My Work

 Other Writings


Musings, scribblings, maybe the seeds for the next story...

My other work:

MemoirShort StoriesPoetry

 

Tata Bibí


Bibí is in her throne deep in the shade of the almond grove. The almendros above the children’s beach are all hers.

Violet water her scent, ebony skin, a lap big enough to hold all of Havana’s children at the same time and cushion us, Bibí is our barefoot Tata in white uniform. Her white shoes are tucked under the marine-blue Adirondack chair she claims in the afternoons, her feet buried in the cool sand.

When her silence begins, the world goes still but for the mild castanet of the afternoon breeze in the almond leaves, the rustle of the fallen ones already dry and curled up when they move about scratching the sand, the slow back and forth of small waves in the children’s cove. Without her permission, the sea beyond the breakwater will not rise and roar.

Roberto and I, small subjects at her feet, pass the afternoon filling and emptying our sand pails, pressing our molds into the damp sand: Look, Bibí, I made you a cake. Bibí, mira, una estrella de mar a starfish. Un pulpo, Tata, look, an octopus. She hands us windfall almonds. Let’s make a ring around the sea animals to keep them from harm, para que no les pase nada.

Now we rest against her knees and make hourglasses of our hands until the sand rises well above her ankles. Our gaze stays fixed on the ocean for a long time: here comes a sailboat home wing-on-wing; way out there, a fierce maw rises from the ocean dripping sand and water, opens up and dumps a stream of grey slurry onto a barge; Kiko el Marinero, the old mariner pleated with wrinkles and encrusted with sea salt, is standing bolt-straight in his rowboat and letting fly the tarraya he’ll haul back trembling with tiny majúa sardines Bibí will deep fry, their tails stuck together and their thin silver bodies spread out. Majúa fans.

             Tengo una muñeca vestida de azul
             con zapatos blancos y medias de tul.

             I have a doll all dressed in blue
             white shoes on and socks of tulle,

Bibí sings to us while we rest.

Tengo una muñeca vestida de azul, I sing to myself under the down comforter sixty years later in Buffalo, my hand reaching for Bibí’s ankles.
 

Raquel Revuelta

Algo grande. Something big was happening almost daily in the late 50's: A bomb went off on a busy La Habana sidewalk at noon; Fidel's army in Oriente took another village from Batista's soldiers and pronounced it "territorio libre." Herbert Mathews from The New York Times was up in the Sierra Maestra Mountains with the bearded rebels. We were in the midst of unstoppable events I would later be able to name history. My own revolution, as unstoppable as Fidel's, was underway at the same time--my metamorphosis from girl to woman.

Feral and exquisitely feminine Raquel Revuelta--actress, goddess--was my archetype. A compendium of Desdemona and Helen of Troy, María Félix and Ava Gardner, María Callas and Antigone. The power in her voice and in her eyes was riveting; her eyebrows drew a dark, bold line that made her gaze imperious. When she raised one of those eyebrows (the right one) her gaze had the power of an electrical storm. Raquel: the woman my amigas and I hoped to find someday when we had finished molting and looked in the mirror.

Forty years later, photographing a tile wainscoting of exquisite pale green lilies-of-the-valley against a white background at the Dramatic Arts Center in La Habana, I sense an alteration of the air, a presence. I lower the camera, turn, and see a gray-haired woman--much too thin, shabbily dressed--standing motionless at the end of the long corridor, considering me. She begins to approach. And as she does, something in the way she moves turns the light into a fine haze, a sfumato. She herself is all dream, drawing closer and closer. I hold my breath and lean into my companion, who whispers something I don't quite hear. I move closer. He repeats, "Es Raquel Revuelta."

The hallway becomes a stage. She and I are face-to-face, her gaze fixed on mine. After a long silence--what seems like a long silence--she speaks her first line, deceptively innocent: "May I help you with anything at all?" That voice. But the eyes: still piercing but tired, tinged with stoicism, at home with suffering. Defeated, I dare say to myself. And then an almost imperceptible toss of the head, and the eyebrow arches upward. There it is: the pride we adored made gesture.

She waits. She observes me trying to settle under her spell. Waits for an answer to her question. But I can't speak; it's as if Spanish had become a different language. If I were to answer her "May I help you?" I'd have to say, "Yes, Raquel Revuelta, make it be 1955 again. Let me find you at the Radiocentro cafeteria after a performance and watch you sign the paper napkin I've just asked you to autograph." Then, a stratagem (a rude one) to keep her a little longer: "What is your name?"

"Raquel," she answers coyly, playfully. She's on to me. Another hour of silence. Before I know what I'm doing, I've done it. My hand has risen to her face; my left thumb to her right eyebrow. And I've traced its outline as lovingly and in as familiar a way as if she had been mother, sister. "There's only one person in the world with eyebrows like these. I wanted to be you when I was young." Her eyes and mine well-up, and we embrace.

But her performance is impeccable: "Come, come. Let's not become sentimental. No nos pongamos sentimentales." And she turns away, walks off, ascends into heaven on a cloud of homely mosquito netting.
 

A Dynamic Duo: Two Rustonians in Panama

Who are these two?

Elvira Weiss and Olga Karman, Ruston Academy, ‘58

What are they doing in Panama?

Olga has arrived from Buffalo, NY with 10 college students. The trip is part of her D'Youville College course: Cross-Cultural Seminar, Panama.

Elvira, who lives in Panama, has made all the arrangements for the Buffalo contingent: hotels, tour guide, visits to hospitals and schools, a day with a Peace Corps volunteer up in the boondocks. A week-end on the Island of Taboga, where Elvira and husband Jorge de la Guardia will invite the group to a back-yard barbecue under La Cruz del Sur. For the 9th year in a row! (I know, Mr. Neuendorf: lots of incomplete sentences. ¡Ay!)

When they see each other after a year what do they do?

They laugh their heads off, give each other an abrazo, and say things like "We did it again!" or "Can you believe we pull this off every year?" A high-five, sometimes. (And sometimes, sentence fragments!)

Why do they do this Panama thing?

The official reason: Olga wants her college students to become literate about Latin America. What better place to start than Panama?

The unofficial reason: Olga and Elvira have found a way to see each other, chismear[gossip], recordar el pasado [remember the past] every year for free!! (That Ruston education wasn't wasted on us!!)
Yours,
Olga Karman, past editor The Rustonian