Cuba. So full of contradictions and difficult to understand. Every single one of the elegant buildings in Havana has peeling facades. The air on the renowned coastal boulevard, Malecón is saturated not only with iodine vapours in the morning but also with saltpetre. (See ‘Dirty Havana Trilogy’ by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez publ. by Faber & Faber). Cuban women are incredible mothers because they breastfeed their children until the age of 6, but isn’t it just that they do it to be able to use the milk they’re due from their book of coupons? It’s hard to say. About one thing, though, there can be no doubt: the Cuban education system is of a very high standard and the complex of National Arts Schools in Havana (Las Escuelas de Arte de la Habana), apart from the fact that it’s recognised as an architectural masterpiece of the 20th century, is one of the Cuban Revolutionary Government’s successful projects. It has become a touchstone for education in the field of the arts. Irenia Vazquez also studied there and now she lives in Sofia. Music is her element. Every time I hear her performing live, an idyllic image floats up in my head, which for me is synonymous with the Cuban fiesta-someone puts on music at home, can’t hold back and starts to sing, along come the neighbours, they end up out on the street, the whole neighbourhood joins in the party, it goes on until morning. I’m not sure whether this isn’t the scenario of some film I’ve watched a really long time ago or just a naive idea born of my short encounter with late-period communism in Bulgaria, but this image is very vivid in my consciousness. Irenia herself brings it alive too. I met up with her one morning in the Music High School in Sofia. In response to my request for her to play a little on one of the pianos in the corridors for me to take a quick photo of her, we were given access to a concert hall, they lit up the stage spotlights and let us position ourselves in front of the biggest grand piano in the building. Irenia started to play with incredibly fast fingers, a fantastic mood pervaded the hall and people started to peep in through the windows.
He is a Basque, a Spaniard, a European, a true cosmopolitan. He has lived and worked in various cities in the world. We first met each other in New York without suspecting that after several years we would work together, here in Sofia. He’s been in our country since September of last year as the Director of the Cervantes Institute, the Spanish cultural and language centre. He has brought with him the ambition of the American spirit, the subtle finesse of the European soul and the curiosity of the explorer. We met one Sunday in the Doctor’s Garden, a favourite place for us both. He was with the smallest girl in his family, namely the mischievous Jack Russell terrier, Mina. I asked him about various things which I’d long been curious to find out regarding him. Here is the whole of our conversation with Javier Valdivielso.
Zdravko and Angel can, with just a few words, make you feel, taste and sense the real Central America, a place where people don’t hurry, they smile, they help you(if you speak to them in Spanish) and they still communicate with each other, personally and from the heart.
They shared their impressions of each day of their one-month trip around Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador (here and here), and now they add even more colour by answering my questions.
Although it’s an axiom of the writer Bernardo Atxaga that ‘To answer one question you need at least 5 hours; if you don’t have so much time available, it’s better not to answer at all’, in the 10 minutes of free time which was all we had at our disposal, he seemed to manage to unfurl his books in response to my five short questions. Conversing with and meeting Bernardo Atxaga (or Joseba Irazu Garmendia) in real life is an unforgettable experience, as is reading his books.