Boo

I hope these jack-o-lanterns put you in the holiday spirit.

Have a safe and happy halloween.

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Unless You Are A Fish

As Hurricane Sandy approaches the East Coast, citizens who live directly in its path are urged to evacuate, especially from low-lying areas along the water.  Schools are closed, transportation is virtually at a standstill.

So, East Coast residents, take heed.  Unless you are a fish, find shelter.

Good luck and be safe.

Visit Bob’s House: For A Wicked Halloween

The word is out.  K.C. Channel 5 News found him.  The news station coverage of Bob’s house begins with the wicked clown face I presented on our blog on Oct. 1.

I love Halloween.  Actually, I love all holidays.  Give me a reason to celebrate and I am happy to join the fun.  But my passion for the holidays is nothing compared to Bob’s.  While he loves decorating for Christmas, as do many of our friends, he is unique in the wealth of decorations that fill his house before Halloween.

Bob’s house is intentionally creepy.  It is filled with vampires, witches, spiders and other symbols of the holiday.

Skeletons in holiday attire, party outfits and wedding gowns are found in abundance.  The skeletons are fake–

The coffins are real.  Well, sort of.  He paid to have multiple coffins built, in the line of coffins from the early West. Like everything else, they are decorated with colorful displays of ribbons, holiday lights and flowers.  They are overrun with spiders and more (fake) skeletons.

The decorations are the highlight of a visit to his house at Halloween but he does not stop there.  I have it on good authority (Bob) that he is preparing his special homemade goodies for the trick or treaters.

Are you ready for Halloween?

Goodbye Havana

Our trip to Cuba ended much as it began. We were overwhelmed by the beauty and the poverty of this tiny island nation.  But now, after months of preparations, days filled with visual images we will never forget, and photographs that will end up in posts far into the future, it was finally time for us to pack our bags for the journey home.

As we were preparing our bags Saturday night for an early morning departure, I watched the hustle and bustle of Havana.  Neither the city’s great beauty, nor its decay, were visible in this nighttime shot.  Left to admire is just the vibrancy of the city.

It was a memorable experience.  While our visit only touched the edges of this wonderful country, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience its rich culture, wonderful people and incredible beauty.

If you haven’t experienced Cuba, put it on your bucket list!

Old World Architecture Graces a Cuban Harbor

The Palacio de Valle is located in Cienfuegos, the second largest harbor in Cuba.  Sometimes referred to at the “Pearl of the South”,  Cienfuegos was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 as a result of the blending of old world architecture and modern urban design.

The Palacio de Valle is a masterpiece of styling, art and history.  When Amparo Suero married a wealthy Cuban businessman, Acisclo Valle, her father gave them Palacio de Valle as a wedding gift.  The couple renovated the property between 1913 and 1917, at a cost of 1 1/2 million pesos.

Italian architect Alfredo Colli, created this masterpiece, incorporating Italian and French into a building which is dominated by the unique character of Moorish style, carvings and color.  The Moslem crescent moon and the words Arabic words meaning “Only God is God” from the Koran, solidify the Moorish influence.

The construction of the building itself relies heavily on Carrara marble, alabaster, Venetian ceramics, Spanish ironwork and the carvings of renowned Spanish artist, Antonio Barcenas to blend much of the beauty of the old world  combining the best of Spanish, Muslim, Italian, French and even Egyptian design.

The exterior reflects the beautiful carvings seen throughout the Arab world.  The Sphinx guarding the main doorway reflect Egyptian symbols.

Bronze railings of Spanish design are seen throughout the interior and exterior of the building.

The art reflects the interconnections of the Muslim and Christian beliefs.  This lovely painting of the Magi, ie. the “Three Kings from the East” focuses on the Magi themselves, relying on the crown to symbolize the Christ child.

This tile Crusader depicts a Christian in full battle attire presumably prepared to fight the Moors.

There is little to explain the reasons for this combination of clashing cultures, representing the images and art of all the involved cultures with beauty, accuracy and respect.  Yet the flow of interweaving of the best of the old world, works effectively, playing the grace of Venice with the power of Spain.  It is not surprising then, that this building, now a restaurant, is itself recognized as a National Heritage Memorial.

By the standards of any religion or influence, the Palacio is a masterpiece.  While the cultural aspects of the building predominate our visit, the timeless beauty of the rooftop bar, with its view of Cienfuegos and the ocean, completed the experience for all of us.

Are the Beaches the Solution to Cuba’s Poverty?

Is Cuba’s beauty the solution to bettering the lives of its citizens?

Just look at the water and the sand and the sun.  The island is long, and narrow.  The Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean flank Cuba, offering up some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

This is good, right?

Today, the Cuban people share this beauty with only a small number of sail boats and a few tourists in space nearly undisturbed by commerce.

Cuba is, in some respects, comparable to the Cancun of 40 years ago.  Having traveled there several times, I have watched the seashore change from open land with a scattering of 2 and 3 story hotels, (as pictured below adjacent to a Cuban beach) to high rise hotels that are packed one on top of another until only the tourists share the beauty.  Today, Cuba’s resort hotels are still lovely, small and in harmony with the sea.

The walkways to the sea draw you to the water and the sand.

As we were ending our trip to Cuba, we encountered a member of another tour that had just arrived.  This gentleman explained his theory that what Cuba needs is to open itself up to investors who could bring in casinos and “a Trump Tower like Panama” to provide jobs for poor workers.  Seriously?  Cubans should be excited to have its beauty snapped up by rich “Americans” [1] so that they can earn minimum wage.  Again, seriously?

I am no fan of Cuban’s economic or political system.  I would never wear a Che t-shirt or hat.  I remember the brutality of revolution.  But surely there is more to solving the challenges of the Cuban people than to provide tourists with luxury vacations.

I am grateful for the couple of hours we spent by the water because it was such a compelling visual statement to the true beauty of Cuba’s beaches and was a reminder of the role of the beaches in the challenges facing the island nation in the inevitable post-Castro era.

Swim anyone?

__________________

[1]  I asked our guide why the Cubans speak of the United States as “America”.  He indicated that they have accepted the reality that the United States as the dominant nation in the Americas has essentially assumed the term America as its own.

The Fortifications of Havana Bay

The Havana Bay Harbor has a past as violent as its revolution.  The Spanish founded Havana in about 1519 as a part of its colonial empire.  Spain’s interest in Havana rested, in large part, because the Bay of Havana offered a secure port for the Spanish Galleons crossing from the New World to Spain.

Because of the wealth that passed through the city, old Havana was vulnerable to French, English and Dutch Corsairs. [1] The massive fortifications of Morro Castle/Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro were constructed by the Spanish beginning in 1589 to protect against attacks by these pirates.  Morro Castle sits across the harbor from another similar fortification, the Castillo de San Salvador.  With the protection of these two fortifications, and others along the Coast, Old Havana was considered to be impregnable to attack.

Considered the major fortification of the Havana’s defense system, Morro Castle stood for 150 years until it fell  during the Seven Years after a two month siege by the onslaught of English ships.

The fortifications were rebuilt and continued to protect and defend the harbor. They were used as a military base and prison.

In 1898 the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor, in sight of these fortifications, its sinking was considered a significant cause of the Spanish-American War.

In 1959 Che captured another of the series of fortifications in the harbor, La Cabana and used it as a headquarters during one of the most brutal periods of the revolution.

For the last 63 years the forts have served no military purpose.  They are, instead, powerful symbols of Cuba’s colonial past.  The fortifications which serve as picturesque reminders of past battles, are now besieged by tourists, not enemy ships.

In 1972 Old Havana and its Fortifications was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its importance to cultural and/or natural heritage.  A total of nine sites in Cuba have been recognized for inclusion on the list of World Heritage Sites.   All of these sites were founded by early Spanish colonists.  All of these designations are reasons for pride among the Cuban people and memories among the travelers fortunate enough to visit them.

[1] Corsairs were privateers/pirates and their ships.  They plundered enemy ships and communities in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean Seas. Unlike more traditional pirates, corsairs were authorized to plunder the wealth of nations with which their governments were at war.