Cuba Day 6 – Transfer to Havana

On Wednesday we arose at 5:00am. I was prepared to forego breakfast but Lionel said “No, it’s paid for, they have to give it to you whenever you want.” Fortunately, my housemate had a translator on her phone because I would not have known how to say 5:45 in Spanish. We left for the airport at 6:15 and were all checked in with luggage checked for our flight to Havana and through security by 7:15 though the flight did not leavInglaterrae until 8:35. But at least it was on time. We were in Havana with luggage in hand by 10:15 and picked up by our new driver Lasero, who did not speak English, but who drove a very similar van to David’s and he whisked us away to the Hotel Inglaterra on the border between Central Havana (dating to the 19th century) and Havana Viejo (old Havana, dating Opera_houseto the 16th century). Our hotel was just next door to the very ornate Opera House and just a block from the national capitol building which was having its dome restored.

Havana is to Santiago as Portland is to Eugene, Seattle is to Spokane, Dallas is to San Antonio, Dublin is to Galway (sorry east coast people, I can’t think of any good analogies). Both are big cities but Santiago was much more intimate and manageable. The buildings in Santiago are mostly two stories, in Havana more on the order of four or five. The streets are wider in Havana and the traffic much, much heavier.

We arrived at the hotel around eleven and of course our rooms were not ready so we checked our luggage and Lionel walked us to a very Americanized café for lunch three or four blocks away. Though we were told to focus on walking not photography, I could not resist this woman putting out her laundry. At the restaurant, which we later learned is funded by Cuban Americans, they even had a menu in English,
which was good because Lionel abandoned us to go visit his wife. I ordered a tuna sandwichWomanwlaundry because it was the only one on the menu that didn’t say it came with vegetables. Unfortunately, it did anyway. It also had three slices of bread with about a tablespoon of tuna salad between each slice. I peeled off the lettuce and made do with my tuna flavored bread. 

After lunch, we walked back to the hotel and checked into our rooms where we were presented with not only a complimentary bottle of water but one of Rum as well. I never opened mine and feared to try and schlep it back to the west coast unbroken. The hotel was, no doubt, very grand in its day but that day had long since passed. Some of our group had stayed there before and said there were improvements but not enough to justify the doubling in price from two years ago. However, my room was clean and the plumbing and electricity, including the air conditioner, all  worked to my satisfaction.

I caught up on some photo editing then when outside to Central Park and photographed old cars as they were zooming by. They also had parking areas at each end of GreenChevythe park filled with old cars now serving as taxis so I did some detail work there. While there are some newer cars from Russia and China, in Havana the old American
cars are the norm.

A few words about the old cars seems appropriate. Though they are running, none of them seems to be running well. Some have nice paint jobs but the interiors are not necessarily intact. The fumes from
these cars, many of them older than I am are atrocious. One of our group members said he saw a man pull up, grab a screwdriver to open Buickthe trunk where he had a 20 gallon jerry can with hoses running out of it. Ron pointed to it and asked “Is that your gas tank?” The man grinned and said “Si, welcome to Cuba.” Regardless of condition, the old cars are considered a national treasures. Still, I have a hunch many will find themselves on boats home if relations with the U.S. continue to normalize.

Blue_DoorAT 4:30pm we were picked up by the van and taken to Old Havana for a walking tour which ended up lasting for 2 ½ hours. I was exhausted with sore feet by the end and it was too dark for photographs. Lionel saidLightwiron “You are photographers, you need to walk around.” Well, yeah, but in the light of day please and with a rest break every hour or so. The architecture was beautiful and I would be happy to return some day to photograph more… in the light of day.

Blue_ArchWe ended up at a restaurant where we were directed up a narrow spiral staircase to a private room. I had Ropa Vieja, a sort of shredded meat dish, in this case lamb. It was served with the ubiquitous rice and beans and some very tasty appetizers. I especially liked the fried plantain basket with seasoned ground beef.

Cuba Day 5 – Valle Prehistorica

Breakfast was about the same as at the last casa though I indulged in the bread and honey since it was already laid out and this hostess did not offer onions in the “omlette” which I missed.  We had a little time for editing photos which I enjoyed.

MammothThen we hopped in the van for a trip to Valle Prehistorica, a park with lots of old statues of dinosaurs, mastadons and such. I found the texture of their sides most interesting to photograph but thought I might come up with something artistic using the more creative software and here a couple of examples using Topaz Glow. PossibDino1ilities still abound. I did some motion blurs with the horses and they almost look real but I need to take more time to work on them. I’m pretty
sure at this point Lionel was scratching his head as to what to do with us and I too was ready to leave Santiago and move on.
OrangeNext up was a trip to a car museum. Unfortunately most of the cars were victims of very bad paint jobs and far from complete restorations. BuBluet old car abstracts are one of my favorite things and the brilliant colors, though inexpertly applied did add interest to my photos.

Back to Santiago for lunch where we had our first truly disastrous meal. Some in the group had requested something light as we had been having large meals for lunch and dinner every day. First the local guide could not find the restaurant. The service was slow, the guy making out with his girlfriend on a couch turned out to be the owner, three people never got their meals, I never got my water and worst of all the restroom was out of order. Once again, the ordering was guess and by gosh. My Crepe with Jambon y queso turned out pretty well, though it didn’t seem all that light to me, at least I got food.

Boxer1Some people in the group had expressed an interest in photographing sports so, after a short rest back at the casas, we headed out to a boxing gym to do some shots of fighters woBoxer2rking out. It was interesting but not my style in the long run. Though I did get some decent shots. What I will ever do with them I have no idea.

Purple_dressWe stopped to buy bottled water on the way home and the van ran over a broken bottle. David, bless his heart, tried to get us home before the tire went flat but didn’t make it. We could see the Cathedral from where we were and offered to walk home but Lionel, said no, just wait. As always, Santiago offered up some colorful images while we were waiting.

In case you ever wondered how many photographers Flat_tireit takes to change a flat tire the answer is 9. One to take the picture and eight to watch. It’s also helpful if you have a couple of Cubans, one to supervise and one to do the actual work. It turned out David had never changed a tire before but he got through it in spite of all the “help”.

Our farewell dinner in Santiago made up for lunch. A private restaurant in an old home with lots of wood paneling which had no doubt been very grand in its day. I had the lamb and it came with real potatoes, yeah! The flan was the best I have ever had. Lionel and Dr. Norm sprang for wine to test whether Chilean or Spanish wine is better. I preferred the Spanish but don’t tell Lionel. In general wine is hard to come by in Cuba and relatively expensive when you find it.

Cuba Day 4 – El Cobre

Day 4 started out with the same breakfast I have had for the past two days; an omelet with onion, cheese, lots of fruit, juice and tea. Then I packed up and moved to a new casa which turned out to be 2 ½ blocks from the old casa. The room was a little nicer and bigger, the stairs a little wider but just as steep. You may be wondering why we had to change casas. Well, originally, we were supposed to be moving on to Baracoa on this day but hurricane Matthew threw a wrench into those plans. So, the idea was we would stay at a hotel in Santiago the first three days then move to casas. Because the second set of casas had been prearranged and paid for before we lost the hotel rooms we had no choice but to move. I mentioned to someone at my first house that we had been meant to go to Baracoa and he said “Oh, Baracoa is so beautiful, you must go, the hotel is fine now.” But alas, it was out of my hands.

Once settled in our new casa we piled into the van (a 12 passenger Mercedes Benz if you really want to know) and hunted down the cigar factory we were to tour only to be told that no pictures were allowed. But we took the nickel tour anyway and learned how cigars are made. The nice thing about cigars is that they are pure tobacco with no additives, unlike cigarettes. The whole leaves are sorted then pressed together in a round press, then a tobacco leaf wrapper is added to make it look pretty. It seems to be a very labor intensive process, at least here.

BasilicaNext, we went to a town called El Cobre, the name of which has something to do with its history as a copper mining center. But its real claim to fame is a cathedral that is dedicated to the patron saint of Cuba and a popular site for pilgrims with and without religion. The full name of the chuSancturaryrch reflects its Spanish heritage: The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre. The church was not that impressive (austere says my
 guide book) thoug I did manage to eke out a few interesting images. The community was down a steep flight of steps that I didn’t want to have to Crosscome back up and it  seemed to consist of a lot of vendors intent on selling flowers and trinkets to tourists so I don’t know that the photography would have been very satisfying. And, as there was no place to eat lunch we soon headed back to Santiago.

This would be a good place to say a word about religion in Cuba. Because Candlesone cannot be a member of the communist party and be an active participant in religion there are not a lot of overt signs of religion as might be experienced in other former Spanish colonies. On the other hand I did not get the sense that religion was banned outright either. Churches remain as churches and there were certainly plenty of pilgrims at the Basilica. Papal visits have been allowed and I spotted a nun reading on the balcony of a building nearby. Our driver was the son of a Seventh Day Adventist minister and he owns his own van and tour company as well as a farm so having a religious background does not seem to be a deterrent to success in the new relaxed economy. I also understand from my reading that vestiges of African religious practices brought in with slavery are still alive and well in Cuba.

Lunch turned out to be more grilled chicken at Dona Martha Restaurante. Our Spanish speaking guides were not too helpful at explaining the menu choices so I sort of went with what I recognized, “grille” means grilled, this much I know and pollo of course is chicken. Lately all meals have been served with rice and sweet potatoes. So I am having no trouble sticking to my high protein, low carb diet.

Art_GalleryAfter lunch we were turned loose to explore the local neighborhood but the directions for the meeting point and time were not clear. We found an art gallery just around the corner. I’m always hesitant to photograph other peoples art and call it my own but I tried to transform this piece enough to at least make it a shared effort.

I knew I should stay with the group but they were moving so slowly I decided to head out on my own. How hard could three blocks further on be? Well, pretty hard when the cross street does not go through. Of course, when I got to the place I thought I was supposed to be at the time I thought we were supposed to meet there was no one there. I waited fifteen minutes then decided to head back to the restaurant and see if I could find anyone. I was about to panic (OK, cry)Shadow when I finally spied the van, everyone aboard except our guide who was out looking for me. I still don’t know where they met up or how long they were looking for me. Of course, I had money, I knew where I lived and taxis were abundant so I don’t think it would have been a complete disaster even if we hadn’t connected. On the upside, I got some of my most interesting images during this episode.

FishermanWe then headed back to the waterfront for sunset. A few nice silhouettes and color on the water pictures. Well, that might be an understatement. I kind of had a field day with the sunset. And finally, back to the casas for a rest before regathering at one of the casas for a “family dinner” which ended up costing more than any of our Pilingsrestaurant meals so far. Once again I had grilled chicken, not much choice this time, accompanied by rice and sweet potato fries. I went off the reservation and ate some of the salad because the guide and the doctor sitting next to me thought it might be OK. Lionel, our local guide, brought a bottle of rum which he said was the best you could get in Cuba. I enjoyed it but after two beers did not feel like indulging too much.

Cuba Day 3 – Cayo Grandma

Blue_wallI awoke this morning to gunfire, which I thought was odd as Lionel had assured us there were no guns in Cuba. Then I realized it was the 21 gun salute for Fidel Castro as his ashes were interred in a private ceremony just outside of Santiago, his home ciPink_doorty.

After breakfast on the rooftop terrace, I took the back way to Parque Cespedes and caught a few interesting shots in the neighborhood before meeting the group in front of the cathedral for a trip out of town about a half hour to the Punta Gordo Marina.

 There we boarded a catamaran for a short trip over to an island called Cayo Granma. Granma was the name of a boat in which Castro and his troops returned to Cuba from exile in Mexico to embark on the revolution against Batista.  The boat is on display in Havana and not only this island but an entire province have been named for it.

 The IslandFishermen, we were told, was badly damaged by hurricane Sandy and the houses were mostly small and Bananamanin bad repair (to put it mildly). People were out and about working in boats, doing laundry, and perhaps visiting neighbors. Children were riding around on bikes and trikes, dogs wandered everywhere, but there were no cars. One fellow jumpeLaundryd up and insisted on posing next to a banana tree. I offered him a tip which, of course, was what he was hoping for.

As I said to one of my colleagues, it was a target rich boyonbikeenvironment.We were told we could walk around the island in 25 minutes. For photographers, maybe more like an hour or two. I went around one way then started back the other way and saw many things I had missed from the other perspective.

ElCayoAt noon, we adjourned for lunch at a state owned restaurant. It was very high class and seemed to be catering to tour groups. We all had a seafood plate with lobster, fish, shrimp, and calamari. And two bottles of water, still no cerveza allowed.
manonbikeWe returned to the Parque and walked back to our casas for a siesta, regrouping after two hours to explore new parts of Santiago including the Plaza de la revolution which had been the site of a speech by Raul Castro the previous evening. My guide book describes the Plaza as “soulless” and I think that is an apt description. I found phobustrucktographing the passing cars, buses, trucks being used as buses, bicycles, and motorcyles much more interesting. We then adjourned to a waterfront park but the light was mostly gone so we vowed to return closer to sunset another
day. Then on to dinner at private restaurant outside of town where we had a big plate of barbequed chicken, rice and beans, flan and two cervezas for a mere $10 CUCs

Cuba Day 2 – Remembering Fidel

Saturday, December 3 was the day that the caravan carrying Fidel Castro’s ashes was to arrive in Santiago. Because of traffic and road closure concerns we decided to go with the flow and focus on people photography as the masses thronged to Plaza de Marte and Parque Cespedes to say farewell to Fidel.

TerraceFirst was breakfast at the casa. I went down at the agreed upon time and my hostess pointed back upstairs. I looked suitably confused and she called my host out and he said “Your breakfast will be served on the rooftop terrace.” So back up the narrow, steep concrete stairs; then up an even narrower and steeper set of metal stairs where I found this lovely view of red rooftops, the harbor, and the neighbChaguitoor’s laundry. I was served a variety of fruits, juice, cheese, tea and what they called an omelette which was really just flat scrambled eggs. I
was offered bread but was still deluding myself that I could stick to my diet and had refused. That didn’t last long, of course.

SonOur group congregated at 10 am and walked up a pedestrian street toward
the plaza. Mostly I photographed signs like this little guy who is apparently the mascot for some store chain as I saw him everywhere. I tried googling Chaguito but the answers all came up in Spanish. Son, I am told is the Cuban term for Salsa dancing so this place, it seems is a dance studio.

waitingThere were some crossed signals bElNinoetween our local guide and our photography guide and some of us spent a lot of time waiting for a rendezvous that never happened. I arrived at the Plaza at 11am. It was hot and shade was scarce. Fortunately, I had a hat and most people were lining the streets so seating was not that hard to come by. Many people were Iriswise to have brought umbrellas for shade. And yes, the people photography was exceptional. Though in truth, I am not a people photographer so I can honestly say this was without question my least favorite day of the trip.Umbrellas
The parade finally passed by around 1 pm and didn’t last long at all. It consisted of a couple of vans and an army truck full of jPropagandaournalists and a jeep pulling a little trailer with a box bearing Fidel’s ashes covered by a Cuban Flag. The national anthem (I guess) was sung and some people cried, some people held up signs saying Yo Soy Fidel which I later learned means “I am Fidel”, which I interpreted to mean theYoSoy spirit of Fidel lives in me. Some high school kids also had it painted on their faces. Flags were passed out and some brought their own.  There were also posters of Castro to be had. I kicked myself later for not grabbing one for posterity.

FidelI feel compelled to say a few words about Castro and Cuba at this point. I want to say up front that I do not have enough information to judge Castro, one way or another, and neither, my friends, do you. Churchill once said of Russia “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…” and I feel very strongly that this also applies to Cuba today. Cuba has free education, including college and it has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Cuba has free medical care and it has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. At the same time, I saw people living in conditions that I can only describe as abject poverty. Not everyone but many. Buildings, in general are not well maintained. Cars are held together with bubble gum and baling wire. Our guide(Lionel, pronounced Lee-o-nel) was reluctant to tell us what average incomes are in Cuba. “Oh, it varies.” He would say. But he did say that if someone had a relative in the United States willing to send them $100 a month they didn’t have to work. He also stressed that money isn’t important to most Cubans, they value family relations and friendships. I have to say that during my time in the first casa I saw so many people coming and going I couldn’t keep track of who lived there and who was just visiting but they all seemed to be having a good time.

Popcorn_LadyI also saw many people in the streets hustling for money. Food carts were commonplace. Beggars with hard luck stories would hound you until you looked them square in the eye and said an emphatic no, and that might not be enough to get rid of them. I saw one fellow begging in the square and later he walked by me as I was sitting on a step. He had changed to much nicer clothes and he had the nerve to smile and wave as he strode purposefully by. They would give you little gifts and then reel you in for the kill to sell you jewelry or cigars. Free enterprise may not be the norm in Cuba but it is clearly not dead.

But getting back to Castro, what I have been able to glean from readingWomanwcat and listening is that probably many people’s lives improved under Castro from what they had been under Batista and earlier imperialistic regimes, especially minorities or oppressed majorities, i.e. women, and the descendants of former slaves.  I saw many people looking pensive or downright sad. Were they mourning Castro, worried for their futures or just reflecting on the past?

The economy of Cuba collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union and has never completely recovered. There appears to be a group of rich Cuban Americans with axes Socksto grind because they lost their property and position during Castro’s revolution who are lobbying to stand in the way of normalization of relations with the United States. A little American money goes a long way and things are changing rapidly in Cuba, as they should. Raul Castro will be retiring in 2018 and the heir apparent is of a new generation. I will be interested to see where they are in five or ten years.Boywball

After the event broke up our guide took us to a very nice privately owned restaurant for lunch. The food was good, the menu quite varied and the water was cold (hallelujah!). I had Shrimp and bacon skewers. Our guide had yummy looking pork chops. One person had a half chicken, others had
lamb. There was rice and French fries on the side.

After lunch I strolled back to the casa for a nap and to download pictures. Proving that life goes on SoccerI captured boys and girls of all ages playing with balls.

The group reconvened for dinner around 7pm. Lionel said nothing was open but the hotel and we just wanted a snack to tide us over after our big lunch so off we went. Just as we were getting there this guy comes along saying “Hey, you want cerveza? you want Mojito? You want rooftop terrace? Come with me.” So, we went with him and were taken to a restaurant on a back street. Up three flights of stairs we came to a rooftop deck and settled in and ordered beer, at which point the guy disappeared. We were told no, we couldn’t have beer unless we ordered food. We said fine bring the beer andSoccer2 we’ll order food. Reluctantly the girl brought us each a can of Cristal one of the two national beers. We still weren’t very hungry so we ordered some appetizers. No, this wasn’t enough, she was going to be in big trouble. I felt guilty and ordered an entrée. She refused to bring us a second beer. Somehow the owner got involved. Lionel had to turn on all his charm. Eventually the owner agreed to give us one more beer. The appetizers came and the girl came and told me they didn’t have what I had ordered did I want something else. I said I didn’t really want it in the first place just bring me a shrimp cocktail. Which when it came turned out to be shrimp mixed with mayonnaise, not cocktail sauce. All in all I was very happy to slink back down the three flights of stairs and be delivered back to Parque Cespedes for the short walk back to my casa.

Cuba Day 1 – Santiago

We gathered in the lobby of our airport hotel in Miami at 3am in preparation for our 6am flight to Santiago de Cuba. Fortunately we had a “handler” to guide us through the process of checking in, checking baggage, filling out forms including our visas and paying the fees required to get our luggage on the plane and ourselves in and out of the country. It was interesting to see our fellow travelers checking boxes of TV’s, appliances, and heaven only knows what as if they had just been to Miami to do their Christmas shopping, though I have a hunch the black market may have been getting in supplies as well.

It is still unclear to me whether Cubans are restricted from travelling or whether the cost is just prohibitive for most of them but I believe these folks were mostly Cuban Americans going to visit relatives. We were later told by our guide that the largest group visiting Cuba are Canadians, the second largest Cuban Americans and the third largest American tourists like ourselves with over a quarter of a million non-Cuban tourists from the U.S. expected to have made the trek during 2016.

We made it to the gate by 5am and boarding came shortly thereafter. The plane was only a half hour late getting off the ground which I guess is good for “Cuban” time. We arrived at Jose Marti Airport in Santiago around 8. Getting through customs was not too bad but then the nightmare began. Apparently due to Castro’s funeral, airport security had been tightened and we had to go through security to get out of the airport. The line was jumbled at best, there was only one scanning machine and people kept jockeying for position and looking for friends to move them up in the line. Finally, an hour after deplaning we were through the line. I think I was one of the last ones through. I had watched my suitcase go round and round the conveyor belt so at least I knew I had luggage even though I could not get to it. Next we went out the door and around the corner to change our American dollars into CUCs, a sort of monopoly money just for tourists that is separate from the real Cuban money supply. I understand there is a movement to change this so there is only one money system. All of our transactions had to be in cash because while Cuba does have ATMs and credit cards, American banks are not yet recognized.

We were whisked away to breakfast in a private home where our local guide explained to us that due to the high demand for hotel rooms by dignitaries and journalists we had been bounced from not one but two hotels and would be staying in Casas. These are rooms in private homes, somCasaewhat on the order of a B&B. From some of the stories others were telling, I got lucky, my room had air conditioning, hot water and American style plug ins, a private bath and a little room with a table and refrigerator.  Many in our group were complaining about plumbing and electricity being dysfunctional. Here is a picture of the outside of my Casa.

Parque_CespedesSo, after a short rest we proceeded to Parque Cespedes where Castro‘s ashes would be on display the next day.  There were displays with pictures of Castro and loudspeakers apparently broadcasting some of his speeches. He was famous for his two or three hour orations. The Parque also features a beautiful Cathedral dating to the 16th century.Cathedral I’ll say more about religion in Cuba in a later post. The Parque, which is really just a large square is named for Carlos Manuel de Cespedes who is considered the founding father of Cuba. A large plantation owner, Cespedes freed his slaves in 1868 triggering the first revolution, a war for independence from Spain. Across from the Cathedral is the town ParqueC_Birdseyehall where Castro made his first speech to the Cuban people on January 1, 1959.

We were left free to wander for three hours and I was exhausted after about one but got many nice images of the colors of Cuba. I sat for a time on a doorstep with photography guide Nancy Ori  ( and as she suggested the photos just cHotelmaname to us. Including this one of a hotel worker looking pensive just across the street from where we were sitting.

There are old cars in Santiago but not as many as in Havana because OldCar1they have a hard time negotiating the hills in this town. I suppose it is fitting that the first picture I took in CubaFlag was of this old car. Cuban flags were flying everywhere and people with brooms were tidying up for the big event.  Because the country was still in mourning we (and everyone else) could not purchase alcohol and there was no live music allowed. ThCellPhonee Parque also serves as a wifi hotspot and people in our group who had been to Cuba before noted that one of the
biggest changes they saw was the widespread presence of cell phones.

In the late afternoon we hopped on the van (gratefully I might add) and were driven to Castillo del Morro Don Pedro de la Roca, an old fort overlooking the Caribbean sea which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The fortress dates from 1638 and was ElMorro1constructed to defend the city from pirates. Unfortunately, all the interpretive signs were in Spanish and our guide wasn’t into interpreting so most of what I know I learned from my guide books after I got home. We stayed for sunset and witnessed soldiers in period dress marching into the castle to fire a canon as the sun went down. Our first dinner was at a government owned restaurant near the fort. We were served family style, fish, chicken and pork, soup and canned beans and beets, rice, french fries, and chocolate ice cream.



I made it back to my casa around 7pm, downloaded images and made notes on the days activity. Then took a cool shower and fell into bed.

Miami Beach

Just getting warmed up for my trip to Cuba. I had a one day layover in Miami and decided to check off another bucket list item with a trip to Miami Beach. After paying the cab fare downtown and back, the cost of the tour and my $40 lunch I am not sure it was worth it but at least now I can say I’ve been. I had hoped to get more closeups of Art Deco detail but it just wasn’t happening for me. The bus was going to fast, I got off and walked around for an hour but pooped out and didn’t find as many classic examples as I had expected. Just when I thought we were getting somewhere there was an accident on ocean avenue and the bus had to take a detour. I did get a couple worth sharing. Our tour guide pointed out that one of the signature looks of art deco is things in threes. Here are two examples.



Of course the pastel colors are also iconic at least in Miami Beach. And here is one hotel that has the classic look:


I was also excited that I haven’t even gotten to Cuba yet and got my first classic car from the 1950s. It looked a little better with an artistic treatment in Topaz simplify though. I also don’t think it’s going anywhere with that flat tire:


So, tomorrow on to the real deal. Not sure what to expect with the country still in mourning for Castro. His funeral is Sunday so maybe things will liven up after that. I’m told that Wi-Fi is unreliable at best so I don’t know how many post I will be able to do but I’ll at least write things up for posting after I’m back.

Telling the Tale and Creating Art

I promised you more on Ireland and I wasn’t kidding. But now nearly a month and a half has passed without a post and I’m not sure anyone is paying attention. But here it is none the less for I have not been idle!

In sifting through my images for what to share and what to delete and what to save for another look down the line I got to thinking about the difference between telling the tale and creating art. Travel photography, after all, is really about telling the tale. But my primary focus is on creating art. That is, the reason I travel is to find things that I can photograph and turn into art. But what I have recognized in going through the images is that there is a kind of distillation process going on throughout.

So the first cut if you’ve been following the blog is to find images that tell the tale of the day to post on the blog. I have only a few hours in the evening to come up with the few images that best illustrate what I saw that day. I may not always chose the most artistic ones or have time processes them to their best advantage.

GlendaloughHere is an example of an image from Glendalough that didn’t make the first cut even though it is a great composition. I passed over it because of the flat white sky in the upper right corner. But later I realized I could get around that by using a tinted texture to give the sky more interest.

In the second cut after I got home, I was looking to create a slide show that tells the tale of the trip. This you will find at:

Many of the images that made it into the blog are also in the slideshow because they were good compositions that I liked, some did not because there was a limit to what I could put on one slide. Just for grins I went back and counted and each blog had from three to 10 images. It gets rather cumbersome to work with more than five or six images on a powerpoint slide. And I didn’t want to go overboard with too many stained glass windows or floor tile pictures in the slideshow where all the images are seen in a space of ten minutes. In the blog there is a little more room for repetition as the images are ideally seen over a period of days and there is commentary Clock6to explain things in more detail.

So that brings us to the third cut in which I attempted to distill the images down to 20 to 30 for a virtually gallery show of what I felt were the most artistic images from the trip. I finally settled for 35. In some cases, such as this clock, I transformed images from how theyClock_TE were presented in the slideshow because I saw a way to make them more artistic.

In other cases, I found images that didn’t necessarily qualify for telling the tale but made good art. The first example is this barn in Donegal on the Inishowen peninsula. I had other pictures of barns in that Donegal_Barn_Watercolorarea that made both the blog and the slideshow but this one was kind of dull and unassuming until I gave it a painterly treatment so I decided it deserved a place in the gallery show. (Which, by the way, can be seen at:

Another one that doesn’t really scream Ireland and was taken out the bus window on a rainy day with a flat sky was this one from the ring of Kerry. I liked the shapes of the rocks and trees though so I took it into Topaz Impression and gave it a painterly treatment in the manner of Georgia O’Keefe. Once again I was not happyKerry_GO_TE with the flat white sky so I took it into Topaz Texture Effects to give it a little more punch. I’m not sure I’m happy with the border though and I may yet go back and take another stab at it.

So, for the time being I am done editing Ireland and ready to move on to other things. But I will no doubt come back to look for more ways to make art from the remaining 1500 images.

I also want to keep this blog alive between trips so I have some ideas for posts of things that fell into themes in Ireland, clocks, doors, and signs. I’ve got a photo workshop coming up next week so that may get in here first but stay tuned. And of course Cuba is still coming up in December. At least I haven’t heard yet that we have been preempted by Hurricane Matthew.



Today’s field trip really put the icing on the cake for me.  I have been yearning to have a chance to wander around a cemetery and photograph old headstones and celtic crosses and today my wish came true. Glendalough is an ancient monastic site that was active from the 7th to 12th century. That’s 500 years folks.

St_KevinsHere is a picture of St. Kevin’s Church which was the main place of worship prior to the building of the Cathedral in the 12th century. And here is another view from closer in. The cemetery does not seem to be as old as the monastic buildings as many of the graves date from the 19th century and some further out are even from tSt_Kevins_withcrosshe 20th. One of the challenges today was the flat white sky.

Round_towerThe round tower was a bell tower and landmark to help visitors find the place. Occasionally when marauding Vikings struck it was also used to protect supplies but not, as was earlier thought, the people of the community.

A word about the Celtic cross. We had an archaeologist talk to us early on and express the opinion that the term was a misnomer as the Celtic period in Ireland dated from about 500 BC to 400 AD and the Celts were pagan so had nothing to do with the crosses which generally date from the 8th to 12th century. However, it has also been indicated that the whole idea of the Celtic Cross was to make Christianity less threatening to the pagans by adding a Crosscircle representing the sun to the Christian cross.

In any case, I have a fascination with Celtic crosses and Celtic inspired design and the notion of a brand of Christianity that is closer to nature and less dominated by imperialism. Some of the older “High” crosses date to the 8th century and may have been used by the monastics to mark their boundaries. But just because they were not cast in stone until then does not mean they did not exist until then. There apparently was a renaissance in the 19th and 20th century as the cross was embraced anew and became popular for grave markers.

I now have over 1800 images in my Ireland file so if you have been following along you know that you have seen only the tip of the iceberg so far. Not that they are all worthy of further consideration but there certainly will be more to come once I have time to sit down and work with the images. So look for at least one more posting on Ireland but not before the middle of next week as I have to travel home, recover from jet lag, and celebrate my birthday before I can finish editing my pictures.

Bru na Boinne and Causey Farm

Mounds_KnowthAnother fun and full day. We headed out to Bru Na Boinne this morning. This is a megalithic burial complex which includes New Grange, Knowth and Dowth. The tombs here date to 3300 BC. Our group went to Knowth where there was one large mound surroundekerbstone_Knowth1d with numerous smaller ones. This picture shows two of the smaller ones. Around the large tomb are kerbstones with megalithic art inscribed on them. Each one is different and no one knows what they mean okerbstone_Knowth3r whether they are, in fact, just art. Here are a couple of examples.


After our tour of the megalithic site we traveled on to Causey Farm where we were served a very fresh farm to table lunch that included some of the most delicious tomatoes I have ever tasted, some hard boiled eggs, lettuce, ham, fresh backed soda bread, and of course a potato salad. I think they might call it cold champ. And for desert strawberry jam and clotted cream on a fresh backed scone. Yum.

PoniesNext up we went out to visit the Connemara Ponies who really just wanted to be fed but let us pet them anyway.

Some of our group learned to dance and everyone got to plaJackie_Susany the bodhran, a sort of Irish drum. Here are my friends Jackie and Susan showing off their new skills.


Next we mpiget a friendly pig. One of our group chose to kiss it on the nose. Yuck.




And last but certainly not least we got to see a sheepdog stsheepdogrut his stuff. Hard to believe we have only one more day in Ireland but it should be another good one.