Tag Archive for sj rozan

We interrupt the Cuba posts…

They’ll be back. But I want to talk about Assisi. Every time I say, “Hey, I’m teaching in Assisi this summer, come do a workshop!” some of you say you wish you’d known sooner, and some say, yes, you’ll come some year…

So here’s the thing. For you folks who wish you’d known sooner, it’s January and the program starts at the end of July! This is about as soon as I could tell you!

For you folks saying some year, I get it, I really do, but: Notre Dame will be under scaffolding for the next 20 years. Yes, I know that’s not in Italy. My point: if you’d been saying “some year” about seeing Notre Dame…

I understand if you can’t afford it. Though keep in mind that one, right now the workshop has an early bird 10% off special; and two, many organizations give in-service kinds of grants to help with this type of thing, especially if you’re an educator. The dollar is strong right now and flight prices are low.

But if something besides money is holding you back, let me entice you: the hotel is lovely (we all stay there, all classes are held there, we all dine together), the food is wonderful, the town is quiet and beautiful, and — your book isn’t writing itself!

COME TO ASSISI!

 

 

 

Havana domiciles, Part 2

First, I found you a photo of Monty’s apartment from the living room looking out to the terrace. Those chairs are where we had morning coffee, fruit, and bread, before embarking on the day.

 

Now: Monty and his nephew Sam, my traveling companions, have cousins in Cuba. The connection is through Monty’s mother, a Cuban who met and married an American in North Carolina (where I’ll be in a few weeks for the Crime Scene Mystery Bookfest in Fearrington, she says parenthetically) in the 1940’s. They weren’t living in Cuba when the Revolution came, but much of the family was. What happened was, if you supported the Revolution and stayed, and you owned a house, you could keep it, though if you also had rental properties the government took them and gave them to poor families — often those who’d been renting from you. If you left, whatever property you left behind was forfeit. (Thus the supply of gorgeous Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern furniture in the used furniture shops.)

The cousins, Olimpia and Carlos, believed in the Revolution and stayed — in fact Carlos, an economist, worked at the Cuban Consulate in Berlin for a number of years. They had a terrific Art Deco house and they have it still. It was built by an artist, and has a garden and a breezeway to a rear building that served as his studio, and now houses Olimpia and Carlos’s son Pepe and his family.

Olimpia and Pepe in front of the house.

 

Back house, interior. All original 1930’s.

 

Front house, staircase.

Front house, display nook under staircase.

 

Front house, secret bathroom behind display nook.

 

 

Cousins in the garden. Monty, my buddy and traveling companion, is in the white shirt on the sofa, and Sam is the bearded guy standing on the right. Standing with him are Pepe, Pepe’s sister Claudia, and one of Claudia’s sons. Seated are Olimpia, Claudia’s other son (he’s in the Army) and Carlos. Pepe’s wife and kids were traveling, and Claudia’s husband was working. The garden has four mango trees but it wasn’t mango season, sob.

 

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

 

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.

The Mississippi Delta Chinese

If you’re like me and this is the first you’re hearing of the 100-year-old Chinese community in the Mississippi Delta — don’t be a wise guy, the community is 100 years old, not the people — you’re probably scratching your head and saying, “Wha?” When I was told about them that was my reaction. So I researched, and the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. What brought Chinese people to the Mississippi Delta? Not gonna tell, but you’ll find out if you read PAPER SON. (See what I did there?) But I’ll give you a hint. This photo is of a Chinese-owned grocery store in Greenville, MS. Check out the clientele hanging around outside.

 

image credit: https://bit.ly/2WNay6S