Across the parking lot is a .... palace? castle? A gingerbread house?
I would have stopped and stared for much longer but we had so much to see still. Mom pulled me and our cousin to follow her. We went past lions, up stairs and into an entry way.
Mom pays, which is great because she let me pay at the last place and I didn't understand currency exchange and almost gave a tip big enough for the waiter to buy a flat screen TV.
We follow a turning wide wooden carved staircase up up and pass a bust of Jose Marti.
I can't help myself. I hug the statue and take a picture of myself with him, then kiss his cold forehead and tell him I love Cuba, too, that he can rest knowing other people love it too,
I try to catch up to my Mom and her cousin but I'm stopped in my tracks by a pattern that runs across the wall across the woodwork, repeating.
It's almost like my sign, almost what I saw in the cemetery and the city and no its here.
There might have been an official tour path through this palace but we didn't take it. Instead we dodged into a room stacked high with chairs. The pattern in the wall looks baroque.
In the next room, the one with the dust and no chairs, the wall pattern seems Byzantine.
Our cousin explains this place was built by a wealthy sugar baron who never lived here, that it was always under construction. All this craftsmanship, all these details, I can see why. It feels like places we went on field trips as kids like Vizacaya.
I walk into a narrow hall. There, on the ground, is the pattern, again. Almost. And there, again, something like it, a little. Each time a little different, evolving like Darwin's finches, shifting from room to room.
I follow the row, follow the pattern to the next room where it seems more gothic. There it is, almost. And there, almost, kinda.
I'm sure I'm going to find the answer, and I take a picture of this, that and that over there.
Then I think I know it. I'm thinking I stumbled on the architectural Rosetta Stone that will tell my answer.
Maybe not, it can't be?
Maybe not, so I walk out to a balcony and look back onto the outside plaster work.
It's not there, not exactly, but almost.
And almost there in the woodwork, and aqain for sure there it is in the stained glass above the tall walls.
I'm terribly and passionately and incurably in love with this gothic moorish mixmash of a palace. Its so eclectic it could be America. It could totally be in America, I think again, and then decided that the owner was American in his heart unless Cubans and Americans are this much alike in which case the water that separates us is just thick vapor and fog.
A thin hall leads to a tight spiral staircase. I follow Mom and our cousin up there, to what turns out to be a lookout bar, full of tourists, probably the tourists who passed us on bikes earlier.
They can't be American; they are took quiet, too still. They whisper to each other but I'm sure it's not English. Judging by their black socks and short shorts, I'd guess they're from Germany or Sweden.
Our cousin has to go to the bathroom and figures out where the line is. Right there, waiting is someone else, dark young muscled and very happy.
Mom asks him, directly, Hello, are you a baseball player?
She has quite an eye. He was, from the Cienfuegos team. I take my picture with him. He calls a "more famous" player over. More pictures. Another one comes, and while they keep talking, I step away for a minute to the edge of the walkway and look out.
Now I can finally put it together. Over there are mountains. And more mountains the other way. Lush mountains, tall green and sharp. In the middle is the part of Cienfuegos where our hotel is. I know where I am.
I take pictures of the landscape and then turn to my other iPhone camera so it takes pictures towards me. There. A picture of me, windblown and laughing.
I look back at the architecture and then down at the tiles below me. There, there it is. Again.
The wind blows hard against me like a happy puppy. I hold my ground and keep looking. What is it, that it would be here, there, everywhere, evolving?
A thought, and answer
comes to me like lightning. Of course, of course thats what it
But what else WOULD it be? Of course. Of course.
I know it, just like you'd know it if I told you right now and you'd shake your head and laugh with me.
I know I'm right, I know I have decoded it. for certain, of course I know what it is. Then I take a few more pictures and laugh because of course that's what it is, it must be. I decide I know, I decide I know the answer, for now, at least.
We are thirsty and ask for water. No. No water.
We ask for wine.
No. No Wine.
We ask for diet coke, for Perrier.
No. No. All they have is Rum and Coke, or at least the kind of Coke they sell in Cuba in "Cuba Libres."
I get creative and ask for rum and orange juice. He offers a juice box and I mix the two, happily.
The wind pushes us back, towards the spiral staircase, towards the rooms. I finish my drink then brave the downward journey.
Again we weave into the rooms that are under construction. I see a piece of plaster on the ground stamped with a pattern. I'm sure it fell down or was scraped down as part of the rebuilding, of part of the future, I'm sure its trash.
But I can't help myself. I want a piece of the palace, a piece of the Rosetta Stone. I think to put it in my purse, in my pocket, and then I think again, maybe I'll put it down my bra, close to my heart. This can't be stealing, of course, its just an act of love, taking a little something that no one will miss.
I think to slip it down into my bra, down where my phone used to hide, back when phones were small and less worldly.
In my head I imagine someone trying to stop me from taking a piece of historical litter, asking me "Hey, American Lady, is that the Rosetta Stone in your Bra?"
Then I shake it off. I'm not doing anything wrong.
All I want to do, fiercely and completely, is take a piece of this amazingly beautiful and complicated place home and plant it like a seed. I promise in my heart to watch over it, to guard it and love it and water it and pray for it and see how it grows.