Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Guantanamo (no, not what you think)

Monday, January 30, 2017

For the third time that morning, Jim Fitch, our Road Scholar guide, reminded us that we were going to the city of Guantanamo and that it had nothing to do with, was nowhere near, the infamous US military prison about due south.

The city was about an hour (55 km) from Santiago de Cuba and is a Catalonian and French colonial town with strong influence from Haiti which is about 100 km to the east.

Once there we were treated to a full-on morning of music and dance followed by a visit to the studio of Carlos Rafael (editor's note: thanks to Cindy for providing the name), but we did buy some prints.

Our first visit was to La Tumba Francesa Pompadour, one of only three surviving groups practicing this Afro-Cuban form of music and dance. The pictures tell the story and if you are interested there is a Wikipedia essay.

This is the director of the Tumba society and our Cuban guide José Antonio. We soon came to realize that José knew just about everything and unlike many of us teachers in the group rarely needed to make stuff up. A very erudite man.

The dancers, note the unlit cigar in the man's mouth, part of the ritual.

Everybody was called on to dance, some of us very badly.

La mayoría de plaza, who presides. I got to sit next to her which makes me . . . a bad dancer
 Literally across the street is the Casa de Changüí. Changüí is another form of music indigenous to Guantanamo and is a fusion, again, of European and African music, and it is a precursor to son and salsa.
The group from La Casa de Changüí

Despite my intense expression I am enjoying this, but trying not to do something wrong.

Shoes. Cuban wimmens got cool shoes. At Sharon's suggestion I began noticing feets and shoes.

The rest of said woman, a dancer. Note José in the background

Now he gets center stage.

This is Cindy, Cindy was part of our group. Cindy is a dancer. You will see more of Cindy.

Even Rosa and her new friend got into the spirit

In the afternoon we rambled the streets of Guantanamo and then met with a local artist.

Guys hanging out

The statue is not of Martí, even though this is Parque Martí

A pedestrian walkway lines with shops and stuff

A '49 Chevy, I believe.

The art studio of Carlos Rafael

He also does set decoration for local theaters up on the roof

One of four small prints we purchased
Street scenes

With '54 Ford

and without

And then back to the Meliá in Santiago de Cuba and dinner. The day speaks for itself.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Discovering Santiago de Cuba

A note on methodology. Most of the time when we travel and I blog I do so in approximately real time, usually the evening after the events under discussion. Right now I am doing so almost four weeks later and it is a different experience. Rather than processing the day’s events I am recalling them and it makes it a bit harder to edit and choose images. This entry will probably end up with more imagesand text than I usually allow myself, partly because of nostalgia and partly because at home I have a solid quick connection that makes it easy to upload stuff. Comments are especially welcome here and on facebook.

29 January 2017

Sunday was our first full day in Cuba and the first of several days in Santiago de Cuba. Apart from day tours in various places, this was our first experience touring with a group. It would be a new experience and I’ll have more to say about that later. But on that day I think that all of us were more absorbed with taking in the sights and sounds of Cuba.

A couple of years earlier we had spent some considerable time on native American lands in the southwestern US and had learned to look beyond apparent poverty to see the culture; and most of the folks on this tour were far more travelled than we were, so few people remarked the low level of material comforts, most of us were more interested in the environment and the people and their culture.

We began the day with a visit Santiago’s Plaza de la Revolucion. Most cities in Cuba have at least one such plaza commemorating the revolutions of 1868, 1898 and 1959. It is dedicated to Antonio Maceas a hero of 1898. It was dedicated by Fidel in 1991 and has hosted papal visits and rallies.

Teatro Heredia, a typical street scene at the modern outskirts of this  regional capital that is Cuba's second largest city.

Plaza de la Revolucion
An image of the modern city

From there we went to Santa Ifegenia cemetary, where Maceo is buried as well as José Marti and, now, Fidel Castro.
The Entry to one of the most important cemeteries in the nation

The honor guard at Martí's monument. They are specially chosen, mainly we were told, for height.

I was caught by this image of Christ surrounded by revolutionary flags, over the next two weeks I'd get used to it.

The grave of Maceo
Fidel's grave. His ashes lie beneath the rock
Lunch was at the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel Casa Granda at the cneter of Santiago de Cuba, which afforded some great views. After lunch the program allowed us ample time to roam the streets on our own, discovering the architecture and cars that are equally part of the country’s heritage. And at lunch we had our first direct encounter with Cuban music, a very talented group that entertained us.

The first of many musical groups that we would hear. The fiddler may have been one of the best musicians we saw throughout the trip

The bar at Casa Granda
The city from the rooftop

The busy harbor from atop the rooftop restaurant

Another typical figure, this fellow chatted and serenaded until finally I gave him a CUC (about $1.28). Not a beggar, note his cleanliness and garb, but what were referred to as "street corner entrepreneurs."

My dad had 1956 and 1958 Plymouths, this one was from '57
Sharon at a typical backstreet. Off the main streets the buildings were in a pretty sad state.

 In the afternoon a visit to the oldest remaining structure in Cuba, the Diego Velásquez house museum, brought us into contact with another aspect that we would greatly appreciate in traveling with Road Scholar. Our museum guide was the director-curator of the house, a trained archeologist. Cubans, we would learn, love decorative arts and love to display the artifacts of the past in domestic settings.
A stock image of the building's exterior. I forgot to take a photo
The curator

Original portion of the house and to the left restorations

The entry into the 19th century portion of the building
In the afternoon we were treated to a highly informative lecture on the religions of eastern Cuba by a professor from one of the local universisies who was both an anthropologist and a Santeria priest. We learned that a) communist Cuba is not athiestic, b) the Cuban religion is nominally but not exclusively Catholic, c) that most of the other religions are African based, and d) that most Cubans believe in more than one formal religion, mixing and matching with the added veneration of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad (more on that later). It was our first direct exposure to the diversity and idiosyncracies that make up Cuba.
I would learn to take better pictures of the lectures

It was a long and very informative first day.

Rosa spent the day in the hotel room, where she was not neglected.