Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another Anniversary

Tomorrow will be exactly 49 years since my arrival from Cuba. Today being Palm Sunday made me nostalgic for our beautiful Royal Palms, so distinctive a part of the Cuban landscape. My mother wrote sonnets about them, as have many other Cuban poets over the centuries. Their straight tall trunks seem made for symbolism, and the mere sight of one, even in Hialeah, evokes our beloved island to us.

I found this photo of a hotel in Cabanas that my father, Aquiles Maza, designed and built for a transplanted Canadian in the late 1950's and selected it for today's posting because it nestles in a grove of royal palms. At the time, its architecture was considered quite innovative: the curved concrete shell roof with glass all along the perimeter, its suites of rooms arranged in small cabanas scattered along the hillside. It was part of that vibrant period of Modernist style that was the hallmark of the 1950's in Cuba, when our island was a prosperous first-world republic, an island of song.

Cabanas is the middle one of three large bays on the north coast of the western province of Pinar del Rio; the port of Mariel, famous for the massive exodus of 1980, lies to its east closest to Havana, and Bahia Honda to the west. The land drops off steeply toward the sea from a plateau and the palms grow almost right up to the water.

The bay of Cabanas has a narrow mouth but is large enough to have small cays scattered within. This was the site of what was to be our last family vacation in Cuba, and I vividly remember how exciting it was for us girls to tour the bay on a motorboat one afternoon. There were a few people living in the small cays and we were amused to see they had pigs and goats--they must have brought the animals on boats, but we wondered how on earth do you get a pig or a goat to board a boat?

My folks didn't want us to swim in the bay or water-ski, as sharks were reputed to be abundant, so we swam in the hotel's pool, sited on a wide terrace below the dining room with the big glass windows. We children spent most of our day in and around the pool, taking cover to read or sketch on the balconies during the sun-burning hours. I was already a committed artist, and remember making a number of drawings of the bay in my favorite Prismacolor pencils, one of which I'm sure my aunt Nina preserved (she sent me this postcard of the hotel on my birthday to cheer me up during my first months alone in Albuquerque in 1961). Time passed as slowly as it does on childhood vacations that end too soon...

After the hotel was "intervened" (confiscated) by the Castro government, the owners returned to Canada. I wonder what happened to it, whether it still stands and forms part of some government tourist facility or if it is now in ruins? Sometimes it's better not to know, to hold it perfectly preserved in the mind's eye.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Flowers for the Ladies in White

This week as we celebrate the return of spring in the northern hemisphere marks the seventh anniversary of Cuba's Black Spring. On March 18, 19 and 20 of 2003, seventy-five (75) Cuban dissidents, many of them journalists and human rights activists, were arrested and condemned in summary trials to serve a collective total of over 1,400 years of jail time.

Shortly after, a group of wives and female relatives of the condemned prisoners began to meet and regularly attend Sunday mass at the church of St. Rita of Cassia in Miramar (I know it well, this was our parish church when we lived there). St. Rita, like St. Jude, is known as the patron saint of impossible causes. The women dressed all in white and after mass they would walk along Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) for some blocks carrying a flower in their hands, in silent protest for the unjust incarceration of their loved ones and a prayer for their liberation.

They have since become famous around the world as "The Ladies in White" and you couldn't find a more courageous group of women anywhere on earth. Their valiant stance earned them the European Parliament's Sakharov Human Rights Prize in 2005. For those who don't know about the panoply of methods of repression and psychological torture employed by the Castro government, these women have stood firm in the face of incredible pressure and threats, as well as actual violence perpetrated on them from time to time.

Seven years later fifty-three prisoners remain in jail in sub-human conditions; eleven have been released for health reasons on "extra-penal license" (meaning they can be returned to jail anytime the government wishes), one completed his sentence and another died shortly after his release.

This week, to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Cuban Black Spring, the Ladies in White have been marching in the streets of central Havana after attending masses at a number of churches. Government-hired mobs of 300 to 400 persons have followed and surrounded them, heckling and shouting insults at them in an attempt to intimidate these peaceful women from carrying out their purpose.

On Wednesday their march was interrupted by the mob of government mercenaries and State Security thugs in plain clothes who forcibly dragged and boarded them into two buses the government had waiting nearby. Photographs and videos of the incident have circulated widely, and the evidence showed the Cuban government's claim that no force was employed is entirely false. The woman in the photo below applying a stranglehold on a lady in white was identified as a trained State Security agent who travels at the government's bidding.

Photos by Reuters from an article in Spain's newspaper El Pais.

Despite the fact that several of the ladies were injured in the melee (Laura Pollan, their leader, suffered a broken finger), the Ladies in White continued their planned activities on Thursday and Friday. The resulting publicity and the international community's outrage at the violence against these innocent women tempered the government's reaction in subsequent marches and these have taken place with just the usual heckling and verbal harassment. I hope eventually they will obtain the release of their loved ones.

For their courage and unwavering faith I offer The Ladies in White my admiration and solidarity, symbolized by these spring flowers--may they and the Cuban people triumph in the pursuit of Liberty.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Host of Golden Daffodils

A Host of Golden Daffodils, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.

Last week for the first time it was light enough on the way home to see that the steep banks bordering lower Rock Creek Parkway were full of yellow daffodils in bloom. It brought to mind that poem by Wordsworth all of my generation read in high school, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,"

(first stanza):

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

--William Wordsworth, 1804

(I feel sorry for subsequent generations of students who missed learning the wonderful literary works of the English Romantic poets... so-called "Modern Education" has thus impoverished their lives.)

Today was our finest spring day to date. I remembered there is a small hillside at Brookside Gardens that has daffodils planted among birches and thought it would be delightful to paint there.

The gardens were full of young mothers with their offspring, retirees and neighbors out to enjoy the lovely afternoon. I walked around and took some photos before setting up to paint, in case there was something more appealing, but my first instinct was right, this was the prettiest sight to paint.

The scent of daffodils and the witch-hazels perfumed the warm air as I worked. It felt so good to be outside it was hard to concentrate on the basics of painting. I almost lapsed into common beginner mistakes such as starting to focus on individual flowers too early rather than laying down masses of color first. I managed to pull out of it and balance the colors before getting into the details for a nice finish just as the sun was going down behind the hill.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Primroses for Spring

Red Primrose, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

It was raining this morning as I drove off to class, one of those light drizzles that heralds spring, so long awaited after such a harsh, snowy winter. This was our last class of the winter session; in fact it was a make-up for the class we missed due to the snow. What a pleasant surprise to find flowers in our still-life set-ups along with the usual props!

It was also Lee's daughter Margie's birthday, and her mother had given her a beautiful vase full of yellow daffodils as a present. The bouquet was one of our set-ups and Margie had joined our class so she could paint it. By the time I arrived, all the easels around the daffodils were taken up, so I worked with the other arrangement along with Lee and one other student.

The colors seemed impossible to harmonize--how does one deal with such shocking color juxtapositions or shades of green so close in value? It was a real challenge, and I don't feel I rose to it very successfully. I like the zing of the purple background against the red flowers, but the primrose leaves appear too artificial in color--they're almost the same shade as the ceramic bowl when they should have been closer to the color of the plastic pot. Still, I hope the painting captures a bit of the spirit of spring now happily approaching.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Blue Bowl

The Blue Bowl, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

I finally had a chance to paint "the blue bowl" as everyone in class refers to this bowl. It has a particularly challenging blue ceramic glaze with patches where the terracotta underneath shows through. Today it was complicated by a towel with pink stripes draped around the bowl in addition to the bottle. Using oranges rather than apples was a master stroke; it sets up some wonderful color harmonies with the towel and backdrop.

I benefitted by having watched Lee and other students paint this bowl in other sessions; I was able to be freer with my color, bolder. The drapery of the towel upped the challenge one more notch. I don't feel my towel was entirely successful--the folds don't read in certain places, but perhaps that is not so important. Overall, the impression of light and the color seems right.

Artists of the past who painted drapery so beautifully, such as Zurbaran, have risen even more in my estimation after this experience with painting folds in cloth.