"" Writer's Wanderings: December 2018

Monday, December 31, 2018

Sparkling Holiday Gems of Florida Bay

According to the calendar, the full moon was on December 22 this year. We waited until Christmas Day evening to look for the little worms in the water that light up like green fluorescent dots in the water of the Florida Bay. There were a couple but not nearly as many as we'd seen in the past. The timing was supposedly right according to the research we'd done and the experience we'd had in years past but this year the waters of the bay didn't light up like a sparkling holiday light display until five days after the full moon instead of three. We were surprisingly rewarded on the 27th as we took our nightly walk down to the dock in front of our condo. They were dotting the waters as far as we could see.

Here is the post from a couple of years ago that explains the phenomena:

The first time we saw this phenomenon during our stay in Key Largo  was in January as we were walking in the evening after dark and I noticed something that looked shiny in the water. I thought it was a reflection of something or a piece of foil in the water. It went out and then returned a few minutes later and I realized that between a few strands of floating sea grass there was a small worm-like creature wiggling and glowing a bright green. 

Curiosity aroused, I began asking around about the glowing worm and no one seemed to know what it was. In the Bahamas some years back, we saw glowing jelly fish in the water but this was not a jelly fish. It was definitely a worm or very thin fish.

As time went on, we didn't see any more. Then someone else began asking about the glowing worms in the water. At least I knew now I wasn't the only who had seen them but when we returned to look again at dark we found nothing.

Finally one of our new friends found a link to a study about Bermuda fire worms. The description fit what we had seen. It said that the glowing, or bio luminescence, had to do with the mating that took place every month just after the full moon. When we discovered the date of the next full moon, there was quite a group of us gathered on the dock to see the fire worms.

The peek time is three days after the full moon and 57 minutes after the sun has set. The female rises to the surface and emits a bright green mucus that attracts the male who also emits a glowing mucus. The mucus apparently contains the cells necessary for reproduction. The phenomenon lasts only about thirty minutes and then the worms disappear again. 

On the peek night in March, the waters were calm and we could see little worms lighting up all over the place--sort of like the fireflies of summer at home.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Lure Of A World Cruise

Like the proverbial dangling carrot cruise lines continue to put together and advertise their world cruises by email. Every cruise line that I can think of offers world cruises although some are just extended cruises that only cover one area of the world. Few are truly around the world like the one we took in 2015.

While the idea of another world cruise has been bounced around at the dinner table several times, the cost, the time, and the chance of losing our option on our winter Florida condo rental usually stop us. The temptation is still there and every so often we explore what's available. It is too late for 2019 (world cruises usually take place in January through May) and in many cases too late to book for 2020. Still, it never hurts to "window shop", right?

Oceania, the cruise line we took to Cuba, is offering a 180 day cruise in 2020 from Miami to San Francisco--almost completely around the world. While I love cruising, I wonder if I would be okay with six months on a ship.

Crystal, the cruise line we used for our first world cruise, is probably already booked for 2020 so I looked up their 2021 cruise. It too starts in Miami but ends in London, again not a complete circuit but close. It is 138 days--thirty more days than our 2015 cruise.

I found a 2020 Holland America world cruise, round trip from Fort Lauderdale that takes in Antarctica as well, but I could only find it through an agency, the Cruise Specialists, that was advertising it. The ship, MS Amsterdam, has cruises listed on the Holland America site but the 128 day cruise is not. There is however, a 128 day gap int the itineraries for that ship. So, I'm not sure if the agency booked the whole ship and is selling passages or what? Something new to explore.

Princess Cruise Lines has a 111 day cruise that is round trip Fort Lauderdale and another that goes from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale.

I had difficulty finding world cruises for Celebrity Cruise lines and there are several other cruise lines offering world cruises that we have never sailed with. I would want to try those out before I signed up for a hundred days or so on one of their ships. If it is all too much to contemplate but it is still tempting to you, find a travel agency and let them do the research. Meanwhile, we'll be counting our pennies and swiping at that dangling carrot a couple of times. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Post Irma -- Snappers Is Back

Like so many others, we watched with great interest as Irma approached Florida early in September of 2017. There were several reasons it was important to us, the main one being our son and his family living near Miami. As they first boarded up their home and headed for Fort Meyers, we began to relax. And then Irma turned and headed straight for the west coast of Florida. We heaved a sigh of relief when our son returned to the Miami area and found shelter out of the evacuation zone with other friends there.

Then Irma headed directly for the Florida keys. More specifically right for the area where we spend our winters. The good news, I said to Bob, is that we don't own the condo. The bad news is that we may have to spend the winter up north.

Irma approached with a vengeance, hitting the area just south of Key Largo the hardest.As we watched people prepare, a CNN report featured our favorite restaurant for Sunday brunch which sits on the ocean side of Key Largo and right on the water's edge. The CNN reporter interviewed the owner and the people gathered at the Snappers outdoor bar as they awaited the storm and speculated about what its impact might be.

When we arrived in January of 2018, Irma had left her mark. Debris was still littering the median strip of the Overseas Highway especially as you drove further south into the keys. There was a large area near Marathon that appeared to have been cleared by a giant bulldozer. What happened to Snappers we wondered?

Our first Sunday we found that Snappers was indeed open but they were using a food truck to prepare food. With no kitchen, there was no dishwasher so all the silverware and dishes were disposable. The boardwalk in front of the restaurant where there was outdoor seating had survived but the inside of the restaurant itself had been totally destroyed. A waitress told us the inside had been filled with seaweed and debris from the ocean.

Fast forward to our first Sunday of this season. We came down a bit early--just before Christmas. To our surprise, the front door was open and we walked into a brand new interior. It's quite updated and a bit more modern looking than the rustic old interior but they had just started working out of their new kitchen a few days before and we ate off of real china and silverware. We still chose to eat outside. After all, that's what we come to Florida for in the winter--the weather.

We look forward to visiting Snappers often especially as they expand to their full menu again. So glad to see how resilient people can be.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Frosty--In Florida?

When you spend Christmas in Florida, this is all the Frosty you get. Still, I hear it's a magical hat. Hmmm.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Books For The Road--Gray Mountain by John Grisham

An audio book always helps to pass the time on the drive down to Florida from home. I picked Gray Mountain by John Grisham but as it started I had the feeling I had already read it. I think perhaps I read a similar book with the theme of a lawyer who is forced to work in a nonprofit legal aid organization or else I just didn't log it in my list of books read. Yes, I keep a list. When you read 40-50 books a year you lose track of those you've read--at least at my age you do.

Gray Mountain turned out to be a great book to listen to together and we made comments to each other as the story unfolded. It kept our interest and kept us entertained as we logged the miles south through a lot of rain and fog but thankfully, no snow.

The story is of a lawyer, Samantha Kofer, who is up and coming in her large law firm that deals with real estate in New York City. It's hectic and leaves little time for a personal life. The good life all comes to a quick end when she is laid off because of the banking crisis. She's promised a good position when her "furlough" is up but only if she works for a nonprofit for twelve months while off the job--and for free.

She finds herself in the little town of Brady, Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountains with clients who are in desperate need of her help as a lawyer. The question I leave you with is: will she run back to New York and try another job or will she stick it out, feeling needed and important in the lives of her clients? You probably guess but read the book. It is full of danger and intrigue and will keep you turning pages, plugging in or scrolling through, however you indulge in the reading of it.

Being an audio book, this was truly a book for the road.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

It's A Christmas Parade!!

On our snowbird migration south, we stopped at one of our favorite places, Fernadina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida. It was a Saturday night and the town was geared up for a Christmas Parade. We skipped our usual restaurant in favor of one that was open a little earlier so that we could get dinner done and watch the parade that was due to start at six.

People were congregating and kids were getting excited. By the time six o'clock arrived, the main street was lined with people and everyone had staked out their spot. It was a little chilly for Florida but Amelia Island can be that way in the early winter months. Still, it didn't take more than a light jacket to keep warm.

Six o'clock came and passed and we could only imagine what might be happening in the organization to bring floats and marchers together. Before long we saw the flashes of light from the police car that was leading the parade. Kids and adults alike cheered.

Now the thing that I love about small town parades is that everyone has a part. First the honor guard the send in the fire engines! Follow them up with every civic group you can think of and a few very creative ones--like a pirate club. There was motorcycle club, a jeep club and the Shriners in their little cars. All were decorated to the hilt with colorful lights and Christmas decoration.

Floats included some Santas and angels and a Frosty as well as what looked like an Easter bunny to which someone yelled, "Wrong holiday!"

The high school marching band had their instruments decked out in lights and in the middle was a suspicious looking Santa. It was a hoot.

There was a huge truck from a local company that had trouble making the turn at the corner with so many people gathered there. Traffic controllers moved the crowd and directed the truck that backed up a couple of times until it cleared poles and people to a rousing cheer from the crowd.

The parade was a good forty-five minutes long and I was so entranced that I barely moved and suddenly realized my knees had just about locked in place. A little maneuvering and some oil for the new knee (just kidding) and we walked quickly to our favorite ice cream parlor for a small cone.

The night was magical, as Bob would say, with all the lights and the joy of towns people as they each other with "Merry Christmas!"  And no one missed the snow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Oglebay Festival of LIghts

After having dinner in the Wilson Lodge at Oglebay, we set out in our car to see the Festival of Lights. The drive through the light display is over six miles of winding road that loops around the park. You can see it by driving your own vehicle or you can purchase tickets for the trolley that leaves from the lodge. Our weekday package at the lodge included our donation ($25) to the festival and we had received four sets of 3-D glasses. There was a booth set up for those who came into the park where they were asked to donate.

As we drove, we tried to figure out where the start was and finally determined that there really wasn't a start and finish exactly. It was hard to tell where we'd been and where to go next. There were arrows on signs to indicate direction but cars were going both ways on the roads so there really wasn't just one way to go. It was impossible to follow the map and see the lights at the same time. We gave up and just followed the traffic and continued on until we began to see a repeat of displays.

What really had us confused was the set of 3-D glasses we had. We would try them on and look at displays but they really didn't seem to do much but make the lights blurry. At one point though, I had the glasses on and was looking at the car in front of us. "Oh my gosh!" I said to Bob. "That car's tail lights are reindeer heads!"

The glasses I had made the car lights and street lights look like reindeer but the glasses Bob grabbed made them look like snowflakes. We exchanged glasses and tried out the others. One pair was another snowflake with a different design and the other just made lights into a prism. If they were supposed to enhance the actual light displays, we never figured out how but they were fun and we saved them to have some fun with our grandkids later.

When we were done, we returned to the lodge and went up to the big gathering room and enjoyed some wonderful hot chocolate before calling it a night.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Oglebay -- The Mansion

The Oglebay Festival of Lights advertisement on television played over and over again as Christmas was nearing. So I caved. I suggested to Bob that we start our migration to Florida a day earlier and stop over at Oglebay near Wheeling, WV, to see what all the fuss was.

From our area near Cleveland, Oglebay was about 3 hours drive, give or take, depending upon whether we followed Google or our car's GPS navigation. We started out with a sunny day and left just before noon. Check in wasn't until four so we had plenty of time to stop and get lunch along the way. Instead of going all the way down I77 and taking I70 east to Wheeling, we decided to take Route 250 over. Yes, it went through a lot of farmland and there were a few small towns but it was a lot more scenic than the interstate.

We arrived a little early and did a soft check in, receiving our car pass, souvenir ornament, ticket to breakfast, and a set of 3-D glasses for our light tour. We left a cell number for the desk to call us when our room was ready and ventured off to visit the Oglebay mansion to kill some time. I'm glad we did. The mansion was beautifully decorated and we learned a little history about how Oglebay came to be.

Earl Oglebay was actually born in Bridgeport, Ohio in 1849 but as a small child, his family moved to Wheeling where he grew up and eventually attended Bethany College. At the age of 28 he became the youngest bank president (National Bank of West Virginia) in the US. In 1881 he married Sallie Howell and the next year they had their only child, Sarita. While living in Cleveland for a short time, he joined with David Z Norton to form the Oglebay Norton Company which was involved with the mining and shipping of iron ore, coal and steel products in the Great Lakes Region.

In 1900, he purchased Waddington Farm (now Oglebay Park) and returned to West Virginia where he applied scientific farm principles to improve farming in the area. He enlisted experts and established a working farm. Upon his death in 1926, he left the property and buildings to the city of Wheeling which led to the eventual creation of Oglebay Park.

The mansion where the family lived has been furnished with period furniture and the self guided tour leads you from room to room with many of the rooms having an audio box that will narrate the history and explain the furnishings of the room. Of course, it being the Christmas season, the rooms were beautifully decorated although some of the themes of the rooms did not fit the historical period. Still, it was all quite nice a good distraction to pass the time until we could get into our room at the lodge.

There are several buildings including a glass museum that you can explore and of course, several gift shops. The park also has a zoo of sorts but we didn't get over to see that. Looking out over the acreage, we guessed it would truly be beautiful in the fall with all the colors that season brings.

Our room at the lodge was bigger than expected with a sitting area and a patio outside our door which would be super in warmer weather. It was a long walk to the restaurant for dinner but all the wings of the lodge are connected so we didn't have to go out in the cold. As we waited for dinner time, we enjoyed the beautiful huge lodge gathering room with two fireplaces. A little relaxing reading in front of the fire was appreciated. Later, after our light display experience, we would return for hot chocolate.

The lodge gathering room
We chose to skip the dinner buffet and go to the grill where we had a nice meal. The main restaurant though would have been nice with a view of some of the lights. We realized that the next morning when we had our breakfast. Dinner done, the sun had set. We were ready to see the lights.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Books For The Road--About My Mother. . .by Peggy Rowe

Remember the Dirty Jobs guy? Mike Rowe? Well, his mom has written a memoir--about her mother and their relationship. The last half of the title is: True Stories of a Horse-Crazy Daughter and her Baseball Obsessed Mother. Now I got this book as a gift from my son and his family. Apparently he was familiar with a blog either Peggy Rowe publishes or contributes to. He said he thought she had a great sense of humor. I looked at the title and wondered if the "baseball obsessed" part his a familiar chord with him. I wouldn't say I was obsessed but I do love baseball.

The book was easy to get into and even easier to keep on reading. Rowe has a humorous and comfortable approach to her storytelling and brings the reader right into her stories. It didn't hurt any that she was writing about a time that was just a few years behind the years when I grew up. I could relate.

The stories follow a timeline and take you through her younger years and into her adult years all the while illustrating her maturing relationship with her mother. Who hasn't cringed the first time Mom came to dinner? Add to that stress setting the chimney on fire and not allowing enough time for the roast to cook. The stories go on and the chuckles continue. It's an uplifting journey through a mother/daughter relationship spanning a few decades.

Great book for a light read and lots of smiles. So glad my son picked it out--no matter what the reason.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Bananas Have A History

One of the more interesting and fun talks we listened to on our Cuba cruise was about bananas. We were told not to miss it because we'd go bananas for it. Yeah and there were a few more puns along the way. But I found it very interesting. Unfortunately I didn't take any notes so I needed to look up some history on the internet in order to post some interesting background on bananas. Inquiring minds want to know after all.

Long, long ago the banana grew in Asia. It managed to move to Africa and eventually to the islands of the Caribbean and Central America thanks to the explorers. They started to become popular around 1834 with their popularity exploding around 1880 as more banana were cultivated and the produce shipped to the east coast of the United States.

The first bananas were more like plantains, not real sweet until cooked. The banana evolved due to the cultivation to try to make it resistant to disease--mainly a fungus that destroyed many banana plants in the early days.

Dole and Chiquita are the top brands today and evolved from earlier companies. Chiquita from the United Fruit Company and Dole from the Standard Fruit Company. Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica became the major producers of bananas.

Banana plants are not trees though they look like palms. They actually are herbs. The stalks or "trunks" are formed by the leaf stalks wrapping around each other. It takes about 9 months for a plant to produce bananas. When the bunch of bananas are harvested, the mother plant dies but small little plants grow from the base. Below the ground is actually a rhizome. The little plants can be separated and transplanted to grow more banana plants.

The leaves are so large that our speaker said she believed that Adam and Eve would have gotten better coverage if they'd chosen banana leaves rather than fig.

But the really interesting thing we learned about bananas was that, in the beginning, people weren't sure how to eat them. For that information, they turned to monkeys. Yes, I said monkeys. Monkeys take the banana and instead of starting with the stem end, they start at the other end. So if you pinch the end opposite the stem and peal back the skin, you can use the stem as a handle while you eat.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cuba--The Cars, The People, The Beauty

You went to Cuba. Did you see the cars?

That is the first question everyone asks when they discover that we visited the beautiful island of Cuba, rich in history and beautifully adorned with vistas that make you want to linger. Cuba is much more than the old cars that are tuned up and polished with love but it does say a lot about the people of Cuba.

Havana was the place we saw the most cars. It is a little more affluent than the other two ports we visited. In those ports there were more carts and horses but then they did not have the big city atmosphere of Havana either. In Havana, the cars were often used as taxis or for tours of the city. We saw tourists stopping at many of the same places we did by bus only they were getting there in old convertible cars some of which had not originally been convertible.

If the contact we had with people showed me anything, it illustrated how resilient the people are. They have been through good times but also some really hard times. They live on ration cards receiving supplies of food from the government. They are now beginning to receive some promise of earning more money through setting up their own businesses and many are getting into the tourism area that is helping to improve their economy.

One of our fellow passengers told us their guide had said that a country is not its government. A country is its people. It reminded me of a tour guide in Viet Nam who said to us that when people mention VIet Nam they think war but Viet Nam is a country. I hope others will judge our country not by the wars we've fought or the things our government does but by the hearts of the people who make up the country.

I saw kindness, resilience and ingenuity. Our tour guide pointed to a car as it went by and said she is amazed at how they keep them running. Lift the hood and you may find parts from a coffee maker keeping the engine going. The kids who don't want to stay in regular school are enrolled in learning a trade--restoration of old buildings. As the kids learn, they are also providing labor to prepare Havana for their 500th anniversary in 2019. In a few years, many of those beautiful architectural buildings will be returned to their original appearance.

There is much more of Cuba to be explored I'm sure than just the taste that we received. I have no idea what life is truly like, especially away from the ports that we explored. As a tourist you see what is offered to you. But I think we got a glimpse of the real Cuba in the people we met. There were times that we sat in a church or cathedral to get out of the sun. As we did, I prayed for the people of Cuba. May God bless them.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Port of Call: Havana -- Plaza de Armas

Our last stop on our walking tour of Old Town Havana was the Plaza de Armas. It is the oldest plaza of Havana and dates back to around 1519 when Havana was first established. The name has to do with military arms and is where there were military parades, music concerts, and formal evening promenades.

The Plaza de Armas was the administrative and political center into the mid-twentieth century. The buildings surrounding the square are representative of four centuries but the one that caught my attention was the one with a great story behind it--or perhaps I should say in front of it.

The wooden street.
The Placio de los Capitanes Generales or Palace of the Captain Generals was a beautiful building that is not a museum. All of the streets around the plaza are cobble stone except for the stretch in front of the palace. As our guide told us, one of the generals (or governors) had a wife who complained that the noise of the horses and carriages kept her awake. In order to have peace in the family, he ordered that the cobble stone in front of the palace be replaced with wood.

This plaza had quite a nice park with trees and flowering bushes. In the center was a statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the man who began the process of independence from Spain.

The other interesting building on the plaza is El Templete which almost looks like a Roman temple. It is on the site of the first mass ant the town council of Havana on November 16,1519. There is a ceiba tree in the courtyard that marks the place where the mass was held. Every year people gather near midnight of the 15th and as the new day arrives they circle the tree three times and make a wish for the future as a celebration of the anniversary.

A lady dressed in bright clothing was wandering through the tour groups and encouraging people to take pictures with her for a CUC ($1 USD). Our tour guide had told us about these ladies who wear very red lipstick so they can plant a bright red kiss on your cheek for the picture. It was obvious that the cruise industry is having an impact on their economy as the lady stopped our tour guide to ask when the next cruise ship was expected.

While some on our tour went off with the tour guide at the end of our tour to buy some scarves at a store that wasn't on our prohibited list, we told her thank you, gave her a tip, and made our way back to the ship which was a short walk along the Malecon, the sea wall that extends along the water's edge of the harbor for almost 5 miles.

The day was heating up or I may have been tempted to explore on our own a bit. Old Town Havana was fascinating.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Port of Call: Havana--Plaza de la Catedral

On our way to the Plaza de la Catedral from the Plaza Vieja we stopped in at the Hotel Ambos Mundos made famous by Ernest Hemingway. I was excited when our guide said that we were going in. We had passed on a Hemingway tour in favor of getting a more overall picture of Havana and I was envious of some of the reports from those who had taken the Hemingway tour.

The hotel was built in 1924 and Hemingway lived there for several years in the 1930s. His room was on the fifth floor from which he had views of the Havana harbor where he fished frequently on his boat, Pilar.

He rented the room for $1.50 a night and stayed until he moved his winter residence to a hillside just outside of Havana. He began his novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls, in room 511 which is set up as he would have had it and houses a small museum. Tours of the room/museum are available daily.

The hotel still books guests and as we entered the lobby there were some at the small bar and sitting in the comfortable sofas scattered around. What fascinated Bob and I immediately was the old elevator. It was one you see in old movies all the time--a cage in the middle of a taller cage of bars that stretched from one floor to another. I took one picture before I realized it was actually functional. When the elevator came down, I took another.

After examining the elevator, we moved to a small corner in the back of the lobby that had pictures of Hemingway and the man who was his fishing buddy, Gregorio Fuentes, who many think Santiago in the story, The Old Man And The Sea, was fashioned after. The hotel stop was a little bit of Hemingway and I enjoyed it.

One of the other interesting things we saw on the way to the Plaza de la Catedral was a gun museum. Guns are not allowed unless you are a collector and can pass the rigorous screening. Add Cuba to the growing list of countries who have strict gun control.

Along the way we also stopped for a few minutes to admire a huge mural that while it looks like a painting, it is actually an amazing mosaic made of small stones. It depicts 67 figures of art and history in Cuba. The small rocks were soaked in acrylic resin to get the 13 shades of the four basic colors in the mural. It is also a mirror image of the building across from it.

We wandered around a bit and went into the Cathedral to sit for a few minutes and enjoy the decor. Outside, from across the plaza, you can see that the two towers are different in size. When they were building the second tower, they realized they had to make it smaller because it was encroaching on the side street. Bells from the towers were out on the plaza in front of the cathedral as it was being renovated.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Port of Call: Havana -- Plaza Veija

Old Town Havana is made up of four plazas. After exploring the San Francisco Plaza, our walking tour took us to the Plaza Veija. This square seemed much larger than the first and perhaps a little newer although that could have been due to the restored buildings.

On one end of the plaza was of course a church. Our guide talked with us a bit about what is one of the main religions, Santeria. While the church is Catholic, it also accommodates those who worship a combination of Catholic saints and African deities.

Santeria focuses on building relationships between human beings and powerful but mortal spirits called orishas which are considered a manifestation of God. Those who follow believe that these spirits will give them help in life if they perform the appropriate rituals. The orishas will then enable them to achieve what God planned for them before they were born.

There is a Roman Catholic element in all this. Orishas are associated with Catholic saints. For example St Barbara/Shango, Our Lady of Charity/Ochun, Saint Lazarus/Babalu-Aye. Followers of Santeria are often in attendance at Roman Catholic services.

The rituals of Santeria that enable followers to stay in touch with the orishas involve drumming, dancing, speaking and eating with the spirits. Apparently the spirits "seize the head" of a follower allowing for the communication to be possible. There is also some animal sacrifice involved but it is mainly to prepare food for the orishas.

Members join as adults after receiving what they say is a call from an orisha. There is an initiation period for those who are called to be a priest or priestess in which they must go through four initiation rituals earning several items (like a beaded necklace) along the way and then wear white for a year while not having any physical contact with others not in the faith.

I have probably simplified the explanation of Sangeria too much but it all points to why we were told to avoid those who were wearing white and not take pictures as it would interfere with their initiation.

The Plaza Vieja was built actually to be a market place when the worshipers at San Francisco said that the market place in that plaza was so close to the church that there was too much noise. When the old Plaza Vieja was restored, they outlined the places where market booths were. You can see the squares marked off in the picture.

One of the more unusual statues we found was the rooster with a woman riding it carrying a huge fork. Our lecturer on the ship had said it was symbolic of wanting to feed the family but our tour guide (a female) said it was to illustrate how a woman rules the home.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Port of Call: Havana--Old Town

An early breakfast (7 AM is early when you're on a cruise) and we were soon on our way to meet our guide for our walking tour. We went through a similar process of showing passports and bags scanned but they seemed a little more laid back that morning. Our Enrichment Lecturer, Sandy Cares, had said that the women security personnel had an unusual uniform. She was right. They were in a tight and very short khaki skirt with either black fishnet or lacy patterned hose. Still, they pulled off a professional, all business, demeanor as they checked us through.

We met below the terminal again but this time we didn't board buses. I was so happy to not be on a bus. Now I could take pictures without worrying about the tinted window, reflections, and movement. Once we were all assembled, our guide introduced herself and we started out crossing the four lane boulevard in front of the terminal with the help of a traffic control person.

Right across from the cruise/ferry terminal is the Plaza de San Francisco. Of course every plaza was to have a church and this was named for the church that sat at one end. Our guide took time to caution us about the people we would encounter on our walk. There would be vendors and people who were dressed up wanting a CUC ($1 USD) for a picture of them. Others might be making sketches of us and then offering the sketches to us for payment. As she spoke, a man in a clown costume with a small dog sitting on top of his head approached us. She greeted him with a smile and said something in Spanish. He smiled back and moved away a bit. This would be repeated several times throughout our tour, twice when she embraced the vendors and apparently asked them to give us some room. I have never seen such kindness in a tour guide toward those who are trying to sell things to tour groups. Also, I've never seen people who are desperate to sell what they have to offer actually give space to the tour group. We never felt haggled or unsafe or bothered even when it was someone just begging which didn't happen nearly as much as I thought it might.

We wandered around the San Francisco plaza a bit and of course took a picture with "El Caballero de Paris" Jose Maria Lopez Liedin. There are all sorts of stories about him but the one that seems to emerge the most is that he was a dreamer who wandered the streets sharing dreams and stories with anyone who would listen. It is said that if you touch the beard, hand and shoe of the bronze statue your dreams will come true. They are obviously the shiniest parts of the bronze.

There were several dogs roaming around and sometimes coming up to us in a friendly approach. We noticed that a few had a collar with a white tag attached. Our guide explained that these were actually employed by the historical department. Sort of good-will ambassadors. People were asked to love them and feed them. She didn't explain what happened to the ones without a tag. A little research showed me that there is a movement underway in Havana to neuter strays and vaccinate them and encourage people to adopt them. Here's a link to the story I found.

The only traffic in the Old Town area consisted of a few trucks where there was some restoration work going on. The rest of the time it was all pedestrian and made for a comfortable walk as we moved on to the next plaza.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Port of Call: Havana--Parisien Cabaret

In hindsight, I wish I had researched the Hotel Nacional de Cuba a bit more before our evening out in Cuba at the Parisien Cabaret. The only thing I noted from our Enrichment Lecture was that the hotel was based on the Miami Breakers Hotel. I would have done a bit more exploring had I known more of its history.

The hotel is built on the ruins of the Santa Clara Battery on a hill overlooking the ocean and which dates back to 1797. Part of the battery has been preserved in the gardens including two of the cannons. Of course it was dark when we were at the hotel and even though we glimpsed the garden, I didn't notice them. There was a lot more to see inside.

Hotel Nacional was opened in  December of 1930. It had American managers connected to other large hotel chains at a time when Cuba was a desired destination for American tourists. It was the site of a bloody siege in 1933 during the time when Batista was taking control.

A Chicago developer acquired the hotel in the 1940s and it was a part of the Kirkeby Hotels for over a decade. In 1946 the hotel hosted the Havana Conference which was a gathering of mob leaders organized by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky and attended by many other prominent members of the mob. It was dramatized by Francis Ford Coppola in the Godfather II movie.

In the 1950s the hotel changed hands and was invested by other Americans some of whom belonged to the mob as well. A casino would be added to the hotel as just one of many established in Havana.

The Parisien opened in 1956 with a performance by Ertha Kitt who was also the first black to be allowed to stay at the hotel. Earlier Nat King Cole had been refused a room even though he was performing at the Tropicana.

Fidel Castro nationalized the hotel in March of 1960 shutting down the casino there as well as in other hotels in Havana. The hotel was used mostly to house visiting diplomats until 1991 when the fall of the USSR forced the Cuban communist party to open again to tourism because of the need to boost the economy.

The Hotel Nacional has had many famous visitors in its more than eighty years of existence. Frank Sinatra, Rita Haywood and Ernest Hemingway among many more are pictured in the small museum by the bar.

We walked into a beautiful lobby with glamorous chandeliers and were ushered into a large ballroom to meet some of the cast members of the show we were here to enjoy. Our glamorous show was held in a room that we were told seated 350. Of course to get that many in, we were quite cramped at the tables set up. The show was energetic and colorful with a large cast and a lot of costume changes. Along with the singers and dancers were acrobats, a drum player and a contortionist.

While it was a great night out, we were glad to be back to the ship and hustled into bed as it would be another early call in the morning for our walking tour of Havana.

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