Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Cars of Cuba

As I organize my photos, I thought I'd start with the cars we saw on the island. I was aware that Cuba was known for having 1950's American cars that were brought over before the trade embargo in 1960. But I had no idea how ubiquitous they are.  There are plenty of Russian Ladas, of course, and a fair number of others such as Polish-built Fiats and Argentinian Fords. But people hold onto those lumbering American sedans and lovingly maintain them with re-built parts from other cars or smuggled-in original parts. This is just a colorful sampling of ones we saw in the city - Ford Fairlanes, Chevy Bel Airs, old Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles (with a Soviet model or two thrown in for variety). If big classic American cars are your thing, Havana is your city.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It was Cuba!

So, my husband and I were sitting around one morning talking about the death of Fidel Castro, President Obama's recent détente with Raul Castro and the possibility that Trump would either roll back the progress and make travel to Cuba illegal again or totally commercialize the place. Because, yes, that's the sort of thing we talk about while we are drinking coffee in bed.  We impulsively decided not to miss the possibly-closing window of opportunity. We got on-line and made reservations. As a cost-saving measure, we booked flights out of Atlanta and left home at 2 am last Friday to drive down. We flew into Fort Lauderdale, cleared customs, and then flew on to Havana. Because of the rarity of wifi in Cuba, we didn't find out until our last morning about the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport which occurred just a couple hours after we were walking through baggage claim there. The near-miss shook me, and I have grieved for the families of the victims.
Why the Euros? Cuba levies a stiff penalty for the exchange of U.S. dollars (what with the embargo and all), so I got Euros from my bank at home and we exchanged those once we flew into Havana. Cuba has two kinds of currency. The CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) is tied to the U.S. dollar and most purchasable goods are priced in it. The CUP (Cuban Peso) is what locals are paid in and is worth about 1/25th of the CUC. Although both are legal for anyone, most tourists deal in CUCs.
As our trip approached and the forecast shifted, we decided to check in at our place and then head directly to the beach to take advantage of the heat and clear skies on Friday. I'd read that there was a bus that ran out to Playas del Este, so we walked up to the square to catch the next one.
We went to Santa Maria del Mar, the closest of the beaches. I admit we were reveling in the knowledge that it was cold and snowy back home.
On such a gorgeous day I'd have expected a crowd, but there were a few local people fishing and a handful of tourists. The water was warm and we waded in. I collected some coral and sea glass to bring back home.
After a bit, my husband walked to the little bar and ordered a mojito. Because it seemed like the right thing to do to have a mojito on the beach in Cuba. White rum, sugar, soda water, lime juice and mint. A lot of mint.
While he ordered, I walked around taking pictures. This pup lived at the beach bar, and was the first of many dogs and cats I would snap photos of. There are apparently no leash laws in Cuba.
Don't let the smile fool you - it turns out, I don't actually like mojitos. It was the only one we had while we were there.
Too soon, it was time to catch the bus back into town. While my husband went back to the bar to throw away the cup, I walked out to the street past a man getting coconuts out of a tree. He held one out to me and insisted, "Para ti, para ti!" With my stunning command of Spanish, I said, "No, no... gracias, pero... what am I supposed to do with it?" 
His English was no better than my Spanish, so I walked away with a coconut. After that we altered the Buena Vista Social Club song "Dos Gardenias Para Ti" to "Un Coco Para Ti." I quickly discovered that if I was on my own in public even for a couple of minutes, Cuban men went into their natural flirtation mode.
As we waited for the bus, we watched these men play racquetball on an old cement court that had a Soviet-era look to it.
As fantastic as it felt to be on a beach in January, that's not why we were there. To travel legally in Cuba, you have to fit into one of twelve authorized categories. The category is needed to obtain a visa, and you can be fined if you fail to meet the standards. In preparation to travel under the educational category, we watched documentaries, read many books and articles, and mapped out an itinerary of architectural and cultural experiences in Havana. I knew essentially nothing about Cuba before last month and now I am pretty well versed in Cuba's history and culture. Want to know who was on the island before the Spanish arrived? Curious about Meyer Lansky and Mafia control during Batista's reign? Wondering if Catholism or Santería are tolerated in a communist country? Got a question about the Castro brothers, Che Guevara, or this guy, José Martí? Throw it at me, I'm ready.

But those are all subjects of future posts.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Headed out for a long weekend...

I'll post about it when I return, but until then three clues.

Clue 1:
Clue 2:
It's probably not what you think.

Clue 3:
¡Volvere pronto, compañeros - nos vemos la próxima semana!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday

I have always had a fascination with buildings and vehicles that are slowly being reclaimed by nature. This one looks like someone crashed it lightly into a tree and then walked away. It reminds me that the earth will go on long after we fade away.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Bring it, 2017.

There were lots of posts on FB last night and today that amounted to "Good riddance 2016, yay 2017." And indeed, 2016 could be seen as a rough year. The election in this country was brutal, and the world saw Brexit, wide-spread terrorist attacks and general turmoil. Same as it ever was, when you think about it. In my own life, my then-fiancé had a stroke and one of my brothers died too young. But there were also things that encourage me. For instance, in spite of the lunacy of the electoral college system, it does my heart good to know Clinton won the popular vote by some 2.8 million people. It changes nothing, but somehow it helps to know many were not sucked in by Trump's message of hate. And in my own life, I had my wedding and honeymoon, my older son got accepted into his top-choice grad school, I watched my younger son fall in love with a sweet girl and set up house with her, and I added two lovely daughters to my family. The good of 2016 outweighed the bad for me. As for cheering about 2017? Well, the coming year scares me a little. Okay, a lot. I just don't know what will happen to this country after January 20th.
And that is why I'm trying to focus on what is good in my life. Even on this chilly, wet day, I can be aware that the drizzle is nourishing the plants in my yard and the birds (at this moment I see starlings, robins, Carolina wrens, titmice, black-capped chickadees, and mockingbirds) are having a filed day grazing for food. Last night we had our younger daughter here and we played Yahtze - I won! - and ate popcorn while we cringe-watched the bizarre non-performance by Mariah Carey on the New Year's Eve show. My husband and I are working on travel plans, we have my sister's wedding later this year, flowers will burst from the ground as spring rolls around and love surrounds me.

Even for an atheist, this passage (the first I ever read as  a lay reader in college) from Philippians resonates: "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
I spotted this albino (partial albinism, actually) robin in the back yard, something I've not seen before. I don't believe in omens, but I still welcome anything I can interpret as a positive sign. So thank you, pale little bird, for visiting. And thank you, blog friends, for visiting, too. A very happy New Year's to you all, and may we all have the strength and courage to face what's ahead and the ability to notice what brings us peace and joy and hope.

Thursday, December 29, 2016


Christmas, as it turned out, was lovely. Everyone arrived mid-day and we did the usual coffee and sweet rolls while we opened gifts and emptied stockings. The last gift was to my husband and me from my older son and his girlfriend. It was this shadow box they'd made for us. In the wedding, instead of tossing my bouquet afterwards, I had my son's girlfriend walk up during the ceremony and I gave it to her to keep. She had taken some of the roses and ribbon from it and framed it with our wedding invitation. And my son, who had found a pewter salt shaker tucked way in the back of a junk drawer while he was looking for a knife, had the foresight to think we might want a souvenir from the old church building.  A nice bit of synchronicity, actually, because several years ago on our final summer visit to the same apartment we always stayed in on St. Simon's island, I found a ceramic monkey salt shaker in the back of a drawer and, since it also had no match, brought it home to serve as the guard monkey my younger son had suggested we get to protect our house. At any rate, my husband and I were deeply touched by the gift and it sits in our room near our wedding photo now.

And then dinner - I roasted a couple of chickens (yes, I know, but I have sons who haven't yet outgrown the ability to eat an insane amount of food with no change to their lean bodies), and we made potatoes and carrots, green beans, and beets with sweet onions. And there was pie. Bourbon-chocolate pecan and pumpkin and the surprise addition made by my younger son's girlfriend of a dark chocolate/coffee/red wine pie. Sounds odd, but it was rich and delicious. The best part of Christmas, though, was just having everyone there. We sat for a long time after dinner, talking and laughing, and I felt like my heart was absolutely filled.

Friday, December 23, 2016

And yet, life keeps rolling along.

And in fact, it brings me some comfort to just immerse myself in the holiday traditions. I got my traditional white pine, and this year our younger daughter helped me decorate.
We'll have a full house, this year, with the four kids and my son's girlfriends. Plus a stocking for the cat (who gets cat treats).
Last weekend we had already committed to be the first stop of the neighborhood progressive Christmas party. We had a big variety of appetizers we'd made and a pot of hot spiced apple cider with bourbon. I'm glad we didn't bow out - it was nice having people in when the house was looking so festive.
I admit, I like decorating for Christmas. I love the annual appearance of the snowfolk, the poinsettias, and the flying reindeer.
And I especially like all the lights.  Candles, strings of bulbs, glowing glass spheres. It just makes me happy to have so much light around me.
Thank you for the kind thoughts about my brother. It means a lot to me. Whatever you celebrate, I wish peace and love to you all this holiday season.