cuba libre / / cigar-tin stories number 89


So: we went to Cuba. It was cold and grey and raining when we left. It was cold and grey and raining here today, but then the sun wandered around after lunch.

I desperately needed a break. Or at least some kind of line or marker, somewhere to restart from. Sometimes you can just feel yourself drifting along.

And Cuba was filled with: megatonic sun and sudden walls of heat and winds building throughout the day, warm bottle-blue ocean, foam-crashing waves, endless white beach. And some random things…

• Someone should do a documentary called Strange Hotel Rooms. Ours at the Montreal airport didn’t appear strange; in fact, everything looked quite nice (although the view, over acres of parking and wet pavement, threatened to slide from one’s field of vision). But at night the sounds came out, the little click click clicks of the heater, the gasping of some unseen fan, disembodied voices above or below or somewhere down the hall, double muffled in cushioned darkness.

• And someone else should tell Enya that she will live on in perpetuity as long as Cuban resort staff have to lead morning exercise classes on the beach.

• The shower in our resort room reflects the Cuban idea of sophistication: lots of chrome and sharp angles, something vaguely Harkonnen. And sometimes we have hot water, and sometimes we do not. We are only four-and-a-half stars, after all.

• The food is fine. One has to try to get a few things (eggs, fish, etc) prepared right in front of you, and then some fresh fruit. And every day I eat a small island of pastries for dessert.

• Phones are still everywhere. Even in the impossible glare of the beach, people curl themselves in two just to peer into their little black bricks.

• I leave my own phone at home. A nice, mild detox. Instead I bring little notebooks and a cheap digital camera, and these work just fine.

• It must be strange, living in a world of tourists––without them, things would be much worse, but there they are, all the time, inflated with everything you don’t have.

• I read a book called Against Everything by Mark Greif. It’s terrible. And yes, the title did seem to speak directly to me. But the writing is just calcified Chuck Klosterman armed with a thesaurus and a thesis. Ponderous, boring, too clever by half. In the store the choice had been between this and Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and my pangs of regret are hotter than dishwashered butter knives.

• You come to Cuba for the sun. But there is always that point in the day where you flee for a shower before supper, because otherwise you wake up bent and aching on some damp pool chair, and everything is loud and hot and slightly unhinged, and somewhere too close they are shouting the numbers for bingo, and it all feels like the plane crash from LOST.

• Oona eats nothing. She survives solely on virgin piña coladas and pineapple slices. I let it go.

• My hands calm down because I’m not washing them every five minutes.

• One night we go to a magic show! And of course any Cuban magic show is more about dancing than magic. I feel sorry, too, for the secondary nature of the stage props… the boxes people disappeared from were more tape and glitter than wood. And while the male costumes, in particular, were a bit Zorro-meets-Lord-of-the-Rings, they do manage to do a hell of a lot with brilliant smiles and weathered fishnets. The Cubans are natural performers, in their way.

• Especially when re-interpreting The Final Countdown (speed it up, roll all the r’s, chant cha! cha! cha! a lot).

• I lose my prescription sunglasses in a giant wave. My own fault; for some reason, I just did not remember that I had a tie strap for them. Forgetting things is troubling, I think.

• FLY UNITED EMIRATES t-shirts are everywhere.

• I have a dream about painting over a painting. The painting is not mine; it’s a gift from someone. And just as I’m spreading primer that person walks in and catches me. Shock, horror, flight. Then I set everything on fire.

• In real life, I would never do that. Unless I disliked the person, and then I would do it with enthusiasm. The fire, I mean.

• We spend a day out and about with a guide. Oona gets to hold various reptiles. At lunch, the guide looks askance at my use of moist towelettes. C keeps asking him about the economy. “We have nothing!” he keeps replying. And it’s true. I look at Cuba and I wonder how this all ends, how long it can limp along. How skinny can those horses get?

So I’m dedicating the rest of May to finishing some long suffering projects: things half-finished or never done properly. And rethinking a lot, too (creatively, one just has to do a full stop every so often, and think about who you are). I have so much material just to get out, just to push out into the world, and see what has legs to land on.

Have a good weekend, everyone,

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things. 


… but the sky is empty.

large paintings in my studio

A short video of large paintings in my studio (and online store) as of August 1st, 2017. I want to make more of these kinds of things, as much for my own memory (it doesn’t take long to forget what I’ve done, what I’ve sold where) as anything else.

The title of this post comes from a Sylvia Plath quotation: “I talk to God but the sky is empty.” It fits well with the first painting I’ve done since getting back from holidays ––and back into the studio this past Sunday, called The Doubter.

The Doubter; mixed media, 24 x 30 x 1.75 inches, cradled wood panel.

In Dracula, Bram Stoker writes: “I am all in a sea of wonders. I doubt; I fear; I think strange things, which I dare not confess to my own soul.”

I doubt almost everything these days. I turn on the radio and hear impossible things – Los Angeles actually wanting the 2028 Summer Olympics (please see the smoking economic ruins of Athens, Rio, et al) or the son of an American president taking hotel-room meetings with Russians. What to eat, what not to eat (right now fasting seems to be a thing), how to exercise, what to read, what to wear, how to get rich. As I get older I seem to have embraced a kind of blankness, as if the noise of the world was smoke, and the only real thing behind it is the idea that I should stick to my own plans.

But I did have a good holiday, in that crooked little cottage overlooking the Northumberland Strait. Two weeks was enough: I read four books, took innumerable naps, walked in the ocean, hit golf balls with a wedge from sandbar to sandbar, up and down the shore. But I always fill up with schemes and intention while on holiday, so it’s good to be back, and we’ll see how we do.