Lanzando en la Habana (Launching in Havana)
My book launch in Cuba takes place at Cuba Libro, a wonderful plant and book-filled oasis on the busy streets of Vedado and the only English language bookstore in Cuba. It was founded and is managed by Conner Gorry, a medical journalist and travel writer, who has lived in Cuba for 17 years. A friendly and welcoming team of Cuban staff members join her every day––whipping up frappes and strong espresso concoctions. Local artists display their work on the plaster walls. A perfect site to present Waking in Havana.
I pass by several times before the night of the launch to be sure everything is set up and drop off books, postcards, bookmarks and promotional posters. Cuba Libro has a FB page but most promotion will be word of mouth. I am hopeful many of my friends will attend, some of whom are “characters” in my book, and my daughter, partner and best writing friend are here with me. My brother is due to arrive the day before the launch.
But then…life throws a twist as it often does, nowhere more than in Cuba it seems. We get a phone call at La Casona—the big yellow mansion I found on Air BnB with room enough for all. It’s Abby, Rick and Val’s daughter, calling from Seattle with bad news. Rick experienced chest pains during the flight to Florida (a fact he did not convey to Valerie until they were on the ground) and has been admitted to a hospital in Ft. Lauderdale for overnight observation. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe he’ll be fine tomorrow. But a rubber band of anxiety tightens itself around my heart, exacerbated by the fact that we have no direct way to communicate with him––no WiFi at the Casona. Finally we figure out we can text and a flurry of text messages are exchanged. Tests and more tests, no results yet. He will not make it in time for the launch but still intends to come––this trip to meet my Cuban family and experience the island he has heard about for 40 years is not yet aborted.
I pass the day of the launch in a blur of emotions and nervous energy. In that blur, I try to make plans for a little after-party and somehow end of ordering 120 pastries––for a crowd that at most will probably number 30. Oh well––maybe everyone will be hungry I say as we unload six large cardboard boxes of pastelitos de guava, coco and jamon y queso. “You think you are still in the special period,” Conner says laughing. I do remember those days in the 90’s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of 80% of Cuba’s imported products. Friends would bring plastic bags to any occasion to take things home. Somehow we will make sure these pastries don’t go to waste!
At 7:30 we begin, forming an intimate circle on the tile floor, the sound of cars and trucks lumbering by on the street as a noisy soundtrack in the background. I deliver my first author talk in Spanish, translating my own words to English for the handful of extranjeros present––a couple from Minnesota who saw it on FB (!), friends of a friend who were alerted by her email, Darlene, my writing buddy, and Val. I describe my inspiration for the book, the long years of crafting the story (made longer by the time it took me to figure out exactly whose story I was telling), the publishing process and then read a short section in English—attempting to answer the questions I am always asked––why Cuba, why AIDS, why this story.
I look around the circle—almost all known to me for many years––Anita, her novio Carlos, Rocio, la niña, asleep on her shoulder, a new boyfriend, Carlos and Jorge, Carlitos from CirHavana Cirkus, and a few regulars from Cuba Libro fans. I miss Rick and Val but they will arrive tomorrow.
The launch is exactly how I pictured it—warm, welcoming, intimate and very very special. Later I will work on arranging book talks with other circles—the AIDS peer educators and prevention workers, a group of Cuban writers, my friends from Maravillas de la Infancia in Matanzas, from Casa del Cariño in Varadero. But tonight I am content, full of the love of longtime friends and family, and of the guava pastelitos that I distribute at the end of the evening.