Thursday, February 28, 2013

Looking Back

Have I come to any conclusions about Cuba and her people?  The country is at the tipping point of change and I hope that they will be able to forge a new kind of politics in which entrepreneurship holds sway over big-box capitalism and that the socialism that gives everyone a free education and free health care can be supported. 

The photo of the two boys above is called : "Boys: Morros y Christianos".  That is Spanish for Moors and Christians and is the name of one of the national dishes in Cuba consisting of black beans and white rice.  One of the first things I noticed in the country is the easy attitude the people have toward race.  Of course with a tourist, one is on  their best behavior.  I hope that it's not a situation like they had in Yugoslavia.  Tito, the dictator, wasn't liked by many, but he did hold the country together.  Everyone was united under communism.  But when he was ousted, it seemed like the ethnic groups went crazy killing each other.  They wouldn't see their commonalities as humans, but just their differences.  I just don't understand how families can perpetuate hatred.  We're all just human beings on the same planet.

Well you've seen some of my photos illustrating certain events from our trip and there will be a new, fresh set of photos on the Flickr site in the near future.  But what about how the other photographers in our group saw Cuba?  Here's a link to the slide show that was put together our final night in Havana when we all had dinner together.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Last Day in Havanna

It seemed as if we had just arrived at the same time that it felt like we had been here for quite a while - you know that feeling?  When we had been at the print coop earlier, we had liked some of the work there and it was inexpensive to boot, so we knew we wanted to get back there and what better day to do it than our last one in Havana.  There was one little trip in the morning and in the afternoon, we were to go to an Afro-Cuban dance rehearsal.

During one of the days that I opted out to put my swollen ankles up and sort through the photos I had shot the day before, JK had gone with a group that wandered into an antiques store where they had old photos.  When he told me about that, I knew that was one other place I wanted to visit and it was on the way to the print gallery.  This was how we met Carlos Manuel, owner of the antique shop, who sold me 20 old photos (which will be incorporated into some new art in the near future) for $20!
He was a really funny guy and was very talkative with us.  He pointed to a plastic bag that looked as if it had clothes in it saying that he was giving some of his shirts to this old man in the neighborhood because he stopped smoking cigars and got fat so they didn't fit anymore.  His mother didn't think he should just give them away so he called her a dirty capitalist with a great smile on his face.  It's ironic in that here he is running an antique shop.  He told us of how he once volunteered for a year to work in Mozambique because Fidel said Cubans should help Africans because they were brought to the island as slaves.  So he taught business practices there, wrote a book about them and then translated the book into Portuguese for the people.
As we walked over the the print place, we passed this statue of Cervantes, author of what is know as the first modern Western novel - Don Quixote.  It seems generous in a way that while the Cubans embraced a Socialist system, they still had respect for their Spanish Heritage.  Respect for old equipment can be found in the Print Co-operative a short distance away. This bad photo
represents the 2nd time I tried to take this guy's photo in 3 days.  He was on the move constantly.  I suppose I could have just asked him if I could take his portrait, I didn't want to bother him as it looked like he was working on several pieces at once.  We bought two small prints, one involved printing or silk-screening onto old vinyl LPs (hear that Cherie Hacker?).

Then it was time for lunch at the same paladar that we had been at the first day.  Their menus were printed by the print coop and even the little decoupage boxes in which the bill was delivered was artful!

After lunch it was time to get back to the hotel to meet up with the other photographers and see where the Afro-Cuban dance troupe was rehearsing.  It was like a lobby where they rehearsed and little space for photographers and difficult to shoot as it was a long narrow space. Here's the link to the video on You Tube.  We also had our final dinner that evening with our guides and photographer guides.  The next morning, it was packing up and getting on the bus for the ride out to the airport and going through customs.  Adios Havana!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Vinales and Back

After lunch, we climbed aboard the bus again to have a rather exclusive tour of a tobacco curing and sorting house (escogida).  The tobacco comes here after speding between 45-60 days at the drying barns.  Here the leaves are misted and then aired and then fermented in piles so impurities are released.  Temperature and humidity are quite important at this point.
Because of the connections made by Kip and the folks at Santa Fe Photo Workshop, the Escogida Manager gave us a tour of the place.  You can see where the women who are the sorters are up front.  In the back here was an office and a place for time cards and then into another building where more of the tobacco was fermenting.
Now the leaves go to the sorters who "grade" the tobacco.  It was hard to get a good shot of these women because they were working so quickly.  I asked the Manager why only women were working there and she said it was because they were more patient and paid better attention to details than men would.
After the leaves are graded, they are once more sprayed with water and covered in burlap to be fermented again and sent to the factories in square bales wrapped in palm bark called tercios.

It takes two years before the tobacco is ready to be made into the famous cigars, considered the best in the world.  JK taking a puff off a freshly made cigar.

After our tobacco adventure, it was off to another tobacco farm.  We were given a demonstration of rolling a handmade cigar in the drying house and then got to wander around a bit. 

Many of the women photographers remarked upon the good looks of this farmer.  When his wife heard, she laughed and take him away and then he'll have to send me money!

These birds are really free range, they wandered all over outside their hen house.  Mr Turkey kept trying to scare us all off  by fanning his tail feathers or he was infatuated with one of us, hard to tell. 

We even got to see a horse getting shod.  Really freaked me out as I didn't know they used such long nails to make the horse shoe stay on.  We got back on the bus and went back to the overlook since it was the golden part of the day with wonderful lighting and we all ordered drinks at this wonderful little hotel 

Would love to come back here and laze around the pool.  Would be great if future trips would include an overnight stay here for a few days.  Much more mellow than the hustle and bustle of Havana.  After our cocktails, it was back on the bus for the long ride home in the sunset.
We still had one more day in Havana with time to go around the city on our own and then in the afternoon see a rehearsal of an Afro-Cuban dance troupe.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Road to Vinales

Monday we had a road trip to Vinales, about two and a half hours west of Havana.  Vinales has some of the most spectacular scenery on the island.  Thirteen of us (including our group leaders and our wonderful Cuban photographer guides) climbed into an air-conditioned bus and sped off west through Havana's more middle class neighborhoods and the ritzy Miramar area.  We were heading to the Vinales valley through the Sierra de los Organos, a range of mountains in Northwest Pinar del Rio Province.   The whole valley has been designated a National Park.
 The mountains are called magotes (haystacks) and are the remains of a limestone plateau that rose from the sea millions of years ago.  Over the years, the rains and rivers have dissolved the limestone into butte like formations.

We did make a stop after about 90 minutes or so to a rest area with a little restaurant, clean bathrooms and a Pina Colada stand!!!

Senor Pina Colada would whip up a batch of the mixer in the blender, sprinkle a little cinnamon on it and then tell you to drink some of it before you poured in the rum.  There was a bottle of rum sitting right there.  It was great and I will have to experiment this summer to see if I can recapture the taste of the Cuban version.  There was also this fellow there making large pots out of palm tree trunks.

Our next stop before we hit the town of Vinales, was an overlook with an incredible view of the entire valley, best known for tobacco farming.  Apparently several of the tobacco farmers have realized that they can make a few extra bucks having touristas come out to their farms to shoot photos.  Why not?  It seems like a very win-win situation to me.

Valley view with drying house covered in thatch

The first farm we stopped at had a huge drying house.  The tobacco was carefully picked, then several leaves were tied together at the top of their stems and then the packet of leaves would be placed on a rod so that it would dry in the right humidity, which is regulated by opening and closing the doors of drying house.

One thing that was amazing was the smell of the tobacco.  It was almost too much for some of our photographers who didn't stay in the drying house very long.  The farmer also demonstrated how to hand roll a cigar.

We then went into the town for lunch.  We had lunch at this little paladar that was recommended by our guide.  But we were warned to just drink beer or soft drinks and nothing with ice in it.

In most of Havana, these signs are faded, but it looks like this got a paint job recently.

Then we wandered around the square a bit before getting in the bus again to visit a special tobacco production facility where the leaves are "marinated" and put through different degrees of humidity and the leaves are hand-sorted.  But that's the next post tomorrow.  But here's a short video clip of a band playing in the square.

Monday, February 18, 2013

And on Sunday, She Rested

It was supposed to be our only day off, so I was going to take advantage of that and finally sleep in!  Which I did until about 9:30 in the morning.  It was also the day I had planned to check out the National Museum of Cuban Art, which was only two blocks from our hotel.  There was also another National Art Museum whose collections include work from around the world, but I was interested in discovering Cuban artists. 

Detail of sculpture outside the International Art Museum.

The other museum is much newer having been recently remodeled by architect Jose Linares in 2009.
There is a large courtyard as you enter, and sculpture like this surrounding the open space.  Here is another piece of sculpture composed of those little metal espresso makers.
It's a massive place and I could have spent many hours there, but I thought when JK had left the hotel room in the morning, that we had agree to meet for lunch back at the hotel at 1 pm, so I only focused on an exhibit by modern Cuban artists of work from the 1980s.
I had just taken this shot of a wall mounted assemblage by Flavio Garciandia, when I was approached by one of the museum guards and told not to take photos of the work, but I could take photos of the ID cards.  Some of the artists whose work intrigued me included Leandro Soto, Jose Bedia, Ricardo Rodriguez Brey, Sandra Ramos Lorenzo and Consuelo Castaneda. 

What's disappointing to me is the lack of women artists in the museum.  One would think that since the country was communist, there would be more equal footing for the artistas.  No, it's still the same sexist bullshit as we see in museums in the US and Europe.  Guess it only shows that it doesn't matter what type of government you have, sexism is still endemic.   

This is the mural that I saw as I was leaving the building and then I spotted this public sculpture clinging to the side of the building.
Directly across the street, there was this odd, sort of outdoor museum of old planes.
Which turned out to be old US military equipment from the failed Bay of Pigs landing in front of the Museum of the Revolution.  But I thought I had a lunch date so went back to the hotel and waited around for 30 minutes and when JK didn't show up, Jude and I went to a nearby hotel.  Apparently JK had gone out on a morning shoot and then Nestor took him over to the Necropolis Cristóbal Colón.  I can't wait to see his photos from that jaunt.  

Later that evening, we slipped away from the rest of the group to have a little dinner on our own down in Cathedral Square.   Dinner wasn't that good there, but we were able to feed one of the little street dogs that haunt Havana streets.  More about that later.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Everybody Dance....

After lunch on Saturday we all piled into taxis to go to the Folkloric Dance school where we were to see their graduation and a performance of many different kinds of dance.  Unfortunately to those of us who only understand English and didn't take any notes because we were taking photos and videos, I can't ID them for you.  Our MC is a Cuban TV personality
At first the place was slow to fill in, but by the end of the show, it was jammed. 

I had problems with the last video I tried to embed in the blog, so I'm just going to put this link out to my You Tube account - Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Day 4, Saturday

Every morning of the trip so far, we had a mandatory meeting  at 8:45 am as a sort of check in and to give us details of what /where we were going that day.  Meaning that getting up before 8 was advisable if one was to shower and get some breakfast from the fabulous buffet offered by the hotel that was included in our room charge, like many European hotels.  I really should have taken some photos  of it, but I was so sleepy the thought never occurred to me. 

Today our travels would take us walking again through the streets of Habana Vieja (which the UN designated as a World Historic Site a few years back) past people in the street doing their Saturday thing.  As noisey, er, I mean inquesitive photographers looking for images of life, we poked our heads into many a doorway, including this one

Very bummed that we never got back to this gallery.  We were on our way to Plaza Vieja, which is in in the process of being repaired.  The square itself dates back to 1559 as an open space.  The buildings there date from the 1700s to the 20th Century.

 You'll notice that some of the kids are wearing the same color pants/skirts.  These are school uniforms which all the kids wear.  Each color denotes either elementary or junior high or high school.  I forgot to ask why they would be wearing uniforms on a Saturday.  In the far left of the photo, you'll see some people gathered.  They were there for some kind of performance, which being a short person, I never got a chance to see. 

But we had no time to lose as we needed to hurry over to the Malacon to catch a ferry ride to Regla, across the Bay from Vieja Habana, where an important Santeria church, Our Lady of Regla was located.

It's a walk from the quay to the area surrounding the church and there's a small malacon area where we saw a few folks making offerings to their patroness saint and protector of seamen.
The church itself was quite crowded and it looked like the mass was just about winding up, although in a small alcove, I spied this special Black Madonna.
For more information, please click this link.  After this we had lunch and then just 20 min before we gathered for the afternoon session and got to see a performance of folkloric dance, including rhumba!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Day 3 - Friday

One of the things photographic that was offered to folks in this workshop was something called Dawn Patrol, led by Kip Brundage,the Director of International Programs for the Santa Fe Photography Workshops.  Kip was a great guy and was good at pointing out tips to the more inexperienced as well reminding us all about framing the shot. 

His plan was to have people meet at 6 am in the lobby and go out while it was still dark in the streets and discover dawn in Havana.  Nice idea in theory for those that are early risers - JK did it once - but for night owls like me, not so much.  I think JK is going to post photos to Facebook, but I think there's a way for you to look at them without becoming a member.  He did get off some wonderful shots.

Round and round the streets of Habana Vieja we went again.  After yesterday's trek, which was too much at once, I was grateful to go into a church and sit down.  It was a Catholic church dedicated to St Barbara, whose image was allegedly the first made in Cuba in the 1600s.  People who practice the Santaria, a Creole-type combination of the African Yoruba religion and the Spanish Roman Catholicism, will pray to a combo of St Barbara and the Yoruba god Shango.  One government guide told me that there are more people coming into this Santaria religion than there were coming into any other religion in Cuba.
From there down more streets to a place near the Harbor where what was once an old factory type building has been transformed into a little capitalistic slice of heaven for the small shopkeepers and artists who have little stalls there.

Jude and I decided to stay there while the rest of the group went to a boxing gym.  Personally, I find boxing barbaric - what fun is it to watch two people fight and hurt each other?  I don't care if it's men, women, small people or cats doing it.  It's stupid so stop it.  Also I'm way too much of am empath to watch that kinda crap, it hurts me as well.  Judy did find some very cool handmade percussion instruments sold by the woman on the left.

I'll have some photos of the different kinds of art that I saw there in a subsection of the Flickr pages for Cuba.   The others were at the gym for about an hour and JK did get a wonderful shot of different colored boxing gloves all lined up.  Next we went to a market area near the old colonial wall of the city.  There are only chunks of it still standing near the train station.  The market had meat venders as well as produce venders.

In a way, Cuba has been lucky that it hasn't been able to import expensive chemical fertilizers from the rest of the world.  They were forced to go organic and they do it quite well.  I felt more comfortable eating the meat and produce there than I do in certain parts of our country.
By this time, after walking for about 3 1/2 hours we were all famished.

So Nestor took us to this restaurant near the hotel and Pradeo called El Trofeo.  I had a chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese and JK had a literal leg of lamb. Because the lighting was very dim, the photo isn't the sharpest in the world, but it gives you the idea.

I've decided it would be best to finish the blog first before loading all the photos on the Flickr site.  So you'll have to wait a few more days for that. 

After lunch we had only a half hour at the hotel before the afternoon meeting to figure out where we were going next.  I decided that my feet were hurting too much and I'd forgo the afternoon and meet up with folks later.   This gave me a chance to do a little bit on the internet which was very spotty and expensive - $8/hr.  I also began the work of trying to figure out Lightroom so I could begin the process of processing the photos.  I needed to hand in some "fun" photos and some other good shots for our final look at everyone's work.  JK went ahead to the big arts college they have in Havana and after looking at his photos, I'm a little sorry I didn't have it in me to go along too.  But I was trying to save my feet and legs for the next day when we got to go see graduation at the official school for folkloric dances - like Rumba and Son.