La idealización de La Habana versus la realidad

Hola a todxs,

I hope everything is going well for y’all.  I had a lovely spring weekend at Fordham.  My friends as I enjoyed all the concerts and other activities planned for us this year.  As is expected at this time of year, all the stress surrounding finals hit me like a ton of bricks this morning.  However, before I submerge into a zombie-like state of study, eat, nap, repeat, I want to take time to upload a post.

Similar to New York, Havana has its touristy areas and then there are neighborhoods where visitors do not usually think to go. When was the last time you heard a tourist say,”Forget, Dumbo and Chelsea… Man, let’s go up to the Bronx to see Tremont and take advantage of all the scenic photo-ops there!” No señor.  This does not occur.

Havana, like Madrid, London and Rome, is beautiful and can be quite romantic. Overwhelmingly, many of the pictures I edit show this tranquil, intoxicating, romantic side of Cuba. Of course, there are “pretty” parts. This is the side of Cuba the government wants tourists to see.  These parts are renovated and restored through programs deliberatley set up to use most of the money spent by tourists while in Cuba.  Yet behind the carefully crafted veil are the darker, hidden parts of Havana.  Prime example: Central Havana.  Not many tourists wander here.  It is more dangerous than other parts of the city.  Furthermore, it is one of the most overcrowded areas in Cuba. The government has not funded as many restoration and renovation projects in this part of town. On an interesting note, our class had the privilage to visit a Roman-Catholic cathedral in Central Havana, which is run by the Jesuits.  We met with the head Jesuit in Cuba to discuss political, social and economic issues not only in Havana, but in Cuba. After our information session, we all left many donations and contributions to the church.  I will show more pictures related to our visit in a later post.

Like I mentioned before, lots of the pictures I show on Nos vamos a La Habana portray an idealistic side Havana. Especially the pictures shown in “Humble Kitchens and Historic Mojitos.”  We did not really see the country side or what life is like up in the mountains and more rural villages.  That being said, we did see the diverse neighborhoods of Havana. I gathered a few pictures which show the drastic differences seen around the city.  I hope y’all enjoy.

Besos,
Kate

habana libre: One of the biggest hotels in El Vedado. This is huge hotel for students and visitors from Spain and Canada. We met various grad students from Columbia and NYU. Such a small world, no?
This photo was taken four blocks away from habana libre.
Inside habana libre.
Interesting view from our hotel, no?
There was a fashion show outside our hotel. The locals gathered to watch. But were not allowed to enter the hotel.
Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana. Right by El Capitolio. One of the most expensive and luxurious hotels in Havana.
Outside Hotel Saratoga. Scenic and ideal, no?
El capitolio. Right by Hotel Saratoga.
Across the street from Hotel Saratoga.
A bar at the FEU house located no more than 6 blocks away from the steps of the University of Havana. Fidel and members of the revolution established anti-government ideals against the Batista Regime. Fidel was a graduate of the law school at the University.
Inside a grocery store near our hotel.
La Rampa located two blocks away from our Hotel in El Vedado.
Wandering down Calle Zanja in Chinatown. Yes, Chinatown in Cuba.
Soccer/ fútbol field right across the street from our school, Casa de las Américas in el Vedado. The ocean was right behind us.
Located in Old Havana down the Malecon.
IDEALISTIC, “TYPICAL”, Romantic picture of Havana. This is 100% different than the picture above.
Cuban Dancers/ Interpreters/ students.
Inside the Feria. Endless rows of tourist trinkets. Literally mass produced and cheaply made. However, this is an important source of income for the vendors and gives tourists the opportunity to shop overpriced souvenirs. I was one of those tourists.
Me, and my friend Victoria are from Fordham. The american girls wandering around the University of Havana. Camila, a computer science major gave us a tour of the school and surrounding neighborhood. One of my favorite parts of the trip.
Women in the courtyard outside the jesuit church we visited in central havana.
Inside the Cathedral.
This was actually the first time I saw any presence of the military beside the police. On our last day.
In old havana
In old havana.
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Reflections: A Month Later

Hola a todxs,

I am extremely sorry that I have been away for awhile.  Keeping this blog up to date has been harder than I thought now that we have been back for about a month. I think about Cuba everyday and the experiences I shared with all my amazing classmates.  They will always be my Cuban amores and our professor will always be “profe” [more like our favorite uncle than our teacher].

I am grateful for the fact that we all see each other regularly.  I even celebrated my birthday yesterday with my Cuban roommate, Becca.  Sadly, some of us are graduating this spring. Fordham will always feel different without your lovely presence.  I wish the seniors all the best.  Of course we will always be here for y’all and one day (hopefully) we will be reunited in La Habana.

On the flight from Miami to Havana, I remember gazing out the window at the world below.  As soon as I saw the island slowly coming into view along the horizon, I fell in love with Cuba.  I wish I could go back as soon as next week.  However, we all have to be patient for now.  I can’t believe it’s been a month sine I left Havana and landed back in Miami.  So much has happened news wise concerning the changing relations between Cuba and the rest of the world! Within the month since we returned, President Obama met with President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas held this spring in Panama.  It was also the first time Cuba has participated in the summit in a considerable number of years (20 years!).  In fact, many of the Latin American countries within the Americas, banded together and proclaimed if Cuba was barred from participating, other nations would not attend out of solidarity with Cuba.  This April, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and a team of business professionals went on a whirwind tour of Cuba in the name of advancing trade relations.  In addition, Cuban artists and Cuban culture have been at the center of many discussions concerning the music, fashion, and pop-culture worlds.  I cannot wait to see what is next.

Here is an article on the meeting of the two presidents at the Summit of the Americas: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/world/americas/obama-cuba-summit-of-the-americas.html?referrer&_r=1 

Also here is an article on the influence of Cuban culture within the fashion world: As Cuba Opens Up, Fashion Reacts
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/16/fashion/as-cuba-opens-up-fashion-reacts.html

Speaking of Cuban artists being at the center of discussions on music and fashion,  I previously told you guys in my post a few weeks ago that we had the honor of actually meeting a few Cuban artists in the home studio of Rafael Villares. (<– Visit the link I included, here) It was a once in a life time experience! I have met very few people as creative and interesting as the artists we met that day.

Rafael described his art as being conceptual.  His intent is to create ‘space’ and a place for thought and interpretation through his works. I remember him explaining that he did not want to make any strong political statements in his art.  The revolution in Cuba affects him differently than it did a generation ago.  He also explained how he observes the social reactions his art creates among the people who view and interact with it.  He talked for an hour more and then two other fabulous artists presented their works and told their stories.

Rafael’s project Finisterre was my favorite of his works.  It shows scenes of the Malecón with Rafael “painting” images or doorways as if the air provided a canvas for the imagination to express itself.  The pictures are real, however the ‘graffiti aspects’ were digitally added to the images later.  This project shows the merging of imagination with the physical world.  In my opinion, it really does create space for Cubans (and everyone else) to think and interpret privately in their minds what the scene might represent.  I feel as if the work is subtly political for the reason that it creates questions about the world beyond the Island.  Many feel as if the Malecón draws an end line/ boundry between the outside and inside. Here is Rafael’s explanation.

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Rafa showing us his works pertaining to the Finisterre Collection.
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Here, we showed the picture of the ‘dress’ that went viral early March. They said it was blue!
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One of Rafa’s works of art creating space and room for individual interpretations. This was a full length mirror with the paint chipped away and a back light to create almost a ‘galaxies of the universe’ effect. Rafael noted how many people who view this work decide to take a ‘mirror selfie.’ Apparently, I could not resist either.
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A view of Rafa’s apartment which doubles as his studio. The work hung on the wall is a part from his “Breathe” project from the series “About Human Loneliness.”
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Me in Rafa’s apartment
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One of the best photo’s ever! Me and Rafael. El Vedado, Havana, Cuba, March 2015

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From Finisterre
From Finisterre
From Finisterre
From left to right: Travis, Arnaldo (Profe), Sarah,
From left to right: Travis, Arnaldo (Profe), Sarah (other professor), Victoria, and Nairee

That day we also had a lecture on Cuban contemporary cinema and film with renowned Profesor Gustavo Arcos.  I made it a point to take a picture with every guest lecturer at Casa de las Américas.

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My next post will be on out experience at CENESEX. The center for sexual education and counseling and support for gays, lesbians and trans peoples.  I also want to create a post of the most interesting pictures I captured throughout our experience.

I cannot wait to post more and I pray that the relations between Cuba and the rest of the world continue to improve and progress.

As always thanks for the love and support.

Besos,

Kate

Humble Kitchens and Historic Mojitos

Hola a tod@s/xs

Easter was yesterday, and I promised a post by the end of the afternoon.  Sorry about that! I have been on tons of adventures this week in NYC and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.    My family decided not to take me on vacation with them (Their loss :p).  Unfortunately, the last minute plane tickets to visit my grandparents in Florida and Arizona turned out to be too expensive.  For the last five days or so I have been hanging out with friends, discovering my city, and getting tons of sleep!  I was supposed to organize my school work for the rest of the semester…  Don’t worry, I’ve dedicated the rest of this afternoon to that part on my to-do list…

But first, I want to pick up where I left off in my last post.  We had just taken a walking tour of La Habana Vieja. By the early afternoon we were starving and our feet were starting to get sore so we decided to eat at a paladar.  What is a paladar you ask?  Well let me introduce you.

Paladar is Spanish for palate.  In Cuba, a paladar is a small, privately owned restaurant often established in an actual home.  Here, it is possible to dine in an intimate setting while closely interacting with Cuban individuals.  The food is prepared especially for you in a humble kitchen by even more charming individuals.   There has recently been an increase in privately owned businesses.  Paladares have been run by Cuban families for decades.  However, only after the 1990s were they legal.  Right after to collapse of the USSR, Cuba plunged into a severe economic depression called the Special Period.  The government had to make reforms to try to rescue the country.  Therefore, although with limitations and strict specifications, the government legalized paladares. (Limitations and specifications included caps on employment and food options and quantities.) These establishments helped to pull in much needed tourist dollars (from places such as Canada and Spain) over the next two decades. Recently, there have been revisions of these impediments and as a result many more paladares have sprung up all over Cuba.

During our experience we were surrounded by attentive workers and enjoyed wonderful entertainment.  This experience helped us to discover  the essence of Havana and the splendid company of a Cuban family more profoundly.  Our meals were delicious and were all accompanied by a free beverage!  I ordered myself a refreshing mojito.  We were served family style with baskets of bread and numerous plates of salad and rice.  After careful deliberation, I settled on the ropa vieja and finished every last bite on my plate.  The entire lunch ended up costing most of us around $11 CUCs or $11 USD.

After our wonderful family lunch we broke off into a few groups and decided to finish off the rest of the afternoon wandering around La Habana Vieja.  I joined our professor’s group (affectionately known as profe) and set out for La Bodeguita del Medio!!!!!

La Bodeguita del Medio is also an example of a typical Cuban restaurant.  However, this location is special.  Many famous and infamous personalities have dined and drank here over many decades.  The Bar is filled with tourists occupying the same space that Fidel Castro, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Allende, Nicolás Guillén, Nat King Cole, Harry Belafonte, Pablo Neruda, and many more once did.  The walls are filled with many signatures and memorabilia. Although it is disputed, this place lays claim to the birthplace of the mojito.  We stopped in for the unique experience and left with wide smiles. (And maybe a little tipsy!)

After our historic mojitos, we strolled the narrow, colorful streets for a few more hours.  The epic day continued to El Prado, a long park running down a wide road.  There were families, friends, lovers, readers, people watchers, and tourists hanging out down this beautiful park.  We also stopped to rest our feet and gaze at the sexy tango dancers who were practicing their spicy routines.

After a few of us fell in love with this one specific Cuban hottie, we made our way to the Malecón and watched the rest of the sunset before grabbing a cab back to the hotel.

The next day (Monday) we had our first class at La Casa de las Américas in El Vedado (a suburb of Havana).  Professor Gustavo Arcos lectured us on Cuban film.  He was a wonderful speaker and held all of our attentions for the entire 3 hour class.  Following our intellectual discussion, we walked about 5 blocks to the home studio of artist Rafael Villares.  There he introduced us to his works and we also were introduced to the works of two other equally talented artists.  I’ll share those pictures in the next entry.  But first, I will share the photos of the paladar, La Bodeguita del Medio, and El Prado.

As always, thanks for your support y’all.  I truly hope everyone who reads my blog learns something new!!!  

Besos y muchísimo amor,
Kate

Views from our table.  Chickens were walking on the roofs right above us!
Views from our table. Chickens were walking on the roofs right above us!
We sang along to every sone they sang!
We sang along to every sone they sang!
One of my Cuban baes.  He played the guitar, the sax, the flute, and sang...
One of my Cuban baes. He played the guitar, the sax, the flute, and sang…
Plates of Arroz morro, salad fixtures, and my order of ropa vieja..
Plates of Arroz morro, salad fixtures, and my order of ropa vieja..
My full plate.  This is as Cuban as you can get!
My full plate. This is as Cuban as you can get!
How much lunch costed.
How much lunch costed.
Super touristy...
Super touristy…

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The bartender at bodeguita...  Mojitos on Mojitos on Mojitos :) Yum
The bartender at bodeguita… Mojitos on Mojitos on Mojitos 🙂 Yum
One coco por favor!
One coco por favor! 
Drank half the milk, gave it back and they filled it back up to the top with some cuban rum!  Quite the treat.
Drank half the milk, gave it back and they filled it back up to the top with some cuban rum! Quite the treat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

El Prado! How gorgeous.
El Prado! How gorgeous. 
Along the street.
Along the street.
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Our Cuban Hottie

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Along the Malecón at Sunset

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There isn’t a McDonalds in La Habana Vieja

Hola a tod@s! [and todxs]

Todo/a: “all, everyone” (I do the @ sign to include both sexes and the todx’s represents those who may not identify with a gender.  The ‘x’ is more inclusive to everyone overall. )

I hope everyone has been having a spectacular week! It’s hard for me to imagine that I have only been back from Cuba for a week!  It seems so far away now.  For some reason, it felt like another world while in Cuba. The first few days back in New York seemed so strange because I felt like I had been on another planet.

I don’t mean this in a bad way! That the world is so diverse and complex no matter where one travels makes for a more interesting and fulfilling life.  However, the streets of Havana (no matter how colorful) had no signs, advertisements, or posters that were not government sponsored for the most part.  Of course this is because Cuba is a communist state and because of the US embargo against the Cuba.  Additionally, this means there is no McDonalds and no iconic coca-cola products anywhere to be seen.

The condition of Havana was also extremely varied even within the same city blocks.  There would be uninhabitable, crumbling buildings that were once offices, stores, and homes.  Walk down a few meters and there would be a restored building with a restaurant in the bottom floor.  Yes, there is construction in New York and Milwaukee.  I have seen deserted buildings in the US with squatters making the vacant spaces their temporary homes and shelters.  On the other hand, there is a sadness and differnet poignancy that lurks in the corners of Havana and even along the Malecón. The feelings and sentiments that touched my heart can only be experienced in Havana.  It’s hard for me or anyone to express what we felt as we walked the streets of Havana.  Conversely, I must add that we all felt the increasing sense of hope in regards to the changing relations brought about on December 17th, 2014.  Right now, ideas are being discussed but no decisions have been made.  The Promise is present and that is what counts.

The second day in Cuba, we all had breakfast in the hotel restaurant before embarking on one of the most wonderful adventure of our lives.  We boarded our bus and became entranced as the streets and sights of Cuba unfolded before us.  That afternoon we walked a decent amount and by the end of the day my dogs were barking.  However, that walking tour of Old Havana was like nothing I had ever seen before in my life.  As the bus zoomed down the Malecón, we looked at the ocean and gazed at the expansive horizon that native Tainos had seen even before Columbus visited Cuba after landing in “San Salvador” [present day Bahamas].  

Spanish colonial influences were everywhere we looked.  The streets that many walked before us  were constant reminders that we were in the “oldest parts” of the new world… so to say. At first, I felt right back at home in Sevilla, Spain. Our first stop was along the end of the Malecón. In the distance was el Castillo de los tres reyes morro or the Morro Castle.  Built in 1589, it served as a fortress guarding the entrance into Havana against pirates.  Next we wandered into Plaza de Armas. Today it is a touristy area with vendors wrapping around the outside square, free-lance tour guides ready to offer their knowledge to visitors, and other people with something to sell or advertise.  However, in colonial times it was a center of commerce, politics, and social gathering. Interesting points of this area include el Castillo de Real Fuerza, Palacio de los Capitanes.

We continued down the road and stopped to take in the beauty of la plaza de la catedral.  This cathedral in old havana is an example of cuban baroque architecture and was completed in 1777.  One of the columns on the cathedral is unlike the other.  Our professor from Casa de las Américas, Ananíria, told us that a hurricane destroyed one of the towers and the people had to rebuild it.  It is a peaceful plaza with cute cafes wrapping around the square all giving way to a spectacular view of the cathedral.  I wish I had more time to sit and enjoy a cafe con leche while gazing at the brethtaking scene.  Alas, we had to keep moving if we were ever going to finish and make it to lunch!

Strolling the narrow roads of La Habana Vieja was surreal.  I had to keep pinching myself to check if I was actually there.  What seemed so impossible just two years ago was real! I was in Cuba!! We were all so tired after our long journey and our luggage being lost back in Miami. Truthfully, I didn’t even register where we were until those first few hours downtown.  I was suddenly hyper aware of all the historical sites I was seeing.  We walked the roads that Columbus, past natives, spanish generals, Bartolome de las Casas, Ernest Hemingway, Che, and Fidel walked.  Untold numbers of people, famous or not, looked upon the same views we saw.  That kind of feeling is one thing money can’t buy.  Sure, you’re going to spend money on travel costs; however, if an individual cannot appreciate that historical feeling and connection to older generations, so much of the experience is lost.  That connection and “presence of the past” is my favorite part of traveling.  Having my feet walk the same roads so many others did before me is one of the most mystical and magical parts of discovering the world.  Seeing most of the same sights and breathing similar scents that great leaders and ordinary people have before us boggles my mind, quickens my heart, and touches my soul.

After some more walking we strolled past Hotel Ambos Mundos and happened upon some street performers.  This was one of the most vibrant and soulful parts of the city in my opinion.  There was a certain charge in the air that I felt in no other place.  **I will include pictures of the beautiful views I have discussed thus far.**

I am working on another post about the second part of our day!  After our tour we went to lunch at a Paladar and broke off into two groups to continue our travels.  More on the second half of the adventure to come 🙂

As always, thank you for reading until the very end! Much appreciated and I love you all ❤

Besos,
Kate

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Looking down the Malecón

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A little bit of Castillo showing but I have better pics later on!

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Palacio de la Real Fuerza

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Plaza de Armas
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IMG_1275IMG_1277IMG_1278 Touristy attractions in Plaza de Armas

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Side view of The cathedral. Completed in 1777.

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Notice the differing towers

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Hotel Ambos Mundos

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Super Colorful and Serene

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Ze street performers !

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Plaza Vieja

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and some pretty building I forgot what it was called

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De vuelta de La Habana

Hola a tod@s,

What an exciting past week! I have undergone so many different emotions within a short span of time; however, I was extremely fortunate to travel with the best of the best at Fordham University.  Our friendships will for sure continue for a long time.

Cuba is unlike any place I have ever visited and lived.  This experience has had a huge impact on my life regarding my outlook on government, society, culture, and how I live my life.  First of all I would like to say how warm, open, and caring the Cuban people were to all of us.  The city of Havana is a beautiful place full of history, memory, culture, tradition, struggle, and family.  I would definitely go back to visit in the future and I would also like to experience more of the countryside.

I have many stories to write about and many more pictures to share with y’all.  Some of you might have already seen some of them on Facebook! Don’t doubt in friending me if you want to see the extensive album.  The journey there starting Friday afternoon and ending Saturday at 12 pm was long and tiring but the first day was the most relaxing.  After waiting in the airport for 5 hours for our luggage that was left behind in Miami, we headed to the hotel and promptly left for the beach.  The waters were a crystal blue and the sand was a a light golden brown.  Truly a Caribbean paradise.

We swam in the ocean, interacted with some of the locals, grabbed a bite to eat, and fell asleep while trying to catch some rays.  I had one of the best naps of my life on that Cuban beach.  When it was time to return back to the hotel, I was ready to go out and experience La Habana.  Hilariously, enough I accidentally left my purse behind on the bus.  I was super tired and the color of my bag blended in with the bus seats.  That first night was stressful but I did try to forget about it while walking the lively streets of el Vedado after dark!!  We toasted to our first night in Cuba with Mojitos and Cuba Libres at the bar across from our hotel.  Most of us turned in early to catch up on a few Z’s.  Some of my classmates decided to immediately jump into the Cuban ways with some more rum and a cigar.

Trying to drag myself out of bed that Sunday morning was brutal.  However, I was coaxed out of my slumber by the hustle and bustle of the cars below and the promise of a cafe con leche at breakfast.  And don’t worry! I found my bag the next morning right where I left it on the bus! Phew. Our hotel room view was truly one of the most powerful and beautiful sights I have ever seen of my life!!!!  I dare say that our view was the best in the group!  We stayed at Hotel Colina in el Vedado. My roommate and I were on the 5 floor in a corner room.  After taking two left turns and keying into our room you have a large window.  Look through that window and you will see the most gorgeous view of the University of Havana.  Yes, the UNIVERSITY OF HAVANA! And that’s just the beginning of the beginning…

Here are the pictures of the beach and a few showing that remarkable view!

Be prepared for many more posts.  Thanks for all the support and love you guys.  I am happy to be home in the big apple, but Havana will always in my heart.

Besos,

Kate

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The day has finally arrived!

foto familiar

Hola a todos,

How is everyone doing this lovely Friday morning?  I am excited, nervous, hopeful, and extremely happy because later this afternoon we officially leave for our study tour in Havana, Cuba! I never thought this day would arrive.  On top of that, this final week before spring break seemed to move so slow.  However, now midterms are finished and I am all packed! Ay dios mio, we made it!

I usually get nervous before I travel.  It doesn’t matter where I am traveling, but my mind seems to race at a speed of 1ooo thoughts per second! For example, this sequence usually takes about half a second to flow through my head: Did I pack my toothbrush? Enough underwear? Should I bring my tennis shoes just in case? Wait… Did I already pack my toothbrush…. I better triple check. Hahaha. Regardless, I’ll be fine and all I really need is my passport, camera, journal, and maybe a change of clothes… Oh yea, and my toothbrush 🙂

I printed my Cuban Visa today!  The government will have the original one when I arrive, but seeing the official Cuban document made my heart pound and my legs feel like jello.  There was an absolute adrenaline rush and it felt great!  Traveling to diverse places to learn, experience, explore, and meet new people is my greatest passion.  Tomorrow, I will be in Cuba and this experience, starting today, will forever change my life.

This day of traveling is going to wear out us all before we even make it to the first activity! The school transportation service or the Ram Van will take us to JFK at 3:30 pm.  Our flight leaves for Miami around 7:30 pm and we will land around 11 pm-ish.  The check-in for our charter to Havana is at 3:30 am.  This flight to Cuba will be extremely short and then we will have to drive about 1 hour to the center of Havana.  After we are situated at the hotel, we are going to kick off our educational break with a “Tour of the Coast.”  AKA, we are beachin’ it all afternoon! After that, the fun continues with a structured but still open itinerary.  I am going to learn so much about culture, art, literature, film, and the people of this wonderful country.

As I said, I will have my camera and journal on hand at all times.  I will have detailed entries to share with you all when I return the 21 of March! Who know’s if I will even have time while abroad to write a post and upload it? I promise I will try to capture as much as I can on camera, but I also do not want my entire experience to be viewed through the lens of a digital device.  Rest assured, you will all have the scoop on special and one-of-a-kind reports and stories once I get back to tell y’all.

Please keep my professors, my class, and me in all your thoughts and prayers this next week!  It would mean so much to me.  Talk to you guys when I’m back in Nueva York! 

Amor y paz,

Kate

PS I got to see my Spanish host mom and brother for the first time in awhile!  They are in town because my host brother Fer needs to attend training and information sessions about being a leader this summer at Camp Dudley.  This evening, I took the Metro North from Fordham University up to Bronxville to have dinner with them.

¡¡¡¡¡EL PRÓXIMO VIERNES NOS VAMOS!!!!!

Hotel Colina

Hola a todos,

Warning: I will be using a plethora of exclamation points in this post!

This is more of a spur of the moment post! However, today has been extremely eventful and full of wonderful surprises I wanted to share with y’all.  I woke up this morning to a lovely, sunny, crisp day feeling well rested and ready to conquer a day of studying.  I finished my morning classes and then went for a quick run.  I finally made my way to the library where all the great things started to happen in succession.

First of all, I was just accepted to a leadership position here at Fordham University.  I worked so hard the past year and a half to achieve it and finally I was given the incredible opportunity to serve my school and university!  I cannot believe I was chosen out of a large pool of so many equally qualified applicants.  This fall I will be a Social Justice Leader at the Dorothy Day Center.  My duties will include facilitating the activities at Urban Plunge, a service project for incoming freshman, among many other awesome events!

Second, our professor just emailed us our (tentative) itinerary for our week in Cuba!  He told us we are staying in el Hotel Colina. It’s right in from of the University of Havana, two blocks from Coppelia, two blocks from the Yara Theatre, and four blocks from the Malecon! Moreover, it’s close to a kinda famous location from a movie called Memorias del subdesarollo. Safe to say that it is in a central location in Havana and I could not ask for a better hotel reservation!!  It’s not a five star experience but I don’t plan on being in my room other than for sleeping.  That’s IF I decide to sleep.  I don’t want to waste a moment! The area where we are located in Havana is called El Vedado.  Our professor sent us a link of the hotel.  This link also includes pictures from around the neighborhood in Havana.  I’ll link it in… HERE!

He also linked in an overview of our days there.  We will be “taking classes” (more like attending discussions and seminars) in the morning on a variety of topics at Casa de la Américas.  According to Wikipedia (Hey, it had the best explanation!) Casa is an organization that was founded by the Cuban government in April 1959, four months after the Cuban Revolution, for the purpose of developing and extending the socio-cultural relations with the countries of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the rest of the world.  It has developed into the best-known and most prestigious cultural institution in Cuba.

I cannot wait for the historic walks around Old Havana, learning the culture, visiting museums, eating ice cream at Coppelia, and learning from the guest professors in Cuba!

This Saturday March 7, we have our last meeting before we embark on our journey! This is all good news and I have to calm down real soon so I can continue to study.  However, this kind of news is crazy, life changing, and I needed to post about it.

I will link in our (tenative) itinerary below.  Enjoy the rest of the afternoon!

Besos,

Kate

Casa de las Americas, 2015 (2)

Listen, be kind, be open and don’t be a $%*&…

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Hola a todos mis amigos,

Again, I have been lacking in posting. Midterms are upon us here at Fordham and I have been super agobiada. Lately, I have been keeping up on the news and my readings. I hope that this weekend I’ll have time to watch the Cuban films, which I have been putting off.

There was a big announcement yesterday in New York. Apparently, Governor Andrew Cuomo of NY promised he would visit Cuba on a trade mission some time ago. He just announced yesterday afternoon that he and a team will be traveling to Cuba this year on April 20th. Read more here: http://observer.com/2015/02/gov-andrew-cuomo-to-lead-trade-visit-to-cuba-april-20/

This announcement actually leads perfectly into my main content for today. Yesterday afternoon, I attended a panel at Fordham Law School on “Empowerment, Humanitarian Aid, and the Normalization of US-Cuba Relations.” There were a variety of topics and issues discussed and addressed. It was incredible to be in the presence of such accomplished scholars. They spoke on the misconceptions of Cuba, proposed important perspectives and brought up provoking questions, some of which were left unanswered. The panel included Dr. Margaret Crahan, Dr. Sujatha Fernandes and Achy Obejas and was organized by my distinguished professor Arnaldo Cruz-Malave.

Each panel guest presented a different dimension on the changing Cuban-US relations. Dr. Crahan of Columbia University presented on various Cuban economic issues. Dr. Fernandes presented her perspective on the common misconceptions of Cuban culture and social and cultural realities within Cuba. Lastly, Achy Obejas reflected on her experiences as a Cuban-American and opened a dialogue on how the coming changes will impact Cubans at home and abroad.

This panel brought a variety of issues to my consciousness, many of which are not common knowledge. I would like to say that many people continue to talk about issues of which they are under/mis- informed. THAT REALLY NEEDS TO STOP. There are numerous stereotypes about Cuba, which some people have attempted to tell me about since my journey began. Some have told me that the state is devastatingly poor, cultureless, or a completely evil communist state where everyone is under educated (this guy was a bit radical). These misconceptions have been perpetuated over the years since the implement of the embargo. OK! Not everyone is going to actively research this topic. Therefore… it’s not completely their fault. BUT that’s why I am writing my blog. I want to inform and help people understand more clearly what December 17, 2014 meant to the world. What the Cuban identify means to Cubans, Cuban-Americans, me, etc.… (Sidebar: Many stereotypes arose with the first waves of Cuban immigration starting in the early 20th century. Moreover, the generalization of all Latin@/ Hispanic peoples is the LARGEST pet-peeve of mine. More on that later.)

Anywho, continuing on with Dr. Crahan’s presentation…

Dr. Margaret Crahan had an informational power-point point presentation. She has and continues to extensively travel to Cuba on diplomatic and scholar visas. She highlighted that relations between the two governments and the issues regarding tourism may not be what you want to hear. In the words of Dr. Crahan, “Don’t pack your bikinis just yet.” The laws concerning tourism are not expected to change soon and this has to do with the embargo. HOWEVER, tourism from other countries has helped the Cuban economy survive since the 1990s. For example, I had no idea that Cuba is a popular destination for Canadians and other Europeans. Dr. Crahan also brought up an important point, which had not previously occurred to me. If there were to be a sudden influx of American tourists, there wouldn’t be sufficient accommodations to attend to everyone’s demands just yet.

Obviously enough there is slow growth in the Cuban economy. If I took my notes correctly, it was released that in 2014 the Cuban economy only grew at a 2% rate. Yikes… Understandably, there is an imbalance of trade. In general, Cuban infrastructure needs to be addressed by the government, especially in rural areas. There is also limited access to foreign loans, followed by small amounts of direct foreign investment … yada yada… Conversely, the remittances (money sent home) from Cubans abroad total almost 6 million dollars. And that’s only the official numbers. The facts were all presented and helped me to better grasp the Cuban economy. I am not an expert in this realm but was interested and engaged nonetheless.

Dr. Crahan also emphasized that President Obama and President Raul Castro’s speeches listed goals in their respective speeches! There were no specifics and many details still need to be negotiated and agreed upon within the coming months… (Completely permanent changes will take years.) In the question portion of the panel, it was said that it could take years to rally enough support in Congress regarding the lifting of the US embargo against Cuba. For now, both sides will have to work together in a difficult, gradual, and bumpy process. Finally, I want to accentuate that we are all lucky to be living in this historic moment. In many ways it was completely unanticipated. I am honored to be a part of this history!

Dr. Sujatha Fernandes, an extremely accomplished author, spoke on how the imposed changes are being perceived on both sides. Furthermore, she underlined the social mobilization of citizens within Cuba, the power of documentary filmmaking and the distribution of foreign media via ‘black market’ techniques. In Cuba there are much more resources available to citizens that realized. However, what you have depends on who you are and how high your connections go. What effects will the imposed changes have on different people in Cuba? First of all, there are still racial divides within society. Issues of Lighter v darker skin; Afro-Cubans are extremely marginalized. Class divides are an obvious factor in society in regards to standards of living. These and many more topics run deep. Much literature and research has been conducted within recent years and I would really love to be more acquainted with these domestic issues.

Continuing on, Dr. Fernandes also spoke on the Rap and Hip-Hop influences/ movements within Cuban society. Cubans cannot protest in the streets as we can here in the US. Therefore, the influences of music, art, and film have assumed an important role within the context of individual expression and social mobilization within Cuba. For example, artists depict daily life through many mediums and abstract art can take on a powerful role. ¿A dónde vamos? is a 22 minute Cuban documentary film about “a group of farmers and the problems that are forcing them to abandon the Sierra Maestra mountains.” (MoMa.org). It was influential in opening up a dialogue between the people various levels within society as well as internationally. Entonces… Civilian voices ARE heard within and outside the country. There is a circulation of ideas not only Cuban originated, but also foreign influenced. It is known that Internet is extremely limited within Cuba. However, an indivudal(s) {possibly connected to the government} are distributing foreign media via USB drives. Cubans have Netflix. (To a certain extent…) That does call into question WHO decides WHAT is circulated? Hmmm. Regardless, it’s another interesting tidbit.

Lastly, as I previously stated, Achy Obejas (Ah-chi), a novelist and journalist, reflected on her experiences as a Cuban-American and opened a dialogue on how the coming changes will impact Cubans at home and abroad. She talked extensively on how the asylum and immigration laws concerning Cubans in America are in dire need of readdressing. There are new contexts today than there were 55 years ago… The older generations and my millennial generation have differentiating opinions regarding a plethora of issues. I recently talked to me friend Lena about this topic. She’s a fellow Fordham student from Miami and has Cuban and Panamanian heritage. Ms. Obejas also addressed the different communities of Cubans in Cuba and abroad. Many have differentiating legal statuses. For example, Ms. Obejas is a Cuban-American born in Havana with both an American and Cuban Passport. She talked about her own personal experiences as a Cuban-American and also emphasized that everyone has his/her own individual experiences. There will be oncoming unavoidable problems between Cubans at home and abroad. What does it mean to be Cuban in Cuba v Miami, for example. On all of this we will need to work together and be open-minded.

There was a Q/A portion immediately following the three speakers. I was intensely interested in all questions. One of the first questions was about how the new possibility of American commercialism will change the culture? AKA Americanization. How can we protect Cuba?

  • Well the answers DID vary and many around me erupted into whispers during this controversial question. It was discussed that the Cuban people in Cuba do not need protecting. Sometimes they feel too protected. Honestly, I didn’t know what to think but it was an interesting point to have been brought up by a brave inquirer.

Lastly, the panelists addressed our group leaving for the study-tour and anyone traveling to Cuba. More specifically they advised us not to be ignorant, obnoxious, know-it-all Americans. We are in Cuba, and we are not in America. They said Cuba is a beautiful and vibrant place where nobody has any right to impose what he or she thinks on anybody. We have all heard it, how we Americans have the WORST reputation abroad. Honestly, I don’t blame some people for thinking this. Not all Americans abroad are this way, I can attest to that. However, there are plenty of horror stories out there.

I CANNOT, ¡pero no puedo suportar!, annoying travelers/ visitors of any kind. Do not tell me what to think. Do not impose on me what YOU know to be ‘true’… I think that my time abroad in Spain taught me many valuable lessons in this realm. All my friends from AFS were open-minded and ready to live in, learn in, and become a part of another culture and society. Hell, I did that before and I will do it again!

Finally, we were advised to do less talking and more listening. Muchísimo más escuchando… We were urged to be kind and open. Asking questions and really appreciating the answer is crucial to making this experience wholesome. One comical part was when Ms. Obejas explicitly and openly told us to “not be dicks.” And how right she is.

There you have it folks! My longest post yet. It’s a whopping 1800 word post full of information I was so lucky to learn and pass on. The count down is real!! March 13th is approaching fast.

Shout out to my professor for making this panel happen! Gracias profe.

Shout out to my grandparents because without them this opportunity would not be possible. Thank you so much! I love you all more than you know.

Besos,

Kate

My abuelito was the one who influenced my blog in the first place. Gracias abuelito F!

 

Comida es mi vida

My Insta post
My Instagram Post: @kmmadigan

Hola a todas y todos!

I feel awful about not updating my blog in over a week.  It’s now less than a month until we depart for Havana.

Truthfully, nothing has been going on that has been worthy of a full length post…until now!  I wanted a reason to blog and I also wanted to try some Cuban food.  It’s now New York restaurant week, so I wandered over to Guantanamera on 8th ave in Midtown to ignite my imagination.  My experience could not have been more rewarding and stimulating!

I stepped off from the RamVan and worked my way from Fordham Lincoln Center, around the Time Warner towers, across Columbus Circle and down 8th towards the Cuban restaurant I’ve walked past numerous times.  I was sure hungry for a big lunch.

I walked into a quaint and spicy restaurant with brightly colored walls and murals lining the spacious area.  The decor was traditional and I could almost picture myself in Old Havana if it weren’t for the absurdly below freezing temperatures outside.  There was a stage in the back with drums, other instruments and a microphone dotting the space.  I asked my attentive server Carlos when the music played.  He responded almost every night and on the weekends.  Moreover, he added there was always dancing.

I opened the menu and looked over the pre-fixe lunch insert which was only $15.95!  I decided on the chicken empanadas, Ropa vieja (+$2), and the mango sorbet.  In the spirit of my day off and trying to immerse myself in Cuban ways, I also was coerced into trying a traditional Mojito.

My drink arrived and looked as appealing as it was refreshing.  The tall glass was filled with amazing quality mint leaves, finished with a skinny wedged lime, and interestingly enough a small stalk of actual sugar cane!! To die for.  As I tried the ultra sweet mojito, I noticed how that the little details make all the difference.  The background music was calming and hypnotic.  I could smell the amazing scents escaping from the kitchen and could not wait for my meal to begin!  I almost wished it were nighttime and the band was playing to evoke a more romantic atmosphere.  However, my lunch time experience was enjoyable nonetheless.

The chicken empanadas arrived with a delicious green chile dipping sauce.  It was not hot at all and the perfect accompaniment. I pretty much scarfed them down as I had not eaten anything previously.  Presentation was a solid 10.

Then the main course arrived promptly.  One look made my mouth begin to water and I exclaimed “dios mio!” to my server.  Carlos smiled and responded “Buen provecho!”  The tiny mountain of shredded beef was the perfect serving size for me.  It was marinated with wonderful flavors.  The garlic was not over powering at all and the sweet green and red peppers were my favorite part of the dish.  It was cleverly presented in a cute cup of circularly arranged plantain chips on a bed of mashed plantains to hold it all together.  The white rice and beans completed the main dish (I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT RICE AND BEANS!) Presentation was another solid 10!  Pro-tip: Use one of the plantain chips and scoop a small amount of beef, rice and beans to create an explosion of cuban goodness on your tastebuds. Sweet, comforting and delightful.  I thought I was going to explode after I finished my meal!  Safe to say, although I finished most of my food, I wasn’t part of the clean plate club this time.

Then dessert came!! Because I don’t like flan that much, I went with the mango sorbet. (Yea yea yea, I know it was 15f outside at that moment!!) Yet again, I thought the presentation was a solid 10.  Confectioners sugar dusted the entire plate, a dainty mint leaf graced the top of the perfect scoop, and a bright red maraschino cherry rested on the edge.  Mango sorbet was the flavor of the day and the perfect culmination of my cuban experience.  Smooth, flavorful, fun to savor!! I was sad to take the last bite.

I asked for the check, but not after Carlos offered me another mojito!  I signed the bill with a smile thinking, what a deal!  Pre-fix is definitely the way to go at Guantanamera (939 8th Ave, New York, NY 10019) SEE THE PICS BELOW!!!

For my next post I’ll write about a Cuban film directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea y Juan Carlos Tabío, any guesses as to which film I am hinting?

I love you all and mil gracias for the support you give me.

Besos,

Kate

Here’s a little background to the name of the restaurant…

Guantanamera is a patriotic song written about Cuba.  It was originally written in 1929, after that it was adapted many times over by various artists, translated to English, French and even Welsh!

Yo soy un hombre sincero,
De donde crece la palma, 
Yo soy un hombre sincero,
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma 

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera 
Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera

(http://folkmusic.about.com/od/folksongs/qt/Guantanamera.htm)

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La Rosa Negra y 36 días más!!

Hola amigos, ¿Qué tal?

I wanted to write a post tonight before my first meeting with the group tomorrow morning! I am excited to meet who else will be joining me on the study tour.  It seemed like only yesterday I was 12 and watching Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) wishing I could go dancing at La rosa negra with a Cuban cutie like Javier… I mean I have the same name as the protagonist.  Pero por favor, don’t misinterpret my intentions for wanting to study in Cuba.  I’m not going to fulfill my 12-year-old daydreams!! jajajajajajaja….. Obviously my motives are a bit more mature than that.  First of all, I have the travel bug.  I’ve had this awesome disease ever since I can remember, but after my year abroad in Spain I have accepted my fate.  The only remedy available to me that is FAA approved is continuing to study and travel! Second of all I probably made myself clear in my first post, but I had a moment where I knew this opportunity was for me and I had to Carpe Diem it.

Bueno, now I have more exciting info to share. The official dates (if I haven’t mentioned them before) of the trip are March 14-21!!  Tonight, I hurriedly uploaded a few more forms concerning the trip to my student portal.  While scanning the documents, something kind of hit me.  I realized that this experience is completely real and its February 6, which means only 36 days left until I depart for Havana! 🙂

US-Cuban Relations

International relations are ever-changing and I love reading the Washington Post, the New York Times, and twitter feeds everyday to keep up on the world.  It’s completely apparent that the US-Cuban relations have been all over the news.  My professor has provided valuable readings and resources for us to stay informed on the present state of this changing relationship.  Furthermore, it’s good to get an accurate grasp of past US-Cuban relations.

For today’s links, (apart from the link to the movie I posted above) I wanted to share the White House’s press release concerning the newly anticipated changes.  The report lists the official stances of the Obama administration and what Americans and Cubans alike can possibly expect from the present negations/ talks.  I found several stats extremely interesting and informative.

I highly suggest reading (or at least skimming) the fact sheet: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/12/17/fact-sheet-charting-new-course-cuba

One quote that drew my eyes, which Obama does say in his official appearance, “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.” Tis true.  I recall another quote by Einstein saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I also want to draw attention to several politician’s responses in regards to these announcements made by the president.  Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) showed his support of these changes saying, “Opening up Cuba is probably a good idea..”  However, Sen. Marco Rubio  (R-Fla.) along with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) called these talks an “outrage” and a “concession to tyranny.”

Politics aside, I am honored to have this opportunity. I hope you guys decide to watch Havana Nights (if you already haven’t seen it 1,000 times like me)!!  I’ll take plenty of notes tomorrow at my meeting and let you all know what was discussed.

Look forward to a new post this weekend.  In addition, I invite anyone to comment and post with relevant and interesting updates for all of us to see!!!

Un abrazo,

Kate