Jilliana Ranicar-Breese


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Los ochos

 

I made a living for about 27 years as a dealer buying, selling, trading and collecting vintage collectables. One of my major subjects was Pre Cinema - optical toys before the advent of cinema. Lenticular moving images came along later and I recall in the 1950's seeing Coronation images of the Queen moving from left to right on souvenirs as well as moving picture postcards. 

 

One day I was at a trade fair about 15 years ago and came across free samples of a square winking eye. It was a retro 1960's design with heavy black lines of a woman's eye on a bright yellow plasticky background. I grabbed about ten and put them away for a rainy day keeping one, which I put in a small black square frame and placed in my yellow and black kitchen in Brighton high above the kitchen door. The only person who noticed the eye against evil was our Cuban housekeeper because the superstition existed in Cuba. 

 

I first went to Cuba on an ecotour with Lisette about 15 years ago. I stayed alone three nights longer after she had left. A decision that would change the direction of my life. During those three days I met and spent time with an interesting Cuban intellectual called Victor. Our friendship continued over the coming years with inevitable consequences. 

 

Some time later on another trip I was invited to his humble abode in Central Havana. He wanted to show me his home and so I was invited for dinner. Victor knew how to make something out of nothing. His father, who had been a cook for Fidel Castro for many years, had taught him. His 'bedroom' was up a spiral staircase to a mezzanine floor often created with high ceilings in Havana to create an extra floor. How I hated clambering up spirals. All there was in a vast space was a solitary double mattress on the floor and behind it a full length mirror. Nothing else in the 'room' that I could see. 

 

Then I gasped. Stuck on the top of the large mirror was exactly the same winking eye that I possessed in Brighton. I asked him if I had given him the eye but no an American friend called Bruce had presented it to him years earlier! His was a left eye. Did I have the right one? Were we destined to be together? My excited mind was racing. Was this a sign? 

 

Years passed but we kept in touch via email through thick and thin. I returned and rented a room. I decided that I would engage Victor, also known as The Professor, to give me advanced Spanish conversation lessons. I also knew that I was falling in love with this man of many talents. 

 

A few doors down the street from where my room was located, the actress, Esther Cardosa, lived. I got an introduction to her from Jim Haynes in Paris. She had money, unusual for a Cuban, had a Panamanian passport and moved freely in and out of the country. She had an interesting apartment and rented rooms to foreigners. One day she invited me to a theatre production she was giving at a local school which was using Playback Theatre techniques. I had no idea what that was but it sounded interesting so I went along to an out of the way school in a suburb of Havana. 

 

The room was packed with teenagers mainly. A few adults, one being an American Playback teacher and the group of performers who would mime a story someone in the audience would stand up and tell. I noticed a man taking lots of photographs and was annoyed I had forgotten my camera. Esther was one of the five or six performers. I was bewitched by people standing up or sitting on a high stool with their stories and then the performers, including Esther, spontaneously writhing, miming and moving fluidly around the area which was the stage using props, materials, cardboard or whatever came to hand. 

 

I suddenly had the urge to say my 'Los ochos' story in Spanish, of course which I managed in front of an attentive audience. Then the artistes got two chairs and some blue flimsy material. They wrote large words on two pieces of cardboard - Brighton and Havana gyrating  erotically, miming the oceans between the two cities. They inferred that we were lovers when we were not. At least not at that point in our love story. It was a short memorable performance that will always  remain with me. 

 

Esther then revealed she owned a theatre and that weekend there would be another Playback performance. I was invited and arranged to bring Victor. I recognised the same photographer and we nodded. For some reason Victor got up and made a long speech which I did not understand a word of or why he was making a public speech at all. The performers were all different from the previous ones and I gathered that Esther was also teaching Playback and these were perhaps her students. 

 

The day after was Sunday. Victor and I decided to walk around Old Havana, off the beaten track from the Plaza de Armes and the central crowded streets. Suddenly he remembered that one of his oldest and closest friends lived near by and wanted to see if he was at home. He disappeared into a building leaving me standing like an idiot in an empty side street for what seemed like ages. I had no idea where he was and I was not a happy bunny. Watching and waiting was not my idea of fun. 

 

Suddenly I saw a man walking towards me from nowhere. All alone in the street, I was apprehensive. He seemed to be coming to talk to me. Then he walked into my personal space with an Hola que tal? It was fortunately the photographer from the Playback Theatre who was holding an envelope in his hand. We spoke about the performance and he confessed to being Esther's lover or one of them! He then said he had just had last night's performance photos developed. Could I see them? Yes of course. And there in a city of who knows how many millions, he held the photo of Victor giving his speech with my hand showing but not my body or face! He gave me the treasured photo and sped off. 

 

Back in Brighton I had the matching winking eye, I was stunned at the synchronicity. First the eye and then the photo. My friendship continues to this day across the oceans of time and sound waves of cyberspace between Brighton and Havana. 

 

 

Written in Ronda, Spain in October 2015