Welcome Home Sweet Home!

Right now I can barely believe that less than a month ago I was still in Cuba.  All those hot colors, the tropical sun, the friendly people.  It was an experience I’ll never forget.  Now it’s also hard to believe that I’ve been home for almost a month.

Catching up at home means there has been very little time for putting down my thoughts.  It’s a beautiful spring in Connecticut.  Friends told me that for a full month before I got home it was cold and dreary. I guess I returned at exactly the right moment.

On one of my first outings with friends they told me was the first warm day of the spring.  The outing was a day trip to the Cloisters Museum in New York, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for those of you who are not familiar with it. It houses an impressive array of medieval art and is composed of architectural pieces of various medieval cloisters from all over Europe. Some of my oldest friends, and almost all of my ‘sheep group’ treated me to this amazing day in honor of my 60th birthday back in January.  They arranged for a docent to take us through the museum, followed by lunch at New Leaf in the park.

Judy and Julie put some of their photos together to make this video, which can be seen here on facebook.  Since I cannot figure out how to post it here, I’ll just put a few photos from the day. The following photos are from Jody, Judy and Julie, my “J” friends!

A stunning spring day at the entrance to the Cloisters.

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The main reason for our trip!–  A chance for me to see the “Hunt for the Unicorn” series again after moving away four years ago.  I used to visit the Cloisters numerous times a year since I lived only about 1/2 hour from the museum–now it’s been 4 years since I’ve had the opportunity to just pop by and see what’s in bloom and visit the tapestries I love so much.

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No visit to the Cloisters is complete without enjoying the wonderful cloistered gardens.  Because of the protection from the elements of a cold New York winter, these gardens bloom earlier and stay in bloom later than the surrounding area.  This garden, the kitchen and dye garden, has been heavily rearranged since I was last here.

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After our tour we walked through the gardens of Fort Tryon Park to the New Leaf restaurant.  It’s a gem, with a slate terrace for dining outside amongst the azaleas and dogwoods on an early May afternoon.  For my special day there were beautiful flower arrangements on the table and a 3-course lunch.  I felt like royalty….where was my tiara??

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Everyone arriving at the restaurant and taking a seat.  Look at those flowers!

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A gathering of such dear friends, including two of my new weaving friends from Connecticut who joined me.

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And lunch was amazing!  Jody photographed my lunch salad.  There were two choices for each course, but now I only remember what I chose….which, of course, was amazing! Now you know I’ve totally lost it when I post photos of food, but really, a meal here is such an experience!

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Dessert was a mango panna cotta.

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I am still on such a high.  I’ll never forget it, and I won’t ever get over the thrill of it!

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While I was enjoying one of the best events of my life Bob was sailing home through some very challenging weather off the Eastern Seaboard.  One of the rewards for enduring those spring gales was a day of complete calm after the storm, with visits from both dolphins and a humpback whale.  I know you’ll want to see the video that Dave (one of Bob’s crew members for the trip home) got of the dolphins and the humpback whale they encountered during the trip!

The following weekend was the annual lace retreat for the New England Lace Guild, and I attended for the second year.  I managed to spend the whole weekend working on my project from last year’s Idrija lace class, until I finally gave up on it and started a new and simpler project in that lace.  I did not take any photos while there….I was too busy working! Everyone helped me, but especially Linda and Mary.  Thank you.  Here is a look at my simpler project.  It looks a bit like a sea creature.  I hope to find something useful to do with it…

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Just after Bob returned home, we took a trip down to Baltimore to visit our older son and his wife.  They surprised us two-fold: first by flying our younger son out from San Francisco to join us, and then announcing the wonderful news that our first grandchild will arrive in December.  So much happiness and such a wonderful few days together.  They announced the news by giving me this for Mother’s Day:

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When being home includes such wonderful time with family and friends, it’s very hard to ever think of going away again.

Returning home does involve a lot of house chores to get things up and running again, and a good bit of gardening too, Bob and I have managed to take some time for sightseeing in our lovely part of the world.

We took a little river cruise on Pandora one evening in the middle of this week, to a spot I just love, where we can watch the Chester Ferry crossing to Hadlyme.  From this vantage point the sun sets behind us as we watch the last rays hit Gillette Castle.  It is a magical place, hard to tell what century we’re in as long as we don’t look at the cars on the ferry!

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This is Memorial Day weekend, and yesterday we took a drive to visit Cato Corner Dairy Farm and Priam Winery on the eastern side of the river from where we live.

Look at the charming shop on the farm property!

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And inside we were greeted by an even more charming sight–a farm girl ready to serve us tastings and sell us cheese!

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We took our cheese selections with us to Priam Vineyards and tasted a few white wines before choosing the one we had with lunch!

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Once at home I baked a batch of sour dough bread…. what a great welcome home!

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Now it’s time to stop with all this wonderful nonsense and get to work on a loom!  Hopefully I’ll be talking about that in my next post!

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Farewell to Cuba with a Surprise Stowaway

Our final day in Cuba – Pandora on the dock at Marina Hemingway. Isn’t it a lovely spot? Most days were a bit too hot, but our last day was picture perfect.

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We made plans to meet with a number of our new cruising friends for a goodbye drink—Anne and Christian aboard Tidom (France), Lars aboard Luna (Norwway), and the Trudel family (Silvain, Natali, Romane, Elisa, and Victor) aboard Masqueret (Quebec), and Addison and Pat aboard Three Penny Opera (Ontario). Some of us made plans to walk into Jaimanitas for dinner at a paladar that has a great reputation.

Jaimanitas has a section that is done in Gaudi-style mosaics, and it is a wonderfully colorful place. The mosaicist lives in the neighborhood and continues his homage to Gaudi with ongoing projects.

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The paladar was also wonderful. I did not get the name, shame on me! Beautiful ambience, room after room of open air seating and terrific food. Our two best meals of the trip took place here and at the paladar in Old Havana—Paladar los Mercederes.

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Early the next morning (April 29), we rose at 5.30 to head to the Guarda Frontera office to check out of Cuba. Bob took this photo of my exit interview with the Guarda Frontera before they warned him that photos are not permitted.

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What a sight to see the sunrise over Havana as we headed north for Florida in the early morning.  The odd shaped tower that gets a bit wider at the top on the right side of the photo is part of the sprawling Russian Embassy.

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It was a rough crossing, and I did not fare well. I had about 30 hours of mal de mer on the journey to Ft. Lauderdale, and that meant that poor Bob had to stay awake and do all the navigating during the trip. He was really tired when we finally arrived.

A couple of hours after leaving we noticed a snowy egret flying very close to us. He was very far from shore and was clearly getting tired. He made quite a few attempts to land, but he was having a lot of trouble landing onboard, both because he feet are not made for perching and the wind was quite strong.

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He tried several times to land on the lifelines near the stern of our boat, and he attempted to land on the dinghy up in davits a few times.

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Finally he made a successful landing up on the traveler, on the windward side. He stayed with us for the entire day, and luckily we stayed on the same starboard tack for most of the day. Whenever Bob adjusted the traveler or the sails the egret got very nervous, but he did not fly away. I felt terrible for him.

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Later, just a short time before sunset, we needed to tack to head up the coast of Florida. We knew it would startle our Cuban stowaway into taking flight, but we hoped he would return once the boat settled into its new course. The egret took flight and appeared to head right back for Cuba. He never even looked back. It was getting dark, and now Cuba was more than 60 miles away. As a wading bird, egrets cannot land on water. We had already watched him try to land and flounder a bit as he struggled to ascend again.

I had imagined that this bird, like all birds, must have some inborn navigation sense, and I thought there’d be a good chance that this bird knew we were sailing northeast. He might not know that there would be land to the northeast, but I was hoping he’d want to stick with us to find out. Certainly it would have been an easy trip for him if he could make peace with confined so close to us. But he headed right back to Cuba once we frightened him by changing tack. I was heartbroken by this. He had almost no chance of making it all the way back.

And speaking of stowaways…. as we left Marina Hemingway and entered the Straits of Florida, we heard the power yacht that had cleared out of Cuba just before we did, call Marina Hemingway to report what they thought were two boats in trouble:  a small fishing boat far offshore, and a small sailboat.  The sailor immediately answered the call to say that he was not in trouble.  No info on the fishing boat–most likely because they didn’t have a radio.  We saw a large Guarda Frontera cutter (possibly an ex-US Coast Guard cutter?) come out from the harbor to check things out.  Look at the gun on the bow!

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Moments later a bright red Donzi-type speed boat joined the cutter and both boats circled the small sailboat for quite some time.  The sailboat lowered its sails and drifted as the two Guarda Frontera vessels checked things out.  In the end, both Guarda Frontera boats went back to the harbor, which means they never did check out the report of a fishing boat in trouble.  Hmmm….

Clearing in with Customs and Immigration in Ft. Lauderdale was quite an experience. With the quickly changing rules about US citizens visiting Cuba, no one really knows what the procedure should be right now. We expected to be visited by the health department and immigration to check for stowaways and rum and cigars, and any forbidden food items in our fridge/freezer. When Bob called to find out where we should go, he was given numerous phone numbers and no one at the other end of the line at any of these numbers knew what to do with us! In fact one phone number gave us nothing but a recorded message saying that this office is now officially closed and no one would be checking messages henceforth! 24 hours after arriving we got a phone call from one of our previously called contacts asking us to present ourselves at the immigration office at the ship terminal. We only needed to present ourselves, not Pandora, so we rented a car to get there, which allowed us the ability to do some shopping and dining afterward. When we arrived they did not look at all the papers we brought with us— such as our Commerce Dept. form that allowed us to sail Pandora to Cuba. They only looked at our passports, and asked us if we had a good time in Cuba.

You bet! It has been an unbelievable experience!

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Basket Man

Yesterday may have been our last day to visit Old Havana, and I’m so glad I didn’t know it then because I would have felt a need to rush about more. Luckily we had a relaxing day and enjoyed some kind of holiday celebration that was happening.

We are trying to figure out the best ‘weather window’ for leaving Cuba. We knew we’d get the window some time this week, and now it looks like tomorrow is the day. So, here is our loose game plan. The winds are opposing the gulf stream a good deal of the time right now, but for the next couple of days those winds are pretty mild from pre-dawn until midday. So we will leave early in the morning, and sail in the gulf stream until the afternoon, when hopefully we will be near Key Largo. At that point we’ll head toward shore, out of the stream, and sail near the Florida coast until early the next morning when the winds die down again. We’ll head back into the Gulf Stream to Ft. Lauderdale, where we hope to clear in. By doing this we get a boost of speed from the northbound currents in the Gulf Stream while the opposing winds are mild, and when those opposing winds are stronger during the afternoon and evenings, we’ll slip out of the stream into the calmer waters outside the stream. I’m sure I’ll be sick, but hopefully less so than during some of our passages this winter.

The US Coast Guard sent us an email the other day (right after Bob had just composed a message to them) to ask if we were still on schedule for returning to the US by May 1. Bob responded, and we are hoping to hear back on whether we can clear in to Ft. Lauderdale. I have my fingers crossed about this because it will be more convenient for us to arrive in Ft. Lauderdale than in Miami. My flight home is Tuesday morning, out of Ft. Lauderdale.

Bob has just heard that the no-anchoring bill in Florida will indeed go into effect on May 1, so our plans for arriving in Ft. Lauderdale have to be adjusted. We will go to Miami instead, not a first choice for either of us. I guess we will rent a car to get to my Ft. Lauderdale flight. That’s boat life for you….you can make all the plans you want, even at the last minute, when you think you’ve got everything in hand, but the powers that be just laugh and laugh.

Yesterday we went back into Old Havana to look for the headquarters of the Women’s Federation for Handwork. Over the weekend we found the retail shop where the garments are sold, but the workshop where women take courses and make things for the shop is closed on the weekends. Yesterday we had a bit of a run around trying to find the workshop. When we did find it, we learned that all the ‘professores’ were gone since classes only take place in the mornings, while we arrived in the early afternoon. Maybe it’s just my imagination, and a leftover feeling from my visit to the workshop in Santiago, but I got the distinct impression that there would be complications trying to get anyone to see me. Yesterday I got to speak to a custodian and a language teacher, but when I asked for a ‘manager’ they both responded that ‘this was not possible.’ After meeting the open and generous women on the Paseo del Prada, and sharing such an excitement for handwork in spite of our communication barriers, I just couldn’t muster enough energy at this point to care if I met the administrators of this federation. I don’t think their goals are quite the same as mine. Admittedly I do not have the ‘whole picture,’ but from my limited perspective I believe their goal is to promote traditional clothing and make a successful business training women to keep these techniques alive and make the garments ‘saleable.’ It is a business venture that needs to succeed, and I hope it does succeed because that just makes handwork more valuable to everyone. But my mission is to meet women who love handwork and want to share what they do. I found that in spades with the group of women who surround Adriana Martinez.

It was some kind of holiday yesterday, but I never understood what! Several people wished us a ‘happy holiday,’ and museums were open in Old Havana that had been closed during our previous visits. While we were in the ceramic museum, I asked our guide what holiday was being celebrated, and she replied that it was the national holiday for ceramics. Bob and I are not at all sure we understood this properly. All kinds of museums were open that have been closed during our previous visits…maybe the holiday was really about Cuban heritage. Anyway, our guide still maintained that it was a ceramics holiday.

The ceramic museum was in the home of an historic ceramic artist who had a workshop and shop on the ground floor and living quarters for his family on the upper floor. The building was from the late 19th century with a central courtyard, and it made a wonderful museum for a history of Cuban ceramic artists. Each room featured a different time period of artists’ works. The courtyard was devoted to vessels and large figures.

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Our guide understood enough English for me to tell her that one of my good friends is a ceramics artist who does large figures in terracotta. I took these photos for her.

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Somehow in our conversation it came about that our guide loves to knit. She took us to the entrance of the employees lounge and asked us to be very quiet since her boss was in there. She went in and came back moments later with a little bag of her knitting. It was the same ecru cotton floss type thread that the women on Paseo del Prada were using to crochet and make lace. I wonder where they get this material. Our guide told us she’d like to knit all day long, but can only find a few minutes here and there during her breaks at work. She said she never gets any time to knit at home because she has to cook and take care of her family. Sound familiar?

There were so many places open for touring or for business that had not been open all weekend long. It was a festive day, and there women dressed in traditional costumes on many street corners. You could take a photo of there for $5 CUC, which seemed a bit dear to us. Near the end of the day, Bob managed a discreet photo from a distance.

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One of the places that had been closed over the weekend was a perfumerie. We had looked through the windows of this museum/shop and admired the antique brass containers used for distilling fragrances, the wonderful colonial furniture and display cabinets, and the glass apothercary jars that held the fragrances. I was thrilled to get into this shop to see things at close range! Bob took some photos while I smelled the fragrances and bought a ceramic jar of violetta for myself and lavender for my sister.

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Every store has a beautiful courtyard since they are housed in historic buildings. This is the courtyard of the perfumeria.  Bob and I had been admiring the stained glass every time we walked by this building over the weekend.

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In the late afternoon yesterday, Bob and I happened upon a young man making baskets from palm fronds. In his large basket he had a number of exquisite, small items made from the fronds….birds, and a little house with a cricket on top.

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He was easy to talk to and knew enough English that we could communicate quite well. As Bob and I were marveling at the fineness of these tiny basket creations, he offered me one of his ‘birds.’ It appeard that he was giving me a gift, but I wasn’t entirely sure. Here again was someone offering a gift and letting fate take his generosity where it would. I put the bird back in his large basket and asked him for the little house with a cricket on top. Buying that took a bit more time and frustration than we’d anticipated! First, Bob could not find his money, and as he searched we had the sickening feeling that maybe we’d lost all our money. After a few heartstopping minutes he did find his stash of money, but then we did not have exact change to buy the little cricket. The basket maker could not make change for us. So Bob went in to the local bar to ask for change, but they did not have it either. Then the basket maker left his spot to go buy a beer which would give him change. (You can walk about the streets in Havana with alcohol). He came back smiling, and yet he still did not have the necessary change! In the end, laughing, he accepted somewhat less than his price, and he still handed me the little bird as a gift.

Bob and I went to dinner with my little house with cricket and my birdie sitting on the table before us as a quirky centerpiece. We kept admiring both these baskets, and I decided I had to have another little house with cricket as a present. I hoped we’d still find our basket maker on the street where we left him by the time we left the restaurant—which was a beautiful courtyard that had once been a print shop.

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Restaurant Imprenta:

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When we got back to the spot where we’d seen the basket maker, the other street artists had just finished packing up their wares and were headed home. Likely the basket maker would soon be doing the same. But we’d gotten there just in time to ask if we could watch him make a little house with cricket on top, and he seemed happy to oblige even though he still had one already made. It took about 20 minutes for him to make, and we had a wonderful conversation with him as he worked.

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He started with two long palm fronds and crossed the fronds (north/south/east/west) over each other in the middle of the frond lengths. Starting with the ends that taper down to points, he began to fold each frond over the other in a consecutive direction. Since the fronds were tapering down to their outer ends the little box he was making got smaller and smaller, tapering like the fronds themselves. This made the roof of the house.

 

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Then he went back to the other half of the fronds that led to the base of where they’d been cut from the tree, and he made the same consecutive folds for making a square. This made the house itself. Very clever. He cut some frond strips to insert into the box for doors and windows.

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The exquisite litte cricket!

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As he worked we talked…. He loves to make baskets and these little figures are things he ‘invents’ himself. He is always thinking of ways to make some kind of little structure or animal out of the traditional basket making techniques that he uses to make regular baskets. He took out his phone and showed us photos of his baskets. If he’d had any of these with him I would have bought some too! He does careful work that results in beautiful baskets!

I told him that I sometimes make baskets too, but not from palm fronds since there are no palm trees where I live. Bob took my phone and began showing photos of my weaving and bobbin lace since he could not find any photos of my baskets. When Bob showed a photo of my tatting the basketmaker’s face lit up and he said his wife does this! I asked if his wife also does crochet and ‘tejer,’ and of course he said yes! He said she loves these techniques and loves to work with her hands. We had a little discussion of how it feels to let our hands work the repetitive motions of these crafts while our minds are free to ponder. Making things with our hands allows our brains time to contemplate many things.   He also told me he plays the piano and the violin. Someday he’d like to have a cello. He loves the cello most of all.

After giving me the little house with cricket he’d just made, he asked if I’d like him to make a snake. Naturally I said yes. I was curious to see what other techniques might be used to make these little figures, and the snake involved a different kind of manipulation of the fronds. When he finished he gave me that too. He really was most generous!

The only downside of our visit with him happened when a woman stopped for a moment to watch while he was making little cricket on top of the house for me. He offered her the one that was already completed. When he told her the price ($3 CUC) she said, “Big city prices….no thank you!” and walked away. We were all stunned. Yes, there are vendors who have high prices for things and who expect you to bargain, but these are mostly vendors who sell things that they have bought to sell. The artists we’ve encountered sell their work for very little, and I cannot imagine haggling with them. Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but how can you expect to pay even less for such an exquisite concoction of creativity? $3 Cuc for 20 minutes of work? Also, as a craftsman myself, I have stood in my own booths over the years and overheard people say that handwoven items are too expensive—that you can buy something just like it in a store for far less.

Well, you cannot buy a little basket woven house with a tiny cricket on top in any store that I know of. I was disappointed in this exchange. It would have been better for her to acknowledge what a little gem he’d just handed her, but that she could not spare the money at this time. It’s such a sad commentary that she felt she had to devalue his work in order to get away.

During all our cab trips to and from Old Havana we drive through modern Havana, including Embassy Row.  The US Embassy is newly opened and has never been on the avenue where all the other embassies are.  Most of the embassies are in historic colonial buildings and are quite a sight.  The Russian Embassy is the exception, although it too is quite a sight!  It is an wonderful example of Soviet architecture.

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Tonight we’ll have drinks around the pool here in Marina Hemingway with some of the other cruisers we’ve met in the last few weeks, along with Lars whom we met as we arrived in Cuba two months ago.  Some of us will walk to a local Spanish restaruant in the nearby town (Jaimentio?–something like that) to have a final dinner together.  Then is farewell to Havana and to Cuba.  It’s been great, but home is beckoning.  Bienvenidos Florida by this time on Friday!

 

Posted in baskets, bobbin lace, crochet, holiday, knitting, Lace, sailing, travel | 1 Comment

Adriana, Nancy, Dazmira, Hidalgo!

Everyone turns out on Sundays in Havana. The weather is always fine, so why not? I found more women crowded around Adriana late Sunday morning., and we had another session of exciting talk about handwork.

Since Adriana’s table was not covered in other people’s work in need of her advice, she showed us the progress she has made on her lace blouse. She is more than half finished. Very soon I became too involved in conversations to take any photos, so I’m glad Bob took a lot!

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Look at the wonderful work these women are doing. A beautiful bobbin lace (bolillo) piece.

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Tatted sleeves, anyone? I would never have thought of it! This is tatting with pearl beads, and is a stunning piece. In black and white it would make the most elegant eveningwear, attached to a silk tunic. The tatting was perfectly done. Doesn’t it look fabulous on Adriana? She did not make it, but since she was wearing the perfect green tank top she had to model it!

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I happened to wear one of my Turkish scarves, which all the women loved. They asked to take photographs of it because they want to try their hands at crocheting this type of edging with fun, dangly flowers. I bet they’ll have it figured out in no time!

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Dazmira has her own booth nearby Adriana, where she displays her crocheted blouses, little girls’ dresses, handbags and hats. She buys large containers of the pull-tabs from beer bottles for $1 CUC (about $1.15 US) with which she embellishes many of her handbags and hats. She also crochets with plastic shopping bags and old video tapes. You can find her on Facebook as Dazmira.  I’ll post a link when I get home.

As is typical in Cuba, you cannot give a gift without getting something in return, though this has taken almost two months for me to realize. I think this is what caused some awkwardness when I gave away some spools of tatting thread to the teacher at the Women’s Federation in Santiago. Here, though, it was wonderful to see Adriana’s face light up with the spools of lace thread I brought for her. She showed me a baby’s outfit she made with this type of fine cotton. She took the pattern for a handkerchief edging (perfect square opening in the center for the neckline) and adapted it to make the bodice of a little boy’s one-piece suit. I got weak in the knees when I saw the lace bodice on this outfit, but I could not bring myself to buy it. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, and I don’t want to jinx it!

Instead I bought two beautiful pieces of tape lace and a small Torchon centerpiece.

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Adriana gave me a pair of tatted earrings done in navy and pale blue with fire polished crystals! I treasure them!

I don’t remember this woman’s name, but she turns out a lot of elaborate tatted projects. She made the interesting green and white beaded sleeves, and here she is modeling (against her will) a lacy tatted hat that has not been starched yet. It will be such a frivolous and fun accessory when it’s finished.

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The materials available in Cuba dictate the projects these women make. Most of the cotton threads are thicker than we are familiar with for doing tatting or bobbin lace. If I’d known so many of these women tat, I would have brought much more of that. Ah, well.   The tatting projects and bobbin lace projects are done with cotton that is considerably thicker than what we use in the US. Some of it looks like cotton floss, but even thicker—almost like a 12 strand floss. I can see it is NOT easy to work with in tatting because it splits so easily. Still, these women manage very well.

Adriana believes that they can now receive mail from the US. Boy, I hope so. I will send them more fine threads to work with. They oohed and ahhed over the threads I brought with me, and of course you can fit a lot of thread in a small package. The problem will be with mail service between the US and Cuba, and hopefully Adriana is right that things have already changed.

Internet in Cuba is challenging since it is rationed, so although there is plenty of information online these women cannot access it.   I bet it will be at least a month before I settle back into taking internet access for granted when I get home. It’s been highly frustrating here!

There were two handwoven scarves on Adriana’s display. When I questioned her about them she told me they had been woven by a man. I made all kinds of motions to describe a rigid heddle loom, and she was nodding her head through my whole pantomime, so I think that’s what was used to weave these scarves.

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Adriana is very interested in having instructions to make a simple floor loom, so I will be on the lookout for that when I get back home. I have not found any handweaving in Cuba, and she confirmed that herself. She did not know the word for handwoven in Spanish, nor the word for ‘loom.’ She was calling it the ‘machina por maya,’ the machine for fabric, until I wrote down the word ‘loom’ for her in her notebook.

Hidalgo joined us again, and Adriana teased him that he already knows so much about handwork he should start crocheting himself! And that’s when I learned that he paints, and sculpts and does woodworking in his free time. The people who have booths on the Paseo del Prada are very interesting, and I know I would enjoy getting to know them better! I hope we can stay connected through email…we have all exchanged email addresses.

In the end we discussed the value of handwork. When I said that not many women do handwork in the US, and that when they see it for sale many women are shocked at the price we ask for handwovens, lace, knitting…etc. These Cuban women agreed. They said young women in Cuba want inexpensive, manufactured garments. We agreed that in both the US and in Cuba women who do handwork are the biggest supporters of textile handwork! We buy from each other! In the photo below, from left to right: me, Adriana, Nancy, and Dazmira.

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Later in the day, near the restaurant we enjoyed on Mercederes we found a small gallery of woodcut prints. A group of artists were working together, sharing a printing press that had been donated by Unicef.   The gallery itself was part of a beautiful historic building.

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4-25-16c 002We ended the day with an early dinner at an outside café called Dominica, where the music was more intoxicating than the mojitos! First a band of men playing xylophone, bongos, guitar, saxophone and string bass, followed by a ‘girl band’ playing keyboard, saxophone, bongos and string bass, with a wonderful female lead singer. Beyond mariachis there are some other interesting percussive instruments, including a hollowed out gourd that has grooves incised along one side. You play it by rubbing a stick across the grooves, and it adds a wonderful rhythmic nuance to bongos and mariachis. I don’t know what it’s called—maybe it’s just called what it is!—a gourd. I love the rhythms of Cuban music— samba and bossa nova. Fantastic! You cannot sit still to this music, which must by why Cubans, and many tourists, are always dancing!

 

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Four Posts All at Once!

Normally I would never do this, but I had to put up four posts all at once today.  I hope you will page back through them!  We have had no internet for 10 days now, but lots of wonderful experiences during that time.  So please, please take a look!

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Magical Havana

What else could I possibly say about a first visit to Havana, where Bob and I found everything we’d hope to find and more that we didn’t expect, other than it was magical?

Saturday morning we took a cab from Marina Hemingway to Havana Viejo. Months ago I posted information about a woman named Adriana Martinez who teaches bobbin lace and tatting and other lace making techniques in an outdoor setting called the Paseo del Prada. This is also the area where you can find well maintained American cars from the 1950s on display.

Our taxi driver dropped us near the Capitolio (currently under renovation that will make this landmark look positively new), and I struggled to find the Paseo del Prada on our map of Old Havana. I was looking at all the little green squares that signify a ‘park,’ but in fact as we wandered, we found it before I ever located it on the map. We saw a lot of art and handwork on display on the park-like median between two large boulevards that starts right at the capitol.

There were brightly colored paintings on display and several ‘workshops’ set up for children to try their hands at painting. But there were just as many women with handwork on display, mostly crochet. I was impressed to see so many women sitting on portable chairs in front of their displays, watching the crowds walk by while their hands were literally a blur, turning out crochet projects at impressive speed. The crochet work is really fine and beautiful. Cotton blouses with lace crochet insets, crocheted shawls and dresses, many dresses for little girls—all of it done in ecru cotton.

And then, before I recognized what I was seeing, there was a group of women clustered around one woman, and about half the women were working on lace pillows while the other have were tatting or crocheting. Moments later when I took my eyes from the bobbin lace work and the tatting, I recognized Adriana Martinez from the link I had found last summer about the arts of Cuba and Joan Sperans’ photo of Adriana.

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Can you imagine hearing about an artist who has a display in a park in New York (or any major city in the US) and going there and finding that very artist within moments of arriving? Maybe it could happen, but I can’t tell you how shocked I am to find the very woman, the only woman, I’d heard of doing bobbin lace in all of Cuba. I am stunned!

In this photo Adriana is helping a student with their bobbin lace project (bolillo).  Under the student’s pillow is Adriana’s project: a blouse made entirely of bobbin lace!

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While I talked to Adriana and a woman named Nancy who knew a bit more English, Bob took my phone and began showing photos of my own work to the other women: tapestry, knitting, bobbin lace. I gave Adriana and Nancy my card, and then all the students wanted cards as well. I was so touched that these women were interested in me, but naturally we were all interested in each other. It is thrilling to find people in a distant location doing the very thing you love to do so much! We were all quite intrigued with each other! At one point Nancy called a man over to interpret for us, and I was shocked at how many textile words he knew. I don’t know if he was related to one of the women doing lace or if he was just someone with his own artwork on display nearby. He was a young man named Hidalgo, rather macho looking, wearing a muscle shirt and smoking a cigar, and he knew all the English words for the techniques and materials the women were using.

And speaking of men, I have to mention that every time an official has come onboard Pandora, either from the Guarda Frontera of the Health Department, or even the fishermen who have rowed these officials out to inspect us, all these men have known that the pile of yarn and needles laying about our cockpit is called ‘tejer.’ Every time, no kidding, one of the men will point to my knitting and say ‘tejer.’ Presuming I might not know what they’re saying they will often put up both their hands and make a pantomime of knitting. There’s no mistaking their pantomime for crocheting or any other handwork. And I can’t help but think of all the American men who always assume I’m quilting, whether I’m sitting in front of a loom or a spinning wheel, or holding knitting needles or have a lace pillow in front of me. When I tell them the name of what I’m actually doing, the standard response is “Quilting…knitting…whatever.” How refreshing that Cuban men know the difference!

Here is a photo I meant to use weeks ago, on my first trip into Cienfuegos. Again, one of the Guarda Frontera had seen my knitting and correctly identified what I was doing. I already knew that many women in Cuba crocheted. I had made a joke to Bob that I could not imagine what women might knit or crochet in such a hot climate. And then I saw this!

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The day only got more and more magical. Bob found lots of wonderful antique cars all along the Paseo del Prada and along the road that edges the coast and the Havana harbor. I found the location of the Quitrin shop that sells traditional clothing. I asked if the school of handwork was nearby, and they told me where to find it, although it is closed on the weekends. I hope to visit on Monday.

Every aspect of the day had a touch of magic to it. Walking through the pedestrian only, cobbled streets, we came to the privately owned restaurant (called a paladar) that was written up in the Lonely Planet Guidebook as the best restaurant in all of Havana. We were wilted from the heat and not feeling appropriately attired for such a nice restaurant. But we both felt that since we’d found it would be a shame to pass up such a chance. Paladars are a recent business venture in Cuba, a chance for Cubans to own their own business. Almost all businesses are owned by the government. There are lots of rules about running a privately owned restaurant, from how many tables you can have to who can be hired for staff. Just a couple of years ago the restaurant staff had to be family members of the owner. This restaurant, Paladar los Mercaderes, had quite a large staff, and clearly were not related.

I was asking our waiter for recommendations and also explaining that we’d like to try some traditional Cuban items when man seated at the adjacent table, having dinner alone, introduced himself as the owner of the restaurant and began making recommendations of what we should try.  After we ordered, he also insisted that we try a glass of the French Medoc he was drinking, and it was delicious, of course! Yamil Alvarez Torres and his wife and one of his cousins are partners in this venture.

Yamil owns two fishing boats, one on the north coast and one on the southcoast, which supply all the fish for the restaurant. Yamil used to live in this beautiful space with his wife and daughter, and he says he did all the renovations himself to turn it into a stunning setting for his restaurant. When you arrive you walk up a staircase strewn with red and white rose petals to a beautiful dining room appointed with ornate colonial furniture. Our dinner was octopus boiled and then grilled (very tender!) served with two sauces: one was lightly sauteed onions and the other a house-made pesto. Our main course was braised lamb with green olives, onions and small red and green peppers in a bittersweet dark sauce. The flavors were wonderful together! Tangy olives and pungent peppers in a mysterious dark, bitterweet sauce. Dessert was a layered chocolate confection with a torched sugar topping (like the topping on a crème brulee) that I simply cannot describe! It was all excellent, and momentarily after arriving both of us had lost our wilted, bedraggled feeling and were thoroughly enjoying ourselves!

Perhaps the end of the evening was the most magical part of the day. Earlier we had noticed a large park being set up for a dinner. Tables and chairs draped in white cloths (what do you call those covers for chairs?) with centerpieces of red roses filled this square near the San Francisco ship terminal. There was a stage being set up and some dancers were milling about wearing angel costumes. We enjoyed the scene and then wandered on our way. At the end of the evening we found the event in full swing. It turned out to be an American tour group. While I stood in the square transfixed by a harpist playing Debussy’s First Arabesque, Bob began chatting with a couple who’d stepped away from their dining table.

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On the one hand, I could not believe I was standing in a square in Old Havana, listening to a harpist play one of my favorite pieces of music, while Bob was learning about the tour group who was having such an extravagant event on the square. It was a large group of people from the AIA, the American Institute of Architects, a group that Bob’s father was closely involved with during all the years he was publisher of “Progressive Architecture.” When I joined the conversation, the man speaking to Bob was saying that he read “Progressive Architecture” for many years.

Bob has moments almost every day when he thinks of his father and wishes he could make a quick phone call to his dad, even though it’s now been over two years since his dad passed away. We were both pretty stunned to find that this extravagant event that we’d watched being set up earlier in the day and that was now in full swing, brought Bob’s father back to us so intensely. It ended our evening in Old Havana perfectly.

Finding a cab back to Marina Hemingway late at night was not quite as easy as we’d imagined. All the taxis wanted more than twice the fare we’d paid earlier in the day. In the long run we found a taxi willing to take us back for only a little more than we’d paid in the morning.

Our driver calls himself Shrek and has a well-preserved red Chevrolet convertible with an almost spotless white interior. It was a terrific ride along the coast back to the marina.

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He’d never been to Marina Hemingway before so we had him deliver us right to the side of Pandora tied up along a bulkhead. I tried to get photos of the car and Pandora together—not too easy late at night! And Shrek took photos on his phone while Bob and I did the same.

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It was a fun ending to a magical day!

 

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An Embarrassment of Generosity

Before we started sailing long distances, someone (who shall not be named) gave me the book An Embarrassment of Mangos, in preparation for the tropical destinations Bob and I were planning to visit. It’s a well-known book among cruisers.

While we have found a lot of mangos here in Cuba, what I find even more in abundance is generosity. Starting with our driver Noel, in Santiago de Cuba, I began to notice that getting supplies is almost impossible in this country, and people have to rely on serendipity. They give generously of what they have and sometimes they get just what they need in return. Mostly though, they have to be exceedingly industrious to make or fabricate what they need out of the random things that come their way—like those fishermen we encountered in the inner-tube boat with rag bag sail. Still, they have a generosity of spirit that compels them to share what they have no matter what comes back to them. It’s quite astonishing.

So we had a very gentle sail to Cayo Levisa today, which might be our last stop before arriving in Havana. I don’t know how long we’ll be in Cayo Levisa because we chose this spot to wait out a cold front that should arrive at any moment. Cold fronts always have strong, northerly winds, and since we are on the north coast of Cuba that can mean some pretty rough conditions.   Where we are tucked in, we have reefs and some little cayos for protection, and we are a ways out from the mainland, which would be a dangerous lee shore in northerly winds. A ‘lee shore’ means that the winds are blowing you toward land, never a good thing in strong winds. After just hearing Bob’s conversation with our weather router, the venerable Chris Parker, it looks like we may here for a full week! Sheesh! Chris is calling this the never-ending winter because cold fronts, which should be done in March, are still making a weekly appearance. I wonder what is going on in the northern US, where most of these fronts originate.

About midday during our sail, I was startled to see a little brown bird fly right into our cockpit and right down the companionway into our cabin! Bob went down below to check on him and get him outside again. Bob opened a hatch and the little bird flew right out again. I think Bob has had a bird onboard during every long passage he has taken over the past few years….but we were not offshore today! We were only a mile or so from land! Little bird didn’t fly away but landed on our foredeck. He did not appear tired or injured; he did not appear the least bit frightened. He marched up and down the decks, looking, as all birds do, a bit like some kind of military officer. All he needed were some gold stars on his shoulders to complete the look. He perched on some of the lines, and as Bob was constantly tweaking at our sails, which meant some of the lines started moving, he would calmly just hop to a different line.

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We don’t know what kind of bird he is. He was bigger than a sparrow, but smaller than a robin, with a black, finch-type beak. He had a dull golden/olive breast and was blotchy brown over the rest of his body, similar to a cowbird’s coloring. I think he was about 6” tall.

He checked out the entire boat, coming back into the cockpit with us for a while, even flying down below again. Bob had to go down and open a hatch for him again. In spite of the fact that Bob was in close quarters with him down below as well as being the giant who originated all the noise of the electric winches moving lines and sails, the little bird was not the least bit intimidated by being close to Bob. Bob put out some crumbs of my somewhat stale homemade whole wheat/rye bread. He seemed to enjoy that! Bob also put out a small plate with a puddle of water on it, and although the bird perched on the plate a couple of times, he did not actually drink any water. He spent a lot of time preening, and I could only imagine that he didn’t like feeling salty anymore than we do! He spent about two hours with us, and he was very curious about us and about the whole boat. He spent some time in the dinghy investigating my window box full of herbs and the pink geranium. At one point he was perched right beside me looking at my legs quite intently. I really thought he was going to hop on my legs, and I was willing myself not to flinch or shriek if he should do it. He looked me in the eye for a moment and then hopped elsewhere. I swear he could tell I was fearful!

Most of the time when a bird takes refuge on our boat it is exhausted and more often than not these birds die onboard. It is very sad. We always think they have gotten lost from their migrating flock and become too exhausted to finish the trip. It was wonderful to have a curious, healthy bird on board. When he’d had enough of a visit he took off.

The other highlight of today is the focus of my thoughts –our encounter with the generous Cubans on Cayo Levisa. The Guarda Frontera does not have an office on this island, so when a cruising boat comes in, the dive boat captain goes to the mainland to pick up an officer of the Guarda Frontera. When they return you are expected to take your dinghy ashore to pick up the GF officer to bring him onboard your boat for the paperwork and inspection.

When we saw the dive boat arrive with the officer Bob headed to shore. As Bob picked up the officer, the dive boat captain handed Bob a big papaya! After doing the paper work with the officer, Bob returned him to shore with the daily dispatch of bars of soap, one for the officer and one to thank the captain for the papaya. Well! The dive boat captain had more gifts for us — an abundance of wonderful vegetables! Two small heads of bok choi, a large head of leafy lettuce, and some interesting long beans that look similar to green beans or pole beans! It was such a generous gift!

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Like the woman in Marea del Portillo, who gave us all her eggs (13!) and 8 tomatoes and even all her coffee, this man gave freely of what he had that he thought we might want. It wasn’t exactly what we would have bought if we’d had access to a store. But this is a culture where there is not access to stores and he knew it was very likely we were in need of fresh green veggies not easily found.   Both these people gave freely of what they had without knowing if we could give them anything in return, much less anything that would be useful to them. The woman in Marea del Portillo asked for clothes and shoes, and I have a feeling she would have preferred childrens’ sizes of these items, while I could only give her adult clothing and shoes. Still, she had generously offered up what she had, hoping she’d get something useful in return.

That’s just what the captain did. After giving us the wealth of his fresh food, he asked Bob if we had an extra screwdriver. Bob said he’d check in his tool box. Mostly, we do not have extras of any tools, so we are disappointed that we do not have a screwdriver for him. Although it is our natural reaction to hand him our only screwdriver, it would be a potentially dangerous situation for Bob to make such a long passage home without a full tool box. Bob has found that he has an extra vice grip wrench (bought in Florida when he couldn’t find the one he already had), and we certainly hope that the captain will be happy to get one.

Dinner last night was memorable, but I’m not sure if was truly the taste or the immense gratitude of having fresh ingredients. I sautéed a little bacon and then used the bacon fat to sauté some small local onions that look like cipollini to me, green beans, a head of bok choi, and plenty of garlic right at the end. Then I added a health splash of balsamic vinegar and let it reduce to a syrup. I stirred in bow tie pasta with a little of the starchy cooking water. We grated lots of parmesan on top and it was very a memorable dinner. Thank you, Captain!

It’s still a bit mind boggling to me that you can’t just go to the nearest big town and find a hardware store or even a market. A major aspect of life here is giving what you can and seeing what comes back to you. In our experience, the Cubans do this very well.

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A Couple of Perfect Days

Bob’s mother was notorious for invoking the saying “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” whenever anyone needed some cheering up. It’s uncanny how often that saying is true.

We’ve now had three very easy days of sailing and peaceful evenings at remote anchorages along the reefs and cayos in the Archipielago de los Colorados.

The morning after Bob’s visit with the fishermen we were all up about the same time. By the time Bob and I decided to up anchor, the crew, minus the captain, had donned full-length wet suits, and were jumping in the water with plastic bins tied to their waists on a long tether of wire. Considering what we’ve seen of fishermen, it has to be unusual for these men to have wet suits. The bins had a bit of Styrofoam on each side to help them float, and each man had his own bin. They made a circle around our boat, so that we could not leave. It was fascinating to watch them. They were picking up something that definitely wasn’t lobster or conch. Eventually one of the men’s bins was very close to us, and we could look down into the bin to see a healthy catch of sea cucumbers. Based on how often the men surfaced and threw a pile of these into their bins, they were having a very good catch of these creatures. We are guessing that these might get shipped to Japan. Still, I’m sure it’s the Cuban government who makes a good profit on these delicacies—not the men.

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When the men moved off a bit we were able to up anchor and head out. Our destination was another Cayo Levisa, about 30 miles east. At the end of the day we stopped at Punta Alonso Rojas, which I thought was a cayo, but which turned out be a large clump of mangrove in the middle of the longest run of mangroves I have ever seen. It was most of our horizon! It looked like a series of islands, but on closer inspection each ‘island’ was a massive grove of mangroves. In fact, some of these mangrove areas looked like hills, but it turned out that there were very large mangroves in the middle that had to be over 75 feet tall with younger smaller mangroves growing outward from the giants. I had no idea they got that tall!

Just as Bob was putting the dinghy in the water so we could go ‘exploring’ a very small homemade fishing boat approached. Two men were rowing with homemade oars (I should mentioned that every row boat we’ve seen has had very rudimentary, homemade oars) on a boat made out of wooden slats, like a raft, with truck tire inner-tubes for floatation. The inner-tubes had been cut and straightened, then somehow tied closed at each end and filled with air. They must leak and need re-filling all the time, yet these guys had been out on the reefs all day and were returning home as the sun got lower. We bought two big lobster tails from them—again $5 CUC for both. Bob threw in a bar of soap –boy, was that the dumbest thing we brought along, based on very outdated advice from someone. So every day from now on we are giving out at least one bar of soap.

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I happened to read The Boys in the Boat earlier during this trip, and I cannot help but compare the local fisherman here to the men who race rowing shells. I am convinced this sport must be about the hardest thing a body can do. When I see how far these fisherman row, in boats that do not skim the water easily, and with oars that are far from sleek, all the way out into ocean waters, no matter what the weather…well, I’m speechless. Crew is an amazing sport, but what these men do is just beyond comprehension to me.

Then the most amazing sight occurred. We were so impressed by the ingenuity and industry of these two men who fashioned a fishing boat out of a wooden raft with tire inner-tubes, yet that was nothing compared to what they did next. They raised a gaff rig sail made of dozens of pieces of scrap fabric. And I’d bet money those scraps had been sewn together by hand…it was an impressive sail made of years of leftover fabric scraps. They were running downwind on two inner-tubes with a sail from the rag bag, and it was quite a vision.

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We took the dinghy to inspect the maze of little waterways between these mangrove ‘islands,’ and saw that the older plants in the center had huge trunks, as big as any maple or oak we’ve got at home. How old is a mangrove that big?? We threaded our way through lots of estuaries. It was fascinating how many mangrove ‘islands’ there are here. Each time we headed toward what we thought was finally going to be real island, perhaps even the place where the fishermen had returned home, but as far as we went it was all mangroves. There were miles and miles of shallow water supporting this mangrove forest. I don’t know how far those fishermen had to go to reach real land.

Since finishing the cabled sweater I’ve been inundated with ideas for projects. In one case I think I’ve improved on a project already underway. I’ve got yarn onboard that I was using to make a shadow knit sweater for one of my nieces. I was knitting the shadow stripes so they’d sit vertically on the sweater, and I was just beginning a funnel neck collar for the back when I set it aside a few weeks ago. Suddenly I just wasn’t that enthralled with my design. Then just after cabled sweater completion I had what I hope will be a brilliant idea to make an Einstien jacket (Sally Melville) out of the two yarns I was shadow knitting. I think that will be quite effective – vertical stripes below the empire waist and horizontal stripes for the bodice and sleeves, with fun buttons to gild the lily! It will be a classic shape, executed in a fun to knit structure. The bad news is that I don’t have the Einstein pattern onboard with me! Drat!

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Big and Little Cables Finished as Cyclone Subsides

Today I cast off the last stitches on the Finnish Sweater with the asymmetrical cables, and racing down the last sleeve, the bind off came as a shock to me. I had no idea I was that close to done. I must’ve been knitting with blinders on.

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I haven’t been doing so well the past week. Every time we’ve sailed I’ve been seasick, violently and gently. Gently is better, but let me tell you it’s still NO fun. Days are so long and mind-numbingly boring when I am seasick. I cannot knit or read, and although this seems odd, it feels better to have my eyes closed rather than open and looking at a horizon. So, for almost a week I spent most of each day looking at the images on the inside of my eyeballs. Really, really boring.

The night before last we had to make an overnight passage to get the to the western tip of Cuba, Cabo de San Antonio. We arrived there in the mid-afternoon yesterday, to find the dock where the Guarda Fontera expects everyone to tie up for signing papers, to be too rough for our tired and bedraggled souls and too risky for Pandora’s nice paint job. The dock is a big cement pier jutting straight out into the unprotected waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and choppy waves were crashing against this dock. Anchoring is dicey in this area because it is all rock–bad holding. But anchor we did, and Bob took the dinghy ashore in the rough chop. He did not want the Guarda Frontera coming to us in their typical scruffy skiffs, possibly banging into Pandora in the chop. Of course, they wanted me to come in, and they wanted to come out and see the boat. In Bob’s firmest voice, and with what Vulcan-mind-probe abilities he could muster, he said that I had to stay onboard to make sure we didn’t drag in the bad anchorage (real reason being that I had been seasick for more hours than either of us could count and was in no shape to take a rough ride in the dinghy) and that he’d rather not have them visit in such choppy conditions. They acquiesced.

My mood has been deteriorating for about a week. Most likely due to not feeling well every time we pull up the anchor, and frankly, not even feeling all that well at anchor. Yesterday I decided to try to knit, and it wasn’t going well as I could feel myself getting queasier and queasier. Those of you who knit will understand that I was just trying to get to a good stopping place. I have been redesigning a few things about this sweater to suit me, and the sleeves have the most changes. I was in the cabled area of the first sleeve and just wanted to make it to a place where I’d be able to pick it up and easily know where I’d left off.

Suddenly I’d had enough. Not only was I not at my best, I was pretty clearly very near to being at my worst. I had a meltdown of epic proportions, and the almost sleepless night of our passage added to days and days of mal de mer really sent me off the deep end. I felt volcanic, cyclonic, tectonic. I flung the sweater away from me, and that didn’t feel nearly violent enough for my mood, so I flung it around a bit more. I flung it at every hard surface I could find. I knew I’d done a fair bit of damage to the knitting, including breaking one of the various circular needles in use. I had a mad moment when I wanted to chuck the whole thing overboard. Luckily, it was remembering that some of my favorite stitch holders were in that sweater that kept me from deep-sixing the thing.

And now, just 24 hours later the whole sweater is finished. I really don’t know how it happened. Yesterday, in my fit, I was thinking that the whole thing was a miserable experience and that it would never be finished. And yet, this morning, I made repairs to the damaged knitting that came apart during its beating, and Bob repaired the broken needle, and suddenly that first sleeve was done. We had not even raised anchor by that point.

The sailing today was as easy as it ever gets. Instead of being buffeted about, Pandora sliced through the small waves like she was on a track. She also didn’t wallow side to side. She just made a bee-line for our destination, about 5 hours of sailing. I knit the whole time, and voila! Second sleeve finished. This sweater has no sewing or assembly. When you cast off that second sleeve you are ready to wear it. I have to say I really like it, although that’s really no surprise since I’ve been trying it on through the whole process. Sadly, I will always think of my crazy outburst when I wear it. Hopefully that will become funnier with time.

Yesterday, at Cabo de San Antonio, the marina manager was disappointed to learn that Bob and I did not intend to tie up at the exposed dock. He was hoping for our business and looking forward to having us visit the attached restaurant. That’s the thing we keep finding here in Cuba. There are some facilities where a lot of thought and planning and care has been taken to make something that will attract cruisers, but the big thing, the fact that the harbor is not protected enough to actually stay there, is something beyond their ability to tackle. Everything is owned by the government, and there is no money for building a sea wall or even improving the dock. It is rather sad.

We motored a couple of miles to a safe anchorage, and shortly afterward we were approached by the skiff from a larger fishing boat, likely government owned and manned by numerous fisherman. Did you know that Cuba owns all the fish in the waters and that the fisherman must deliver all their catch to Mother Cuba in exchange for their salary? From what we’ve seen, I doubt there is any morehard-working group in Cuba than fisherman. That saying about ‘the workers pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay’ does not apply to fishermen. These guys deserve much, much more from Mother Cuba.

So, even though all the fish belong to the Cuban government, it’s very common for fishermen to approach sailors and offer to sell or trade something with us for lobster or fish. Yesterday evening, two of the fishermen rowed over to us, offering us four large lobster tails for $5CUC. That’s an amazing price…but that’s what they asked for. When Bob paid them, they began to ask for something else that he couldn’t quite understand. Then one of the fishermen pulled off his baseball cap and showed Bob a playing card, the Queen of Hearts. They wanted a deck of cards! No problem. I sent them our newest deck, still in it’s blue and white Hoyle box. I had used them a few times, and I knew that some of the cards had stuck together from humidity. At some point, when I pulled them apart, some of the cards got abrasions from being separated. But still, that was our best deck. When Bob handed over the box, both men clapped their hands and whooped! I was down below laughing at how happy they sounded to get this deck of cards.

Later the man with the Queen of Hearts in his cap came back with the deck and returned it. He could not explain why, but I’m certain it was because some of the cards were marked. I imagined how much he was looking forward to a game of cards with his cohorts, likely involving betting. Marked cards just would not do. So I gave him an older deck that didn’t even have a box, and were the small bridge size cards that I imagine Cuban men might find too ‘sissy.’ There were probably small marks on these cards too since they are not new…but I hope they found them usable!

These small interactions illustrate how enlightening it is for me to see how simply these people live, and to experience how friendly they are. When they approach our sailboat they are very cautious. They never let their rowboats touch Pandora. They seem happy to make contact with us, beyond just selling us fish, and they seem to enjoy our clumsy attempts at Spanish. We have stopped in some pretty remote places along this trip, and quite a few times we’ve been the only boat in the area. I don’t think meeting cruisers is a daily event for these fishermen.

Today when we anchored at the outskirts of a long maze of mangrove estuaries, another government fishing boat arrived and anchored nearby. Bob and I took off in the dinghy to explore the mangroves, which were delightfully full of herons, ibis and frigate birds. We chased a group of spoonbills, photographing them each time they landed and each time they took flight as we followed them down the winding maze of water and mangroves.

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When we came out of the estuaries and were headed back to Pandora, one of the fishermen was waving madly to us from the bow of his boat and motioning for us to come to them. I thought it prudent that Bob go by himself, since—rightly or wrongly– I have a strong sense that I was not the proper company for a group of Cuban fishermen. It seemed like a ‘guy’ gathering. Bob went to visit and they were very excited to meet him. They invited him onboard and showed him around their very basic boat. Bob described it as looking like someone made a frame of bent rebar and then slapped on some cement by hand. One man showed Bob the shaved ice that the catch was layered in and a giant fish that they’d caught today. They did not try to sell Bob any of the fish, and they did not ask for anything. Their living conditions were very rough, but they seemed happy and were very friendly.

While I can’t imagine the life they must lead, I can also see that they probably have a good life that is rich in things I’m not even aware of. I wonder how much this will change, and how quickly when (if?) trade with the US starts up again. I keep referring to this because I cannot get it out of mind. On the one hand, it makes me sad how much the past two (at least) generations of Cubans have suffered and sacrificed. On the other hand, those who have lived well on so little might not be ready or willing for the culture shock that could be headed their way.

In Cheryl Barr’s guidebook, we read that the peninsula going out to Cabo de San Antonio does not even have paved roads. We read that we should keep a watch for a bi-plane that flies over about once a week to drop mail in a local field. There are no stores other than one shelf at the marina that mostly holds bottles of rum. Bob did buy one of those before leaving.

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Accident in Cayo Largo

Yesterday afternoon we were shocked to learn that one of the Russian men was stabbed by a stingray while swimming off one the beaches. The stingray pierced completely through his upper arm. I don’t know if the ‘blade’ remained lodged in his arm or came out when the ray swam away. I don’t even know what the stingray’s weapon is called. It was a crisis here, trying to find a way to get this man to a bigger hospital on the mainland.

There is a clinic here where the doctor decided the Russian needed more medical help than he could provide here. Because there had been some mechanical issues with a charter flight yesterday, there were more people than seats available on the one plane that was leaving the island. At first the Russians were told that their friend could not go on that plane, but luckily a spot was found for him. You simple cannot leave behind a person with such a terrible wound and poison running through his body! The flight was to Cienfuegos, but the man needs to get to a hospital in Havana. There was no guarantee that he’d get a flight to Havana.

The remaining Russians were back on the dock yesterday, very subdued and waiting for news of their friend. After talking to them a bit I said that I ‘hoped’ their friend would be okay soon. One of the men who does not know English seemed to startle at that word. The Russian who was talking to me translated for him, and he turned to look at me intensely and repeated ‘hope’ a couple of times while still looking at me. I said it back to him again. Hope.

In ancient Greek ‘hope’ is ἐλπίς ….elpis.  Only in hindsight did I wonder if he might have recognized that word–if I’d thought to say it.

This morning when I got up the Russian boat was gone, so I’m hoping that means they got news of their friend being flown to Havana and are now heading there themselves.

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