86. A VISIONARY ARTIST:  I kept meeting and talking to Eugenio Perez Estrada at Palatino's, where he and another artist sketch tourists and sell them the sketches.  I have my own cartoon portraits from '00, '01, and '02 (and '04 and '05; the drawing above is from '04).
    But Eugenio, an uncommonly tall Cuban who wears hats and whom I always imagine with a turban, is a serious artist and a specialist in eyes.  He showed me his work in the museum next door, where I flirted with an attendant with a Russian name whom Eugenio thought might be the woman for me.
  When that didn't work out, he invited me to his house to see a work in progress that would clarify his artistic philosophy.  But, because I told him my opinion of Havana Vieja and of the vanity of pouring more money into it, we walked past a new housing project on the way that tourism had paid for.  We also stopped by the mercado so he could show me a fighting cock there.   The new 4-plexes or 8-plexes were white and beautiful, a far-cry from the older Russian inspired edificios.  They were already tiled and even had air conditioning, he told me.  Each condo was for a family in one of the city's poorest homes.  Maybe some from the braced
up and modernized but still cave-like dwellings he showed me only 2 blocks away.  Everyone in Cuba in a substandard home is on a list for a new one.
    He lived on a homely street in the northwest quarter, upstairs, in a narrow flat with a balcony, which was his studio.  The floors were worn but proud old tile; the furniture was old but solid and included a large table big enough for 6 diners or a philosophers' conference. 
    The place was large for two but cramped for him, his wife, and two grown daughters with boyfriends always around, plus, of course, his friends. I talked there with a boyfriend who was a scientist about powering cars with vegetable oil, and about Eduardo Galleano with a professor of German just back from doing research in Africa.
    The current painting on the balcony featured a campesino and two fighting  cocks whose eyes formed a dramatic triangle. I was more impressed by a collection of American Indian masks he had enhanced with realistic faces.
    After I explained Hemingway's theory of finding a story by editing away excess from around it, Eugenio told me that signing the petition was a chip off a marble block inside which resides the beautiful communist future of Cuba.