Reflections from the Busboys and Poets Travel Tribe’s Cultural Exchange trip to Cuba (July 6-13, 2022) 

Of all the places I visited in Cuba. Of all the events. The panels. The museums. The sights and sounds. The Fabrica De Arte Cubano (aka Fabrica) stands out. An old repurposed oil factory. Transformed into a multi level. Multi purpose. Humongous complex that oozes creativity.

Inside, there are art galleries. Music stages and a recording studio. Dance. Film. You name it. It is genius. Once there. You don’t want to leave. The building itself is rundown. It leaks. The floors are uneven. The hallways too tight. There are ramps in odd places. There are cracks in the walls. And yet. It is fabulous beyond belief. The place pulsates with energy. It spews creativity and talent from every crack. Every crevice. Every uneven doorway. I am getting goosebumps just writing about it!

Tonight, Rosemary, the director of the joint is our guide. She is young. Chipper. Confident with her English. She is waiting at the entrance when we arrive. Standing next to her is her assistant. A tall GQ model with a killer smile. And killer hair to boot (some guys have it all). He flashes one last smile. And disappears. She welcomes us. And for the next hour or so she weaves us from room to room. We follow. Mouths agape. In awe at the sights and sounds. We snake through narrow hallways. Up hidden staircases. Through secret doors. Outdoor terraces leading into a tapas cafe. Past an espresso cafe pop up. A mojito bar. A juice bar. Places to chill. Chat. And just take in the scene.

In a few minutes. She tells us. A fashion show is about to start. For men’s underwear. Seats are set in one of the larger venues making room for a runway. Lots of attractive people gather and sit on either side. Young and old. The lights dim. The music thumps. Then one after another half naked young models strut past the adoring crowd. Wearing sashes. Sarongs. Flowing iridescent fabrics. Lots of applause. Nods of approval.

Once the show ends. An army of workers remove the chairs. And rearrange the space for the rumba class starting in 30 minutes. It is taught by a middle aged instructor. And boy. Does she know how to move. Her jointless body wiggles and sways effortlessly. Her energy is contagious. She calls people out. She laughs from way down there. From the center of her body. She is Cuban through and through. And she knows how to get people to move along with her. Everyone can dance. We are born dancers. She assures us. I sneak out without getting noticed. Having just perfected a couple of moves that will come in handy later.

I head to the the top floor. Which houses art galleries. Not just ordinary art. This is world class. Top of the line. This is MoMA level art. Photos and oils. And mixed media. There is a map of Cuba made with different color keys glued together. Portraits of people on driftwood. Sculptures of a male torso made from pencils. Another made from broken mirrors. A super HD photo of a black women with tattoos all over her body. Upon closer inspection the tattoos are images of slave ships. There is a larger than life striking photo showing a row of feet of naked people on a beach. A disturbing life size image of naked women hanging upside down by meat hooks. I am amazed. My body and my mind are tingling.

We are ushered to the VIP lounge. It is large and air conditioned. A welcome relief from the humidity. We order Mojitos. They are strong and minty. And delicious. This is my second visit to the Fabrica. And its even better than the first time. I keep wondering if this would work back in The States. How many ADA violations there are. How difficult it would be to find such a space. How expensive the rent would be. How hard it would be to manage. Then I realize. These are the questions that kill dreams. And for the time being. I wanted to keep dreaming. Unhindered by reality. Thinking maybe. Just maybe. I could pull it off in my hometown.

It is now close to midnight. Time to head home. A long day awaits us tomorrow. As we leave. The music is getting louder and the crowd younger. By now, the line at the door is wrapped around the block. People are laughing. Hugging. Kissing. Meeting friends. The shadow of the embargo is nowhere in sight. At least at this moment. Right here in Havana. Where I find myself swept up in a sea of humanity that no embargo can stop from flowing. And I see possibilities of a better world. Awaiting in the horizon.

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