Roberto

The first time I went to Havana was to attend a one week workshop sponsored by the Maine Photographic Workshops. That week I met Roberto Barrueta who wore all white each day, was multilingual, and had a huge smile. As my wife and I were staying for an additional week, we made a plan to hire him for several days to assist us out and about in Cuba. He was extremely helpful. We met his son Ellington named for Duke Ellington, one of Roberto’s favorite musicians. We visited his home, took pictures of the entire family and had a good time. We found that Roberto was undergoing his year of denial and penitence on his quest to become a Santeria Priest or babalao. This accounted for the white clothing.

The following year I returned to Cuba with two photography acquaintances- Steve and Ira. I had communicated with Roberto and we had agreed on dates,fees,and goals. He asked me to bring a few things, basically the innards of a PC computer. I took that and another box of gifts for others in Cuba. We rented a car and Roberto drove. He fancied himself more of a Cuban Formula 1 driver than a guide! It took most of a day to convince that trip was more important than the destination. He was convinced only when I gave him a camera and he became more interested in making photographs.

The next time I took a group if students to Cuba for a month. We had a blast. Roberto was a big help. Maria was unfortunately a bit sick with hepatitis C, but there were hopes that a sacrificial Santeria ceremony might turn the tide. We attended that, Roberto had been told by his babalao friends that this should be at a place where a fresh water river joined to the ocean. This was due to the fact that Maria’s orisha was Yemaya. He had the perfect spot in mind. The babalao aye he found to officiate was named Ernesto.
mriainrvr04web This is Maria with a flower by the river. She had a “spell” and collapsed into the mouth of the river and was being swept put to sea, fortunately my old Myrtle Beach days as a life guard sprung into action by instinct! Maria was pulled to safety.

The last time I saw Roberto he was depressed and did not feel well. His wife, Maria, had died of Hepatitis C, Ellington was in jail, and Antonio his adopted son had grown up and moved on. He was still actively involved with our workshop group during our stay in Havana but the enthusiasm was gone. I recently tried to contact him as I wanted him to guide several acquaintances of mine who were planning a trip in December. I called several friends in Cuba, none knew what had happened to Roberto. I emailed Steve who had continued to retain Roberto for the many workshops he conducted in Cuba. I heard back last PM that Roberto died of complications of hypertension in late May 2016.

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Raul Poster

Street, Habano Centro

Street, Habano Centro

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San Lazaro Day-and Happy Holidays!!

This photo was taken in the Cathedral of San Lazaro just outside of Havana, Cuba, in December 2011. This has always been one of my favorite places to visit. We were there on a Saturday which means that more people can come there to worship and pray for healing, clear thinking, and wealth. We were their just after Christmas Day, but there was a festive atmosphere. The crowd was much smaller than it had been just ten days earlier.

On December 17 thousands of Cubans make their pilgrimage to the El Rincon de San Lazaro, located just outside of Havana. They come seeking healing, to make good on some promise they have made, and to worship San Lazaro. It is here one finds the intersection of Roman Catholicism brought from Spain with the Santera or Yoruba religion that came with the slaves from Africa. Thanks to the syncretism that exists between religious practices in Cuba, Babalú Ayé, the Orisha of sickness and disease, is represented by San Lazaro, an old man walking on crutches, with his two dogs licking the sores on his legs. People walk on their knees, slide on their backs or their bellies, often with chains and weights being dragged along behind. They are the penitents seeking cures. San Lazaro is the same as Saint Lazarus who was canonized in the year 72 by the Roman Catholic Church. Lazarus was one of Jesus’ best frieda and was the brother of Mary Magdalene. He preached in Bethany, fell ill and died. . When he heard the news of Lazarus’ death, Jesus went to his grave in Bethany. He  resurrected Lazarus after four days of him being buried. When the African slaves were brought to Cuba they identified their various gods or Orishas with the various saints of Catholicism. That way they could pray and give offerings to their Orishas and also please their masters by seemingly praying to the Roman Catholic saints. The offerings left for San Lazaro are often tobacco, wine small amounts of money. Most are viewed as inappropriate by the RC priests, but the people are oblivious to this factor. In the chapel there is a closed case of the gifts left in the past for San Lazaro, prominent among them is the gold Rolex watch of Presidente Fulgencio Batista who left it in thanks for San Lazaro having saved his wife from cancer.

In spite of all this lore, much of it confusing and based upon faulty logic, ignorance, poor knowledge of the church, and superstition, this as happy and joyful scene at this time of the year. Everyone is happy and even in Cuba, with all its issues, most hearts are full of happiness and kindness. That’s all any of us can hope for these days. Have a healthy and happy holiday season!

Cuba_ws_2012-45Manger scene in the Altar

Cuba_ws_2012-52Cuba_ws_2012-11

Kitsch for sale in parking lot at El Rincon de San Lazaro

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Bobby, Juan, and Pac at Ambos Mundos–three old revolutionaries

We went to Juan José Blanco Lozano’s house the second day we were in Havana. Susan had contacted him via the internet and they had become electronic friends so to speak. Juan was an accomplished artist; we became close friends the day we bought a painting. I had no inkling of the close friendship, the fascinating people I would meet, or the things we would do at that time. Juan’s wife, Margarita, was a smart, energetic lovely woman who kept Juan motivated. They lived in a nice home in Miramar with her father, Julio. Julio had been a colonel in the revolution. He owned a restaurant in Las Villas, The Pick’n’ Chick’n, that had been a common meeting ground for the revolutionaries planning the attack on Santa Clara. Julio’s wife, Mariá Dolores “Lolita” Rossell, gave Aleida March refuge when she first came to Santa Clara. Dolores brother was the July 26 coordinator for Las Villas. Their house functioned as a way station on the Rebels’ underground railway. (Anderson, Jon Lee, Becomng Ché). Eventually Aleida would become Ché’s second wife. Dolores had 4 children: Two son’s-now in Miami; two daughters both in Havana: Margarita married to Juan, Claudia married to Bobby Carcasses.

We first met Bobby when he invited us to the El Zorro y el Cuervo (the Fox and the Crow) jazz club in Vedado. Bobby put on a show for us. He sang, played his trumpet, and greeted many of his music friends. Bobby was born in Jamaica where his Cuban parents were diplomats from Cuba. He returned to Cuba at age four years and completed his education there. He was a long jump track star, winning several Latin American championships. He was a team mate of Alberto Juantorena, Cuban Olympian. He started out singing opera, but soon switched to Cuban Music, performing at the Tropicana where he began incorporating bebop and scat influences into his style. He spent a year in Paris playing with Jazz greats Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke. He organized and opened the first Jazz Plaza Festival and continued to play there each year with many of the jazz greats who visited. In 2001 he performed at Los Angeles’ Jazz Festival and according to the review “Bobby stole the show!”

His son is Roberto Carcasses, highly regarded jazz pianist. I have never met Robertito as he is called, he has always been touring when I visited Havana. Roberto has however been making headlines in Cuba for his recent statements re: freedom of expression and access to the internet.. “As we might have expected from an incident as talked-about as asking for political changes in Cuba during a massive official function, musician Roberto Carcasses (RC) has gone from being what he is – a brilliant and innovative artist – to a kind of test case for political militancy on the island.” – read more: Havana Times

“Making a suggestive use of the catchy refrain “I’ve always wanted this”, Carcasses asked for the release of the Cuban Five and Maria (who, I imagine, stands for anyone unjustly imprisoned), an end to the Cuban blockades (maintained by both the United States and Cuba), freedom of information to be able to have an informed opinion and the possibility of being able to choose the country’s president by direct vote.” – See more at: Havana Times

Robertito is one generation past those of his family who were committed revolutionaries and members of the July 26th movement. His parents have worked happily in Cuba. His grandfather entered Havana along with Ché, Camilo Cienfuegoes, and Juan Almeida on January 1, 1959 to prepare the way for Fidel’s Grand Entrada. His mother, uncles and aunts all played with the children of Ché Guevara and Aleida March. Roberto is not speaking against the government, he is merely asking for personal freedom. He is, as in generations before him, a revolutionary soul. Good job!

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Dominos

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