Society Dreams: Emilia Fanjul

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Waxing Crescent phase moon. Photo: JH. 10:30 PM.

Friday, March 15, 2024. Yesterday in New York, the temp hit 71 degrees. And sunny. And the witch hazel is now blooming full yellow in its bushy branches just inside the gates of Carl Schurz Park.

I’m one of those people (it comes with Age) who is reminded by these blossoms and bushy branches, that beauty too is part of my life. Just like all my other details, good, bad and forgettable. Nature’s move into Springtime is our real heritage, just like the blossoms in the Park. I know this sounds heady but it’s also reality; that which surrounds us.

Emilia and Pepe Fanjul. Photo: Patrick McMullan

Today’s Society Dreams entry subject is Emilia Fanjul. I know Emilia – not well – but I’ve been a guest at her table. She is a very good hostess in that all is arranged to make everyone feel comfortable and the dinner is excellent. And guests talk to each other with interest.

She and her husband Pepe are naturally hospitable and welcoming. They like people. I knew both husband and wife were Cuban by birth and upbringing. Their lives changed decades ago when still very young and Fidel Castro took over running Cuba. After the Revolution, Castro led a Communist government for the next half-century.  The new governors, as is the habit of political power, helped themselves to whatever appealed that had belonged to the rich and international Cubans.

The Fanjuls moved to Palm Beach where they raised their family and became active members of the Community.

It occurred to me when thinking about Emilia and her family background, that we lived in a time when the Cuban Crisis as it was called in the press — now more than a half century ago — was a major international matter because of Fidel’s association with the government of Josef Stalin in Russia; and Russia’s potential  geographical distance from the US because of Cuba  doing business with Russia.

Map created by American intelligence showing all known Surface-to-Air Missile activity in Cuba, 5 September 1962

What is completely forgotten about Cuba is the world that preceded all this, the world that Emilia and Pepe and their contemporaries were born into, back in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, Cuba was famous in America as the place to go because of the climate, the beaches and mostly because of the nightlife, clubs and (big time) gambling clubs. Major performers, singers, musicians, comedians — all of the nightclub circuit in the world — played the clubs in Havana.

Havana was Las Vegas before there was a Las Vegas. And because it was basically Spanish in personality, it was fun and interesting with beauty everywhere. Havana was described as “a mistress of pleasure, the lush and opulent goddess of delights.”

Partying under silk canopies in Havana. c. 1950.
A Havana casino. 1958.

Castro’s power in Cuba got rid of all that. Gone. In the half-century leading up to Castro, for the previous decade, Cuba finally freed from the Spanish dominance in the 20th century had very unstable governments with frequent change in leadership. And yet, the island was hugely rich by Mother Nature’s bounty, including the climate. For centuries its main product was sugar — once supplying the entire world.

From history you could get the impression that Cuba/Cubans were misled by all their natural bounty and their economies were historically volatile, like their politicians, because they were in it for the power and wealth.

A cane cutter and his family standing in front of their home. 1944.

In retrospect, we can see that Cuba today is loosening up some from its “Communistic” atmosphere that came with Castro although it may seem like the consciousness of the citizens has changed, as it seems to have elsewhere in our great big world.

So Emilia the child, the little girl, just happened to be born and grow up in the dazzling Havana, the city in the Caribbean that the world traveled to for the fun and the pleasure and the entertainment. For the fortunate. But Emilia’s dream tells us something else about ourselves and our beginning. They are in the end, the story of the experience.

Emilia Fanjul in the Palm Beach house she dreams in, photographed by Jonathan Becker.

SOCIETY DREAMS by Lauren Lawrence

The Dream: In a recurring dream I go back to the house in Havana where I grew up. I am knocking on the door, but I cannot go in. Sometimes I’m in the house up in the nursery rooms wandering around in that area and it is bitter sweet.

The Interpretation: In dreams, the action of knocking on a door is confrontational in nature — it involves a fist. As such, it shows staunch opposition. It is a declarative statement that wishes to be heard and responded to.

The symbolic door that remains shut represents that which the dreamer is barred from — more than likely a large part of her childhood. For in reality, her family house was confiscated long ago by Castro’s government and turned into an embassy.

Although the dreamer desires to gain perspective on this traumatic past, to redo and/or reclaim what time has brutally taken from her, the quest for recollection is fraught with impediments: The anxiety incurred from being uprooted from her childhood house is a memory best forgotten. On some level there is Thomas Wolfe’s sad realization: “You can’t go home again.” 

In that houses are representations of the self, entering a house reveals the desire for personal inquiry. Wandering around the nursery expresses an unshakable vulnerability: There is the wish to be insulated from the evils of this world and the comforting need to be nurtured.

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