Arts & Culture · Poetry

Cuba: A Poet’s Perspective

View from Plaza Vieja for Web (By Alice Pettway)(1)View from the Plaza Vieja in La Habana. (Credit: Alice Pettway)

Down the street, a drape of fabric more colorful than the other textiles around the plaza pulled me into a shop. A woman greeted me and explained that she was part of an art collective working to revive regional textile techniques that were becoming lost. She lovingly walked me through each embroidered piece, explaining the thread, the fabric. My favorite was a spread crocheted in multi-colored yarn medallions. It was more than I’d budgeted. I said I might come back.

When I did, an hour later, she rushed to the door and grabbed my hand as if a great tragedy had been avoided.

“Another woman almost bought it!” she cried. “I didn’t know what to do!”

Anywhere else I would have written her story off as a hard sell, but she seemed genuinely distraught that I almost lost the piece I’d obviously fallen in love with. I ran into her several times over the course of the next couple of days, and each time she greeted me like an old friend. When I told her some ladies selling textiles in another part of town had seen the spread and admired it, telling me I’d made the right choice to buy it instead of what they were selling, she grabbed my hand again.

On a rainy night, my partner and I ducked into a salsa school and took an hour lesson. Felix, our dance instructor, examined 30 seconds of our basic salsa step before declaring we needed to go back to basics. This was no tourist lesson with patient encouragement; Felix demanded our full attention. Jokes about mistakes were met with a frown, a successful sequence of steps with an approving nod. In the end, he told us we needed another lesson, but he said it with a smile.

Imagination, in every form, permeated my experiences in Cuba. I felt more creative in Cuba, and I felt that others perceived me to be more creative. It was a feeling I haven’t experienced since working on my MFA in creative writing: the sense of belonging, however briefly, to a community of people dedicated to their art.

Yellow Taxi for Web (by Alice Pettway)(1)Yellow taxi on a residential street in La Habana. (Credit: Alice Pettway)

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  • Leslie in Oregon February 6, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you for letting us see so beautifully a bit of how Cuba nurtured your creativity, Alice.