"Gastón Joya en concierto en el Teatro Martí in La Habana, Cuba

Somehow, I ended up at a concert at Teatro Martí in Havana, Cuba on Saturday night. The advertisement said, 
"Gastón Joya en concierto en el Teatro Martí
Gastón Joya representa un enlace entre la música de concierto, el jazz y las raíces cubanas, sin obviar estilos y géneros alternativos con una lujosa calidad en la interpretación del contrabajo.

El concierto que ofrecerá ... sábado 21 de febrero,...., en el Teatro Martí, constituye un sentido homenaje a nuestra música, con una selección de composiciones antológicas de sobresalientes maestros como Ernesto Lecuona, Sindo Garay o Chucho Valdés, por solo citar algunos. También será ocasión para honrar la memoria del músico y pedagogo Marcos Valcarsel, formador de disímiles generaciones de instrumentistas, quien durante muchos años integró la orquesta del Teatro Martí.
Miriam Ramos
Gabriela Joya
Frank Fernández
Harold López-Nussa
Ruy Adrián López- Nussa
Enrique Plá
Rolando Luna
Rodney Barreto"
Gastón Joya played bass, sometimes in the traditional sense, but more often with his hands, like playing a guitar. He invited the invited people two or three at a time, one to accompany on piano, one to accompany on drums, and for a couple of songs a woman to play flute. Every one of his invited guests joined in his passion, and produced smooth, magnificent pieces. 
Several of the works were written by composer Ernesto Lecuona (who wrote "Malaguena." Gastón Joya's unique manner of combining the various instruments lent well to that music.
Rolando Luna is an amazing pianist. Here is a Utube of him and Gastón doing a similar concert:
Every one of the musicians performed with gusto and passion. 
Enrique Plá, summer, was one of the older, long-known musicians.
Frank Fernandez, pianist, is also a very famous, older musician. Here's a Utube of him playing:
This concert was very, very unique, interesting and moving, and I can't quite describe how happy I am that I learned of it, and got the last seat on the front row.

Photographer extraordinaire Jose Rey of Rey Photography, in Havana, Cuba.

I met Havana, Cuba photographer extraordinaire Jose Rey of Rey Photography this past week in Havana. 

I met him digitally only a few weeks previously when a high school classmate of mine started posting some of his photos on Facebook, and I was hooked with the beauty he brought to the Havana, Cuba I have visited often. His photographs are so unique that I had to meet him.

[NOTE - THESE PHOTOS ARE MINE, NOT JOSE REY's.  HIS WILL LOOK MUCH BETTER!] These photos are from my ProCamera app on my Iphone 6 because I lost my camera the day before this meeting.  

You may have seen that I posted a link suggesting my friends vote for one of his photos on Fine Art America.

I told him that maybe I could help him get to the top of a building where I stay in Havana, but I couldn’t convince the person I know at that building. 

Note El Capitolio in the background
So I took Jose for his first ever visit to the sixth floor pool area of the Hotel Deauville, a few blocks away from the building I originally planned to take him. In 2010, when I first came to Cuba, the guards downstairs in Hotel Deauville watched like hawks and prevented any Cuban who was not a registered guest from taking the elevator or stairs, in order to prevent illicit activity.  My cousin, Mayito and I had wanted to exchange digital photos back then, but were not able to go to my room.  So I got permission to take Mayito to the 6th floor snack bar for beer and pizza. I decided I could do the same with Jose.

Now, maybe with the changes of governmental relations, or maybe just because the hotel has a different outlook on things, the guards no longer care who goes where.  [I’ll write more about the changes later].  We went to the 6th floor and Jose was delighted.  He took a number of photos, as did I, with my much inferior camera.  Then I told him that before he had arrived, I had gone up to the 14th floor, which was unoccupied because the ceiling had been removed and they were doing some work.  But there was an open window, and we could shoot out the window.

As we went up in the elevator, a man said to us that the 14th floor was closed. I said I’d just been there and we just wanted to look out the window.  The man was the maintenance man, and said he’d take us to the roof, which he did.
Across the water is the Cabaña, which is part of the fort, and which is where the Havana Book Fair takes place.

Jose took tons of photos from all angles. The only stupid thing I did was failing to take photos of Jose taking photos.  As he hopes to publish a book, photos of him on the roof would have been perfect.

Anyway, we took great photos, and then went to a meal at a new casa particular a block from Hotel Deauville, called Casa Abel (which is really great, by the way).  We spent about an hour comparing notes on photography, Cuba and book publishing.

Of course, Jose Rey, braced himself against the wind by using a wall. I just stood there blowing around with my iPhone.

I was hoping to get together again to buy one of his photos, but ran out of time. Somehow, I’m going to do that soon.
The Sea has been angry for days. 

Hotel Nacional with the two towers. 

If you want to see Jose Rey's photos, I don't have permission to put them here, so go to his Facebook Page. He doesn't have any there from this trip yet, but they are outstanding. 

Inferno at Sea - Stories of Death and Survival Aboard the Morro Castle - by Gretchen F. Coyle and Deborah C. Whitcraft

Inferno at Sea - Stories of Death and Survival Aboard the Morro Castle - by Gretchen F. Coyle and Deborah C. Whitcraft

Prior to coming to the Havana International Book Fair, as I researched  to figure out who was speaking when and where, I read about two American authors, whose book was being featured this year. So I went to their talk.  The presentation prior to theirs was not finished on time, because one of the recently released members of the Cuban Five was talking. So, standing outside the door in the hot sun (the first time it was actually hot during this week) I got to learn all about the authors, their current book, how they got invited, and their past and future works. Both authors were delightful, interesting and engaging, and they gave me a signed copy of their book just because I write and had gone to listen to them. The book is called Inferno at Sea.  It is a non-fiction account of a tragic sinking of a ship named Morro Castle,  after El Morro, the fort where the majority of events of the Havana International Book Fair take place.

I learned that the connection of the ship to Havana was that Havana was its weekly destination, and it many passengers and crew were Cuban citizens. I learned that it actually burned off the coast of New Jersey.  Gretchen Coyle and Deborah Whitcraft  are maritime historians, and Deborah has a museum named New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven, New Jersey, full of artifacts, writings, historic pieces and information about many historical matters.  They came to Cuba to see the book fair and perform research previously, the same year I first  attended, in 2011. While they had sought information about survivors and facts from U.S. records, what they finally received was insufficient and heavily redacted.

They found significantly more information about the ship and passengers from Cuban records, and even the day of the talk discovered a plethora of details and many more passenger names at the National Archives in Havana.  One of the passengers, Franz de Beche, who was a famous Cuban swimmer, gave away several life jackets to young women, saying that he could swim, jumped into the water holding hands with one, but disappeared. It is believed he may have been sucked into the propellers. There is a sports arena named after him. He is considered a hero in Cuba.

The authors have interviewed a number of passengers, and family members of passengers who died. In some cases the authors have provided information to family members that they were unable to learn from other sources.

One passenger who is over a hundred years old, and lived in Daytona Beach, Florida, traveled north to meet the authors and be interviewed.

Now, with the new information they acquired on this trip, they may write a second volume of the book, with descriptions of more people.

The authors have the support of well-known Cuban historian, Ciro Biancho Ross, (the man in the gray shirt who presented a lengthy introduction).  They introduced me to him, and I talked to him again the following day. i learned from several Cubans that he really is probably the most famous historian in Cuba, and has written a number of well-respected books.

You won't believe the photographic evidence of the size of the berths and common areas in those days, and the real wooden furniture that looks like it's in a hotel, not on a ship.

The book is full of clear and descriptive photographs, and devotes chapters to the ship, the trip, individual heroes, deceased passengers, surviving passengers, all along with some mystery and intrigue.

I read the whole book while sitting in the Jose Marti airport in Havana yesterday.



Feria Internacional de Libros - UNEAC - Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba

I am attending the Havana International Book Fair “Feria Internacional de Libros” for the second time. This time, as in 2011, I’ve been to some talks at UNEAC, the Association of Cuban Authors. It’s a beautiful, historic building. I didn’t take photos of it when I attended previously. The UNEAC is the building where I met Leonardo Padura, and he autographed books for me, which I had found by scouring the city. I even found a used copy of his first book of short stories on that first trip and had him sign it to me.
This trip, I’ve been to UNEAC twice to attend lectures, but Padura is talking about his new book on Saturday at the Cabaña, which is the large extension of El Morro, the fort that overlooks the inlet. The Cabaña is normally a museum, but they convert all the rooms to book displays and sales areas at this time each year. 
Below photos are at UNEAC.

Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba

Cuba - Land of Beautiful Old American Cars

Americans love photos of the old Chevy's, Lincolns, etc. cruising through Havana. They don’t realize the condition of those cars, which haven’t had maintenance since 1959.  You might be surprised as to the condition inside, the lack of shocks, and exhaust pipes. You might get asphyxiated in the back seat. But some are in good shape, thanks to Cuban ingenuity, and they are fun to look at.

Here’s an article about that:

The photos were all taken by me and not part of AP article.

US-Cuba: New life for Cuba's classic cars?
Dec. 24, 2014 10:05 AM EST

Opening of Article:

“HAVANA (AP) — Dairo Tio cruises the streets of Havana in a gleaming black 1954 Buick with polished chrome highlights and the diesel motor from an electric plant bolted beneath the hood.

When the brakes failed in his beautiful Frankenstein of a taxicab, Tio couldn't work for 15 days as he waited for a machinist to hand carve the necessary screws.
The half-century-old embargo on most U.S. exports has turned Cubans into some of the most inventive mechanics in the world, technicians capable of engineering feats long lost to the modern world of electronic ignitions and computerized engine calibration.

President Barack Obama's announcement that he is loosening the embargo through executive action has Cubans dreaming of an end to the era of cannibalizing train springs for suspensions and cutting tire patches by hand. One of the measures announced by Obama last week would allow U.S. exports to Cuba's small class of private business owners, which includes thousands of mechanics and taxi drivers who shuttle both Cubans in battered sedans for about 50 cents a ride and tourists in shiny, restored vintage vehicles for $25 an hour.

While the details of Obama's reforms remain uncertain, Cubans are hopeful that their publication in the coming weeks will end a five-decade drought of cars and parts.”

New ties with Cuba won't change immigration rules

Following is an Associated Press Story About Cuban Immigration now

New ties with Cuba won't change immigration rules
Dec. 18, 2014 2:10 PM EST
Associated Press

Beginning of Article:

“WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says the Obama administration's decision to renew diplomatic ties with Cuba won't impact immigration rules just yet.

President Barack Obama announced [in December, 2014] that the U.S. would normalize relations with the island's Communist government and open a U.S. embassy sometime next year.

In an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Thursday, Johnson says policy change won't impact immigration rules for now. He added that Cubans should not to try to come to the U.S. illegally.

Under current law Cubans who make it to U.S. soil, by sea or land, are generally allowed to permanently stay in the country under the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy. Most other immigrants face deportation if caught trying to sneak into the country.”

Article by George Will, Columnist wrote an intriguing article on the subject.

George Will: "Cuba Derangement Syndrome

Barack Obama has made a geopolitical irrelevancy suddenly relevant to American presidential politics. For decades, Cuba has been instructive as a museum of two stark failures: socialism and the U.S. embargo. Now, Cuba has become useful as a clarifier of different Republican flavors of foreign-policy thinking.

The permanent embargo was imposed in 1962 in the hope of achieving, among other things, regime change. Well. Fidel Castro, 88, has not been seen in public since January and may be even more mentally diminished than anyone — including his 83-year old brother — who still adheres to Marxism. Whatever Fidel's condition, however, Cuba has been governed by the Castros during 11 U.S. presidencies, and for more years than the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe. Regime change — even significant regime modification — has not happened in Havana.

Some conservative criticisms of Obama's new Cuba policy — which includes normalizing diplomatic and commercial relations, to the extent that presidential action can — seem reflexive. They look symptomatic of Cold War Nostalgia and 1930s Envy — yearnings for the moral clarity of the struggle with the totalitarians. Cuba's regime, although totalitarian, no longer matters in international politics. As bankrupt morally as it is economically, the regime is intellectually preposterous and an enticing model only for people who want to live where there are lots of 1950s Chevrolets.

Eleven million Cubans, however, matter. Obama's new policy is defensible if it will improve their political conditions by insinuating into Cuba economic and cultural forces that will be subversive of tyranny.

Sen. Rand Paul, a potential Republican presidential candidate, evidently considers this hope highly probable. He is correct to support giving it a try. But he may not understand how many times such wishes have fathered the thought that commerce can pacify the world. In 1910, 40 peaceful European years after the Franco-Prussian War, Norman Angell's book "The Great Illusion" became an international best-seller by arguing that war between developed industrial countries would be prohibitively expensive, hence futile, hence unlikely. Soon Europe stumbled into what was, essentially, a 30-year war.

Angell's theory was an early version of what foreign-policy analyst James Mann calls "the Starbucks fallacy," the theory that when people become accustomed to a plurality of coffee choices, they will successfully demand political pluralism. We are sadder but wiser now that this theory has been wounded, if not slain, by facts, two of which are China and Vietnam. Both combine relatively open economic systems with political systems that remain resolutely closed.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 rival of Paul's, is properly disgusted that Obama, in striking his deal with Cuba, accomplished disgracefully little for the country's breathtakingly brave democracy advocates. There are two reasons for questioning whether Obama really tried.
First, he is generally congruent with, and partly a product of, academic leftism. Hence, he might be tinged with the sentimentalism that has made Cuba a destination for political pilgrims too ideologically blinkered to see the extraordinary sadism of Cuba's treatment of its many political prisoners.

Second, Obama is so phobic about George W. Bush's miscarried "regime change" in Iraq, that he cannot embrace, or at least enunciate, a regime change policy toward Cuba. Regime change, however, must be, at bottom, the justification for his new approach.

Cuba Derangement Syndrome (CDS), a recurring fever, accounted for the Bay of Pigs calamity, the most feckless use of U.S. power ever. After this, the Kennedys, President John and Attorney General Robert, continued to encourage harebrained attempts to destabilize Cuba and assassinate its leader.
Today, CDS afflicts those who, like Rubio, charge that U.S. diplomatic relations and economic interactions "lead to legitimizing" Cuba's regime. America's doctrine about legitimacy has been clear since the Declaration of Independence: Governments derive their "just powers" from the consent of the governed. America has diplomatic and commercial relations with many regimes that are realities even though they flunk our legitimacy test.

Twenty-three years after Cuba ceased being a Soviet satellite, there is no compelling, or even coherent, argument for why Cuba, among all the world's repulsive regimes, should be the object of a U.S. policy whose rationale is to express the obvious — U.S. distaste.

What makes Rubio uncharacteristically shrill, saying Paul has "no idea what he's talking about"? And what makes Paul too clever by half when saying Rubio wants to "retreat to our borders" and hence is an "isolationist"? CDS does this. As they brawl about Cuba, a geopolitical irrelevancy, neither seems presidential.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

Coming soon to US: Cuba Libre, with real Cuban rum

Cuba Libre - It meant Free Cuba, or A Free Cuba. Everybody knows the drink, with rum, Coca Cola and lime.  They have a cola in Cuba, but it's not Coca Cola.  I've not seem many limes in Cuba. Was the drink the name behind this web site? Is Cuba free now?

I myself am not so sure how good Cuban rum made in Cuba actually is.  After Bacardi left, sugar cane crops fizzled, and all kinds of products became hard to find in Cuba. I just have my doubts.  But my friends are all asking me to bring back cigars when I return in two weeks, and I imagine I'll use up my $100 quota with cigars.  Since I neither smoke anything nor drink alcohol, it doesn't excite me much.  :)

Coming soon to US: Cuba Libre, with real Cuban rum

Dec. 22, 2014 6:29 PM EST
Associated Press
Photo From AP Article

[Opening Paragraphs]

“MIAMI (AP) — U.S. rum aficionados are abuzz over the possibility of mixing a Cuba Libre with authentic Cuban rum, now that they will be able to bring home liquor distilled in the communist nation.

Relaxed limits on what licensed U.S. travelers can bring home mean that Americans will be able to enjoy small quantities of the liquor at home. But, with the embargo still in place, the rum won't be flooding bars or the market.

And it's unclear what the news means for industry titan Bacardi, which was driven from its Cuba headquarters by the 1959 Castro revolution. In the past, Bacardi has left the door open for a return to its homeland. But company representatives wouldn't give details when asked Thursday what, if any, plans it has if the more than 50-year-old embargo on Cuban goods ends, now that President Barack Obama is working to normalize relations with the country.”