Saturday, April 4, 2009

Edmundo & Felicia

Bobby, me, Edmundo & Felicia

M and I snuck a kiss when no one was looking.

In New York, we stayed with Edmundo Desnoes and Felicia Rosshandler, a powerhouse intellectual couple with a sweet and enduring story. Edmundo, of course, is the writer of both the book and the script of Memories of Underdevelopment, which was recently named the most important Latin American film of the 20th century by a prestigious critics group. Felicia is the author of a book I love and frequently teach, Passing Through Havana, a novel about being a young European Jew in Cuba during World War II.

They are both smart, elegant, a little unpredictable, and great fun. They are also, each of them, just ridiculously beautiful. That they’re also charming and open is an extra added bonus.

I don’t remember whom I met first – I sought out Felicia because I wanted to use Passing for my Jewish Latin American lit class at the University of Chicago (it proved a great hit, especially with girls). And I sought out Edmundo because I’d gotten obsessed with getting a blurb from him for my novel, Days of Awe (which he gave, and which I’m very proud of).

Their love story, however, is what thrills me. They were sweethearts as teens – Felicia still refers to him now and again as her novio cubano. And you can tell that it was one of those great illuminating young romances, the kind that imprint the way you give and receive love.

And, like most young romances, it ended and they went their own ways, to other lives with other people. Felicia moved to New York, married and had kids. She worked for Life magazine, wrote, took up photography.

Edmundo stayed in Cuba, committed to the revolution, wrote many things, married, divorced, then began to have doubts. In 1980, at the Venice Biennale, he defected (back when it was still called defecting). He continued writing, editing books, critiquing, teaching.

Then, about 18 years ago, they made their way back to each other.

And I’m enraptured by the idea of a Great Love to bookend Life.

They are both masters of the art of conversation, and so each visit is filled with much sharing and questioning and provoking of the best kind. Edmundo always makes me think, Felicia always make me feel.

This time I also got to wear one of her absurdly fashionable little jackets – this one a fairly simple down – so my fashion quotient jumped up about 20 percent. And this time M and I prepared breakfast for them one morning and they indulged us (Edmundo: “The eggs are wonderful, the potatoes are not bad”). And we hung out with the very worldly Olivia, Felicia’s seven year-old granddaughter, who hacked into M’s Facebook page and uploaded pix and left “I love you” messages on walls far and wide.

Edmundo was also our “moderator” at a reading and public conversation Bobby Arellano and I had at the 92nd Street Y, one of New York’s most prestigious literary venues. Still, when I put out the sked with the news, I was surprised by how many emails I got congratulating me on the gig. I was also a bit taken back when I looked at the evening’s agenda and discovered that Edmundo, Bobby and I were at the 92nd Street Y at the very same time as Barbara Walters, who would be autographing her memoirs. I was outwardly pretty cool about it, but inside I was dying: Would anybody come?

To my surprise, we had about thirty people: they came with great energy, interest and armed with many good questions for us. Edmundo gave a magnificent intro, Bobby read with pure abandon, and I had to summon my last reserves of charisma just to keep up. These guys were amazing!

Afterwards, Edmundo suggested celebratory cake and M packed her handful of pals and we went off into the bright New York night to satisfy our tummies and spirits!

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