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Eat, Pray, Love

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Today I finally finished reading a delicious book, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. I actually started it last summer, but a hectic schedule made me put it aside. I have heard many women pan this book, and plenty others love it since I started it, but I loved it from its first pages, and I’m sorry to have the story come to an end.

This story is a non-fiction travel and spiritual memoir of a woman whose marriage has come to an end. The women who have hated this book are usually “happily married” with kids, and or uncomfortable with their own sense of self. This book is a memoir, for goodness sake, the tale of a woman on her own journey to herself, so the perspective is exactly what it needs to be. As another woman whose marriage fell apart around the time of September 11th, I was amazed at how much I related to her journey. Through a year of travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert takes the most important journey: the one inside herself.

As anyone who has had the fortitude to go on such a journey could tell you, it is not easy. And in my opinion, anyone who bristles at this woman’s story could probably benefit from a little self-searching of their own.

We are born alone, and we die alone. As humans, I don’t believe that we are only here to live for others. It’s important to examine our lives, and admit that we have many shortcomings. But we also have wonderful parts too. This book demonstrates our shadow side as well as our light, and I highly recommend it for anyone else willing to embark upon their own spiritual journey – even if it’s only from an armchair.

Tipsy As I Write This

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Tonight I’ve returned home to Cuba.

Oh, wait a second – I’m not Cuban. Or am I? A friend invited me out to a tiny club in Washington Heights this evening to see a band called The Cuban Underground, and although I’m often happy to be a homebody, I surprised myself by wanting to go. She promised that the band played amazing Cuban music, and that was a promise that I could not afford to ignore. I’m from Miami, which is home to many expatriated Cubans, so I’m quite familiar with the culture. The fact that I was also part of a musical Cuban family, regardless of how long ago that seems now, is also important.

I moved to NYC in 1995 with my then-boyfriend, a Cuban piano master. It sounds weird to describe someone this way, but it’s the truth. This guy could play anything, and had been playing everything since the ripe old age of 4 and a half. He had originally taken to the drums (in the form of pots and pans), but his father, also a musician, believed the piano to be a more complete instrument, and would steer his tiny son towards the piano whenever Junior had a hankering to play the pots and pans. Eventually the father’s persuasion won out, and Junior took to the piano like a fish to water. Of course, his son developed a hard, percussive style of playing the piano, so I guess things evened themselves out. The son studied classical piano performance in a government-run conservatory, and after Fidel Castro’s Mariel Boatlift, the family defected to Miami.

Sometime around 1992, the piano master met me, a fledgling singer at the time. Without getting into my own family dramas here, I spent a lot of time with his family, who heartily accepted me. For one thing, to his family, pursuing a career as a musician was a worthy goal. They never asked me who did I think I was to call myself a singer, or when would I get a real job. When I had performances, they would come. When I got the call to audition for Ricky Martin’s back-up singer (this was years before “Living La Vida Loca”), they stayed up and transcribed the Spanish lyrics and translated them for me. When I went on tour with the Spanish singer Rafael, they were my biggest fans. I was their other daughter. I ate his mother’s arroz y plantanos, his sisters’ black beans and rice, and hosted Easter Egg hunts for his nephews. His family didn’t speak much English, so I became conversationally fluent in Spanish. With food that good, a mere “Thank you” in English never felt quite right, you know?

The greatest gift that this family gave me to me was acceptance in my desire to be a musician. In all the world there is nothing else like Cuban music to me – the love, the joy, the pain, and the sadness. Cuban rhythms are strong – like their coffee, and Cubans can play music for hours, singing songs until forever. Sunday afternoons usually meant a party at someone’s house, and La Familia Menendez, my adopted family, would always go – with me and their instruments in tow. They would bring lots of percussion instruments with them so everyone in the party could get a chance to play along. These parties are how I learned the intricate Cuban clave rhythm. I hadn’t really started playing guitar then, so I cut my musical teeth on the Cuban clave with my musical family. And their belief in my talents fueled my own confidence.

I grooved so hard tonight, like a woman with six months to live, slowly realizing that I haven’t listened to live Cuban music since I parted ways with the gifted son of La Familia Menendez. That’s a long time.

I drank Spanish tempranillo wine, and banged the Cuban clave rhythm (never to be mistaken for the Puerto Rican clave rhythm) on my little table, and I felt utter joy. I listened to the older men in the audience croon along with the band, and in this tiny club, I could almost pretend that I was at one of those Sunday parties, singing “Solomenta Una Vez” with the crowd.

You probably wouldn’t detect any Latin flavor in my songs, but tonight I had the wild thought that without the Cuban clave, I may have never released my Supernova CD. But Latin music resides in my musician’s DNA, and I’ll always be grateful for this family who raised me as their own.

By the way, the name of tonight’s tiny place is In Vino Veritas, which I’m probably mistranslating as “In wine, there’s truth”. And I am feeling a lot of truth at this moment.