Helen DeWitt and some of her friends convinced me to have a blog site. Helen is the brilliant author of The Last Samurai. She is also my neighbor and great conversation companion.
We meet almost everyday in the well-known Yorckschloesschen, a legendary restaurant here in Berlin known for its artistic cliental of which we are two. The place is modeled after an establishment that one might find in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It has a wonderful outdoor beer garden where we all sit during warm weather. I took Garrison Keillor to Yorckschloesschen for lunch while were rehearsing in my apartment for some concerts we gave together. Since Helen has begun frequenting the restaurant, she has brought some of her writing colleagues in tow. I met them for the first time this past weekend. An interesting bunch, for sure.
My father was also an excellent writer, as seen in the legal briefs he authored as well as the letters he wrote. He read voraciously, often reading 3 books at the same time, their pages bent in the corners and containing copious handwritten notes in the margins, reflecting Dad’s musings on certain passages, or cross-referencing other books and thoughts.
My father was an ardent fan of Ernest Hemingway, having read everything that the mercurial author had written as well as every available Hemingway biography. Some months after Dad’s death, I visited the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana where Hemingway had lived for awhile. I took the wrought-iron elevator to the 5th floor where he resided in various rooms at different times. One can stay in any of those rooms as a hotel guest. I honored my father by wandering around the place and soaking up the atmosphere. I felt that he was there, too, enjoying the experience with me.
In Cuba, the average salary for a citizen is about 5 to 15 dollars per month. However, I am convinced that two of the wealthiest people in the country are the old lady and old man (not the Old Man and the Sea ) who are the dedicated pianists in the lobby of the Ambos Mundos. Each day, their tip glass is filled to the brim with dollars. Even though much of Havana is poor, its citizens do receive excellent and free health care. Many of their doctors go to the United States or Europe for their medical studies and residencies, and then return to Cuba to work in the hospitals. I’m told that the University in Havana is superb. Certainly the music is, performed live in every bar found on almost all the street corners, It’s a pity that the Bush administration doesn’t want Americans to travel to Cuba. It’s not actually illegal to visit the country. What is illegal is spending American money there. But those dollars are the joy of every pianist who performs during the days and mysterious nights in the lobby of the Ambos Mundos.