36 Years of Friendship

I first met Marta Martinez in 1975 where we shared a bunk bed at Heroes de Varsovia Escuela Basica en el Campo in Guira de Melena, Cuba.

Taking a break with classmates 1974
Valerie Landau taking a break with classmates after working in the potato fields. Photo by Marta Martinez, 1974

We were 16….after a school year of study and agricultural labor in the remote town of Guira de Melena.

Last day of school
Marta’s father took this photo of me, Chino Triana and our friend Milagro, and  Marta on our last day of school.

Marta and I spent the summer at La Loma del Tanque (See previous ThePrequel and 10 Days in Cuba)

At the beach 1975 – Carmen Martinez, Valerie Landau, Marta Martinez, Julio Cabezas and the driver Marta’s father hired to take us to the beach. Photo taken by Marta’s father

Despite the embargo and travel restrictions Marta Martinez and I stayed in touch.

In 1978 I attended the World Youth Festival in Havana.

Valerie Landau signing autographs at the World Youth Festival in Havana 1978 as Marta Martinez looks on.
Valerie Landau signing autographs at the World Youth Festival in Havana 1978 as Marta Martinez looks on.

I was able to get a job working for German TV as a field guide in Cuba, and while staying at The National Hotel ran into Eric Hamburg (then producer for Oliver Stone’s film JFK) and his life long friend, Rick English, who took this beautiful photo.

From RIGHT to LEFT – Valerie Landau, Marta Martinez, Mario Espinosa 1992 Photo by Rick English, friend of Eric Hamburg


I headed a delegation to Cuba a month ago, June 2010 and one of Marta’s friend’s took this photo of the three of us some 18 years later.

Marta sent me this photo with the caption “Gracias a la vida, que nos ha dado tanto.”

Planning December delegation to Cuba

Want to travel to Cuba on a legal delegation?
I am preparing a delegation to study sustainable development practices in Cuba Dec. 27 – January 7.

Let me know if you want to go…
We will…

  • CELEBRATE 2011 in Havana
  • travel to urban organic farms,
Organic urban farm in Cuba
Organic urban farm in Alamar, Cuba. Photo by Sylvia Frain
  • visit ecologists in Cienfuegos
Visit to the Center for Environmental Studies
  • visit biodiversity preserves in the tropical rain forrest
  • UNESCO Biodiversity tropical rain forest preserve
    Waterfall at the biodiversity preserve
    • Meet with experts in traditional, alternative and green medicine

      Doctora Idania, MD and expert in homeopathy, chrome color therapy, and traditional Chinese Medicine
    • Visit artists and musicians
    • Email me if you are interested vlandau@gmail.com

    See reflections on the last trip

    Song about Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba

    (Another segment from my NextNow Delegation to Cuba)

    Song by Jorge Luis Triania http://www.myspace.com/jorgeltriana
    Jorge Luis (El Chino) Triana wrote this song in 1975 while visiting La Loma del Tanque Theater Group directed by Huberto Llamas and my mother, Nina Serrano.
    Recited by Julio Cabezas 2010

    Santa Cruz,

    quiero decir con mi canto

    cosas bonitas de usted

    con hermosura y encanto

    Santa Cruz,

    para cantar me levanto

    y mi voz

    y mi voz llega hasta el río

    Y aquel humilde bohío

    se ha convertido en palacio

    que me brinda mil espacios

    que en un segundo son míos

    Sin usted Santa Cruz

    yo siento tanto frio

    y le juro a usted Santa Cruz

    que lo quiero,

    como quiero al pueblo mío

    Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz

    Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz

    2010 Cuba journey: The prequel

    This story is the PREQUEL to Cuba a ten day journey

    How I met Julio Cabeza’s in 1975
    In 1975 my mother, Nina Serrano, met a young Cuban theater director, Huberto Llamas. Huberto had recently graduated from the university and was completing his community service by setting up a rural theater group in a new community in the country side.

    La Loma Del Tanque

    The community, La Loma del Tanque, was a modern housing complex built on top of a mountain near the coastal town of Santa Cruz del Norte (home to the Havana Club rum factory) and the local sugar producing town of Hershey, formerly owned by, well, Mr. Hershey.
    La Loma del Tanque, (The Tank Hill) refers to the slave tank that marked the spot for centuries.

    In the early 1970s an initiative began to help rural farmers get access to electricity, education, health care, TV, and running water by offering them housing in apartment complexes in the country side.

    Photo of a Cuban "Bohio" courtesy of: Nebraska and Cuba: Past, Present, and Future http://www.nebraskacuba.com

    The theater group was made up of farmers who had recently moved from isolated huts (Bohios) to the housing complex. The idea was to work out the problems of this transition and to engage the farmers in cultural activities.

    View from La Loma del Tanque - overlooking Santa Cruz del Norte - Photo by Julio Cabeza

    FORWARD TO 2010

    I received a message on Facebook…”are you the Valerie Landau that was in Cuba in 1975?” from Julio Cabezas.

    Yes, I replied and we had a short Facebook exchange…I did not remember how we met…

    Fast forward to the journey in June 2010.

    I arrived at Julio’s home, after 35 years and after a warm welcome, Julio told this story….

    I was taking my aunt to the hospital a few months ago….and an old man called me over….”Julio, come here…I want you to send a message to the Americana con el Cuerpazo, Nian Serrano…tell her, because of her I can die in peace.”
    “All my life I was a violent man, fighting and feuding with a family that lived some ways from my house. When we moved to “La Loma del Tanque” we were right next to each other–making our lives miserable with fighting and feuding.

    When we joined the theater group the Americana Nina Serrano said, “What a great story. It is Shakespearean. We will make a play. Perfect, now you go into a group and you decide the ending of the play…All plays have a beginning, middle and end. The end determines whether it is a comedy or tragedy. Now in your group write the ending of the play…is this story a tragedy or comedy.

    In the group we wrote a resolution to the conflict and in the play the two men shook hands. We were cast to play these men. We did not want to shake hands. The Americana Nina Serrano said, you are just acting, it’s not you shaking hands, it’s the character you are playing….but at that moment of shaking hands with my life-long enemy, I had a revelation…and never fought again. I realized I could write the ending to my ife…and now at 92, I die a peaceful man…thanks to the Americana Nina Serrano.

    So, Julio, I ask you, please find that Americana Nina Serrano and tell her my story and thank her.


    Julio then searched on the internet at his work (the local TV station) and found me on Facebook…

    I asked him how we met….

    “I was 14 years old sitting on my front porch (here in Santa Cruz del Norte) and Huberto and your mother were walking by. Huberto asked me “Young man, how would you like to join a theater group?”

    “What is a theater group?” I asked.

    Your mother and Huberto sold me on the idea with talk of games and trips to Havana. I went to the first meeting and was disappointed when surrounded with what I perceived then as all old people.

    But Huberto insisted that I keep my commitment until after our performance as the troupe was counting on me, as my part required a young actor. So after our first performance in Havana, I was ready to quit….when just at that moment you and your good friend Marta Martinez arrived.

    “Hmmm,” I thought, theater just got a lot more interesting.”

    I served as your guide, and several of your friends came to visit, and we went to the beach and swam in the river and explored and played for the summer.

    I stayed on as a member of the theater group to stay close. My younger brother played in an adapted version of “The Chicken Made of Rags”

    (later that day, Julio’s mother came by and sang the chorus of a song from the musical play the Chicken Made of Rags written by my uncle, Philip Serrano translated into Spanish….Yo quisiera volvar. The English version “I wish that I could fly

    Julio’s mother said, “I still remember seeing my son, who played the caterpillar, crawling around, trapped in the net.”

    Julio, recited the lyrics to a song written for one of the plays by Jorge Luis Triana.

    I posted the lyrics to Santa Cruz

    Cuba: a ten day journey

    I organized a delegation to conduct research to investigate lessons learned from Cuba about sustainable development policies, practices, and plans. In addition to learning about how Cuba is facilitating a path of ecological development, the unintended result was a healing journey full of magic, love, and lessons of the heart.

    La Plaza restaurant in Old Havana - Photo by Sylvia Frain

    Our first day in Havana our delegation had an official welcome.

    Lunch at Casa Amistad, the Friendship House, former palatial home

    Official welcome for our delegation -- Photo by John Duvall

    And then a delightful lunch in the Casa de Amistad, Friendship house.

    Casa de Amistad was the former palace of Havana socialites. Their art, gardens, and excusite home now serves as a public meeting place - photo by Sylvia Frain
    Casa de Amistad was the former palace of Havana socialites. Their art, gardens, and exquisite home now serves as a public meeting place - photo by Sylvia Frain

    The next morning we toured the Traditional and Green Medical Clinic in Havana where a team of doctors explained how Cuban medicine offers a series of holistic health care. The doctors work in teams and have regular meetings to discuss patient care.

    Doctors give us a tour of the homoepathic lab, color/chrome therapy, acupuncture rooms, and physical therapy facilities. Photo by Sylvia Frain

    therapies such as Light therapy or Color Chrome therapy uses ultraviolet and  infrared light, homeopathy, acupuncture, physical therapy, psycho therapy and herbal remedies.

    Color or Chrome Therapy

    An integral part of the medical treatment for the doctors was looking at each patient and treating the mind, body, and spirit.

    There work included a new line of homeopathic research with Chilean doctors who have researched traditional indigenous knowledge and homeopathic practices with desert flowers from Chile.

    I went for a medical consultation with

    Doctor Idania explaining Traditional and Green Medicine Practices in Cuba with Translator and Guide Jesus Garcia Marin. Photo by John Duvall 2010

    Idiania, who was a trained oncologist who spent 5 years in a UNICEF-run orphanage in Ethiopia after the war with Eritrea, where there were over 20,000 orphans.

    She then went on to study Chinese Traditional Medicine for three years and practiced both types of medicine for several years. Then she completed a three-year training homeopathic medicine  and now practices an integrated approach of holistic medicine that diagnoses and treats the mind, body and spirit.

    Dr. Idania, MD, holistic healer -Photo by John Duvall

    She told me about great results their group of medical practitioners were having with autistic children and young adult patients with Downs Syndrome. One of her patients with Downs Syndrome arrived at the clinic to buy some homeopathic drops while I was there and in my brief encounter with him I was could see the work she was doing was effective.

    After visits to the idyllic senior center in old Havana.

    Senior Citizen Hostile in Havana - Photo by John Duvall
    Senior Hostel - Photo by Nicole Alfaro

    The group visited a model urban farm in suburban Alamar. Alamar is a large housing complex outside of Havana with some 10,000 residents.

    Lettus at organic urban farm in Alamar, Cuba. Photo by Sylvia Frain and Nicole Alfaro

    Sylvia’s video clip from the bus on the way to the farm at Alamar, while our guide, Jesus Garcia Marin talks about riding his bike to the farm to buy fresh vegetables.

    Our group headed out to the UNESCO Heritage City of Trinidad where we met with the town restoration specialists. After the meeting he showed an art studio were one of his paintings was exhibited.

    Then we headed off to Topes de Collantes, some 8,000 above sea level. Topes de Collantes features KurHotel, a health spa  where Cubans go for up to 21 days of healing and R&R.The spa offers a variety of traditional and alternative treatments including hydrotherapy, mud baths, massage, psycho therapy, physical therapy, Chrome color therapy, laser therapy, as well as cool tropical air at 8,000 meters of elevation surrounded by waterfalls, jungle, and organic coffee plantations.

    Topes de Collantes is up in the clouds and the cool mountain air provided cool relief for the intense heat of Trinidad. We stayed at the hotel Los Helechos, the ferns, where we enjoyed rooms with balconies looking over the jungle. Topes is right next to biodiversity preserve.

    After a tour of the area and meeting about the work of the biodiversity reserve, we toured the organic coffee plantations and tasted some of Cuba’s finest organic mountain grown coffee. We went to the local university and met with several Deans and Professors.

    Agronomy Professor and Philosophy Professor at a rural university specializing organic agriculture in the Escambray coffee region

    A graduate from their program man who grew up on a coffee cooperative on the mountain was our local guide, Jer Luis, was a trained agronomist and was getting a master’s degree via distance learning.

    "I am from the mountain and my thesis is on the effects of agriculture on the ecosystem" - Photo by Nicole Alfaro

    Then half the group stayed with at the hotel and got first hand looks at medical care in Cuba as one of our delegation members got a double ear infection. She received tip top care.

    A few delegates got full body massages, while the rest hiked down to a waterfall where we swam in the natural pool on a guided tour of the flora and fauna from JerLuis.

    The Escambray mountains rest atop a layer of quartz covered with a rick red soil.

    Entrance to a small cave in the Escambray mountains
    Hike to the waterfall - Photo by John Duvall
    Swimming at the waterfall - Photos by John Duvall

    Topes de Collantes was made a biodiversity preserve and is host to a many plants and insects.

    UNESCO Biodiversity preserve - one of the largest preserves in the WORLD

    That night a few of us went to some pre-Carnival outdoor music in Trinidad.

    The next day we drove to Cienfuegos in the middle of Cuba where we met with folks for the ecology center.

    Visit to the Center for Environmental Studies

    Center for Environmental Studies of Cienfuegos

    The subtitle of the Center for Environmental Studies of Cienfuegos is “…a bridge towards sustainable development.” The work of the team there was very impressive.

    Ecologist work with local residents for sustainable solutions

    There are five major initiatives, however, each based on a philosophy of working with the local populations, local and federal governments, and scientists to create sustainable development.

    There main areas of investigation.

    Environment: Contribute to the conservation and protection of the environment through scientific and technical development and innovation.

    Environmental Engineering: Identify, evaluation and offer ecological solutions to environmental problems with an emphasis on industry –high level scientists look for alternative solutions to prevent the correct industrial pollution.

    Then off to Jibacoa coastal region.

    Jibacoa beach

    I went to meet an old friend who works at the local TV Station.

    Julio Cabezas and Valerie Landau, reunion after 35 years

    I first met Julio Cabesas in 1975. He was 14 and I was 17. My mother was working with Cuba theater director Huberto Llamas. Huberto had recently completed his university training and was completing his community service by setting up a community theater project in a new rural community that was built in the early 1970s, La Loma del Tanque. Julio was recruited by Huberto and training in diction.

    He then served as radio announcer for the local radio station and is a ham radio aficionado. The radio program he hosted served as a kind of radio bullitin board. Since the majority of people in Cuba do not have telephones and the mail service is not reliable, each local community has a radio show where people can send messages: everything from lost dog, to birth announcements, messages about illness for relative and friends.

    It is a popular show, particularly for those living in remote areas.

    Julio then went on to take a five month course in videography and is now the camera man for a local show of participatory democracy. He interviews local townspeople and asks them what they would like to see improved.

    Cabezas family - Photo by John Duvall

    Then he gathers the clips and creates a montage, which he shows to the local administrator who, live, on TV, must address the complaints. They then have live call in for follow up questions. He says this forum serves the local community very well in keeping local administrators in check.

    “Imagine.” Julio said, “We are a community of approximately 36,000 people. So after you go on the air making promises of fixing wrongs…you better make good on your word. All of your neighbors heard you promise. And many of them call in during the live section, if the administrator tries to cover up or misrepresent the truth. It is a very powerful tool for our community. I am very proud of my work and of our town.”

    Professor John Duvall tasting rum from the Havana Club factory nearby where Julio

    READ the Prequel about Julio Cabezas and his story

    Valerie’s Black Bean Recipe

    For Sylvia Frain…a bon voyage recipe

    Cooking beans:

    If you are looking for economy buying dried beans is the best way to go. However, if you are looking for simplicity then buying a can of cooked beans taste just as good. I buy the gallon of cooked beans at  Beverages and More, BevMo, if I’m cooking for a party.

    I cook dried beans by washing the beans and picking out the broken ones, then I either soak them overnight, or put them in crock pot and let them cook overnight on low.

    Once they are cooked, I drain them and rinse them to get rid of the white sudsy stuff on top, which, my friend Carolyn Sabin says, causes gas. Then I add more water and continue cooking to get more flavored black bean sauce/soup.

    Then, in a frying pan, I sauté

    • 1-2 onion (the more the better)
    • 5-15 cloves garlic
    • Optional: green peper/tomato/

    Then I add the beans and tons of cummin and about 1/5 cup of red wine or a tablespoon of balsamic vinager.

    I may add a half cup of tomato sauce or V8 if I have it around.

    Salt to taste.

    Options: also oregano and basil

    Cook for ten minutes on low.

    If I have only a few guests, once the beans and onions are mixed and cooked I will crack a few eggs and poach them in the simmering beans and cover, until the eggs are gently cooked.

    Then I serve with Ezekiel bread toasted and a side of plain yogurt.