Monday, March 27, 2017

Escaping the gray

I love Oregon. I love Portland. There is no place I would rather live, truly. But...

In normal years February is oppressively gray. Rain, yes, but mostly it is the gray sky and dim, dusty light of February that makes it such a hard month to get through. But we get through it. This year it has essentially been February since last October. It has been the grayest, rainiest, snowiest, and seemingly the longest, winter in recorded memory. It has rained (or snowed) almost every day up to, and including today. Going anywhere outside one's own house became pure misery. But Saturday morning I had had enough. The sun was out—who knew for how long— and I needed to get out! I had not been downtown in a longtime. The last time was when, in a similar fit of cabin fever I had discovered a new-to-me art store. I had not visited my favorite inspirational store, Cargo, since it moved across the river, so it seemed like a worthy adventure to track it down. I confess I seldom buy anything there—it's more like a museum experience for me, and on Saturday morning it worked some magic to wander and ponder and touch the curiosities and beautiful objects they so artfully gather from around the world. The gray in my brain began to clear.

The next morning the rain was back, with a vengeance, and now Ray was having his own attack of gray-induced, claustrophobia. Knowing the positive effect my outing the previous day had had on me, I was happy to accompany him to his version of happy color/retail inspiration—the garden center. It worked.

Will our long, gray winter ever end? Maybe. Today has offered us sun breaks between showers, and signs on my morning walk, that behind the gray the earth really does know it is spring.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Cuba: The beautiful

In the two weeks since our return from Cuba, we have pored over our photos, and remembered, again and again, every moment. We agree it was, maybe, our best trip ever. We have realized how little we knew and that what preconceived ideas we had didn't quite line up with reality. We went with open minds and hearts and realize that our brief time, while enlightening in many ways, was a mere glimpse of a complex culture. What I keep remembering, though, are moments of grace and beauty, that are a thread, a theme. Art, in all its incarnations, is, it seems, Cuba's heart. Music everywhere. Not the kind of elevator music we experience in our "everywhere" but real, live, excellent music—the violinist in the breakfast room, the guitarist in the square, the combo on the patio, the chamber orchestra in the museum.

Art everywhere—

In Havana we visited a professional dance company, housed in a derelict old building with boarded up windows and dangerous stairs, but the young dancers thrilled and amazed

In Cienfuegos we fell in love with a company of children carrying forward traditional dance of Cuba.

In Santa Clara, Senior Citizens taught us the basics of traditional Cuban danzón.

Most beautiful, in Cuba, are the people. Did you expect them to be downtrodden, heavily burdened by an oppressive system, suffering? I confess, I kind of did expect that, but it is not what I saw. What I saw was a vibrant spirit, humor, intelligence, pride and an enthusiasm for life.

And for natural beauty, it is just hard to beat a tropical island.

So, I will finish my Cuba posts with this iconic Cuban image—Havana sunset along the Malecon.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Cuba: Life on Havana streets

Much of our time in Cuba was structured around educational activities—lectures, performances, museums, but equally interesting and wonderful, for me, was our time spent walking and riding through the streets of Havana and observing life in the city. The day we arrived we had some time, after checking into our very grand hotel, to rest or explore on our own. Ray and I chose to head out, on foot, to get a feel for the neighborhood. We found ourselves in an area of well-worn mid-century office and apartment buildings and old cars. Despite a general grittiness, I was charmed by the decorative panels inset into the sidewalks. They spoke of a definite '50s design aesthetic and seem to have held up quite well—better than most of the buildings of the same

The next day we were headed into the heart of Havana Vieja (Old Havana) and our route took us through the crowded semi-old neighborhoods, filled with the life of the city. Beautiful children, workers, public servants and elders living the lives of average Cubans. To our American eyes they may look poor, even impoverished, but our Cuban guide was quick to correct that notion. There is no unemployment, there are no homeless. Everyone eats. Everyone receives excellent free healthcare and all children attend good public schools. You may wish to debate the finer points and nuances of life in a Socialist society, and wonder how they live without the internet and free press and clean, drinkable water and so many of the things we find essential, but those first statements are basic truths about life in Cuba. We saw, of course, what they wanted us to see, but there was no denying a beautiful spirit in the people

The heart of Havana Vieja, in contrast to the neighborhoods, is dressed up for company! The buildings have been, and continue to be renovated and beautifully restored. The people dressed in their colorful colonial dress are hoping for a small tip for having their picture taken, or offering up some live music. The lady in red will tell your fortune and vendors will tempt you with local treats.

This lady advertised her paper cones of peanuts by singing out out "maniiiiiiiiiiiiii" in a rich operatic alto that could be heard from across the plaza. All requests come with a smile or a wink.

In Havana, all is beautiful...

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