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Mavis Alvarez: Palma Soriano is my home town, in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, part of what was known as Oriente, up until 1976. In the period when I was born, the people of my town were half urban and half rural; neither town’s folk nor farmers, but a little of both. And there seems to be some kind of genetic predetermination in that situation, because when I was deciding what to do with my life, I studied agronomy. When I finished my studies, I wanted nothing else but to work with farmers. And that’s what I did for the rest of my life, until I retired. Sometimes I write stories about things I remember; I study what interests me and I live peacefully in a large house in the Vedado district of Havana with my dog Tuka, who is just about as old as I am. I have one son who in turn had four children, and I now have two granddaughters, two grandsons and a great granddaughter. I don’t think the end result has come out too badly; I have planted trees, written books and given birth to a son.

Recycling in Process

August 5, 2010 | Print Print |

Mavis Alvarez

Photo from Las Terrazas, Cuba by Caridad

My Havana Times colleague Irina Echarry recently published an article titled Recycle, Recycle, Recycle.”

I could relate to the topic, given how much it related to me.  I am a woman formed out of love for the earth and nature, and also for people, who both live and survive as a species on this planet.

But surprisingly, when I read that piece on recycling, I immediately thought of another type of recycling, something different from that of ferrous and non-ferrous materials.

Life is constantly recycling.  When one gets to my age, a little over 70, you see that the recycling process is a constant.  Some things happen and happen again; they surprise you again years later, and sometimes when you least expect it.  It’s thought that the experiences you live provides you with solid shelter from the repetition of events that you never want to repeat.

Because yes, life recycles and recycles…sometimes for the good and others not so much.

I can tell you that a good dozen years ago I was working in Matanzas province.  During the day I roamed the countryside in my work, while at night I returned to a hotel to sleep. This is how it would go for days at a time.

The fact is that this hotel was in Varadero, the beautiful Cuban beach resort.  Back then, those of us who went to the provinces to work would stay where we found accommodations, sometimes in comfortable hotels, other times —more often— wherever we could.

How to listen to music

Returning to that time…  One afternoon I returned to the hotel in the mid-afternoon and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to go out on the beach for a swim, which is well worth the trouble.  Afterwards, in the downstairs dining room of the hotel, deserted at that hour, there was no one else except one solitary human being, who apparently agreed with my idea of dining so early.

Well, because that man was at his table, and I at mine —waiting to be served, bored and uncomfortable— I grew impatient and took action: I got up from my seat and proceeded toward that man with a pleasant face, who appeared descent and was probably as bored as I was.  I suggested that if it wasn’t a bother, rather than eating alone we could share the table.

Kindly, he got up and offered me a chair so that I could sit down at his table. From there we got into a long conversation until the fried hake fish arrived, which it seemed they had gone out to catch in order to cook.

In the background could be heard quite bearable instrumental music, soft and melodic, that was piped all over the hotel.  Actually it was little more than elevator music, to be precise.  I commented that the music was pleasant and he asked me, again kindly, if I liked music… I was thrilled; I had a new topic to continue talking about.

I began to describe in luxurious details —some real, others half exaggerated— the entire musical culture at my power, since I had recently bought a book published in 1970 by the Havana Book Institute: How to Listen to Music, by Aaron Copland.

Outside of that reading (which is very good by the way), my musical culture came from the pure trova music of my town, open-air concerts in the park and occasional recitals of “refined” music that I heard from time in time in the auditorium of the Amadeo Roldan Theater, near the place where I’ve lived in the capital city now for quite a long time.

Daring as I am, with my limited cultural knowledge I had that correct gentleman with the face of a decent person fascinated as he listened to me discussing Tchaikovsky (my favorite), as well as Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Schubert…and all the musical geniuses of the world – at least those I remembered.

The fried fish finally came. We even had a couple beers and dessert.  But the time came when we had to say goodbye.

I told him my name and explained to him what I did for a living, my profession, etc… the usual.  And that I was pleased to meet him.

Saying that perhaps we would meet again, he likewise told me his occupation. It turned out that he was a musician; in fact, he worked as the director of the National Symphonic Orchestra!

If at some time in your life, my readers, any of you have ever felt the desire for the earth to swallow you up, then you’ll understand how I felt at that moment.

I’m not going to tell you the name of that figure (if I did you would crack up laughing at me).  What’s more, I won’t tell you because what I wanted most at that instant was that never —never again in my life !— for a situation like that to be recycled.

But yes, life recycles…and next week I’ll tell you —you and Irina— about the recycling of this event that I have just shared.


What's your opinion?

  • mary

    Mavis, I am at work in another city.. I went on to havantimes and like a gift, there you were with your story… I could never start, at least yet, to reveal my most uncomfortable experiences, they are still nightmares to me… I wake up and rehash them, ( I think trying to get to internal peace)… But once again, you have this tremendous capacity to take life’s difficult situations and humanize them… and make them funny!! I am so glad you have started writing again… I missed you tremendously

  • Michael N. Landis

    Thanks for sharing with us this wonderful story, Mavis! I don’t think you had to be mortified about this encounter, though. You related your musical preferences, and that your interests were piqued enough to read a serious book of musical criticism by a well-known composer; hence, I am sure he enjoyed your observations. Furthermore, in spite of all the mistakes and shortcomings of the Revolution, one of its benefits has been the diffusion of symphonic music to a wider audience. Here, due to outrageously high ticket prices, this opportunity has now been largely foreclosed to not only the working class, but now much of the middle class as well.
    Now I will share one of my more embarrassing incidents (of which I have many)! Sometime during 1988 or 1989, I took the train from Washington, D.C. back to Brattleboro, Vermont. During part of this trip, from our nation’s capital to New York City, my seatmate and I were engaged in conversation. As the train pulled into New York City I asked my seatmate, who was getting off there, what he did, and he replied that he played baseball, and specifically, that he was a catcher FOR THE NEW YORK YANKEES(!). We then bid farewell and he got off the train. Since I was not–with appologies to the “Esquina Caliente” folks at Parque Central–a baseball fan I had no idea. A few days later I saw him on television during a Yankees game and confirmed that he was who he said he was. My son, who was then a star “lanzadora” for his Little League baseball team in Greenfield, Massachusetts, never forgave me for not getting his autograph!

  • Michael N. Landis

    P.S. My memory did not serve me well. The player was Mike Pagliarulo, and he played 3rd base, not catcher, for the N.Y. Yankees in 1988. He was from the same home town, Medford, Mass., as my ex-wife. Also, appologies to my son, who was a lanzador (not lansadorA) for his Little League team!