Waves2You

Glimpses of places and people, trees and textiles found while traveling from May to December 2013. Coming your way in small wavelets from time to time.

Category: Uncategorized

¡Que Viva Havana!

image Havana is alive and change is in the air. Here is a street scene in the old city. Buildings are being renovated everywhere you go, tourists stroll, vendors hawk wares, old cars vie for tourist trade as taxis, and sections of the city are ready for you to come visit. Do it soon!
image. Semester at Sea made a big splash with its visit to Cuba. It was on their national news, the convoy of busses had police escort everywhere, and people lined the malacon to look at the ship. It was news for sure. So, here are a few glimpses of our three days in town. It had been nine years since the program last visited Cuba. So, as an official welcome, the SAS students climbed the 88 stairs to enter the University of Havana–a symbolic event to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”image We were lucky to meet up with Lily who is finishing her Phd. in history at the University of Havana. We met her in St. Paul a few years ago when she was a visiting scholar. She invited us to her home for dinner and was a wonderful host for a lovely evening. Here she is with her husband, Arturo, and daughter Rachel. image We took a ‘Hemingway tour’ and visited his favorite fishing village and also his home in the hills outside of the city–airy rooms, tile floors, and apart from all the trophy animal heads on nearly every wall, a delightful place from the 1930’s full of his belongings as well as his aura.
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Here are a few of those old cars: image And here we are with a statue of a beloved character from the streets of Havana in the 1960’s and 70’s, misunderstood in his time but now cast in bronze.image
All in all, Havana ended this voyage well. Students met students and they talked and danced together. Spending time with Lily gave us a taste of how hard day to day life is on the current double currency. On our own we enjoyed the old buildings which are beautiful and elegant even as they are also dilapidated. A few restored hotels with Art Deco reception areas, marble columns and stairways, and tall ceilings invite you to come visit before it all changes. Havana is alive with the music and spirit that it is known for, but change is in the air. May it thrive in its own way. ¡Que viva Havana y Cuba! image This blog ends Waves2You for now as we set sail for Florida tomorrow and then in just a few more days it is back to St. Paul and home. Thanks for reading along. When the grass is too long under our feet again, I’ll let you know.
Bye for now.

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Orixas

image A wonderful find in Salvador which will end my posts on this intriguing city was MAFRO, the Museu Afro-Brasileiro. It houses artifacts from both Africa and Brazil and when we visited it had a special exhibit of costumes from the Congo. But the most memorable section of the museum houses twenty-six panels of carved cedar that depict orixas–the gods and goddesses still alive and well in Bahia. They live on in the lives of many of the descendants of slaves. Each image has powers over aspects of nature and also human strengths or traits. They symbolize a day, a color, a quality to be wished for or avoided. The intricacies of these orixas will take a long time to unravel, so in the moment there I focused on the amazing craftsmanship of the artist who had carved the panels. Hector Julio Paride Bernabo lived with, studied and was taken in as a member of a candomble. His name became Carybe, and above is his depiction of Oxalufan–old and wise, the orixa of procreation; a strong god in his youth, this image shows him in his old age. Below him was this image of a snail.
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Other images of the goddess of the sea, of hunters, of the rainbow which represents wealth, and so many more works covered the four walls. image
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I went back to this room in the MAFRO twice to admire the craftsmanship and to soak up the images, the myths and the magic: Baba-Abaola, Exu, Ogun, Oxossi, Omulu, Nan, Ibualama, Logun Ede; such other worldly names. If you get to Salvador de Bahia, the work of Carybe is a must see.

Balanganda

image Balangandas catch your eye right away amid the tourist stuff that you have seen before. Something very new and intriguing. A beautiful shop in Salvador, owned by a Frenchman who has lived in Brazil for 30 years, has copies of balangandas in both fake silver and real silver. Originally, a slave woman would begin to create one by receiving a silver chain as a necklace. Then she would get an arc with two globes at each end, one representing Africa and the other Brazil. Then various charms would be added representing fruits in Brazil, a traditional musical instrument, a wooden arm and hand with the thumb between index and middle finger to represent luck, a gourd attached to a long handle used by men on horseback to scoop up water to drink from a stream, and more fruits. As it got heavier and the silver added up she usually wore the ornament pinned to her waistband.

Balangandas come from the time before slaves were freed by law. When a woman had gathered enough charms she could buy her freedom. And, how does she acquire these charms, you may ask? Well, they are given to her by her master for ‘favors given’. The story even goes so far as to say that slave women competed with each other for more beautiful balangandas with more charms of better quality silver.

Once free, these same women became the cooks of the street who celebrate their annual holiday on 25 November. While the story these pins tell is of a double slavery of sorts, you cannot help but admire the workmanship and beauty of the balangandas. It took years for a slave woman to gather enough charms, but they were a path to freedom. image

November 25 in Salvador, Bahia

image Salvador, Brazil is a huge city of several million people. Its reputation for violence persists. Yet, arriving early it floated on the sea, and beckoned. Not like Rio with its green hills, but it looked intriguing. Our short stay took us into the old “Upper City” of colonial buildings, restored and painted and full of pleasant shops, restaurants and small government run museums. Police presence and warnings kept us in a fairly small area that is safe. It is surrounded by favelas, those amazing housing complexes that are embedded in Brazilian cities rather than only on the outskirts. Here is a glimpse of the Upper City.
image We arrived on November 25 when there is an annual festival to celebrate the women of Bahia–the women who when freed from slavery knew how to cook, so in order to survive put their kitchens in the street and sold food. They are still there, and the food is uniquely theirs. As we approached the ‘slave church’ at noon, the festival procession was just entering. The church was crowded, and there was singing in call and response, the sounds of cymbals and drums, swaying bodies, incense, the tray of food being offered for a blessing; a mix of Catholic and ‘Candomble’, the religion the Yoruba brought with them from West Africa. Here is how it felt up close. I found the necklaces, bracelets, and rings wonderful.image
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More beads and rings.
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And the food…
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Outside the church is the gate, people kept arriving and tied ribbons to make wishes. The ribbons’ colors have meaning, and you tie three knots for three wishes, and also for the Trinity. The Catholic and Candomble messages, the ceremonies, the traditions and the people are all tied together.
What luck to be there on the one day of the year this happens.
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Who Was That Masked…

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In transit between Rio and Salvador, Brazil we enjoyed two days at sea with beautiful weather and these wonderful visitors who followed the ship.  They dove for the flying fish stirred up by the prow and then circled, banked, flew up the side of the ship to eye level and almost arms reach; and, then they did it again and again, and again.  What a show!  I could have watched for hours, and almost did. So, here you have: the Masked Booby [sula dactylatra]. Black head=juvenile. White head=adult.

imageHere comes another one…image and another…image A few of us known to be outside on deck whenever possible spent happy, happy minutes at the rail watching these beauties soar and dive. How lucky!

Rio! Otro Abrazo

image Waves2You was so happy to see all these waves in the mosaic sidewalks that cover almost all of Rio’s main streets. Like a hug for your feet. But, the best was spending day two in Rio with Marcio, a Gustavus grad we have known for 30 years! He talked us through the city–story after story mixed with history and sights, sounds and the sun. He clearly loves his home town and being with him, we did too.image From Sugar Loaf to the dramatic Municipal Theatre and the gold-gilded church of San Francisco we navigated the busy streets and the heat. The theatre was recently renovated and the lobby outshone the rest with onyx, marble, stained glass, flair, grandeur and a mix of Old and New World tastes.image
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With Marcio with visited Copacabana beach, imagethe national library, the lovely Confeitaria Colombo with its Belgian mirrors from ceiling to floor and its old style waiters. We ate several small bites of chicken in pastry, spinach in pastry, fish croquette; stylish and delicious treats.imageAnother treat on the streets of Rio is the Brazilian “churrao”. This vendor knew us when we lined up for the second time in one day!image Sitting in traffic is a reality in Rio but with Marcio it hardly mattered. We enjoyed a long, leisurely day with an old friend. What better? It was another hug from Rio.image

Rio! Un abrazo!

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Rio de Janeiro is hugged by the mountains all around it.  And what a city!  It is so green, the topography takes your breath away and although ‘un abrazo’, Spanish for ‘a hug’, will probably not be understood as Portuguese rules in Brazil, you still feel embraced.

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And could a city with a rock called Sugar Loaf be anything but sweet?   Our first day was a national holiday and the streets were crowded with cars full of people headed to the beaches.   We had been warned about crowded beaches [theft and muggings happen; Rio is not totally sweet] so we headed for the ‘jardim botanico’.image Just look at these mango trees! A grove of calm and birdsong and other families wandering in the green. Here’s a path lined with giant mangoes. image We spent most of the day in the garden with a light lunch at Biciclet, a cafe with wonderful organic food. Views from the garden included this one of Corcovado–the stone with Christ the Redeemer on top.image It was a great day of watching Brazilian families, enjoying trees only Brazil can offer, and getting a feel for a corner of Rio. image

Jacaranda: bright spots in the city

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These jacarandas are near the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires. They were a bright spot in a city I was struggling with.  A favorite tree of mine since I was a child and loved the one in my aunt’s back yard in Palm Springs, these jacarandas soothed and softened what was otherwise a difficult city for me.  The graffitimundo tour was a bright bubble of a morning. I so wanted to fall in love with Buenos Aires. But, I didn’t.  Yet, inside a few bubbles, I found a lot to like.  There was the one hour tango lesson with Hector Villabos. I came away knowing how to dance 16 steps and in possession of a CD of old-style tango music. I also enjoyed a day trip to the Tigre Delta–a complex of rivers that flow into the Rio Plata and form a maze of tributaries where people have lived and fished and survived floods because their homes are on stilts. The boat ride was great fun.  image
The Ateneo bookstore was marvelous too. A must see. And the historic Plaza de Mayo. The Good Tourist certainly wants you to visit this famous city. This tired tourist felt the heavy history in buildings like the one below, and just couldn’t find my way in the heat and the windy streets. Except, the jacaranda–this fast growing version with purple flowers, a native of Argentina–was blooming everywhere, and there were places and moments to savor. A few raisins in a large loaf; a melody or two here and there in the static. Many before me have tuned in; it just wasn’t my turn.image

Graffiti Talks in Buenos Aires

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So, a group of artists is enjoying grilled meat and wine in the back patio and it gets pretty late. One says, “You know, your wall is a nice wall, but it needs painting”. So, three guys gather brushes and paint and together, mingling styles and inserting things here and there, paint the wall out front on the street. A cactus guy is the familiar figure for one, another always paints in only two colors. This is graffiti in Buenos Aires–an art form that starts with tags and love notes but as artists gain respect becomes political, personal and public all at the same time. I loved this tour! If you go to Buenos Aires, please contact ‘graffitimundo’ and ask for Cecilia to be your guide. You get a look into Argentina’s history and art scene, and a taste of the moment too. image Here is Cecilia explaining how the figure of an astronaut appeared when Argentina was coming out of the crisis of the Dirty War. The image was not an alien invader but a savior. It was a popular cartoon character [Argentines love cartoons–the more satire and irony the better] that appeared as a stencil on walls all over the city. Later the President of the country asked permission of the artist for his face to be inserted as he was seen as a savior of sorts, and so it was stenciled in…until he fell out of favor and people enjoyed whiting it out…such are the stories.
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This is the wall of a very exclusive and upscale restaurant in Buenos Aires. The owner asked a graffiti artist to decorate it for him, and as the artist worked the owner insisted that he keep adding more and more images–and more–. The artist was not happy with the result, but the owner was. Wall art is actually invited and improves property value in Buenos Aires. So, yes, graffiti is not only legal and artists work in broad daylight and take their time, it is also welcomed. We happened on this fairly new artist as we walked around.
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In all we got to recognize the work of about four artists: Jaz, Nerf, Gaulicho, and pum pum. So, to back up a little, there are tags which are just names but not attached to gangs or to violence or territory. Just names, maybe a love note, or a comment like ‘la musica no mata’, ‘music doesn’t kill’.
Then there are stencils with messages or just images. There are line drawings, and now using latex and rollers there are murals in the best Latin American tradition. Here’s one called ‘housewives revenge’
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This is the signature look of Gaulicho. image
The city of Buenos Aires also invited graffiti artists from abroad to paint on some public spaces. One painted this gaucho/Argentine cowboy with a can of spray paint in his hand.
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One of my favorite walls of the morning was this image of the white kerchiefs worn by the “Madres de la Plaza de Mayo”–the mothers who marched in protest of their disappeared children during the Dirty War of the 1980’s. [they still gather in the Plaza de Mayo on Thursday afternoons to protest and remember] These floating head scarves look down on a children’s playground to protect them…image There are layers of paint in some places that evoke layers of protests and also of hope. We met three of the artists in their warehouse workshop since now they actually also paint on canvas and have exhibits in Europe as well as Latin America.
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The tradition of painting on walls is well established. There is ordinary graffiti too. But, in Buenos Aires the fact is an artist, perhaps gaining some status among his/her peers, sometimes rings the bell of a house and says, “You have a particularly lovely wall. May I paint it?” and the owner says “Of course, that would be great. Do you need help with materials?” image
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So, I learned a lot about street art and its evolution in Buenos Aires. It struck me as we ended the tour that in cultures where homes are behind walls, the walls are public and in a way invite comment. In cities where people are unhappy with the government, walls call out! Cecilia and the group that is Graffitimundo are writing a book. It will be titled “White Walls Say Nothing”–I hope I can find a copy.

Cape Town / Nature and Nurture

Image The journey from Ghana to South Africa followed in the wake of those intrepid Portuguese explorers, Bartolome Diaz and Vasco da Gama both of whom rounded the tip of the continent. On our way south we saw flying fish, sea lions and even dolphins and whales. Cape Town itself sits at the foot of Table Mountain, just the first of many stunning mountains. image

South from the city lies the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point where the Benguela current, cold and from the west, meets the Agulhas current, warm and from the east.imageimage The exact point varies with seasons and weather, but clearly the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, and from the Cape Point light house it was an amazing 360 view of it all. Right whales played below in False Bay. And on the way there we saw many flowers which grow wild here that we associate with posh gardens in the states. Above, on top, the Bird of Paradise is favorite of Nelson Mandela. Below, a pincushion protea in the wild.
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Coming back from the Capes, we visited a refuge for African Penguins, and returned via Simontown, a lovely artists and retirement village on False Bay.
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I had heard about Kristenbosch National Botanical Garden and was craving trees, grass and birds. So with the hop-on/hop-off bus I combined a tour of the city with a stop at the garden. A few hours turned into almost five, as I just didn’t want to leave. Birdsong, new varieties of heathers and grasses, exotic 100 year old trees. The vegetation of South Africa is not lush, not tropical, but so varied and unique. Here are a couple of examples: the Silver Tree and more Protea.
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We also went north to enjoy a mini-safari. The drive through the mountains and wine country was much more dramatic than I had anticipated. The countryside is beautiful!

Hex Valley; home to many vineyards

Hex Valley; home to many
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It was hot again, so we didn’t know if we would see many animals. The ones we did see were in a large enough reserve that it almost felt like they were in the wild. Cape buffalo, African elephant and white rhinos. Hurrah! Lions, ostriches and zebras too! Springbok, of course, the emblem of the national rugby team. And for oohs and aahs, a baby hippo. It was really fun to see all this from the four-wheel drive off-road truck that bumped us around for a few hours.
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I struggle with how to end this post from South Africa. Natural beauty, mineral wealth, fertile farmland and an ideal climate make it nearly perfect on the outside. But underneath the beauty, racial inequalities persist, disparities in education continue and prospects for employment are slim. Mandela and Tutu are old and honored. But, young black men are dissatisfied and see the huge gap between rich and poor, which is much worse than under apartheid, with anger. I met a young black woman who had to drop out of her mechanical engineering program because she could not afford to continue. Her dismay and frustration with her country’s government and its mismanagement was sharp. Schools for her six year old daughter are bad. Violence in her township is increasing. She said, “End the violence; give us free education.” Such reasonable requests.
And when Mandela and Tutu are gone? Can the will of the people replace the corruption and nepotism and bring in a meritocracy? Such a paradise; such deep-seated problems.
May both nature and nurture thrive!