Return and Reflections

February 5

Up very early to go on a last dawn patrol walk at 6:15. Lovely cool morning with a beautiful sky, so a good opportunity for some final photos, some of which are below, including some more “puddle shots.”

20140206-182825.jpg

20140206-182835.jpg

20140206-182846.jpg

20140206-182900.jpg

20140206-182909.jpg

20140206-182921.jpg

Breakfast at the hotel and met with our group in the lobby. Jennifer had me read the fake blog I’d written, giving a very irreverent view of what we’d seen and poking fun at many members of our group. It was very well received and everyone wanted copies, which I promised to send to them when I get back home.

Van to the airport, where we cleared all hurdles two and a half hours before flight time. Sat with four members of our group, and passed the time over coffee and conversation. Now aboard our short flight to Miami, where we will spend the evening in Ft. Lauderdale with our close friends, Len and Elyse.

Reflections on the trip. Overall, terrific. Love Havana, excellent planning and very helpful support from staff and our leader, and great accommodations. Memorable moments were the first dance performance, showing of Raul’s photos, meeting with with Claudia Corrales, viewing of Luis Ernest Donas’ 13-minute short film “Oslo”, the Flamenco dance performance by Irene Rodriguez and final evening slide show. Just walking the streets of Havana was a great treat.

This trip was considerably different from my earlier one. First, having Carol with me made it infinitely more enjoyable. This trip was more focused on the subjects of art and music, whereas the first one was a general trip. The first trip included Trinidad as well as Havana, whereas this one was only in Havana. Our connection with the photographers on this trip, especially Eduardo, was much different and better than it was on the first trip, as was the connection to the Cuban photographic group that was our sponsor. I had anticipated that the “art “would include more of media other than photography, i.e. painting, sculpture, etc. I also thought there would be more pure music involved, rather than music with dance. That said, the events that were planned were really excellent and provided opportunities that we would not otherwise have had.

It helped greatly that our group got along very well, and was small. Though we were nine, we frequently were broken into two groups, and two of the nine members often did not participate. My impression was that the dance group of eleven pretty-much operated as one group, and I think this would have made the trip much less enjoyable for us.

This trip was not a “workshop,” so there was not formal instruction. Nonetheless, I think I learned a fair amount from talking to and observing others on the trip, from viewing images of other photographers and simply from shooting and thinking about what I was doing and, too often, failing to do. I know that I’d benefit from more formal workshops; virtually everyone else in the group had done many of them. I may do some of that in the future. Or not. I am enjoying the photography I’m doing and I’m just not sure that I want to complicate things by actually learning something.

Having completed the travel part of the trip, I now have a month or more of working on my photos to look forward to. And I do look forward to that. In a real sense, I don’t know what I have in the photos I’ve taken. The photos in the blog are a random selection of some that I picked out from viewing tiny thumbnails and, other than a bit of cropping I was able to do have not gone through the post-production phase, which helps greatly (I hope) to improve the images.

Thank all of you who took the time to email me or to write comments on the blog. I hope you enjoyed Cuba, and that you’ll decide to tag along with Carol and me when we visit Brazil in late April/early May.

Hasta luego.

Body Builders, Brides in Pink Cadillacs and a Farewell Show

Feb 4

Our last day in Cuba, as tomorrow is just a travel day.

After breakfast, we set out in our van for a beach with an old beach house and changing rooms. Carol and I were unenthusiastic about this outing and almost skipped it, except that we thought we should go because a lot of work had been put into setting it up. The workshop has arranged for three body-building guys to come and model for us. This type of photography is not really my thing, as I prefer to shoot candid street scenes. Or the kids playing handball against a green wall near the beach. Still, it’s somewhat interesting, and from working with Pedro, one of our Cuban photographers, I do get some ideas for posing that may be helpful, should I do this type of work again. Carol was content to find a shady area and read the book she’d brought along for that purpose.

20140205-215356.jpg

20140205-215405.jpg

20140205-215413.jpg

20140205-215422.jpg

20140205-215437.jpg

After the ride back to the hotel, Carol and I have the concierge book a lunch reservation for us at Doña Eutimia, which Nadina raved about. We walked the 15 or so minutes to the Cathedral Plaza and located the restaurant in an alley off of the plaza. Food was great, the best we’ve had. Turned about it was the two of us and a group of 33 Americans, there on tour. Not the ideal mix, but the group was not boisterous, and the food was clearly worth it.

Walked back to the hotel and, while Carol napped, I went down to the lobby and sat with the instructor of the dance group, Elizabeth, who was explaining and showing some of her incredible photos, and the unique way she prints them. Very interesting.

I got Carol, and we went walking with Eduardo and Nadina. We encountered a neat wedding procession, the bride sitting on the back ledge of a bright pink 50s Cadillac.

20140205-215635.jpg

20140206-183717.jpg

We continued on to a neighborhood, where we saw more street scenes that we’ve found to be so engaging in Havana. Eduardo took us up to the roof of a former hotel that had been converted to many apartments. Eduardo engaged the residents in easy conversation and we were welcome. From the roof, we could see the capital and surrounding crumbling buildings. We photographed some children and gave them candy and pens we’d brought. A light drizzle started and we walked back to the hotel using as many overhangs as possible for cover.

20140205-215738.jpg

20140205-215747.jpg

20140205-215758.jpg

20140205-215809.jpg

20140205-215818.jpg

20140205-215828.jpg

20140205-215840.jpg

20140206-183841.jpg

Back at the hotel, we showered and dressed for our final show and dinner. We walked to the National Museum of International Art and went upstairs for cocktails with both groups and guests invited by the Workshop. Carol and I were able to visit Luis Ernesto Donas, the film maker whose work we admired so much, and we exchanged contact information with him. We assembled in an attractive meeting space, where we had a short dance presentation by two young women. There followed a slide show that Dustin and Jennifer had out together of candid shots of our group during the week. After that, we viewed two slide shows of eight images from each member of our group. (This was my first show at The National Museum of Art in Cuba.) It was interesting to see everyone’s work, some of which was quite excellent. I was comfortable that my images were certainly of comparable quality to those of others in the group. Pedro, one of the Cuban photographers, told me that he liked my work and particularly like an image of a woman reflected in a puddle, which he said he would have liked to have taken.

We proceeded to a large group dinner on the roof of the Ambos Mundos hotel, where I had stayed last April. The dinner was fair, at best, and the place so noisy that you could barely hear to speak to the person next to you, who, for me, was Joanne, a person from the dance group, who lives in OklahomaCity and who we’d met early on the trip and liked very much. Afterwards, Tony was going to take us to a club he knew, but it was not having music last night, so we continued back to the hotel and had a drink on the roof with half a dozen people, including a lady who didn’t shut up the whole time we were up there.

Young Photographers and Film Makers

February 3

After breakfast at the hotel and a short meeting, our group, down to six because three have opted to go off on their own today, piles into the van for a drive to Cojinar, a small village outside Havana, where Earnest Hemingway lived, boated, drank and wrote. A bar we stop in has many photos of him. We wander around town for half an hour, observing and taking some photos.

20140204-074816.jpg

20140204-074826.jpg

20140204-074834.jpg

At 10:15, we meet and go to the home of a famous Cuban photographer, Raul Corrales. Corrales was a photographer of the revolution, and a very close friend of another famous revolution photographer, Korda, whose daughter I visited with on my April trip to Cuba. It was interesting to hear about Korda from Corrales’ granddaughter, Claudia Corrales, who was our hostess. She said that Korda was like an uncle to her, and was very different from her grandfather, the latter being quiet and serious, while Korda was out-going and fun.

20140204-074939.jpg

Claudia told us about her famous grandfather, who managed to push his way into photography, starting as one who cleaned up a studio. More interesting, though, was Claudia’s discussion of her own evolution as a photographer. Now 26, beautiful and charming, she originally stayed away from photography, not wanting to follow in the footsteps of her famous grandfather or her less famous (and less accomplished) father. About three years ago she drifted into photography and now is developing her own distinctive voice, producing quite engaging work, originally in black and white, but now moving into color. She spoke of the difficulties of being compared to her grandfather, but our sense is that she is well on her way to finding her own personal style. The time we spent with her was quite delightful.

After that, we had another hour to wander around town. The “beach” area was a pile of litter, but we found some interesting people to photograph, including two men in a butcher shop with a pig’s head hanging in front of them. We bought a small gift for Jasper, which may or may not make it back in one piece, but seemed worth a try, given its modest price.
br />
20140204-075308.jpg<
<

20140204-075100.jpg

20140204-075115.jpg

20140204-075124.jpg

The group met and lunched at a good-enough restaurant, called Las Brisas, then climbed back in the van to head back to Havana. We were told that we were going to see a short, 13-minute film that a young filmmaker had made. We were not excited at the prospect, but were dazzled by the short film, called Oslo, about an elderly, senile woman, who wanted to see snow. The filmmaker, Luis Ernesto Donas, was present and incredibly warm and humble in response to our questions. He said that he’d been inspired by the work of the painter Andrew Wyeth, and the film definitely had the feel of Wyeth’s work. Several of us said that the movie was reminiscent of Amour, a fabulous French film. He said that his work had been compared to Amour, though Oslo actually had been made before Amour. The original music complemented the film beautifully. Luis been given 250 CUCs to make the film as a graduate student and had gotten the Norwegian Embassy to contribute another 500 in honor of the 100th anniversary of reaching the South Pole by Admunsen, a Dane. Afterwards, I told Jennifer (in private) that I’d like to help with a contribution towards the making of his next film, which he had discussed with us. What a treat.

We walked around town, getting back to the hotel around 3:30. Carol had scheduled a massage for the afternoon, and I wasted an incredible and frustrating amount of time trying to get images together for the final evening tomorrow.

Carol and I went to dinner at La Guarida, which Jennifer had recommended to us. Located on the third floor of an old apartment building, it’s an elegant spot with excellent food; a very fine choice for dinner. (I had actually eaten lunch there with our group in April.)

20140204-075431.jpg

20140204-075442.jpg

20140204-075450.jpg

We returned to the hotel, and an earlier night than the past two. A very good day, with a nice change of pace from the one we’d kept in Havana.

A Day with Eduardo

February 2

Breakfast buffet with Marjorie. Today is our “day off”. We’ve been given a host of possibilities, and the guides are at our disposal. Carol and I manage to nab Eduardo for ourselves, and we spend a delightful morning wandering the streets of Old Havana, Havana Vieja, with him, with no goal other than to experience the somewhat sleepy Sunday street scene.

Eduardo is 36 years old, and spends about half the year guiding for the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop, and the rest of the year photographing for himself. We and his twin brother show and sell their work together. Eduardo has a wonderful warm, friendly and easy manner, and Carol and I are ready to adopt him. We wander into the beautiful old and restored Raquel Hotel, which Eduardo had not known before. Mtoe hotel has only 26 rooms, all of which are named for Biblical characters and have mezzuzot outside each room. There is magnificent stained glass and grill work all around the hotel. We go up to the roof in the vintage elevator with a handsome grate door.

We stop whenever the spirit moves us, chat with people on the street, photograph children and give them pens and candy that we’ve brought along for that purpose. We also do to a dance studio where Eduardo and his brother, Orlando, show their photographs. After a couple hours, Eduardo drops us at the National Art Museum, where Carol and I want to see the contemporary Cuban art. We spend a bit of time looking around, but are too tired from the walking to do it justice. Sandwich lunch at the museum, then walk back to the hotel and relax.

20140202-152830.jpg

20140202-152835.jpg

20140202-152839.jpg

20140202-152843.jpg

20140202-152848.jpg

20140202-152853.jpg

20140202-152858.jpg

20140202-152902.jpg

20140202-152909.jpg

20140202-152914.jpg

20140202-152920.jpg

20140202-152928.jpg

20140202-152934.jpg

20140202-152947.jpg

20140202-152952.jpg

At 2PM, we meet Eduardo and his brother. We spend some time looking through his various portfolios on an iPad. He’s very good, and much of the work, particularly the black and white photos, is excellent. We very happily buy a black and white piece (for about $350) that Carol and I both like, and which will both serve as a remembrance of the trip, and also support Eduardo and his family. If you want to check out Eduardo and Armando’s website, here it is http://www.peoyectosiamesphotos.com

Carol was going together a massage, but there was a miscommunication on time, so we just hung out at the hotel, until 4:30, when we took a taxi to the Teatro Mella in the Vedado area. We met Eduardo there and got excellent tickets for the flamenco performance. Eduardo sat elsewhere and, as a local, paid about 1/20 of the price, but since our tickets were $11 each, we did not mind. Four others from our group were there, independently. The performance was extraordinary and memorable; incredible dancing with great passion and considerable variety in the numbers. The female star, Irene Rodriguez, was particularly outstanding. I have no photographs, because taking pictures was prohibited.

We met Eduardo afterwards, and he helped to get us into a cab, headed towards Vistamar, a paladar (restaurant) that Eduardo and the concierge at our hotel had recommended, independently in Miramar. They were right. We had an excellent dinner outside by the sea, and were entertained by a guitarist/singer who was very pleasant to listen to. We bought one of his CDs.

After dinner, we took a taxi to the Jazz Cafe, where we arrived 45 minutes before the music began. I liked the saxophonist and keyboard players in the first group we heard, but Carol did not like the group. Neither of us cared particularly for the long opening number of the second group, so we left in time to retire at midnight at the hotel.

20140203-080558.jpg

20140203-080605.jpg

20140203-080617.jpg

20140203-080628.jpg
So, to recap, our day off started with breakfast at 8 AM, continued with a great 2-hour walk with Eduardo in Havana Vieja, included a stop to view contemporary Cuban art at a museum, a meeting with Eduardo and his brother at which we purchased a photograph, an incredible flamenco dance concert, a lovely dinner by the sea with guitar music and jazz music until our return to the hotel around midnight. A very relaxing day off. And I don’t really give a damn who won the Super Bowl, anyway.

More Street Walking and Dancing

February 1

Celebrated the advent of February by not getting up early for a 6:15 Dawn Patrol, instead starting the day with buffet breakfast and then meeting with the group at 8:45 to discuss the day.

We set off on foot into Cenral Havana, photographing street scenes as we walked along, poking into a flower shop here, a place where monthly allotments of eggs were dispersed and generally keeping our eyes open for what was around us. I’m including a number of them here, unsure of whether readers may find them as engaging as we did. I find the ability to remain in the moment here very liberating and quite different from back home, where my mind often races ahead of me. We are completely free to move about anywhere, there no strong police or military presence, and people are very friendly. We do get occasional requests for money, but not excessively so, and not in any way that feels the least bit aggressive.
br />
20140201-160824.jpg

20140201-160829.jpg

20140201-160819.jpg

20140201-160846.jpg

20140201-160852.jpg

20140201-160841.jpg

20140201-160857.jpg

20140201-160912.jpg

20140201-160903.jpg

20140201-160835.jpg

20140201-160918.jpg

20140201-160932.jpg

20140201-160940.jpg

Our destination was an open park, a cement park, where we were to have heard a concert, but that didn’t happen, or not any time close to when it was supposed to happen, so Carol and I wandered back to a theater we’d passed earlier, where we’d encountered some very cute little girls, who were to dance at the theater around 11. We saw them dance various different numbers, interspersed with clown acts that delighted the crowd even more than the dancing. Here are photos of the girls outside the theater and as seen from a distance in costume.

20140201-161108.jpg

20140201-161101.jpg

20140201-161113.jpg

We meandered back to the hotel after the performance and had a pleasant lunch on the roof, then worked on photos and the blog before our 2:30 meeting. We opted to skip the afternoon activities, take a walk down The Prado ( where we saw children in art classes) to the Malecon (young men diving into the ocean), and then wander back to the hotel, where we are to hook up with Randy Kaye, form Toronto, and his wife, Judy, who are in Cuba with a Canadian photography group. I met Randy on my trip to Guizhou, China in Nov, 2012, and we have stayed in touch. He’s part of the small group of four photographers I’ve put together, who share and comment on one another’s photos four times a year.
br />
20140202-151553.jpg

20140202-151626.jpg

20140202-151642.jpg

20140202-151700.jpg

Carol and I returned to the hotel before 4PM, relaxed and met Randy and Judy on the rooftop of the new portion of the Parque Central, where they are staying, at 5:30. There’s a set-up for dinner on that roof, though, so we switch to the rooftop of the older building of the Parque Central, where we are staying. We spend a lovely hour and a quarter chatting with Randy and Judy on the scenic rooftop, for me, renewing acquaintances with Randy and meeting Judy and, for Carol, meeting them both. They have their final group dinner tonight and take off from the hotel at 4AM tomorrow.

We shower and relax in our room before going down to the lobby to meet our group at 8:30. All but one in the group have decided to splurge to go to the famous Tropicana night club (at a cost of over $100 per person). Jennifer has arranged for taxis (old American cars) to take us there and back. As I was there in April, I am not surprised at the stunning and continuos 2-hour dance and music show, with brilliant costumes and headdresses, that ends around midnight. The Tropicana is outdoors and the performances take place on multiple levels all around the huge open area. It is, to say the least, quite a spectacle. Back to the hotel and to bed by 1AM.<

20140202-151926.jpg

20140202-151946.jpg

20140202-152000.jpg

20140202-152010.jpg

20140202-152025.jpg

20140202-152039.jpg

20140202-152052.jpg

20140202-152105.jpg

Art School, More Dancing and Prayer

January 31.

Up at the crack of dawn again coffee in the lobby at 6AM, then another Dawn Patrol. Spent most of the time working on two techniques; shooting reflections of buildings and people in puddles and panning shots of cars (moving the camera to create a blurred effect). Got a few reflections that I was pretty happy with, but didn’t do so well with the panning. Need more practice on both, but they were fun to work with. I’m including a lot of them for you to see.

20140201-133507.jpg

20140201-133449.jpg

20140201-133531.jpg

20140201-133553.jpg

20140201-133617.jpg

20140201-133638.jpg

20140201-133655.jpg

20140201-133729.jpg

20140201-133802.jpg

Another big buffet breakfast at the hotel, then transported in rather cramped van to the campus of a highly selective arts school, called ISA, Institute for Superior Artists, designed by a famous Cuban architect in the early sixties on the grounds of the former, exclusive Havana Country Club. Of the more than 500 students who apply from around the country, sixty are invited to come for two weeks to produce art, and 15 of those sixty are selected. We were shown around by the former dean and now head of photography, who showed us lithography, painting, ceramics and photography and introduced us to several professors. There are more than eighty faculty members for 105 students, most of them not permanent faculty, but chosen to meet the needs and interests of specific students. We saw some very interesting work. Apparently, it is very rare for visitors to be allowed to see the school in the way that we did.

20140201-134012.jpg

20140201-134028.jpg

After busing back to the hotel, Tony, Jodi, Joelle, Bernie, Carol and I had lunch at a nearby Italian, pizza restaurant. Looking out the window at the passing cars we feel like extras in a 1950s movie. Back at the hotel, worked on downloading photos and writing the blog again, then went down to meet with Tony and review some of the photos I’ve taken on the trip. After busing back to the hotel, Tony, Jodi, Joelle, Bernie, Carol and I had lunch at a nearby Italian, pizza restaurant. Looking out the window at the passing cars we feel like extras in a 1950s movie. Back at the hotel, worked on downloading photos and writing the blog again, then went down to meet with Tony and review some of the photos I’ve taken on the trip. He was quite complimentary about many of them, particularly some of the dance shot from yesterday and this morning’s early puddle shots, and, I think there are a fair number of reasonable photos that I can work with when I get back to Longboat Ket.

We set out to walk four or five blocks to the dance center, which houses a number of diverse Havana companies. It was quite hot, though considerably less humid than yesterday, and we had to climb four or five flights to get to the dance studio. We watched younger dancers than yesterday, in much smaller quarters, with contrasty light, so shooting was far more difficult than yesterday. Still I think there are at least a few shots, some posted and others focused on fast motion that may be worthwhile.

20140201-134221.jpg

20140201-134239.jpg

20140201-134308.jpg

20140201-134335.jpg

20140201-134354.jpg

After about an hour, Carol and I headed back to the hotel to shower, relax a bit and work on photos for about an hour. We met Marjorie in the hotel lobby and were taken in an old Pontiac that Jennifer had arranged for us, to Beth Shalom conservative synagogue in the Vedado area of Cuba. At the synagogue were half dozen or more Israelis, a few other Americans and a good crowd of Cubans. The service was spirited and interesting/fun. I could follow quite well in Hebrew, and Carol, Marjorie and I knew some of the prayers and melodies. Laine, who met us at the synagogue, stayed for about 45 minutes. I could also understand some of the Spanish translations to prayers rather well. Carol and I were especially glad to be there to be able to say Kaddish for Shirley Gould, a 96-year old friend and JRC congregant who died just after we left for Cuba. It was also good to feel the connection to Judaism created by being a part of the service. Both Laine and Marjorie had brought gifts to contribute to congregants. Carol and I brought a challah cover that we’d bought in Ghana and gave that to the service leader for the congregation. We were pleased to see that they used it to cover the challah in the kiddush held after the service.

20140201-134531.jpg

20140201-134545.jpg

20140201-134604.jpg

We were picked up by the driver who took us to the synagogue and taken to the very attractive Saratoga Hotel, about four blocks from our hotel, where a photo salon was being held. We saw some very good work from photographers we’d seen earlier in the week, including work by our guide, Eduardo and his twin brother, but did not buy anything (yet). Several members of our group did make purchases, however.

After the salon, Jennifer led us to a restaurant only a few blocks from our hotel, where we had a pleasant dinner and conversation with Marjorie and Bernie, who is from Cambridge. Walked back to the hotel and retired before midnight.

Raul and Rhythm

January 30

Down in the lobby by 6AM for coffee, before setting out on Dawn Patrol, led by Kip and Jennifer, along with five members of our two groups. Walk down the Prado, a wide boulevard with a center strip that teems with people during the day, but is empty in the early morning, before sunrise. Take some photos in very low light, then proceed down the Prado to the Malecon, the sea wall that abuts the ocean. Take more photos as the light grows, and Kip lends me his tripod for awhile. After a while, it begins to drizzle, so I head back with Kip to our hotel. Others have gone their separate ways. Back before 7:30, and Carol, who was not feeling well last night, and I go down to the huge buffet breakfast.

Meet to go out for about a 2-hour walk and street shoot. Our group of nine is divided into groups of four and five. Our group of five (Marjorie, Nadina, Bernie and us) gets Eduardo and Jennifer to show us around, and we’re happy with that division. Very interesting and enjoyable. Interesting faces and places. It’s a bit hard to describe exactly why it’s so much fun, but you get a real slice of the life on the street. People are generally extremely friendly and willing to be photographed. We are invited in to the tiny apartment of an older man, who is taking care of a small neighbor girl. He’s very kind and gentle, and happy to show us his apartment, asking only that we send him photos of him and the little girl. Our Cuban photographer guide, Eduardo, who both Carol and I really like, says that he will do this.

20140130-172835.jpg

20140130-172847.jpg

20140130-172901.jpg

20140130-172916.jpg

20140130-172932.jpg

20140130-172943.jpg

20140130-172954.jpg

20140130-173006.jpg

At 11, we meet at the office of Fototeca de Cuba, our host photographic group, and are treated to a wonderful show of work by Raul Canibano, who is described as the best photographer in Cuba. Seeing his work, we believe that. He speaks no English, but another Cuban photographer, Pedro, translates, but is difficult to understand. No matter, the work stands on it’s own.

We walk to a restaurant at the International Museum of Art, where Jenefier has reserved a number of tables for our group. Carol and I sit with Jennifer and Tony, and have a great luncheon discussion about travel and photography.

Back to the hotel very briefly, where I download some of the morning photos, before meeting at 2:45 to set out for the afternoon. First stop is a fabulous professional dance troup, rehearsing in what appears to be the shell of a huge old building. Live, loud, rhythmic music accompanies the very energetic, athletic dancers. I think I lost five pounds in sweat just watching the dancers, who performed virtually non-stop for about an hour. It was a photographers paradise, as we all moved around and snapped continuously. I’m sure I took at least 200-300 photos, two or three of which I hope will prove salvageable. I think the person in the group who got the best shots almost certainly was Carol, who was shooting video.

After the dancing, Carol headed back to the hotel, as she is still not feeling that well. The rest of us walked around, doing more street shooting and, at one point, went up to an apartment in which we took some photos. I headed back to the hotel, walking along the Prado, arriving at about 5:15, rather tired and sweaty. While I tend to think that the best part of these trips is walking the streets, I can’t deny that both Raul’s photos this morning and the dance rehearsal were special treats that I would not want to have missed.

This may be a bit of overkill on the photos, but I want you to get a feel for the dance we saw. And how much could a few more street scenes hurt?

20140130-205122.jpg

20140130-205132.jpg

20140130-205139.jpg

20140130-205144.jpg

20140130-205149.jpg

20140130-205155.jpg

20140130-205202.jpg

20140130-205210.jpg

20140130-205215.jpg

20140130-205219.jpg

20140130-205225.jpg

20140130-205235.jpg

20140130-205240.jpg

Carol and I went out for a good Cuban meal at a building a block from the hotel that has three restaurants, one on each floor. Havana Gourmet, on the second floor, was attractive, quiet and reasonably priced. My lobster creole was quite good, as was Carol’s pineapple chicken. Though we were tempted to go out for Cuban jazz, we’d have had to wait an hour and a half until the place opened, so we opted instead to retire early. A very good full first real day in Cuba.

Parked at the Parque Central

January 29

Meet in hotel lobby at 7:30 for the five-minute bus ride to the airport to catch our 11 AM American Airlines-run ABC charter flight. The Workshop does not believe in cutting things too close. Rather slow lines, but nothing extraordinary on the U.S. side. Starting to talk to and get to know others from both our group and the dancing group, as we hang out together in the hotel and airport.

Standing In line at the Miami airport, I receive an email from somebody named Rodrigo from Bahia in Brazil to whom I’d written a couple of days ago at the suggestion of our Nigerian doctor friends, the Olopades. He’s kindly offered to show us around and invited us to dinner with him and his wife, when we go to Bahia in April. I love the ability to make connections in this way and the personal and unique experiences we’re able to have because of these connections. Carol and I have chosen to go to Bahia because of the strong African cultural influence there, particularly the Yoruban culture to which we were introduced in Nigeria last August by the Olopades (who are themselves Yoruban).

The short, 52-minute flight to Havana is followed by an hour plus of standing in various lines at the airport. This is all part of the small price one pays for travel here. The saying, our guide tells us, is, “it’s Cuba, it’s complicated.”

We are met at the airport by the Workshop team, headed by Kip Brundage, who has been to Cuba many times and heads up operations for the Workshop here. Dustin, who was with us last April, and Jennifer are also there. We’re led out to the parking lot, where we are loaded onto two air conditioned buses by group. Our group, being the smaller of the two, has the smaller bus, which just barely accommodates all of us. It’s adequate for our needs today, but would not work for a longer trip.

We ride about 20 minutes to the fashionable Miramar section, where we have a good, traditional Cuban meal of chicken, rice, black beans and plantains, along, importantly, with a cold Bucanero beer. We’re at three tables and Kip, at ours, expounds on how badly the US has bungled relations over the past 55 years. He sees no easy solution. It requires some visionary leadership to get all sides to see beyond their past to their present interests. A quartet entertained us with some Cuban music over lunch.

20140129-220957.jpg

20140129-221013.jpg<

After lunch, we re-board the bus for a 15-minute ride to the Parque Central, clearly the place to be. The group had not gotten reservations here on my last trip, but I'd see the hotel and knew that we'd like it. We were given our room keys, changed our money, bought cards to access the internet, on sale for only 4.5 CUCs ($4.50) per hour, about half their regular price, so I splurged and bought four, not wanting to short change any of you in my blogging.

The money change was more complicated than it should have been. We'd been told that we should bring Canadian, rather than US dollars, because there was a better exchange rate. Assigned the task of getting the Canadian dollars, Carol went to the bank in Chucago and got British Pounds, instead. Not the most brilliant move, but not a disaster, as I was able to exchange the Pounds for CUCs and remain willfully and blissfully ignorant of how we did on the exchange rate.

Carol and I went up to our junior suite, overlooking the national plaza to relax and unpack. I had a good time shooting down towards the plaza and the street scenes from our balcony, which affords some interesting angles.
br />
20140129-221040.jpg

20140129-221109.jpg

Afterwards, we met in the lobby and walked over to the National Museum of Art, where first we had cocktails and then a slide show of photos by Cuban photographers, the quality of which differed significantly. Two were quite good, and two only fair. We also saw photos by Tony, our instructor, and by Elizabeth, the instructor for the dance group. Both were good, but I particularly liked Elizabeth’s rather abstract work. After the show, which lasted a bit too long, people went separate ways. Carol and I wound up having a very nice dinner and conversation on the roof of our hotel with two people from the dance group, Jo Ann from Oklahoma City, and Kimber, from Santa Fe. It’s now 10 PM and, as soon as I finish this blog, we’ll retire, as I’m planning on going on the “Dawn Patrol” at 6:15 AM, when the trip begins, in earnest.

Almost There

January 28.

Attended a very good morning lecture in Sarasota called, “The Reform that Wasn’t” about Wall Street, given by William Cohan, who has written three books on the excesses of the investment banking world. This was part of a series of lectures, most of which are on foreign policy issues, that I am signed up for on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The lectures draw approximately 400 people. One of the things I really like about Sarasota is that it is very far from being an intellectual or cultural wasteland. Cohan does not have an uplifting message. Afterwards, I drove down to Miami, approximately four hours, and met Carol, who was flying in from Chicago, at the hotel. We had an earlyish dinner at our airport hotel with our good friends from college, Phil and Leslie Paul, who live in Miami.

At 8 PM, we attended the mandatory meeting of our group in the hotel. The trip we are going on is being run by the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop, the same outfit that I traveled to Cuba with last year. The workshop is running a whole slew of trips to Cuba this winter and spring. The maximum number of participants is fourteen, but, happily, there are only nine in our group. The meeting included another group that is going at the same time. I’m hoping that there will be very few joint gatherings of the two groups, because that would make the group too large.

Our trip is being led by a professional photographer named Tony Bonanno. The reason we chose this trip was in part because of the subject matter – art and music in Cuba – and in part because the photographer with whom I had traveled to China and Cuba, Nevada Weir, recommended Tony when I asked her who would be a good person to travel with. In order for US citizens to travel legally to Cuba, they must get prior permission and travel in a group for some cultural purpose. Cuba is becoming an increasingly hot destination, so many different groups are running trips down there on pretty-much any topic you can imagine. When I checked into the hotel, there was a sign on the front desk telling participants in the Shalom Cuba trip where to meet.

Usually, I have good intentions of preparing for a trip, but most of the time fall (way) short of what I had hoped to do. This time, I thought I had really hit a new low, by not preparing at all, but I was wrong; it turns out that I did prepare. When I came down to Longboat in December, I decided to take Ken Burns’ series on Jazz with me. If you have not seen that series, get it, and watch. You are in for a real treat. You will need some time to do it, though. The series consists of ten DVDs, each of which runs approximately two hours. But the effort is well worth it. As he has proved again and again, Burns is a genius, and Jazz measures up to his best. Watching the series gave me a completely new appreciation for what’s involved in jazz, its history, it’s variety and the way it incorporates so many other musical forms. The series also is a rather sobering American history lesson. Whether directly or indirectly, I’m sure that having watched Jazz will enhance my enjoyment of the music we hear on this trip (and after). So, you see, with this blog you get more than just travel, whether you want that or not.

For those of you who may be miffed at having been subjected to several posts before I even hit Cuba, I have an explanation. For me, these pre-trip posts are a warm-up, almost part of the trip, in much the same way that I regard taking the El to be part of the Wrigley Field experience, or taking a boat ride out to the dive site to be part of the scuba diving experience. I guess I’d say that anticipation of the experience is part of the experience itself.

Tomorrow, though, we really are going to hit Cuba. I promise.

Cuba Before Cuba

January 27, 2014

Because there are so many wonderful places to see in the world, it is rather rare for Carol or me to return to a place we’ve been before, no matter how much we enjoyed it. Why, then, am I returning to Cuba only nine months after having been there?

Three reasons, really. First is that Carol was not with me last April and May. I really missed having her there and wished that she had been able to see what I had. When another opportunity arose, I was primed to take it.

Second, Cuba is a wonderful destination. It is close, it is easy to get to, in the same time zone and exotic. And because it is close and easy to get to, one can travel there and not devote an enormous amount of time to the trip. This is a very unusual combination, and makes it a terrific place to travel (or return) to. Though I would not have done another trip to Cuba this soon after my first, unless Carol was coming, I am very happy to be going back with her.

Third, the focus of this trip is on art and music in Cuba. Since both of those areas are of great interest to Carol and me, this seemed like a particularly attractive trip.

We have not yet left home, but already have had one of those amazing coincidental experiences that seem to occur when you travel. For several months in Chicago, I had been working with a personal trainer, so when I went down to Longboat Key to the condo I have rented for the winter, I decided that I should look for a trainer there. I went into the fitness center near my apartment and talked to the manager, who asked me whether I wanted to work with a man or a woman. I told him it didn’t make any difference to me, that I had been working with a man in Evanston. He said, “I think I’ll have you work with Patty.”

In my first session with Patty, we talked about a range of things including the fact that Carol and I were about to go to Cuba. She said, “oh, my husband is Cuban, he immigrated sometime ago.” It turns out that Jorge wound up going to Harvard Business School, had a successful business career and he and Patty had now settled on Longboat Key. I told Patty that Carol and I were going on an art and music trip and she said, “oh, Jorge has a huge Cuban art collection. You and Carol will come over for dinner, Jorge will cook a Cuban meal and I will clean up.”

We had a delightful dinner with Patty and Jorge. Jorge in fact has a terrific Cuban art collection, which he was very happy to show us and talk about. I asked him what was going to occupy his time now that he was retired. He said that his principal project was to write a book on the Cuban artists who he had collected. He is very far along on the book and showed it to us on his iPad. It looks as if not only did Carol and I have a lovely evening, but we have made two new friends in Patty and Jorge, who we’ve invited to come to dinner at our condo when Carol returns to Longboat Key in March.

Jodi and Jasper had been visiting me on Longboat Key, but left yesterday. Things sure do seem quiet when Jasper leaves. Under the guise of trying out my ability to attach photographs to the blog, here’s one of Jasper in Sarasota.

20140127-160135.jpg

Spent some time packing today, which has never been a big deal to me. You just throw some things (normally too many things) into a suitcase and zip it up. Also spent a bit of time re-reading my blog from last April/May’s Cuba trip, which brought back everything vividly for me, and increased my anticipation for this venture. I’m sure there will be a few repeats from the last trip, but I don’t really mind that. Often when you see something more than once, you come away with a deeper, different or richer appreciation the second time. I’ll be interested to see whether Havana feels any different to me the second time around. Unlike on my earlier trip, we will only be in Havana, and not in Trinidad, as well. I think the greater focus has both advantages and disadvantages. We’ll see how it plays out.

Tomorrow the trip begins. Well, sort of. We meet our group in Miami.