Friday, March 31, 2017

At Home with Ernest and Mary

View of the house from the back

9 February 2017

We began the day in the Road Scholar way with a superb lecture by Dr. Carlos Alzugaray, one of those scholar/diplomats that represent, in one way and another, the best of any nation. This presentation resonated for me, given my background having taught American foreign policy for so many years. The presentation rather brilliantly combined a tour d’horizon with a constructivist theoretical approach.

Then we were off to the fine arts museum, a most interesting excursion. They do not, of course, allow phgotography inside the museum, which is unfortunate. The guide, a curator, gave us a historical tour of Cuban art. What struck me most was the degree to which protest art was hung, here on the walls of the official national museum. If the building looks vaguely familiar, it was built in the mid-1950s and patterned on Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York.  

Our curator/guide, Jim, and José confer

After the tour, lunch, and a stroll along the fabled Malecon
The walkway still shows damage from the hurricanes of 2005 and 2012

From there came the main event of the day, a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s farm Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm).

Hemingway spent the last twenty years of his life here with both his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, and his last wife, Mary. As with anything related to Papa, there are a multitude of stories connected to the house and as with Cuban-American relations there is a tangled story connected to the Cuban acquisition of the house. For years, apparently, the 1886 building and its contents, supposedly as Ernest and Mary left them in July 1960, were endangered by neglect.

 Hemingway was a supporter of the revolution and was a hero to the revolutionaries and after his death the government Mary negotiated a handover to the government that may or may not have been coerced. Regardless, today the building stands much as they left it. Visitors cannot go through the house, but the expansive windows are open and afford a good view of their life in what seems like paradise.

The entry 

From the front, the view to the back
At the back, Hemingway's office

As in Key West, Hemingway wrote in a tower, behind and to the side of the house
The guard offered to shoot the inside of the tower office for me

The typewriter

Also enshrined here is Hemingway’s fishing boat, Pilar, from which he launched a brief World War II effort to hunt German submarines operating in the Caribbean.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Streets of Havana

It has been a while since my last post, not sure why, though it is hard to choose from among more than a hundred images I shot that day.

8 February 2017

Our second day in Havana began with another lecture on the complex subject of religion in Cuba, this time by Dr. Maritza Corrales a member of Cuba’s small Jewish community and a leading expert on the subject. She spoke not only on Jews in Cuba but Cuban religion and culture in general.

After that we were off to old town Havana and a tour of the city’s plazas led by our own guide, José.  We were already familiar with Cathedral Square, so we began with the oldest plaza, Plaza de Armas, followed by the Plaza Vieja and finally the Plaza de San Francisco. Join us as we ramble the streets and squares of Habana.

We started where we left off, near Cathedral Square

The Castillo Real

Having not taken notes, I am not able to identify all these buildings. This is, I think, part of the archeological museum. What's interesting is the renovation work

Plaza de Armas

Another of Havana's storied hotels, Ambos Mundos

Outdoor art in a little park dedicated to Simon Bolivar

La Plaza Vieja, despite the name it is not the oldest of Havana's plazas, but it was at one time one of its most exclusive

Contrast of old and new.

The Zanja Real was the original aqueduct for the city  from 1566 until 1835.

the fourth of our plazas, Plaza de San Francisco. From here we had a couple of free hours to roam the city

We ended up in several galleries

We visited here and I found myself drawn to the work of this artist, Annia Alonzo. After lunch  we returned and I bought my print.

A view of the city from the paladar Los Mercaderes. Lunch was pricey but good.
 After a standout lunch at Los Mercaderes, recommended by Road Scholar guide extraordinaire, Jim, we struck out on our own.F or me that meant returning to one of the galleries we had visited before and purchasing a print from the artist Annia Alonzo. Sadly I cannot show the print here now, as it is still being framed.
And some other galleries
From above this ceramic show hands in greeting

From below it is a protest piece. Interestingly there was protest art fairly commonly, including on the walls of the national gallery. Whatever may have been the case in the past, the impression that I had of Cuba today is one of fairly free and open speech and expression.

After lunch we got back on the bus for a tour of the clinic of San Lazaro where nuns of the Catholic church care for those afflicted with leprosy.

In the late afternoon we returned to the Nacional. Sharon was tired, but I hankered for a cigar and virgin mojado on the verandah of the hotel overlooking the bay, the Malecon, and the Morro castle. A nice end to the day.

The verandah of the Nacional with El Morro in the background

The hotel from a distance. Around it newer, larger hotels are being built to accommodate a burgeoning American tourist trade, two million in 2015, four million in 2017.

This is not a new hotel, but the Edificio FOCSA, completed in 1956. It remains the tallest building in Cuba. The restaurant on the 39th floor, La Torre, would be the site of our farewell dinner two days later

A tower of the Nacional at dusk

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Por Fin, Habana!!

7 February 2017

Habana!! (In Spanish, Havana is Habana, just check the band on your cigar or that bottle of Habanero sauce in the fridge.) For ten days Jim, José and Juan Antonio had guided us through the highways and byways of Cuba, now we come to the main event as it were, Habana. The big city, a world class capital and we are to have lots of free time. How will we manage? That thought briefly crosses my mind as we approach the city before I remember that we have navigated major cities around the world on our own. It will be fine.

And it is. The bus pulls into the car park just off Cathedral Square in Old Havana where we will begin our exploration of the city. But first lunch. Throughout the trip logistics surrounding meals have been a constant, so we get off the bus, troup across the car park to La Moneda Cubana a paladar just off Cathedral Square. This is definitely a tourist destination which means that the food is OK, but not up to the standards of the best Cuba has to offer, but it is touristy-charming and a pleasant introduction to Habana.
Our first look at Habana up close

The entry to La Moneda Cubana

Always music

From there we were set free to explore Cathedral Square, which in the 18th century was the last of Old Havana’s four central plazas to have been developed, but it’s most central and most spectacular.

After lunch our first free ramble through the city

The cathedral, La Cathedral de la Virgen María de la Concepcion Inmaculada de la Habana, a fine example of Spanish baroque

a restrained stripe of the baroque

La Casa de Don Luís Chacón, now the Museum of Colonial Art, the oldest and to my eye the loveliest building on the plaza

I was hot to see this gallery of experimental art

For you pen folk, as close to Waterman as I got

wonderful piece of street sculpture

paid to be colorful for the tourists

Then we got back on the bus to head out to the Colon Cemetery. By this time, having toured a couple of Cuban cemeteries, we knew what to expect, sort of. But this cemetery was even moreso.

these mausoleums were built to showcase the wealth and taste of  Cuba's principal families

some showcasing the art deco

As we were touring one of the shrines, Jim pulled me to the side saying "I want you to see something" Throughout the the trip whenever  José was leading us through the usual sights Jim wandered. This time he found this, which he had never seen before. His question was whether I was aware of Cuban involvement in Vietnam. I was not. But when I got back to the hotel I was able to look it up. (We had free and reasonably fast wi-wi at the Nacional.) As it turns out Cuba sent a token contingent to fight in socialist solidarity in support of the North in Vietnam

After that, a brief encounter with Cuba’s cars and we headed for our hotel. 
We've already done cars, so just two of my faves.

Originally we had been scheduled to stay at the Habana Libre, but, as we were warned, things change in Cuba and at the beginning of the trip we were informed that, instead, our hotel would be The Hotel Nacional. A cheer went up. Most of us knew the Nacional, and over trhe next few days that hotel fully lived up to its billing as Cuba’s premier hotel.