When the tide goes out, the beaches are a bird watcher’s paradise in Florida. Simply called “beach birds” these small birds are having a feast fit for–well–a bird.
Terry discovered this rickety old house as we were driving along Highway NN near Slater, Missouri. Perched on a hill in the middle of the country, it is surrounded by rusting farm implements, a rusted out barbecue grill and evidence of agricultural activity that continues around it as it slowly sinks into the earth. It looks to me as though it could have been the inspiration for one of the sets for the Harry Potter movies.
As rickety as it appears in this photograph, it is almost impossible to capture the image as we first encountered it. The debris surrounding the house, and the utilitarian farm buildings built almost on top of it, detract from a more distant image.
In her heyday she must have been a beauty. Now she has been abandoned and is literally falling apart at the seams. While not the only house we saw in a shambles, she was the most elegant. As such, she captures most effectively, the tragic death of an elegant country residence and, at some level, the changing way of life in rural Missouri.
She was a grand lady.
My holiday decorations are not complete without orchids. This year I bought my orchids from Bird’s Botanical, a family owned business located in the caves at I-435 & 23rd Street, in Independence, Mo. Only open for business on Tuesdays, it is an adventure just to be there. The orchids run the gamut of colors, shapes and sizes.
I thought it would be fun to photograph this particularly interesting bloom. Relying on my D 5100 Nikon and my Tamron zoom lens, I took a number of shots using flash, long exposures, short exposures, and “Auto”, as well as taking photographs from a variety of different angles. In picking from all of the photographs, I eliminated some because they were blurred, over exposed, under exposed, or just bad. I finally decided to show you three. They seemed to me to make the cold winter day a little less dreary.
May your new year be as lovely as this flower.
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.
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”  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.
 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.