Monthly Archives: March 2010

Back from Cuba

One week, four flights, 450+ pictures and about 12 shot videos later, I’m back from Cuba. It was an incredible experience, but I know I will be processing everything — what I saw, tried, learned and the conversations I shared with Cubans, our tour guide and others on the trip — for a long time.

What was, and is still, most salient to me are all the contradictions I realized, learned about and noticed. Cuba is a country where most bellhops make more money than brain surgeons. Havana is beautiful, vibrant and majestic, but it’s decrepit. Music is everywhere; the culture is palpable, yet the streets are practically empty at night because people cannot afford to go out. No one will hesitate to pour you a Cuba Libre (rum and Coke) from their bottles, but many others on the street or in restrooms will ask you outright for money, handouts, anything, because they need it. Cubans’ news and information is government-controlled and only 2 percent of the country has Internet, yet pretty much everyone launched into a discussion with me (in English, mind you) about Barack Obama’s happenings and updates on the Yankees baseball team.

Even when I look back on my hundreds of pictures, I know they don’t even begin capture what Cuba really is, all of the layers and sides to the story. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll update the blog with thematic posts in attempt to offer a better, fuller sense of Cuba. Look for upcoming video from a baseball game, a briefing about tourism and my dinner at a paladar, a post about music, including video from stumbled-upon performances to a (free) Calle Trece concert in front of the U.S. Interest Section and a Buena Vista Social Club performance.

For now, here is a selection of photos I took during my trip that I think serve as appropriate introduction to Cuba.

 

osé Martí Airport in Havana, Cuba

osé Martí Airport in Havana has a building solely for flights from the U.S. (which are much more frequent now that Obama is President and lifted many of Bush's restrictions). Here, Cubans wait for friends and family to arrive

Cars in Havana, Cuba

Cars in Cuba are old. Any nice, new cars most likely belong to diplomats, and a different color license plate will designate this

Buildings in Old Havana

In Old Havana, restored buildings frame a decaying one

Ration store in Havana, Cuba

A ration store in Cuba, where Cubans pick up their government-allotted food

Baseball is everywhere in Cuba

Che Guevara Memorial in Santa Clara, Cuba

"We want you to be like Che" reads a billboard at the Che Guevara Memorial in Santa Clara, Cuba

A scene in Havana on Calle Obispo, a main street

Karina for TKGO

Princess Diana Goes To Florida

Well, not the living Princess Diana (obviously). The last few dresses she auctioned before she passed away in 1997 are on display at the von Liebig Art Center in Naples, Florida. The 20 dresses are all privately owned by People magazine, WE and private collectors and the exhibit won’t be traveling, so this is the only chance to see the gowns side by side.

 

Some of the miniature dolls in recreations of Diana

 

Each of her dresses tells a story about her life and her personality. The Princess was praised for re-wearing and repurposing her gowns, which cost anywhere from $30,000 to over $200,000, to save money. (Apparently other princesses don’t wear the same thing twice?) Some ways she did so were to remove the sleeves and high necklines required on visits to the Middle East, to turn the dress into a strapless gown. A quintessential example: “Auction Dress #18.” Diana had this light blue chiffon and lace gown reinvented after visiting Qatar and wore the altered version to a presidential banquet in Cameroon and a charity event. The Great American Doll Company also used this dress as a model for the dresses its Diana dolls would wear.

Even in business, she had a playful side. For a 1983 Klondike Gold Rush party in Canada, Diana wore a Klondike-era pink dress with tiered rouching, long sleeves and a high neck. (The Naples exhibit is the first to bring this dress to an exhibit in the U.S.)

 

Me, next to a recreation of a dress Diana wore to the 1966 London

 

Along with the dresses, display cases full of memorabilia lined the small exhibition room and halls. Christmas cards, royal certificates and miniature dolls donning Diana’s more famous looks are squeezed between the dresses in their own cases. Diana used to spend hours writing thank-you notes to everyone she met each day, and many of those are on display as well. (Her handwriting was almost completely illegible, but it’s the thought that counts, right?)

Taking photos was not allowed at the exhibit because of the owners’ rights, but click here for a video from NaplesNews.com of all the dresses. If you’re in the Naples area, get tickets to the exhibit ($12), which will continue until June 27.

Tara for TKGO

Re: Your Naked Coffee Table

When the trip calls but the bank account prohibits, it’s time to decorate your coffee table. We found four photo-heavy volumes to last through your travel dry spell. If your bank account is really tight, you can always leaf through three (almost) entire books online. Click the link at the bottom of the description. Have a safe flight!

Los Angeles, Portrait of a City by David L. Ulin, Kevin Starr and Jim Heimann

 

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

 

Los Angeles is a misunderstood city — we’ll admit we’re still figuring it out — but that’s probably because most of us have a superficial understanding of what’s projected as a superficial city. The 572 pages of this weighty book work to get you deeper into the City of Angels; its nostalgic and often charming (see: cover) photographs guide you through its history, icons, culture and development in a calm, absorbing manner. It’s an ode, a tribute, but also an invitation to understand iconic L.A., all through images. Leaf through the book here.

Mario de Janeiro Testino by Mario Testino

 

The cover comes in three colors, courtesy of TASCHEN.com

 

Famous fashion photographer Mario Testino’s coffee table book is no high-fashion joke. Originally from Peru, Testino now frequently does work for high fashion ad campaigns and Condé Nast publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair, but before his fashion fame, he spent many summers of his early teen years in Rio de Janeiro, gawking at the “tiny bathing suits” and the “carefree and wild” young people of the Brazilian city. After so many years, he finally returned with a camera and a risque, semi-nude itinerary. The book is hefty and the photos are trendy, but the faces and unique poses of the Brazilians in these mixed black and white and color photos will leave you curious about the Portuguese-speaking population of South America (not to mention have you thinking about sand, surf and tropical drinks even in the dead of winter). Plus, you’ll find text from famous Brazilians like supermodel Gisele Bundchen to add additional points of view. This is a book for the ages — the kind your grandkids would buy in a vintage shop decades from now. Leaf through 166 of the 200 pages here.

D&AD 2009, The Best Advertising and Design in the World from TASCHEN

 

An inside page, courtesy of TASCHEN.com

 

Advertising can tell you a lot about a city, like the typical sense of humor, popular foods and how people get around. And why not narrow it down to the best advertisements in the world? In this beautifully designed hardcover, find everything from screenshots of Visa Europe’s TV commercials to images from the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation’s Asia Pacific campaign, all with a description on why the campaigns were successful and other interesting details. Leaf through the entire 576-pager on TASCHEN’s site.

Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips from National Geographic

 

Courtesy of Amazon.com

 

This list would be incomplete without a tome from National Geographic, the touchstone for international, cultural and travel-related photography. The shots are consistently awe-inspiring and informative, and this book especially — a compilation of National Geographic writers’ most treasured trips — sparks some serious wanderlust. Aside from the stunning photography, what appeals to us most about this particular National Geographic book is its unconventional organization. The categories destinations are grouped under are not countries or even continents, rather subjects such as modes of transportation (“By road,” “By rail,” “On foot”) or motivation (“In gourmet heaven,” “Into the action”).  As for the bits of travel advice included, we encourage you to do outside research to round the recommendations. Grab a pen and paper when you sit down with the book, because you’ll be doubling (at least!) your life trip list after flipping through.

Tara and Karina for TKGO

Irish Sweets: Yellow Man

The other week I was watching the Food Network while getting in my cardio at the gym (ironic, I know), and the Bobby Flay special “Tasting Ireland” was on. I was intrigued, because all I’m aware Ireland’s homeland cuisine consists of is meat and potatoes, which is an impression I’m sure many others share. Inspired by Bobby Flay and his brethren, once home (and showered), I began to investigate Irish recipes. I wanted something simple, traditional and sweet, I decided. After some digging, I settled on Yellow Man, an Irish toffee candy.

Below is a little video I shot of my attempts, which in the end, I declare successful despite some small setbacks. (Overheard in the background at one point is my roommate Hannah, by the way.) The Yellow Man tasted like butterscotch and was much stickier and chewier than I expected, but still good. The recipe, which I followed as closely as possible — no candy thermometer to be found, oops — is courtesy of Saveur and can be found here.

My recommendations: Place the pan in the refrigerator to accelerate cooling, which I can almost guarantee will take longer than 30 minutes. And if you have a filling or anything else in your mouth you think could easily get yanked out, I would probably choose something else for dessert. Perhaps “Rhubarb Financiers with Vanilla Ice Cream and Poached Rhubarb“? Maybe next year’s St. Patrick’s Day will inspire me to tackle that one.

Karina for TKGO

(International) Online Shopping

Who says you have to go to Firenze to look like a Florentine? If you have some extra dough to spend, check out some of these cult favorites of the high-fashion elite, all of which let you order online and ship internationally but don’t have locations in the U.S.

Kokon To Zai, London

Call it ’90s tribal, call it futuristic. By any name, it’s quickly becoming a favorite of celebs like Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Bjork. The online store just launched in 2009 and features (what I would call unisex) collections of denim overalls, oversize t-shirts, tribal-patterned hoodies and neon striped trousers. Three physical stores exist, two in London and one in Paris, so you’ll rarely see another person in your look. Another perk? Shipping is a flat 15 pounds for overseas purchases. Look for blowout sales, where you’ll find merch for up to 70 percent off.

Luisa Via Roma, Florence

Yes, Luisa Via Roma carries the same selection of designer labels as most high-end boutiques. But what makes it unique are the exclusive special collections that result from it’s collaboration with many top designers, like Lacoste and Levi, which are available online. In addition, Luisa Via Roma makes all the seasonal collections available online months earlier than most stores, so if you’re desperate for a FW/10 runway look (that hasn’t appeared at department stores yet), you’ll find it here now!

Colette, Paris

This boutique is well known all over the world for its super edgy, trend-setting clothing selection, priced for those who can afford Chanel. But don’t overlook Colette’s more playful side. While you can buy all that clothing online, you can also find great gifts like Yves Saint Laurent coloring books for 5 euro, a set of Colette lighters designed by Andre for 8 euro and a pack of 20 Stéphanie Daoud postcards for 13 euro. The site plays great music, too, in a bar at the top that lists the artists’ names and song titles and lets you skip songs you don’t like. If you’re looking for inspiration, the blogs section of the site is a compilation of photos and text (some French, some English) from anyone NYC hair/makeup artists to Japanese street fashion bloggers. Go crazy!

Tara for TKGO

Chicago Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day

Chicago takes St. Patrick’s Day seriously — few other cities’ residents eagerly awake in the early morning to drink green beer at a bar that opened at 9 a.m. before watching men in speed boats dye two blocks worth of a river bright green. So of course, we brought our video cameras to document this year’s overcast celebration. Check out our footage of the annual parade on Columbus Avenue and the dyeing of the Chicago River (which isn’t sponsored by the city, but is instead a tradition of the Plumbers Local Union 130 since 2007), as well as some celebration scenes from around the city.

Maybe it’s because we didn’t start the day with green beer, but we thought St. Patty’s was particularly outrageous. We saw:

  • Roughly 40 children under the age of 14 carrying green balloons two feet long
  • A word-slurring man with a clear 7-Eleven Big Gulp cup full of beer, shouting at the parade queen as her float passed
  • Way too many ridiculous green hats, including one that was shaped like a large mug of beer
  • A teenager watching the parade from atop another teenager’s shoulders in a shirt that read “Kiss me I’m sober”
  • A middle-aged woman who took off her green plastic hat and lovingly placed it on an iron fence post
  • A decked out group of all ages and sizes jumping and kicking in a circle to the sounds of a bagpipe in Millennium Park

So did Chicago make St. Patrick proud? Let’s start with a different question: Who was St. Patrick? Well, we did some digging and it turns out he was a Scot who was kidnapped and thrown into slavery in Ireland at age 14. Apparently, he ended up converting the entire country from paganism. And a side perk for the Irish: He banished all snakes from the island, according to legend, although pretty much all scientists agree Ireland didn’t have any snakes at the time. He was never officially canonized by a pope, which means he’s not even officially a saint, and what we’re celebrating on the Saturday before March 17 every year is actually his death. We all know, though, that it’s really an excuse to celebrate all things Irish. Sláinte!

Tara and Karina for TKGO

Cuba Confidential

Spring Break 2010: Cuba

In roughly a week and a half I will be in Cuba, and I am not slipping through Mexico to make it happen. In fact, I am part of a humanitarian aid trip bringing donated medicine and supplies to the island. About 30 of us Northwestern students will essentially function as (good, legal) drug mules and then spend a week in Cuba distributing the supplies, traveling around the island and volunteering at youth and Jewish community centers. (While the trip is organized through Hillel, non-Jewish students like myself can attend, too.)

I am beyond excited to see this country I have known so little about for so long, and to be able to help others at the same time. As with any place I’m living in or traveling to, I have been making an effort to read up on the history, culture, politics and customs of Cuba. Tara and I both firmly believe we — and anyone, really — get so much more out of a vacation, travel or adventure if we spend a little time learning about the destination beforehand. Whether that’s watching a film, reading recent articles about the country or calling up someone who knows more about it than you, it’s totally worth it. In this case, I borrowed the book Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana from one of my roommates who participated in the same Cuba trip two years prior.

 

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

 

The dynamo reporter and in-house (American) expert on all things Cuba, Anne Louise Bardach, penned the book, which tells the stories of Elian Gonzalez and Fidel Castro. It also mixes in explanations and history of the strange, often childish relations between Cuba and the U.S., attitudes and activities of Cuban immigrants and those still living on the island, as well as the Cuban social fabric of Miami (which is so much more complex than I ever had imagined). Somehow, it manages to stay cohesive, too. Whether you’re an aspiring Cuba scholar or really don’t know much about any sort of Cuban revolution beyond Dirty Dancing Havana Nights, I highly recommend Bardach’s book. It’s entertaining, well written and extremely informative, thanks to Bardach’s thorough research and knowledge.

Below are some interesting, often surprising, bits of information I gleaned from reading Cuba Confidential:

  • Smugglers charge anywhere from $500 to $10,000 per person to travel from Miami to Florida. It is estimated that only about half those who try to cross make it alive.
  • A popular joke in Cuba in the 1990s was, “What are the triumphs of the Revolution?” “Education, health care and athletics.” “And what are the failures?” “Breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
  • Following the failure of the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion, some government intelligence high-ups developed Operation Northwoods, “the most corrupt plan ever developed by the U.S. government,” according to James Bamford, a journalist and author who writes about United States intelligence agencies. “The plan called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington D.C., Miami and elsewhere… Using phony evidence, all of this would be blamed on Fidel Castro.” Then, as the motivation went, the government would have an excuse to launch a war.
  • Castro’s father was a guajiro (country rustic) who, under the United Fruit Company, worked his way to become one of the wealthiest landowners in the region.
  • Bardach’s blunt, direct quote: “Infidelity is the national sport in Cuba.”

-Karina for TKGO