Monday, October 31, 2011

I Thought They Loved Me as an Artist

As a photographer I like to think of myself as an artist. Well, it falls in that category in most listings, so I'll take those as the authority. (Whatever it takes to qualify.) Anyway, when I am in the field I am always looking for a different angle, the light falling in a unique way, making the mundane beautiful. I pride myself on photos standing apart from the rest. 

In my gallery, it was the close shot of the water coming down a fall, or the just the bright yellow buoys on a shrimp boat (every one photographs the boat itself).  I personally love my picture looking up the wall of the green house of famous Rainbow in Charleston. After all, pictures of the colorful row of houses are a dime a dozen.

Angel Oak, said to be the oldest living thing east of the Rockies (possibly 1500 years old) and a true thing of beauty. A tremendous oak tree on Johns Island, standing 65 feet high and providing 17,000 square feet of shade. This ancient oak is visited by tens of thousands of tourists each year to pay homage to this glorious work of nature. And,  photographs of the tree are staples of gift emporiums and galleries through out the low country. Instead of the standard view of the tree head on, I chose a different perspective.

I thought my picture of the tomb at old Sheldon Church (although a little eerie) was a different view of the very somber landmark of a lovely southern church that had been built and burned several times. One can purchase pictures of the picturesque ruins of the church with its columns still standing in any gallery or gift store in the low country.

So out of the forty or fifty unique (or so in my opinion) images I have captured that are displayed in the gallery and on my website, which are the ones that sell?  The unique shots that represent the true artist in me oh no, no my friend. The public wants . . .

 My (rather mundane) photo of Rainbow:

This image I shot of Angel Oak:

Sheldon Church? Yes folks, this is what sells?

So much for artistic freedom, personal perspective. I am a slave to commercialism. Well, I must have been attracted to these views also, otherwise I would have never taken the shots.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Malecon

The Malecon in Havana is a well known and well photographed landmark. It is a sea wall  and wide walk way that runs along the harbor's edge. 

Locals fish off it (since food is rationed and there is no seafood available in the stores). 

Lovers walk hand and hand. Teenage Cubans can be seen frolicking along the way and families often enjoy it in the afternoon and evening. 

There is also a four lane road that follows the Malecon having several names along the way. Where we were it was called "Avenue Carlos Manuel Cespedes (Avineda Del Peurto)". Whatever the name, it was fairly treacherous to cross.

The buildings across the street vary from "modern" several story buildings in fairly good shape to older historic ones that are literally crumbling. There is a movement by the government to restore these buildings. 

My theory is it is to provide a facade to cover the decay of the Havana Centre area that sits just one block behind.

Casa1932 (where we were staying) was just two blocks from the Malecon, so it was a short walk (but death defying crossing of Avineda Del Peurto) for us to enjoy the promenade with the local Cubans.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Getting from Here to There in Havana

Getting around Havana is not that difficult, save the language barrier. (I should have really paid more attention to Mrs. Mann in first grade.) There are options. We were met at the airport by a driver that my daughter had arranged which was wonderful. And, that same driver drove us with our guide the third day we were there when we ventured out past Havana Centre into parts that were too far to walk.

Everywhere we went, there were the bicycle taxis, like the ones to the left in this photo. Needless to say, these guys are in great shape.

And, of course there were the traditional taxi cabs, well for whatever is "traditional" in Cuba. Most of them are state owned and a majority are Russian Ladas, like this fine example below.

If you were coming or going to the rural outlying areas, then this was your likely mode of transportation. And, they utilized every inch of space in the back of these trucks.

I was amazed at the number of motorcycles in Havana, and most of them had sidecars. And, little did I know how many people one can fit in a side car - hint, more than you think.

Of course, the streets are full of American cars from the 30's, 40's, and 50's.

But the most unique, I have to say, are the Coco Taxis. (My daughter said they reminded her of something out of Whoville.) These "things" hold two people in the back and the driver in the front. It is best to hold on for dear life because they move very quickly through traffic (through a lot of places you do not think they will fit but you are not given a lot of time to consider the alternative.) The drivers are safe and ours was very friendly. I'm not sure when I go back, if this will not be my transportation mode of choice. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Cigar Lady

When my daughter was doing her research for our trip, she contacted friends of hers who had traveled to Cuba before, researched popular travel blogs, and read travel guides. Lonely Planet is the one guide she prefers. However, their new guide to Cuba ironically was going to be released while we were on our trip so the current one was not the most recent of the guides on the market. When she saw the copy that could be pre-ordered on Amazon she told me about the woman on the cover. In trying to describe her, first of all, she sounded hilarious, and second, I found that of all the things in Cuba why put her on the cover, but whatever!

Fast forward. We are in one of the squares in old Havana and turn on a side street with our guide. I head toward a small bar, where the people standing outside look like a great photo op. Suddenly I hear my daughter exclaim, "Mom, come back. She's here. The lady from Lonely Planet. She's right back there." I went back and sure enough, there was a lady matching the description.

For a cuc (Cuban currency) she allowed me to photograph her. I am still not sure why Lonely Planet chose her as the cover for their Cuba Guide, but here she is, in living color.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Old Cars and Cuban Cigars

When most Americans think of Havana, they picture cigars and old cars. Or, at least I did. I was not disappointed by the old cars. As soon as we walked out of the airport, there they were. Some were just used as taxis and some enterprising Cubans had figured out that nothing lured a tourist more than a red and white 1957 Chevrolet convertible. And, for a small fee, you could be chauffeured in style. Our driver had a late model air conditioned small size vehicle. However, after choking on the fumes of the vintage Detroit models and Russian Ladas, it was a welcome relief. And, as I commented to our British friends at dinner, I would much rather photograph and look at them than ride in one.

Then there were the Russian Ladas. These reminded us of Push me - Pull  yous (of Dr. Do-Little Fame). They looked the same coming and going and comprise probably 30% of the cars on the road in Cuba.

As for the cigars, they were everywhere. They were hawked on the street, although you were warned that those could be of poor quality. And, tours of cigar factories were popular, although it wasn't on our agenda. Each bar had a humidor, for their patrons pleasure - at a price. Ironically, we did not see many Cubans smoking them, Luis being the exception.

With all the old cars on the road (and other modes of transportation I'll get to later) every once in a while a late model slender BMW, sleek sports car, or large late model American made SUV would go by and suddenly time was truly warped. It did not go unnoticed. What is wrong with this picture? Once again, it is a land of conundrums -1959 lost in the future.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Change in Accomodations

The lovely room we had the first night we were at Casa 1932 was so nice with its high ceilings, antique furniture, tile floors, etc. However, because the houses are all built together and around a court yard, there are no windows open to the outside.

We were lucky to get reservations at all with Luis, he is so popular, since the trip was made so last minute. So the second night we had to change rooms. That room was a good deal smaller. Well, let's say minute, but still had the antique furnishings and private bath. The good news was we had a window - of sorts. The bad news was I felt like I was in a mid-evil church.  This is the window over our bed.

The third night Luis did not have room for us, but promised he had found us wonderful accomodations with a friend of his just several blocks away. And, his friend had a large room on the second floor with a balcony and a window. "You will love. No?" We had no reason to doubt him and were planning to return for dinner at Casa 1932 that evening. A lady showed up later that afternoon to pick us and our bags up. She did not speak English.

The house was much bigger than Casa 1932. The lady showed us to our room - on the first floor. It was a decent size room - with no windows. Like most rooms it was tile, all tile. And, at the end of the room was the commode, a jacuzzi bathtub and shower, with a three foot tall wall  between. My daughter exclaimed, "We aren't in a bedroom. We are in a large bathroom that has beds in it." "With a jacuzzi tub," I added. So much for the balcony and the window.

That night when we returned to Luis's for dinner, he asked us about the accomodations. My daughter, not wanting to sound unappreciative said, "They are alright." That did not suit Luis. He pressed for more. After she explained the bath room/ bedroom situation he said, "You know they gave you their most special room. I told them room with balcony eese what you want. They think bathroom with fancy tub is what tourist want. I keep telling them no. But they won't listen."

So our accomodations went from a large room, to a smaller (mid-evil) room, to a bedroom in a bath. I can only imagine where we would have been had we stayed one more night - maybe in the back of a 1958 Chevy.

It's That Time Again - The NM Christmas Book is Out

OK, the Nieman Marcus Christmas Book is out, and yes Virginia, I can dream. Out of the nine ultimate gifts this year, I am torn between the 2012 Farrari FF (for $350,000) and the International Flower Show Trip (a Gulfstream IV takes you and nine friends to flower shows in Switzerland, Athens, France, and London over a two week period for a cool $420,000). You can keep the "His and Her" Dancing Fountains and the Day Trip to Stone Barn Farms - please. The Dream Folly Yert could be interesting though - if they would throw in Major Nelson.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Casa 1932

Cuba is a conundrum, if nothing else. A country that is known for being advanced in the development and production of medicines and vaccines, yet their medical facilities look like something you would imagine finding in Sarajevo (without the markings of war) on campuses of grass that has never been cut. One of my favorite foods is Cuban, yet when I started reading about Cuban travel, many blogs talked about the best Cuban food being in America and what visitors often found was bland and boring. The food is rationed to the citizens and their market shelves are bare.

So instead of staying in a state run hotel (all the hotels and restaraunts are run by the state), my daughter had booked us in a casa particular (the Cuban equivalent to a B&B). The government loosened its reins several years ago and allowed private homes to host up to two rooms of guests for a fee. Of course the owners pay heavy taxes to the goverment to do so. However, it is a great way for the enterprising Cubans to make some money and for visitors to really see and enjoy Cuban culture.

So this was how we came to stay at Casa 1932 and get to know its owner, Luis Miguel. When our taxi dropped us off (after having to back down the oneway street since the other end was blocked off with a cable stretched across the end with plastic grocery bags tied to it) I must say the street had much to be desired. (This is the actual block Casa 1932 is on, looking across the street.)

But the facade to Casa 1932 stood out. And Luis graciously welcomed us in wearing his orange Hawaiian bathing trunks, Cuban team shirt, flip-flops (with socks) and his every present Cohiba. The interior of his home was well camouflaged by the scene outside. We stepped into an extremely well appointed elegant 1930's fine home, with antique furnishings, stain glass, and crystal chandeliers.

The coup de gras came when his cook, this adorable old Cuban gentleman shuffled into the room wearing his crisp guayabera shirt and an apron carrying two crystal goblets of ice cold water. God, I felt for the poor bastards who were paying to stay in a four star hotel.

Luis showed us to our room, with twenty foot ceilings, a private bath, a refrigerator to keep the glass pitcher of water chilled at all times (the crystal goblets were located on top), antique furniture, and crystal chandelier. "Theese will do?" We assured him it would. "Dinner will be at eight tonight. OK?" He closed the door and we settled in for a nap.

Luis' cook could do much more than serve refreshing cool water. When we entered the front room for dinner, we found a table formally set with Rosenthal china, silver, and crystal. Then came the food, course by course. So much for the bland boring Cuban fare. We dined on lobster in a tasty Cuban sauce, plantains, a traditional fresh Cuban salad, crusty fresh bread, creamery butter, and some of the best ice cream I have ever had.

All, I can say is that those bloggers did not eat at Casa 1932. And, we were just beginning.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Back to 1959

I have always wanted to go to Cuba since I was born in 1959, the year of the revolution. From all I had read, time seemed to have stood still in that country since then and I wanted to visit before Castro fell, the United States lifted the embargo, American developers invaded, and it became another Cancun. Thanks to the trade embargo and travel restrictions, Americans cannot travel to Cuba. Well there is that small print that allows a few to travel there for approved humanitarian reasons (although not directly from the US), however they are not allowed to spend any money - a slight inconvenience.

This year the Obama administration reinstated the "people to people" program the Bush administration had banned in 2003. The thought was that finally Americans could travel to Cuba. But not so fast. According to US Today "On July 25, OFAC issued a "Cuba Travel Advisory," which cited "misstatements in the media suggesting that U.S. foreign policy ... now allows for virtually unrestricted group travel to Cuba by persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The statement added that "the amended Regulations still contain significant travel restrictions." For one thing, "all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba. Authorized activities by People-to-People Groups are not 'tourist activities' under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which prohibits OFAC from licensing travel-related transactions for tourist activities." "

And, yes folks, in a way it is like entering a time machine.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nesting in Grand Cayman

My daughter's flights to Grand Cayman did not go as planned. Luckily she ended up arriving only several hours later than the rest of us (rather than the next day as we feared) although sans luggage. I'm not sure if it is a good sign or not, but she said when she arrived at the condos, the friendly gardener asked her, "You with those women?". Assuming he was referring to us, she replied yes. And he directed her to our condo. We had already made are mark.

After procuring a car, it was time to do what all women do when they first move in - set-up housekeeping. (You know, that nesting instinct we have.) The refrigerator was empty, a sad sight. So a supply run was necessary for liquor, beer, ice, limes, and snacks (in that order). For some reason, the entire time we were there, we kept underestimating our consumption of adult beverages.

When the view from your sofa is this:

Your days are spent here:

And your evenings here:

Suddenly, anyone's worries and cares are gone - at least for 7 days. And reality is on hold.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'm Off to Paradise

Gentle readers you may not hear from me for a week. But don't despair, I'll be back, relaxed and better than ever (well maybe a little better). In the mean time perhaps you may enjoy some oldies but goodies from the past. Stay tuned, please.

Welcome to Technology

It's Not Called BBQ, Stupid, Unless It really Is

Reared as A Heathen

Is It Really Worth It?