On La Habana

Click for either background music or watch to get a feel

Note: There is a lot in this post. The more you read, the more images you see, and the more links you follow, the more you will learn. Then again, I understand time is a limitation. Enjoy however you can. 

 

We Baby Boomers remember images of a fun-loving Havana from the 1950s movies. We also remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963. Given the latter and the almost 60-year trade and travel embargo, I never imagined visiting Havana, Cuba.

 

While approaching the city, I was anxious with anticipation. The thought of a time gone by with a sea of vintage American cars. A place caught in a time warp. A place of disrepair from years of neglect. A place with unhappy people from years of suppression and poverty.

 

Pulling into the cruise terminal, I was struck by the two adjacent terminals appearing as weathered, empty shells of what they once were.

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I expected vintage cars dominating the roads. Yes, they are present – but most serve as taxis and tour vehicles, which are primarily visible when cruise ships are in port. Yes – old cars (clunkers) are present – but I see them at home. Yet in Havana, I also saw newer cars and vans. After all, do you think the European and Asian automakers are going to stay away just because the US automakers did?

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For our brief stay (10 AM – 5 PM), we spent most of our time on a walking tour of La Habana Vieja – Old Havana.

 

Old Havana allows visitors to engage with colonial Spain. Its narrow streets (many are closed to traffic), pleasant plazas, grand architecture, and an array of colors transports visitors into the past. Shops, vendors, music, and places of work allow visitors to engage with today’s Havana.

Old Havana’s colonial architecture is grand and serves as a sign of its prosperous past. The buildings drew me to Havana’s heart. After all, I love “old city” sectors – especially in Europe – and Old Havana has an Old World feel. Although worn buildings serve as a reminder of the past 60 years, renovations and fresh coats of paint delivered a sense of hope for the city and its people.

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We went into one pharmacy that I would not have known what it was if it wasn’t for the guide.

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Travelling in Florence, Italy about five years ago taught me something very important that has stayed with me when I travel – Look Up! Because people’s eyes tend to focus on eye level, especially looking into store windows, many never see the fabulous sights found above. If you ever visit Havana, look up!

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Havana does have a combination of oddities and time warp.

  • US Credit Cards and ATM cards are not accepted!!!

    Look around for the oddity in this image

  • Visitors cannot receive Cuban Currency in advance!

Tourists have a different currency than the locals. I have no idea how that is managed within its society! CUPs (Cuban Pesos) are for the locals. It’s bills have images of people on them. CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos), for the tourists, are obtained just outside the port of entry for a modest 15% exchange rate. CUC bills display images of monuments – so when receiving change after a payment, I always checked the bills because the two currencies are not equal.

Travellers may convert CUCs for currencies when leaving for another 15%. Because I don’t believe British Pound Sterling, Euros, and Canadian Dollars have as steep of an exchange fee – if at all! We came home with a 10 CUCs that we planned to give to a friend who is visiting Cuba in November. A win-win would be to sell them to her for $10 – but what the heck! However, President Trump’s latest travel restrictions changed her cruise itinerary, so she’s not going.

Cubans are economically poor. I could see it in some neighborhoods seen from the ship. Wages are low for most jobs. However, Cuban culture is rich and the people show their pride in their dress, music, food, services, and interactions. I saw and encountered a lot of kindness.

I also noticed that Cubans embrace their past, deal with the present, and are hopeful for their future.

Not only was Havana better than I expected, the sights, sounds, and people collectively worked in sync to captured my heart – so yes – I would be willing to return – well, if the travel door reopens.

I wonder what lies ahead for the nation and its people. Time will tell. For now, it seems capitalism is slowly working into society. Its Communist Party still runs the country, and I didn’t not see signs of that changing.

As the ship departed the port, I again look at those two weathered, gutted terminals – but this time I smiled because I was thinking that they are now being renovated in order to increase the number of spots for cruise ships from 2 to 6 – therefore a sense Cuba is ready to embrace the world – maybe even the US. On the other hand, the current administration wants to keep us distant. Would you want to miss sights like this?

 

Enjoy this 3-minute video of Old Havana by National Geographic

 

We recently saw Cuba, a new IMAX film, during a visit our museum center. The trailer is below.

On a Beach Walk: No. 50 (Smell)

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I like walking the beach. It’s good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

As I walk, air along the gulf coast has a certain freshness that vitalizes the soul. The salt and a bit of fish or other marine life seems to permeate the sense of smell.

I think about how smell and taste influence each other. The sommelier smells the wine first, then tastes – and smell influences that taste – then the sommelier may smell again, followed by another sip to taste, and then even repeating this cycle of experiencing enhancement.

I think about the times when walking into the house from the outside to be greeted by the aroma of a food feast is in the midst of preparation for a family meal. Smells that we recognize – smells that trigger memories – smell that make our mouths water in anticipation.

I think of the smells many of us recognize – burning leaves of autumn – grilling steaks – newly cut grass – freshness of a flower.

I think of chemistry class as a teacher taught us to wave one hand over a beaker or test tube toward our nose to catch a scent – especially wonderful esters that are part of the flavor industry.

I think of products with distinct smells – whether roses, leather goods, pungent ammonia, or many more in nature and as manufactured products.

I think about how smell and taste are two senses working in tandem to enhance the other. We have many more different specialized sensors detecting smell than taste – yet the wine sommelier uses both to develop descriptors for that wonderful fruit of the vine.

I think about pheromones – the chemicals that living things release outside the body for a variety of reasons as attracting a mate, defense, marking territory, alarm, and more. Although we humans also have natural pheromones, sometimes we chose to add a scent of our choice.

I think about those who cannot smell. What a world they are missing. Yes, they are fortunate to miss the bad and unpleasant – but smells absence is a misfortunate when encountering the flowery, the essence of a spice, the sensuality of freshly-cleaned skin, and more.

I think about how smells are personal. Not only can smells trigger memories, each of us can smell something different from the same object as each of our brains interpret those smells differently. Each of us may associate a smell with a different event in our past – some pleasant, others no so.

Yet, we have something in common. Our smell sensors are in the same location. After detection, the sensory impulses travel to the same part of the brain, which interprets that smell for our analysis – yet we may perceive the smell differently in the analysis

We can walk in the same air, but smell is personal. Each of us my detect something different or interpret the same smell differently.

I enjoy smelling the sea air when I walk, after all walking the beach is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

On a Weekend Concert with CSNY

 

Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young

The Producer’s Guidelines

  1. Only songs performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
    Note: At least 2 of the 4 must be credited with performing the song (no soloists)
  2. No duplicate songs
  3. Include the song title in your introduction text so others can see it
  4. One song per person (on Day 1)
  5. To prevent browsers crashing from loading too many videos, please paste the URL as part of your last line (not a new line) – (I do not mind unembedding, so no apologies are necessary)

Note: Return on Day 2 to submit more songs without limits. (My typical signal is posting a song for all attendees.)

“Suite Judy Blue Eyes”

 

Next Concert: Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young – the soloists (Date, tentatively 27th July)

Past Concerts (Category): Beatles, Ex-Beatles, Moody Blues, Queen, Neil Diamond, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Elton John, Billy Joel

Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 406

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Summertime is definitely here. After a long streak of rain, we could use a good dose of water from the sky. I don’t care for this hot, muggy weather.

This Weekend Concert Series returns with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Because of the way these artists have mixed and matched, songs must be credited two at least 2 of the 4 musicians. Solo songs are not acceptable. Stage time is Saturday, 1 AM (Eastern US).

Norah O’Donnell debuts Monday as the anchor of the CBS Evening News. I wish her well and look forward to watching. On the other hand, I recall feeling bored watching Katie Couric’s heralded debut.

I enjoyed the IMAX film about Cuba, so I encourage others to see it if/when it comes to a local theater near you. Future locations and dates are not listed. Here’s a link to the film’s website, which includes a list of current theaters. The trailer is below.

Congratulations to the US Women’s Soccer Team for winning the World Cup.

I’m a baseball fan, but All-Star Game bores me – so if I watch it, I only see snippets.

Earlier this week I substituted in my old golf league. It was good to see people I haven’t seen in 4-5 years. As we were sitting around after golfing, a few were complaining about Nike and Colin Kaepernick. I couldn’t resist the chance to use my explanation: “I hate to tell you but Nike isn’t marketing to anyone at this table. Their target market isn’t old white guys who generally vote Republican and wear New Balance shoes they bought from Target, WalMart, or Kohls.” Some nodded, others laughed, and the majority were speechless.

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I’ve mentioned the Biden Dilemma (my term) several times since I initiated the thought. Here’s the original thought.

  1. His age
  2. Voters may be looking for a fresh face (as they did with Jimmy Carter (1976), Bill Clinton (1992), George W Bush (2000), Barack Obama (2008), and Donald Trump (2016)
    Not Left enough
  3. If nominated, the party will force him left, that is forcing him to be who he isn’t (Similar to what happened to Hilliary Clinton (2016), John McCain (2004), and Mitt Romney (2008)
  4. His tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time
  5. Kate Smith Syndrome – Anything in the past can be placed into today’s standards and context
  6. Ties to the Republican Boogie Man: Obama

Although there is a long way to go, if Joe Biden does not get the Democratic nomination, I would not be surprised to see a strong independent candidate enter the presidential race.

On July 4th, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) declared his independence from the Republican Party. This action may cause him to lose his committee seat(s) and will unquestionably threaten his re-election. Consider this as a prime example of member of Congress doing the right thing to the expense of losing their position.

While the Republicans can’t do anything more about health care than criticize Single Payer and Obamacare, the Democrats also continue to miss the mark by not addressing the issue – including improving Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act).

To lead you into this week’s satirical headlines, The Onion lists pros and cons for sharable electric scooters.

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Weekly Headlines from The Onion (combos welcome)

Area man always thought he’d squander his life differently
Fork section of cutlery drawer overrun by invasive soup spoons
Craftsman confirms new hammer backwards-compatible with previous generation of nails
Weary, cynical woman knows better than to bring a tomato plant into a world like this
Area 8-year-old formally rescinds hunger complaint following mother’s insulting banana offer
OSHA special ops team raids local office after receiving intel of expired fire extinguisher
God orders all followers to swallow cyanide capsule in preparation for voyage to Alpha Centauri

(My Combo) Cynical 8-year-old orders weary man to swallow nails

Interesting Reads

The mission of Apollo 11
Plants and climate change
About Einstein
For those who like quirky
Chernobyl: fact and fiction
Demographics and the US political parties
(Photos) New UNESCO World Heritage Sites
(Graphic) Housing by countries over time
(Infographic) History of life

To send you into the weekend from hot and muggy Cincinnati, here’s one of my favorite heat songs. In the words of Garrison Keillor, Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

On Oceania Regatta

Click for background music while reading.

 

In April 2019, we cruised from San Diego, California to Miami, Florida through the Panama Canal. The purpose of this post is not to report on the stops, but to review the cruise line and the ship.

This was our first time on Oceania Cruises. We primarily selected it because of the itinerary; plus, several friends raved about Oceania – so we decided to “step up” on this cruise.

 

Oceania is not a luxury, all-inclusive cruise line as Regency, Crystal, Silversea, Seaborne and others – but it is a higher standard/level and more expensive than our previous experiences on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Princess. Then again, every cruise line has their niche and identity – that’s good business!

Oceania uses smaller ships. Our ship, Regatta, is about 600 ft (180 m) long with a customer capacity of nearly 700. The capacity of their larger ships is only 1200, where as the majority of Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Princess ships are 2000-3000, plus Royal has several mega ships capable of carrying over 5000 vacationers. It is important to remember ports with smaller harbors are more accessible to cruise lines with smaller ships (like Oceania).

 

Oceania markets itself as a cruise with a casual country club atmosphere. Although no formal nights, they want customers to dress casually nice in certain areas. The overall quality of food was better than previous cruises. Regatta also offers two specialty restaurants, and the price includes a meal in each. The larger Oceania ships have additional specialty restaurants.

Not only did we enjoy Oceania’s policy of no set time for dining or assigned seating, we were always willing to share our table with others. This also allowed us to meet many interesting and nice people.

This dessert looked like a hamburger with relish – but moose with fruit and more. Tasty! Here’s the menu description: “Chocolate Mousse Burger on Almond Bun Topped with a Layer of Apricot Jelly”

 

Entertainment was on-par with the other cruise lines, but with less lavish productions. Instead of a larger theater, entertainment was in a large lounge that provided an intimate, cabernet atmosphere. For cruise days (which this itinerary had many), Oceania offered very good enrichment lectures. Between the two of us, we attended most of them.

Staff is predictably friendly, and there wasn’t a push to buy drinks, services, and merchandise as on the other cruise lines. We didn’t even see a ship photographer! Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and bottled water are inclusive, which is a nice touch that isn’t always the case. Servers would graciously serve passengers those drinks. Plus, soft drinks and water are also in the cabin.

Complimentary wireless is a nice feature, but with the following twist: only one person per cabin at a time. My wife and I made it work, although Oceania offers a streaming upgrade.

On the downside, although cruise ships are not known for spacious cabins, Regatta’s cabins seemed smaller than normal. News about the ship’s upcoming renovation mentioned an additional shower door, which caused me to wonder “where’s the space” in an already small shower. However, Oceania cabins are known for having a plush mattress – oh yes!

The majority of the passengers are retired – including many in the upper 70s and into their 80s. Therefore, others must exercise an extra level of patience in dealing with slowness, standing, and waiting.

Atypical for us, we took our share of cruise excursions/tours, which are very much “hurry up and wait” operations in the cruise industry. We relied on the ship excursions because of our safety concerns in a region known for safety concerns. On the plus side, Oceania gives a 25% discount when booking 4 or more tours. Then again, we encountered several avoidable issues and heard of several others.

The Bottom Line

Would I consider Oceania in the future? Yes. Would they will be my first choice? No. Destinations and itinerary are the prime factors in our cruise selection – not the cruise line. Relative price would also be a factor. However, in my opinion, what we got did not justifies the extra price.

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On a Beach Walk: No. 49 (Taste)

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I like walking the beach. It’s good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

Take your pick – think about your favorite food – or your most recent meal – or what are you going to eat at your next meal. Better yet, how would you describe its taste? Think beyond a mere similarity and contrast statement as it tastes like chicken.

Taste is not superfluous – taste is both serious and fun. Chefs pride themselves on achieving a certain taste in their culinary creation, yet how many of us take time to taste beyond the obvious that is associated with chewing and swallowing?

We make conclusion statements as I like it or not – but can explain why? Can we distinguish and describe flavors? That’s when taste is serious and fun!

I think about how taste serves as a protection mechanism against poisons while serving as a basis for cravings. Babies not like bitter, but over time, the same person may end up enjoying coffee.

I think about how a sommelier is trained to distinguish flavors in wine – while to some wine drinkers, simple terms in tasting notes as fruity, dry, oaky, citrus, and more may be reasons to like or dislike a wine. In school we learned about taste as sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Today, we add savory (umami) to that list. However, have you ever tried to describe the taste of a cherry to someone who can’t distinguish tastes? Better yet, to someone without a sense of taste?

Taste is serious and fun – yet to living things with that ability, taste is about meeting nutritional and survival needs. For we humans, taste starts with nerve endings primarily located on the tongue.

I like black licorice – and that means I also enjoy raw fennel – but that distinct taste is not for everyone. On the other hand, I consider the taste of caraway seeds as evil – but others love it. I didn’t enjoy sauerkraut as a kid – but today I have ways of accepting the taste. So I wonder, how much of our personal preferences lie in our DNA versus how much is learned?

I’m of Italian descent, so some automatically assume I’m a lover of garlic. Well, that’s not true for me, but I also believe garlic’s overabundance in food masks other flavors.

The sense of taste delivers the joys of culinary delights. The sense of taste distinguishes excellence from mediocrity. The sense of taste is an important aspect of what makes a meal memorable. Yet, taste is personal – but deeply personal for those who use it.

As I walk on the beach, there are days I believe I can taste sea salt from the ocean in the air – then again, maybe that’s the smell influencing that thought. Nevertheless, I like walking the beach is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 405

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Introducing a new header. This is a collection of faint, newly formed (1-to-2 million years old) stars in Westerlund 2 (a small area within the Milky Way). To see past headers, visit Past Headers page (tab) or click here.

To my Canadian readers, a belated Happy Canada Day (which was July 1st).

To my American readers, Happy Independence Day! To the rest of the world, Happy July 4th (the day between July 3rd and July 5th).

Ohio is a strange fireworks state. We can buy a certain grade of fireworks from a licensed in-state dealer, but it is illegal to use them.

In my opinion, Number of Followers is the most insignificant stat in blogging – yet, I noticed crossing the latest milestone – 7,800.

Thanks for those participating in the Elton John concert. The next blog concert features Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young. Because of how these musicians mixed and match, all songs must feature 2, 3, or 4 of them – but not as soloists. Tentative date is Saturday July 13th – and The Producer is eager for this one.

For those who didn’t know and don’t remember, I hate hot, muggy weather – but to celebrate the arrival of the summer heat in the northern hemisphere, I will use a summer songs at the end of the post.

I struggled in the first mini-season in my golf league – so I’m hoping for better in mini-season 2.

Wimbledon – one of the greatest tennis tournaments in the world has started. In the midst of the Women’s World Cup (soccer) and the pay discrepancies between the men’s and women’s teams in the US, Wimbledon has an unusual approach for the prize money – equal pay for unequal work.

For those you saw Rocketman, here’s an interesting interview with Elton John and Taron Egerton (the actor portraying Sir Elton in the movie). FYI: It’s 14 minutes.

A friend of ours marched in Cincinnati’s Pride Day Parade. The number of Christian churches who marched supporting the day pleasantly surprised her.

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Back in May I established Biden’s Dilemma – which (so far) seems to be playing out – but it’s early.

Not to anyone’s surprise, I did not watch either of the recent Democratic debates. Where as last week I provided fact checks to Night 1, here are fact checks to Night 2: FactCheck, PolitFact, PBS, NBC, CBS

Do you remember the outrage involving the Elian Gonzalez situation in 2000? Compare that to the lack of outrage of what is happening today along the US-Mexico border.

To the Trumpians, President Trump is winning the trade battle with China. What Trumpians either don’t know or don’t care about is;

  • President Trump has not used the avenues of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • Instead of involving traditional trading partners, President Trump has chosen to deal alone
  • President Trump has emboldened China in their dealings with other countries, so China has reduced tariffs with other countries while increasing US tariffs. Then again, he is the master of the deal. If you don’t believe so, just ask him.

To lead you into this week’s satirical headlines, The Onion provides tips for the perfect picnic.

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Weekly Headlines from The Onion (combos welcome)

Baby’s crows first word ‘Caw’
Historians reveal aqueducts were only a small portion of Ancient Rome’s intricate waterpark system
Barista only person in coffee shop with job
Porn star has face only a stepmother could love
If Earth continues to warm at current rate, Moon will be mostly underwater by 2400
Experts say earliest sign of mental health issues usually crossing eyes while dribbling fingers on lips, saying “Cuckoo, Cuckoo”

Interesting Reads

The most connected countries
The need for intestinal worms
Exiling a Greek philosopher
Data regarding thoughts about fake news
State of the news media
Coordinating Fake News and Fake Science
How fireworks came to America
(Graphic) Compare countries GDP ( a good visual)
(Photos) Seeking relief from the heatwave

To send you into the weekend, here’s a summer song that Dale will love. In the words of Garrison Keillor, Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.