DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Seeing new worlds via college program

I TOOK A seat beside John Lennon. As I marveled at my arrival here at last, he just smiled.

The trip to Parque John Lennon in Havana, Cuba, started four Octobers ago with a lecture I attended in Port Angeles. Cuba had always called to me, with its rhythms, its dance steps and, yes, its forbidden aura.

So I attended a free talk by Reina Barreto, a Peninsula College professor and daughter of a Cuban ballet dancer.

She’d returned from an extended stay on the island and delivered a slide-illustrated program about life there: neighborhoods overflowing with outdoor art installations, the ballet academy — and the park with a life-size bronze statue of the ­Beatle.

Senor Lennon isn’t up on a pedestal; he’s just sitting back on a bench.

I flew to Havana earlier this year, having decided that I didn’t want to wait any longer. You never know when that door will be closed to you for one reason or another.

My travel philosophy is: Go now, or as soon as possible, while you still can.

Barreto’s lecture cultured this pearl of interest in my heart. And Cuba did not disappoint.

The clave rhythm flows through the streets of Habana Vieja from late morning till late at night. Bicycle-taxi pedalers kiss you on both cheeks as they deliver you to your destination. Standing on the Malecon, the waterfront boulevard, you feel the ocean spray and the stark separation from the rest of the world.

Now the State Department is warning Americans away from Cuba, due to mysterious, so-called “health attacks” suffered by U.S. Embassy workers in Havana. I hope this is not a door slamming shut. I hope the flow of travelers to the island is not halted, as the Cuban people need help in their recovery from hurricanes Irma and Maria.

I’d go back if I could swing it, as there’s so much beyond the capital that I didn’t see on my first trip.

What place are you curious about? Is there somewhere or something that piques your interest, something from outside your daily routine?

It’s possible to explore such things via a whole new slate of free programs like Barreto’s at Peninsula College. The series is called Studium Generale, medieval Latin for a place of studies where people from all around the world can come together and explore a subject.

Studium happens at 12:35 p.m. each Thursday in the college’s Little Theater, and it’s always open to the public.

This fall’s programs include Teatro Milagro — the Miracle Theater group of Portland, Ore. — performing the bilingual play “El Payaso,” about an American engineer seeking to bring electricity to rural Nicaragua. That’s happening this Thursday.

Next week, on Oct. 12, Eric Munscher of the North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group will give a lecture on the Turtle Survival Alliance’s work.

More about Studium Generale can of course be found via www.pencol.edu under the “Events” link. The Peninsula Daily News also announces the forthcoming Studium offerings.

Seize the opportunity. You might find yourself carried away by a new interest.

Let it happen.

I’m grateful to Barreto and to Professor Kate Reavey, organizer of the Studium series. I will forever remember hearing a nine-piece salsa band playing atop the Hotel Plaza in Havana on the first night, and then, on the second day, walking into Parque John Lennon, where one of my heroes awaited.

John would have turned 77 this Monday, Oct. 9. In his park in Havana, there’s a plaque with an inscription:

“Dirás que soy un soñador, pero no soy el único,” it reads.

(“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”)

Also in Havana, I met Leonardo Gamboa, a bookseller in one of the plazas, and mentioned to him that I’d visited the park.

“John Lennon! He was a revolutionary,” Gamboa said. Then, fiercely, he recited words from a song written in 1971.

“Imagine all the people,” he said, “living life in peace.”

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Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Angeles.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month.

Reach her at Creodepaz@yahoo.com.