Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil

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Miramar, Havana and Hancock Park, Los Angeles

The Friday writing fairy is being stingy once again, and finding words for my book is like swatting a fly: I aim, but they buzz away. However, the day is still young here on the west coast of the United States. So, to fill the absence of words, I turn to YouTube and Wikipedia to gain more inspiration on the Havana, Cuba of my mother’s young life.

I want to understand the geography of this Caribbean island. Through travelog videos of Havana, I find interesting realizations about my mother’s Cuba, and the sadness of her having to leave. It picks up on my theme from yesterday, on how home is everywhere. Vast distances between locations still conjure feelings of sameness — a sense of having been there before. A small square in Leningrad feels like that small park down the road from your house in Cleveland. The pier at Carbon Beach in Malibu could make you feel like you’re back home on the Jersey Shore.

My mother lived in the The Miramar district. It is an upscale area of Havana marked with big mansions and homes, mostly occupied by the upper class before the revolution. There are government offices and embassies throughout this region, which explains why my mother was fascinated by dignitaries and ambassadors. She loved her life in Miramar from childhood until her late twenties, when a member of Castro’s guard, an acquaintance, told her personally to get the hell out.

I live in the The Hancock Park district. It is an upscale area of Los Angeles marked with big mansions and homes, and mostly occupied by wealthy entertainment lawyers, producers and film mavens. The Mayor of Los Angeles lives within a two minute walk from my home. There are some embassies and official offices scattered around this lush green region. I live among this wealth, but on a street less ostentatious. I am not rolling in the dough. I can see the Hollywood sign from my street; yet, I’m far away from the madness of Hollywood. As the years have passed, I’ve made friends with my neighbors, and enjoy the camaraderie I never had with my neighbors in New York City. My rent is a bit high for what I can afford, and I’m nervous about my cash flow, so the idea of moving to a less expensive place has been weighing on me. But to even look for another place, somewhere more affordable, makes me sick. It makes me sad, depressed — lost.

I weigh this against my mother’s history. She longed for the Cuban beaches, byways, streets and the Malecon. Whenever we discussed summer vacations, Washington DC would be her main choice. The Capitol building always reminded her of the Capitolio Nacional. Everything from the Mall to the Treasury reminded her of Havana.  Washington held the pomp and circumstance, the familiar visuals she craved. Although the closest thing to a beach was The Potomac River, it was almost like  home.

It occurred to me while wading through videos and articles about my mother’s country, that her leaving Miramar Havana was in some small modicum of a way, like me having to leave Hancock Park — times one hundred. To have the world that sustained your emotional well being,  that provided your security,  that held your common ground be ripped from under you, to be forced to leave the only home you’ve ever known,  must feel like death.

As I struggle to find the next step in my mother’s story, I tap into her pain.  America is my home, yet she never seemed to feel it was hers. The United States. How could anyone not see it as the final destination, the triumph, the land of opportunity? How arrogant of me to judge my mother’s unhappiness. Her vision of home was shattered fragments of Havana, like glass on the floor, reflecting moments long gone. She settled into a life with me and my father, stuck in a suburban landscape, so far away from home.


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That Feeling of Deja Vu on a Thursday

Thursday. It’s the Thursday of a slow and difficult week in terms of accomplishing my writing goals. Perhaps it’s the late summer doldrums. My body is still stuck in childhood, when summers were spent watching morning television, reading books from the library, discovering music, playing with friends and going to the local public pool. As an adult, I’m stuck in a routine of office work, and trying to get a Friday or Monday off during the hot months to keep my sanity.

Sticking to my writing goals. Trying to write at least 1000 usable words for the book inspired by my mother’s life in Cuba called “The Sea Around”. It will be part one of a trilogy inspired by the stories of, not only my mother, but my father’s life as well.

But first, Havana. My mother’s voice is over my shoulder. It feels like she’s saying, “You have to tell my story first! Write a book about me!” So, I spend some time each today writing about, and researching a country I’ve never been to.

In recent years, Cuba has slowly opened its doors to tourists from America. It’s quite tempting to sign up for a tour of Havana, my mother’s home city. My intent would be to absorb the culture, the heat, the energy, the despair – to follow the footsteps of my mother’s life told in darkened rooms during her depressed evenings, stories that hang like myths in my imagination. Yet, the prices for tours are expensive. For a country so poor, I have to wonder where all that money is going. Ethics win out over financial draw backs for me. I decide to stay put in my current home of Los Angeles, and live vicariously and without abandon on Google Maps. Tourist shots of calles and avenidas paint a picture of my mother’s neighborhood in Miramar. The map gives me a vision of her landscape.

While coming across various street shots of the shabby Victorian buildings, mixed with shattered shacks and contemporary apartments, some crumbling, others well maintained, it struck me how much Havana looks like Echo Park in Los Angeles. The blue skies and open horizons beyond the shallow rooftops. Tired palm trees line the streets. Some of them pop up in random places. Run down cars and jalopy pick up trucks so old and rusted, I can practically hear the music from ‘Sanford and Son’ playing as I imagine the sound of creaking shock absorbers crying for help while holding together bouncing bald tires.

It reminds me of how pockets of Los Angeles remind me of New York – my home state. Just like a residential street in Havana looks like a side street near Elysian Park, L.A., there is a corner north west of La Brea and Beverly Boulevard that makes me feel like I’m back on Central Avenue in Hartsdale, New York, near what is know as “The Four Corners”. Both locations have a brick apartment building in the same spot. Both have gas stations nearby. Hartsdale’s corner has a Dunkin Donuts to it’s right, followed by the famous Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. The corner in Los Angeles has a strip mall with a major Kosher store that caters to the large Hasidim community that surrounds the region. Slightly altered specifics, but it still embodies the same energy – the same feeling – like I’m back home where my parents lived before they died four years ago. Back in familiar territory, where only a decade ago, my adult summers were enjoyed on weekends, away from my place in the city, back in Westchester County. That’s  where I hung out by my parents’ condo pool, and befriended my now distant friend Marie. It’s where I found out about the local condo politics and listened to family stories spoken by neighbors with open hearts. It’s where I met my sweet, disturbed friend Eamonn (who inspired some of the stories in my forthcoming October book), who calls me once in a while to tell me about his progress in life.

Different places in separate states or countries – yet they conjure the same feeling. Home is everywhere.