas Day we left at 5:00 am to get to the airport, carrying door hardware, light fixtures, blankets, and pillows, to help furnish the place, which has been undergoing renovation. We flew direct NYC-Havana, and by 3:00 pm we, and Monty’s young nephew Sam, were sitting on the balcony sipping Cuban coffee.

I’ll be reporting more over the next couple of days. Meanwhile, pix or it didn’t happen. Well, it did.

View from Monty’s balcony

 

My room

 

Waves splashing on the Malecón

 

Travel anxiety, travel excitement

Packing, worrying, repacking, more worrying — do I have everything? Am I taking too much? Travel anxiety takes so many forms. I posted about it here a few years ago and was surprised and heartened to hear from so many of you who also suffer from it. (So thank you for sharing that.) This time I’m not going far, I’m not going for very long, and I’m going with one of my favorite traveling companions, my buddy Monty. Nevertheless, I’m a bundle of nerves. It’s manifesting this time as a fear that I won’t actually get a visa at the airport and they won’t let me on the plane. Why is this an issue?

Because I’m going to Cuba!

Christmas Day to New Year’s Day. Monty has relatives there — his mother was Cuban. He, and JetBlue, say it’ll be no problem, I’m going to do professional research, to see if there’s a book in Havana for me to write. But until I’m on the plane, I don’t quite buy it.

If it all does go right, I’ll be basically out of touch except for once a day, when we can get online in one of the hotels if we want. So if you don’t hear from me for a week or so, that’s a good sign. If  I can get online I’ll try to post photos, but anyway you know I’ll be taking them by the boatload.

I don’t have any of Cuba yet, though, so I leave you with this, one of my personal favorites from Mongolia. Peace, joy, and productivity to you all in 2020. May you always have new roads to travel, and may you travel them no matter how anxious you are.

CUTTING EDGE

Here’s a link to me running my mouth on WCBS Radio on the subject of CUTTING EDGE, a terrific new collection of noir stories by women, edited by Joyce Carol Oates.

 

CUTTING EDGE on WCBS

 

 

2020 Calendars!

 

 

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and Whew Wotta Relief Wednesday have all come and gone. Now it’s Thus We Continue Thursday, and thus we continue:

Here are your 2020 SJ Rozan Calendars!

First, your COLORS Calendar. Photos I’ve shot over the year of things where the colors interested me.

2020 Colors Calendar

And second — though don’t tell her — your BELLA THE CAT Calendar. In case you’re a Bella fan, and who isn’t?

2020 Bella the Cat Calendar

I’m not sure selling these calendars will put me in the BLACK. But as a writer I’m the smallest of SMALL BUSINESSES. You can buy them in CYBERSPACE and GIVE them to your friends and just think WOTTA RELIEF it will be to have your holiday shopping done!

Bella the Cat and I thank you.

Write On, Mississippi

 

Write On, Mississippi is a podcast on which I appear as Chapter 12. Click the link to hear me hem and haw. Unless they edited it out, I apologize in advance to the unflappable Eric Stone for referring to him as “Eric Smith.” I’d been thinking about Lydia Chin and Bill Smith and I was, you know, on the radio, and if you don’t make a big screw-up while you’re on the radio you got nuthin. This was recorded in advance of the Mississippi Book Festival in Jackson on Aug 17, at which I will be. I tried to steal their photo of me for here, but I couldn’t, so here’s one of me relaxing with Craig and Karina Buck on our B&B porch in Natchez. And if you think getting that phone to balance on the railing while Craig set the timer, ran back and sat down was easy, well, bless your heart.

About that Chinese Cemetery

 

Here we have the gate to the first Chinese Cemetery in Greenville, MS, the existence of which got me started down the rabbit hole of the entire history of the Chinese of the Mississippi Delta. This cemetery was founded in 1913. In 1931 a second cemetery was begun when it became clear the needs of the growing Chinese Delta community would soon outpace this one. This one, however, was still receiving new occupants in family plots as late as the 1990’s.

The gate is kept locked, but security is not tight. I myself found it simple to sneak in. It’s a Chinese tradition to offer food and drink to the deceased. As you can see, even the older graves are still well-tended.

 

 

 

 

PAPER SON Publication Day!

PAPER SON comes out today! On the shelves at your local indie — or if not, they can get it stat. Or you can order it to wing your way, or download it on your e-reader or for audio. If you pre-ordered, thanks and you probably have it in your hot little hands, or ringing in your ears, by now. To celebrate: Party at Red’s!

Red’s Juke Joint, Clarksdale, MS. Photo, me.

The Delta Chinese Mission School

The Chinese of the Mississippi Delta had their own schools. Why, you ask? This is the US of A, we have public schools. Ah, but this is Mississippi — a phrase Lydia Chin learns well in PAPER SON. In Mississippi, right up until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 — and, in a complicated way, beyond it — schools were tightly segregated.

In 1927, long before Brown, the Supreme Court heard and decided the case of Lum v. Rice. Lum argued that a young Chinese girl should be allowed in the white schools, having been “incorrectly classified” as “colored” under Mississippi’s Jim Crow laws. A generation later, Brown argued that separate was intrinsically unequal; but Lum didn’t, only that, essentially, Chinese weren’t “colored.” The Supreme Court said Mississippi was entitled to define “colored” any way it saw fit.

So the Chinese of the Delta, seeing the kind of education to which black children were condemned, founded, opened, and ran their own schools.

And the Lums moved to Arkansas, just across the river, where Chinese kids were allowed in white schools.

Chinese school, 1938

photo link: https://bit.ly/2ZVfc4H

 

 

 

Dance with the Devil

This monument at Highways 40 and 61 in Clarksdale MS (where PAPER SON is set) marks the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil for the ability to play the blues.

Or maybe it was a different crossroads, a little distance from here.

Or maybe, as some legends say, it was a graveyard.

And speaking of graveyards, when Johnson died of poison, or syphilis, or Marfan syndrome, he was buried in Morgan City MS, or Quito MS, or Greenwood MS. Or a Potter’s Field near the Dockery Plantation, where he died.

In other words, little is known for sure about the guy. Except he could sing and play like the Devil himself.