foto faves

foto faves

Friday, January 1, 2016

day one Cuba continues....

So as I mentioned before- we had a very nice lunch- the place - called Divino was located outside the city and had a small organic farm behind the house/restaurant.  Since I was in Cuba last (roughly four years earlier) the growth of the paladar (private restaurants) was the first and most obvious difference in Cuba. While there the last time, we ate in mostly state owned restaurants (which having first dibs on the best food sources- were excellent for the most part.) We had a meal at one paladar on the planned itinerary during the first trip and we ate at two others when meals were "on our own."

Now the bulk of our meals will be at paladars - which for the most part - are out of the economic reach for most Cubans but which are a real and growing source of private income for the families that have turned their front rooms of their houses (or built an addition for a dining room) into restaurants.
This meal was excellent as well- simple but delicious. After the meal had concluded we had our first people to people discussion with a local artist whose work was displayed in the restaurant.  I will show a number of his works - this show focused exclusively on Fidel and the artist's hyper-real style made the works quite compelling.

the artist told us the story behind the painting in the photo below - when he was young his dad took him to see Fidel give a speech and they had to stand behind a fence - he was so small that even when they held him up to the fence he could only see Fidel's hat - so that was what Fidel looked like to him...

these paintings are in large format which I think works marvelously with the giant personality cult surrounding Fidel- he is larger than life in so many ways - even in the view of the U.S.

we had a private room but the restaurant is mostly located on a beautiful terrace overlooking the farm and gardens...

after hearing from the artist we went into the farm - the first stop was at an old style farm house which is used sometimes for events and serves as a coffee shop and also from time to time a senior community center...

you can see what terrifically beautiful blue skies we had- however it was unseasonably warm and humid the whole trip- roughly ten degrees warmer than usual and the locals were not pleased as many do not have AC and would like overnight cooling for sleeping-

as we left we came face to face with a cute blue car with a fun shadow that gave it a wave pattern - as if it were saying "hello! welcome to Cuba" - which was pretty much the response we got from everyone we met during our almost two weeks there- a huge smile, a warm welcome and if they spoke with us they said how happy they were that we were there.... a big open hearted place when it comes to the people and since we were on a people-to-people trip - that was our experience across the board.

we checked into our hotel after a short briefing session (hello Mike???? BRIEF!) and found a very nice room 310- with working AC and working hot water but not so much cold...LOL- we learned on day one the reply to complaints about things like this were pretty much the same all over- "so sorry, this is Cuba..."

we gathered again later in the evening to head to another paladar (privately owned restaurant) called La Moraleja (as in "the moral of the story is...")

there we had a terrific family style meal with pork, beef, lobster and more and (I think) the soon to be standard dessert of flan- LOL I didn't take photos so am not 100% certain... there was music (another thing that we will ALWAYS have is music with dinner and also with most lunches..)

And, of course there was a welcome drink - again a standard offering. When I was here last, this was also the case, but now things have changed somewhat- they were served with rum every time last time - this time they were served virgin and then the server asked who wanted rum and how much and went around the table or room and made them virtually "to order"- a big improvement. As with last time,  when Jennifer and I found this a delightful practice - I did so again, and even Phil who had not been a huge rum fan beforehand became a fan during the trip.

and since it was the last night of Hanukkah, Raul had brought along a Hanukiah to light - the group is, not surprisingly, half Jewish- LOL... since the trip returns to the U.S. on December 23rd - this made sense to us...

at the end of the meal they passed around a box of cigars so we could each chose one for ourselves- LOL and with nearly everything in Cuba being "currency" Raul encouraged us to each take one as he had a place later on to drop off the cigars where they would be appreciated and perhaps be turned into something else which could then be passed along to someone in need to the next item...

Phil shows the size and we take our two and later pass them to Raul on the bus ride back to the hotel- for his plastic bag in which to carry them for us... it is loaded by the time the group of 20 "gifts" their cigars to him (no one smokes cigarettes in the group though a few will buy the cigars allotted for import through U.S. customs - another change since last trip when you could not bring even a single one into the U.S.)

and just so you aren't in suspense for weeks - here is the guy they went to - a coffee farmer from the Escambray Mountains who is in his mid eighties and isn't planning on stopping his cigar smoking - and who is thrilled to get GOOD cigars rather than what he can afford to buy in the store in the nearby (but not very!) town of Trinidad....

and he is the father of the mystery cowboy from a prior post- LOL - the one with the soviet "N"s on his hat... both  guys were terrific to talk to about coffee planting and harvesting and how the family business worked- but more on that later -

We all had gotten up before 4:30 AM and so were pretty much zombies by the end of our meal.  I can't say what the others did after returning to the hotel, but we went right to sleep! Day two coming up - and highlights include a walk through a few plazas in Old Havana (Habana Vieja) and the opera star seniors from the retirement center... so stay tuned!

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