You’re sitting there. Thinking. Hmmm … I need to go on a trip. Should it be to…. The bedroom? The backyard? The bathroom? Maybe the pantry. There’s food in the pantry. But remember. You just ate, like, ten minutes ago. May I suggest, instead of another Cheetoh, you take a ten-minute trip south.
You couldn’t have a better traveling companion than to head to Havana with Susan Werner. That’s what my wife and I did in February 2019, as part of “Fan Club Cruises,” which really amounted to a small cruise-within-a-cruise There were less than 100 of us who bought tickets as part of a much larger trip, featuring hundreds of folks living it up with endless rafts of food, drink, and partying.
Eh. I will die content if I never cruise again.
But I’d surely follow Susan Werner across the country and out of it again, for the wonderful, up-close-and-personal musical kinship we found on this cruise. The cruise gave us the chance to hear Werner going and coming to Cuba, with private concerts on the ship in a small club-like stage, with a separate Q-and-A with her one day.
With John Prine’s recent passing, Susan is my nominee for the smartest, wittiest, most heartful singer-songwriter working in English today. I know that’s a big claim. But she has the body of work to support it.
Cuba holds a place dear in her heart and you can hear it for yourself. She crafted an entire 2017 album inspired by Cuban music, “An American in Havana.” The songs are infused with inspiration from “son Cubano,” a genre of music and dance born out of Cuba’s eastern highlands in the late 19th century, which blends elements of Spanish and African in its vocal style and metre.
Being the underemployed writer I was at the time, I asked to use my multimedia skills, such as they are, to interview her on the high seas. (Though they were probably low seas, as we steamed out of Key West, Fla., a few hours to to Havana, and back to Ft. Lauderdale.)
I’d learned of the cruise from good friend, the ace musician and “Mountain Stage” band leader Ron Sowell, who went on the trip with wife Sandy. Ron ended up jamming with Susan in the concert at the back end of this video.
I am not at all bitter Ron and Sandy got to be on the bus Susan boarded, the day we dis-embarked and spread out across Havana for two days of sightseeing. Thankfully, Ron and Sandy caught the moment on cellphone (seen in the video) of Susan jamming in her signature hat, with some hearty Cuban players on the Havana streets.
The video features an album excerpt of Susan’s gorgeous, insightful song “Cuba Is.” The song captures the entrancing charm and fascination of a culture caught between worlds and time frames. Since—sitting in the back of a 1952 candy-colored Buick, riding through impoverished neighborhoods once street over from a high-end hotel—you might wonder where in time you even are.
All I know is Susan’s song—and a visit of 50-odd hours to Havana—make me wish to return to send much more time in Cuba, as soon may be.
NOTE: All the photographs are ones I took riding around Havana in a 1957 Chevy with my wife one day and on a bus the other. You’ll see those photos in an upcoming post on TheStoryIsTheThing. (Or if you’re on Instagram, I’ve been rolling them out the past few months at instagram.com/douglaseye.) I’d like to say I was a street-level, gritty photorealist photographer (as some of the shots make it seem). But it was my 4K Sony camera that enabled me, post-production, to crop in on many scenes snapped quickly from the backseat of a pristine Chevy or through the window of a tourbus.
PS: Here’s a shot from the streets of Havana:
PSS: Here’s another shot of Havana.
PSSS: Here’s a shot of Havana you don’t normally see in all the tourist glam.
PSSSS: A last shot.