Sunday, February 28, 2010

First Legs

On Wednesday I'll be rehearsing in New Haven with the singers from the Yale School of Music who will be with me on the mini-tour March 9-10-11 (New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco) arranged by the Association of Yale Alumni. We'll be performing 4 arias from Before Night Falls, and I'll be talking about the opera; the General Director of Fort Worth Opera, Darren Woods, will join us for the event in L.A. It promises to be a very exciting three days!

And if you care to hear about one of the thousand unnatural shocks that opera scores are heir to: late on Friday afternoon I stopped by the Printer at the College to see how the big job, copying and binding the orchestral score — 355 pages, 11x17 — was coming along; I was told I could take home the single-sided masters, as the copies were done and ready to be bound on Monday morning. The office had run off the masters from the pdf files I gave them (recall: my printer at home is on the fritz!). Having learned the hard way, I double-checked the pages on Saturday morning, on a sudden inspiration, to make sure they were all there and in order.... and indeed I found that p. 34-58 were UPSIDE DOWN!! I had already seen the four scores in the office, stacked and ready to be bound, so I frantically left messages on two phones at the office on Saturday so that Monday morning they might catch this snafu. I called this morning again to make sure — now I can only hope it's all going to be OK.... because I HAVE to send the scores off to Fort Worth today!!

Back to our backstory:


One day, in 2002 or 2003, I ran into an old opera friend in New York City and told him about my project. Without telling me he ran around the corner to the Barnes and Noble and
bought himself a copy of the memoir and read it — and next day told me he LOVED the book but that he couldn’t imagine HOW it could be an opera. I showed him my treatment and he came back to me saying, you know what, this could make a great opera! After all I'd been through, that felt very vindicating, let me tell you. He suggested that I get in touch with American Opera Projects, based in Brooklyn, to workshop the opera. I thought this would be
an excellent way to see the work “on legs,” as they say, and to let it be
known, out there in the opera world, that it existed, and to work out any kinks.

AOP presented a piano reading of the first 2/3 of Act One in 2004, and the
second 2/3 of Act One in 2005 in Manhattan, which the New York Times
reviewed, most unusually, for an unstaged piano partial reading of
a work in progress.... and a very nice review it was. Unbeknownst to me,
David Gately was in the audience at the first reading, and he advised
Darren Woods this might be a work to keep an eye on. But at that time both
those gentlemen were quite unknown to me.

Funding, however, ran out, and AOP dropped BNF. Mark Shapiro, who had been
music director for the first reading, and an old college classmate of mine
from Yale, had an idea: why don’t I prepare a suite, a cantata, of music
from the opera for his chorus in New Jersey to perform, with orchestra?
What a great idea! He cast five soloists, including Met veteran Barbaba
Dever as the Sea and Angela Meade as the Moon; Meade would win the Met
Auditions the week after the premiere of the cantata! I called the resulting suite
“Stronger Than Darkness.” One great thing about this performance was that I then had a tape to show what the orchestration sounded like — and
happily, the Monmouth Civic Chorus won a programming award for having
premiered a new work.

But still, there I was, with one act of the opera read, and no interest.

The other great coup came in 2006 when I received a call from Allison Voth
at Boston University. BU’s Opera Institute had produced my one-act “Tobermory” a few years before as part of their fall Fringe Festival, and they wanted to know if
I had anything about an hour long, and, oh, by the way, the theme of the
festival this year is “Freedom.” I said, well, would you consider
presenting the 55-minute Act Two of my opera Before Night Falls? And it was a deal! I
suggested they hire the stage director Beth Greenberg, who had been a
great champion of BNF and a great friend. Beth worked stage magic with minimal means, in a black box. With a young ensemble of five
instrumentalists, with William Lumpkin conducting, and a cast ranging from undergraduates to Master’s
candidates, they put on four performances, double cast. Now I could offer
a recording of the entire opera from three different readings, and also
excerpts with orchestra.

But that was still not enough to get movement toward a full production of the opera....

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Theater of the Imagination

So finally, having finished the 4th Horn part, the parts are all proofread: a milestone! The copyist got a mild flu the last week, creating a small delay; my printer flashed "Fatal error" which is never heart-warming. The manufacturer sent me the links to update the firmware (huh?) but Mother Nature meanwhile sent us 24 inches of what was supposed to be maybe 6 inches, and a 13 hour power outage, just on the day that I had planned to finalize the score. Not the happiest day. But here I am back with electricity, without which, we should all remember, we'd be practically back in the stone age, or at least a century or two or three ago — so let us be thankful.


From the start I wanted to create an opera that could be staged in
a number of different ways, according to the imaginative inspiration
of the creative production team. I did not envision big elaborate sets,
but the suggestive use of theatrical magic. The story is very much of a
particular place and time, but the themes are entirely and profoundly human and

The big “through line” that I lacked on first reading of the memoir I found to be
Reinaldo’s perpetual, perhaps unconscious, need to escape, be it as a
young man from his little village, the constraints of society and
politics, later from prison and eventually from Cuba itself. Even once
“free” in the “free world” he found new shackles needing to be thrown off,
but it was to the “prison” of AIDS that he finally succumbed. So an escape
narrative seemed to be the model on which to hang the action; the theme a
grand one, so proper to opera: the quest for freedom.

The other big themes that seemed to recur naturally and inevitably were
that of “beauty” and “memory.” The artist and his art stand in opposition
to the tyrant and repression. The story-teller and his Muse keep stories
against forgetting. The idea of the Muse offered itself; the daughters of
Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of Memory, were the nine Muses of the
several arts, including History. The cast for the opera seemed to be made
up entirely of men, and I wanted to have the feminine represented. Rey’s
mother was an obvious choice, but she does not play a role throughout the
story. The idea of having two Muses seemed very appealing, as it also
allowed the story telling to take on a magical quality entirely consonant
with Arenas’s style. At the end of his memoir Rey addresses the Moon, and
I took that hint; for the other, I realized that the Sea was a character
of the utmost importance in the story — and in Rey’s imaginative world.
Both are cyclical phenomena and traditionally feminine.

Thus a whole nexus of imagery and themes began to weave themselves
throughout, tying together the strands of language and action. I feel in a
way that the libretto is in a way an “analysis” or “reading” of the
memoir, teasing out the many threads and weaving a new garment from the
gorgeous materials.

I showed then the first draft of the libretto to about ten trusted and
knowledgeable colleagues and got all sorts of good feedback and
suggestions, many of which I incorporated. Finally, Jack, with his fine-tooth comb went through it with me and pronounced it — not bad. High praise from Jack....

That process took me to 2003, when I started to compose the music December of that year at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs. That winter, Yaddo was just finishing some renovations, which meant I had a magnificent room, but without the piano that was meant to be there. So I was eventually placed into different rooms — in one it was so cold I could see my breath! So I was given their recital hall to work in: what an amazing experience! Yes, it was cold (it was then that I learned to drink black coffee from the thermos, just to keep warm, huddled next to the one radiator that was working!) but I got the concert Steinway to work on, and that magnificent room to inspire me.

The composition took about two years, and then the orchestration about another year. Meanwhile, I had to get the work “out there,” somehow, to see if anyone might be interested. I had always had misgivings about the practicality of writing
an opera on spec with a gay protagonist set in Castro’s Cuba. Opera
companies are  notoriously — and understandably — conservative and
jittery, and this might be asking far too much, and adding to that, a work
by a relative unknown — with full orchestra, chorus and dancers! I was, I admit it, crazy. But it could be SO GOOD, I kept telling myself.....

Monday, February 22, 2010

Further Libretto Follies


I decided to ask Dolores Koch, or Lolita, as she insisted her friends call
her, to help me with the libretto. She had no experience writing
either for the stage or heaven forbid a libretto, but she attended and
enjoyed the opera — she lived right behind Lincoln Center — and most
importantly, I felt: she had known Arenas personally and as the translator knew his work inside out. I said to her: I had already worked out the dramatic
structure of the libretto, which is at least half the battle, and all she had
to do was feed me text she felt appropriate for the scenes I had laid out,
occasionally filling in with a passage here or there from a poem of
Reinaldo’s. My task would be then to turn this into singable theater. I had been reading other works by Arenas to get a better feel for his vision, and found he had two distinct voices, as I saw it: the high modern, difficult “artwork” voice, and the more immediate, accessible raconteur’s — the voice in Before Night Falls. In all cases his imagination was utterly free and delightful.

But in the meantime, something else happened. The magnificent duo of baritone Sanford Sylvan and pianist David Breitman were preparing my big song cycle, The Glass Hammer, for performances in 2000, and Sanford put me in the way of an opera project that was already underway, just in need of a composer. I learned that the original composer had withdrawn, a detail I forgot until later. There were
already one or two opera companies seriously interested in this project, which had been originated by the librettist. I liked the project, so I set aside BNF, since this was too good an opportunity to pass up, and besides, BNF was entirely speculative. Perhaps if this other project was successful, it might even open the door for BNF....

To make a long story short, within about a year and a half the project came to nothing. But I had learned a lot in that experience, and was also exposed to important opera people, got my name a little more “out there,” and returned to BNF with redoubled determination to write my own libretto — with Lolita’s help.

Meanwhile in 2000 the film adaptation by Julian Schnabel starring Javier Bardem in an outstanding performance had already come out! I was eager to see how Schnabel had adapted the material for the medium of film, and saw that he had in fact chosen many of the same passages as I had for treatment, and invented a few things for the film — a good idea, I think. But the film, being a medium still too caught up in “realism,” failed to capture something about Arenas’s work. I decided not to see the film again until I was finished lest it influence me.

I showed Jack Beeson my new treatment and he was less scathing. It was
taking shape. Lolita came up with a brilliant name for a composite
character. I wanted to capture, for dramatic purposes, in one
character, certain themes so prevalent in the memoir: the mentors (Reinaldo’s
“great writer” models), the betrayals, and the suicides. No one person ever
personified all these three themes, so it would be a delicate matter
to give this fictional person a name, lest it offend the memory of a
historical and famous writer who neither betrayed Reinaldo nor
committed suicide. I had loved the names Lezama Lima and Virgilio [Piñera], but it would be too deeply wrong to use the names of Rey’s dearest mentors and
honorable artists who resisted the regime as best they could without either succumbing or compromising their ethics. Lolita came up with “Ovidio,” the Spanish version of “Ovid,” the Roman poet author of “Ars amatoria” and the “Metamorphoses,” creating thereby wonderfully apposite allusions.

An odd thing kept on happening: I found that people would get the name
of the opera wrong. I thought “Before Night Falls” is such a beautiful
title, but people would ask me how I was coming along with “When Night
Falls,” or “Before Nightfall” or “Night Must Fall”..... Sort of the
way people would see my name “Jorge” and pronounce it in all sorts of
ways other than the one I had just pronounced. (The “Cuban thing”
again....) But the title seems so clear and poetic to me: it’s about
getting something done before the dark sets in, a task to finish —
before one dies, Before Night Falls....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Librettist, Where Art Thou?

This week I'm proofreading the lower trombone parts and the lower horns, and that will be the end of proofreading. How many parts are there, anyway? 31, I think.... 5 of which are the strings, which then get copied as many times as there are players (although several pairs share one part on a stand). I believe the orchestra will be a total of 53 players, which is quite swank nowadays, although ideally the sound in my head would've had 8 more strings or so. Never mind....!

Sidebar: I've been rediscovering the recordings of the Tchaikovsky symphonies I grew up with: Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic. What thrilling interpretations! Some may say "over the top," but I say: genius! And of course, the sound on the CDs is so much clearer than what I was used to. I've always thought it was utterly unbelievable that Tchaikovsky was ever considered to be a lesser composer. Pure snobbery as far as I can tell — and it may have begun with more than a whiff of homophobia in his own day and right after he died. By the way: the idea that he committed suicide is one of the longest-running falsehoods in music history. The latest scholarship has debunked that myth (read Pozhnansky and Taruskin). I never thought an artist, who was at the very top of his form, having just opened Carnegie Hall in New York, finished the 6th Symphony and the Nutcracker, and — to me most tellingly — with plenty of ideas for new works, would commit suicide. Suicide is born of despair, and he was full of ideas and had plenty to look forward to. The worst part of his depression, dealing with the repression of his sexuality, had already peaked many years before with his "show" marriage and divorce, after which time he felt much more at peace with himself. (A propos of nothing, one of my favorite vignettes I read about somewhere: when Saint-Saens visited St. Petersburg, he and Tch. got along famously; apparently one day they donned tutus and danced for Rubinstein at the Conservatory! How gay is that!?)


Librettist, Where Art Thou?

I was already in touch with J. D. McClatchy, who even then,
to my mind, was the most notable librettist out there, for another project (which alas came to naught), so I thought, hm, what about Terrence McNally? He was a well-known “out” playwright, and I knew he was an opera buff. He had not yet written a libretto, but I thought it would be a coup to get him to collaborate with me on his first. He read the book, and we met in his Chelsea apartment. He was very sweet, but assured me he had no idea how to adapt the book for the stage, for which I did not blame him. My consolation was that while I was visiting, Joe Mantello, whom I had seen on Broadway in the original production of Angels in America — and fallen immediately in crush with! — stopped by: ohmygod, there he was! My star-struck moment....

Going down the list of gay playwrights (clearly I was playing the
identity game by now full tilt!) I approached Bill Hoffman, who had
written the libretto for Ghosts of Versailles. Again, very nice, but
that didn’t work either. I thought of asking Tony Kushner, even though at one point he was sitting two feet away from me at a house concert — but I lost heart and didn’t. I started to think the unthinkable: going for it
myself, to which end I began to reread the book culling from it the
passages that I felt were most important, emblematic, striking, stageable or
dramatic. But still — I decided to approach Andrew Joffe, who had
written the libretto for my Saki opera Beast and Superbeast, on which he did
such a great job. Admittedly this was quite a different “beast.” He
was over the moon with the idea, and although he admitted to feeling
intimidated by the greatness of the book, we launched into it.

We came up with a treatment, the most salient aspect of which was that
Andrew came up with the idea of having a dying Reinaldo telling the
story and the younger Reinaldo acting it out. I showed this treatment
to a few folks whose judgment I trusted. Most memorable was Jack
Beeson’s assessment. Jack had been my teacher at Columbia and the
composer of Lizzie Borden, so he knew more than a thing or two. He was
lacerating. He made his position entirely clear, and convinced me, as
a matter of theatrical experience: in dividing the character you also
divide the audience’s identification with the protagonist, and that’s
a really bad idea. I went back to Andrew with this, and we mutually agreed to
drop further work on the libretto.

I came up with a treatment of my own and learned another thing, from
Jack again. I was working from the largest elements down to the small,
and came up with a framing prologue and epilogue with five main arcs of
action in between, which I, in my naïveté, called “Acts.” When Jack saw Five Acts plus prologue and epilogue he went nearly berserk. I tried to explain that this wasn’t a French grand opera; the term “act” was just.... Forget it. Anyone seeing “Five Acts” wouldn’t give the work another look.

Mind you, from the first I was powerfully aware of “union rules,”
which stipulate, essentially, that any opera that goes over a set time, usually three
hours, incurs killer overtime fees, so my opera had to have no more
than 2 and a half hours of music, accounting for one intermission, and
preferably less, or it would be rejected out of hand as too expensive.

So I kept my five structural arcs and just renamed them; Act One (a
prologue and three big arcs, or scenes) and Act Two
(two more arcs and an epilogue). I decided to keep the book’s own
framing device of the writer in the present, looking back on his life, and
returning to the present at the end. Not original, but effective. But
still, I felt I couldn’t quite write the libretto by myself, so I had
an idea....

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Rights Page

"I’m excited about new opera, anybody’s new opera! And so should we all be. Putting on an opera is an Herculean Feat and I stand in awe of any composer who has forded that particular river...."

Thus spake Nico Muhly, and good for him! The big buzz last couple of days has been the Met's announcement that it has commissioned Nico to write an opera. This is terrific news and I wish him well. Can't wait to see it! (In a few years....)

It would be a brave new world if the Met produced two new operas a season, and revived two recent works (of the last 25 years or so) in addition, American or imported.

Thus spake I. For what it's worth. Meanwhile:


The very first thing I had to do was to obtain the right, or
permission, from the copyright holder, to adapt this work. I turned to
that page in the front of the book that’s full of small print. I saw
what a mess I was in for: The Estate of Reinaldo Arenas. Estates are
notorious! I would have to write to the publisher, and from my
previous experience, any letter to a publisher enters a time swamp and
I wouldn’t be hearing back in any foreseeable future, and after that the
Estate — and I’m beset by the vice of impatience, alas. I saw the name
of the translator: Dolores M. Koch. Well, Reinaldo lived in Manhattan,
and there I was, in Manhattan, and I had a copy of the Manhattan White
Pages; why not give it a try and look up the name there?

And there it was! I called her up and asked, “Are you the
translator....?” And lo, she was!! And she was marvelous: I
immediately felt at ease, lapped up her Cuban accent, and told her
about my crazy idea. She was charmed — she told me the Estate — oy,
that Estate! — was besieged with letters requesting the permission to
adapt the book into a film, and they had not made up their minds yet
whom to award. She explained that the Estate was divided — divided! — into two parties: one lived in Paris, and the other
lived in Queens.

These people, of course, were familiar from reading the
memoir; I would have to be meeting with them, in the flesh! In
addition, Arenas had left behind a Committee for the defense and
promotion of his work, comprised of five more people. Dolores was one.
But fortunately a short time thereafter this committee was disbanded,
so I only really had to deal with the two heirs, whom I duly courted
and met separately, in Queens and Paris, after I sent them some of my
music, and indeed they were enchanted by the idea of an opera — a film
was the obvious adaptation idea, but no one had thought of an opera! It was, moreover, a thrill to meet these amazing people.
The agreement was signed in 1995, indeed before the Estate awarded
the film rights — which was a stroke of luck for me. But I knew that
it would be a long time before any opera I wrote would reach the
stage, as it was unlikely to be commissioned, and I was an unfamiliar

The next step: find a librettist. Oy....

Thursday, February 11, 2010

“The Cuban Thing”

So now I'm waiting for the last few orchestral parts for the opera to arrive from the copyist so I can proofread them. This is a process that began back in September, I think. First came the strings: they're the fussiest, and the concertmaster just finished a couple of weeks ago bowing the string parts (and found a few more errors or questions). After sending the corrections back to the copyist, he will prepare the bound parts for the orchestra and I will prepare the final score with all the tiny edits and corrections — until, who knows, we hear the orchestra play it and I might want to make more changes! But at that stage it becomes difficult to make big changes; tweaks might be OK. Brass mutes on or off? That's a big color change, but we need to hear the balance with the voices. Frankly, I can't wait not to have to make any more edits or changes to the score: it can be endless! Right now the deadline is March 1, when I will send two copies of the final score to the company: one for the conductor (Joe Illick) and one for the orchestra librarian. Now, back to the backstory:


I deeply hated the wave of identity politics that was beginning to sweep American culture in the 80’s and 90’s; I had grown up with the, to me, superior myth of the melting pot. I was born in Cuba the year Castro took power, but my family fled when I was five, and I went to school from grade one in the United States — New Jersey, to be exact. Union City, where we lived for most of my time growing up, boasted at that time one of the largest concentrations of Cubans outside of Cuba itself. Older Cuban exiles, like my parents, had a choice of Spanish language newspapers and television stations, and plenty of acquaintances from Cuba nearby, so learning English — a difficult task for the older folks — was not a pressing need. So the elders did not “melt,” but as a kid I picked up English fast and instinctively preferred to “melt” into the wider pot. Nevertheless, I had to keep my Spanish, because my parents spoke only Spanish, and they did not want me to forget the mother tongue — for which I am very grateful.

From the start, as a little child in Cuba, the music I loved was “Classical” music, unequivocally. I was one of those children who found their task in life very early and stuck to it, with my parents’ blessing. Later, when, as a young adult at a social gathering in New York City, I would meet someone and introduce myself — “Jorge,” an exotic name — the following pattern often ensued:
“Where are you from?”
“I was born in Cuba.”
“Oh, and you say you’re a composer. Do you write Cuban music?”
“Well, no, I write classical music.”
“And do you use Cuban influences in your music?”
Disappointment, incredulity, visible end of interest in my interlocutor.

This syndrome was not uncommon, from what I could tell. Cuban music had given the world many great dance forms, so on the one hand, as a Cuban it seemed perverse not to participate in one’s heritage. But from within the classical music world, I also felt withering disdain if one sullied the modern (essentially European) “serious” tradition with those unserious Caribbean dance rhythms. They make you want to dance and move your hips, and the music I was studying at Columbia — which I often intensely disliked — rigorously avoided anything like a steady beat. So I was caught between two worlds.

The identity politics, which essentially hold that if you are X you do all things X, (and to do things Y made you inauthentic) rubbed me the wrong way. Where in this mode of thought is autonomy, or the imagination, mankind’s greatest gift, without which empathy is impossible? And who are you to tell me who I am and what I am supposed to be doing, if I am to be authentic? So the thought of me, who am, among other things, Cuban, gay, an artist, writing an opera about a protagonist who was, among other things, saliently, Cuban, gay, and an artist, immediately sent me running in the other direction. The last thing I wanted to do was play that identity game!

But darn it all, Before Night Falls was such a great story! I realized, to exclude a possibility out of hand was as reflexive a response, and as mindless, as to include only certain possibilities. To deny myself this opportunity, out of my own anti-ideology, was as much to cave in to outside pressure, to another ideology, to toe a different party line. And the character of Reinaldo kept calling me back: what a spirit! If ever there was someone who could hold the stage, whose passion was eminently singable and lyrical, this was it! I figured, let me give it a try.

Next: where to begin?!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Book, in my Hands

OK! So let's get started! I thought I'd start by giving you the backstory on how Before Night Falls became an opera. I'm calling this part of my blog "From (Prose) Page to (Opera) Stage." It's quite a story, so I'm going to give it to you in installments, and I'm hoping to have them for you about twice a week. Now and then I will also write about random thoughts and occurrences as they come leading up to the premiere — and after!


Reinaldo Arenas, the Cuban poet and writer, died near Times Square in
Manhattan in the fall of 1990. His memoir (in Spanish, “memorias,”
literally “memories”) Before Night Falls was published in English in
1993, and I remember clearly the New York Times Sunday book review,
with a big color photo of Arenas’s handsome face on the front page, the lead review, praising the book. The book was consistently receiving raves. But I didn’t immediately rush out and buy the book. I certainly was intrigued and wanted to get to it, but I was in no hurry. I think part of that was resistance to the “Cuban thing,” a resistance to identifying on a kind of one-to-one basis, as a gay Cuban-American artist — in my case a composer — reading about another Cuban artist — in his case, a writer. I’ll tell you more about that later. Meanwhile the work quickly became very popular, especially among gay men.

Fate soon stepped in, in the form of a friend of mine who lived in the same building, an English professor (and yes, gay), who bought me a copy, and although I don’t remember it now, he insists, and I don’t dispute him at all — as he’s a passionate and knowledgable opera buff — that he said to me as he put the book in my hands, that I should consider turning this into an
opera. Sure, OK. In 1994 I was beginning to make my mark on the opera scene with the success of my comic one-act chamber opera “Tobermory,” based on the story by Saki (a minor gay icon, incidentally — caviar, really) so my friends were making all kinds of suggestions for operas.

I read Before Night Falls and swiftly found out why it was so popular: it is a
great read. Reinaldo’s narrative voice is immediately engaging, the
story he has to tell is engrossing, the characters he portrays are
fascinating, it’s passionate, highly political and by turns scurrilous
and high-minded. I laughed out loud at times, and I became teary
towards the end, knowing that Reinaldo is writing in the full
knowledge that he is dying, and that before he became an unendurable
burden to others he would — like a good ancient Roman — take his life
in his own hands. I felt bereft. And yet I felt uplifted: what a
spirit! What a life-story! I joined all those others who were
exhorting the uninitiated: you have to read this book!

But turn it into an opera? No way: way too many characters, way too
many episodes, no “through line” — it was, after all, the story of a
life, from birth to death, and that’s not anything you can
successfully put on stage. Part of the pleasure of the reading was
precisely the profusion of characters and vignettes, the kaleidoscopic
whirl of narrative across years and space and people. This I protested
to anyone telling me to turn Before Night Falls into an opera.

Until one day, I was gushing about the story to my therapist, and he
said, in full therapeutic earnest, with all this enthusiasm, why don't I turn this book into an opera? I gave my spiel. But he suggested I
should really think about this. By the way, he too was an opera lover,
and his name is engraved in the marble among the names of the many
donors to the Metropolitan Opera (alas he is no longer with us). Well, another reason I was resisting the subject, I admitted, was precisely the “Cuban thing.”