From the moment my family and I arrived at the Cuban party, held in the Portola this past Sunday, April 22nd, we knew we were in for a treat. Before you read any further, hit the play button below to listen to a recording of the music from the event and now i’ll go into detail.
Walking into #1 Burrows, we were instantly presented with these slick tones and irresistible beats from El Guajiro. The music, combined with a dash of rum in our mojito, was a great introduction to the evenings events that were about to unfold, we recorded more tracks, which are available at the bottom of this article.
The weather was superb over the weekend and this led to many people heading over to San Bruno Ave to experience a little Cuban culture. Organized by Kate Connell and Oscar Melara along with Lauren Elder, the party was a fundraiser for a project involving 25 other international artists to support their contribution to the 11th Havana Bienal, a bi-annual art exhibition in Havana, Cuba.
At the party, Kate and Oscar were displaying the final drawings that will be compiled into a book, including a fold out map, to be displayed at the exhibition. Lauren also provided some samples of the cuisine to be featured at the SANcafé, a community-based pop-up kitchen, that will be in the MAC-SAN, an open-air air arts forum created within a repurposed industrial structure in the heart of San Agustín, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana.
After grabbing a drink and heading upstairs we were welcomed with an array of food. There was pulled pork, slaw, a squash salad, fruit juice (agua fresca), “media noches” (little sandwiches) with chipotle mayonnaise, black beans, a rice salad and top it all, a flan! We asked Lauren where her inspiration for the food came from, she said:
My food recipes came primarily from a book that Kate located, ‘Eating Cuban‘ – by Cox and Jacobs. The squash recipe [also in the book] was something that I tasted at “El Bambu” an organic, vegetarian, garden-restaurant on the grounds of Cuba’s National Botanical Gardens. El Bambu can be credited largely to the work of Madelaine Vázquez Gálvez (Jardín Botánico Nacional, Universidad de La Habana)
Quoting from her essay, “The Eco-Restorant El Bambú was founded 28 January, 1992, with the support of the Internal Ministry of Commerce, The Culinary Assoc. of the Republic of Cuba and the National Botanical Garden. Located in the beautiful setting of the Japanese Garden, the Eco-Restaurant has launched an intensive campaign to promote new nutritional habits based on (increased) vegetable consumption.” Madeleine also has had a TV series to promote “Eat Your Greens”.
My modest effort is intended to further support this initiative. They have beautiful produce leaping from the ground outside their doors, but so far fruit and vegetables have not penetrated deeply into daily cooking routines not dissimilar from eating habits here in the not so distant past – and even today.
Heading into one of the adjoining rooms, Oscar and Kate were displaying the artwork and final proofs for the book they are close to finishing. I asked Kate what compelled her to work on this project. She said that Lauren invited them to get involved.
In January this year Kate, Oscar and Lauren were in Cuba, where they had a chance to learn about the neighborhood and work on the collaborative project that we saw at the party. Oscar told us why this project was important to him:
For me, it’s all in the stories, people’s stories. The work we did here in the Portola began with collecting the stories of our neighbors on our one block street. That grew into a project that included other artists and resulted in a multimedia portrait of this neighborhood for the Portola Branch Library, including 8 hand-painted maps that explore layers of the Portola’s history.
I’m looking forward to learning the stories of the residents of the San Agustín neighborhood in Havana, through our SANcafé project. San Agustín reminds us of the Portola in that it is a neighborhood, on the outside edge of a cosmopolitan city. Both have agricultural roots. Both are working class neighborhoods. We found that the residents of San Agustín wanted some of the same things that Portolites want: a branch library, shopping access, a swimming pool.
When we visited San Agustín, we saw a district where supporters of Fulgencio Batista once lived, where mango groves once stood, where sites relevant to the practice of Santería, once stood and still exist…
Since many people in the neighborhood expressed a desire for a library, our map folds into an 8 page interactive book; this publication is called San Agustín Farm Map and Guide to Flavor.
The book is a wonderful, colorful creation, with the touch of a real artists hand. In the other room, at the top of the building, they were projecting images of the areas in Cuba where they will be working. We will look forward to any reports from their trip later this year. Kate was very pleased with the party they had put together:
We are so happy with the party! For the second time #1 Burrows was a cultural center in the Portola, complete with live music, food, slide projections and artwork. We got the idea to ask the generous Anthony family to use the site for this party, after attending the Portola Pop-Up Gallery night, organized by Ruth Wallace earlier this year.
Our friends and neighbors really put lots of work and support of all kinds into the event and we are moved by that. The Escobedo family set up, cooked beans and flan, played music, served food and worked at the entrance. They didn’t leave until we’d cleaned and loaded all the cookware, equipment, artwork and even the trash. Johnny, Leigh and Miles were incredible and we’re very grateful. Other friends, Pete and Genie Gallegos, Maria Pinedo and her daughter, Vita Paramo-Manos, who improvised flamenco to the music of El Guajiro, Lauren’s friend, artist Christina Bertea and our longtime friends Irene Kuhn and Sandy Spiker came, partied and worked hard.
Kate, Oscar and Lauren would love to also thank everyone who helped both towards the project. In Cuba they would like to thank Danay Gil Martinez and their colleagues at LASA. Also here in the Bay Area, Lorraine Leber, Laura Brainin-Rodriguez, Haven Falk, April Word, Lisa Velarde, Charlotte Bagby, Michele Alaniz, Luisa Lizaso, Keriann Egeland and the Thurston and Lim families.
By the time El Guajiro were firing up their second set of the evening, the whole building was packed. It was a great event and here are the two tracks I was able to record. Enjoy and our next art event is going to be another pop-up art show. Keep an eye here and as soon as we know about it, we’ll post the details.