Sunday, November 24, 2013

Do you smell gas?

"Do you smell gas?" asked Zuzu.
Her taxi cab companions crammed into the ancient Lada* nodded. No response from the driver.
"Do you smell gas?" asked Zuzu again....
The smell was so obvious that nobody said anything. Finally Zuzu said, "It's not for me that I'm
asking....I'm worried about you!" she said to the cab driver.

We all had our interests in the old cars in Cuba. The Lada is a left-over from the Soviet era. Much more interesting to us were the "Yank" tanks.

I under estimated how thrilled I would be to see these treasures driving around on the streets. You have to keep pinching yourself to remember that you aren't in the U.S. circa 1954. Only Cuban ingenuity keeps these beauties running; most of the engines have been replaced with diesels. Replacement parts are crafted by hand. Our guide Ernesto told us his Cuban friend, a vintage car owner, keeps the original auto engine in his living room.

Driving back to our hotel on a rainy night the speeding cab driver turned on the windshield wiper once or twice in a twenty minute ride. Only when we were completely blind.  Saving the part - that's what they do.

*From the Uncyclopedia:
"Lada is a favourite Russian means of transport. There is big tension in Russia to classify it as an Automobile, although it suits the term of "self-constructed carriage" better. In Russia it's called also as the "жигуло" ("woman's best boyfriend"). Russians buy Ladas in pre-constructed status, with about 55% of parts in their places. Final assembly should be done by buyers with an assist of big hammer and vodka.
Vodka is a kind of software called liquidware which controls the hammer. Vodka is programmed to operate the construction of a Lada; it has all the necessary blueprints programmed into it. It's created by a well known liquidware creator: "L.I.T.M.I.K.H.I.D." ("Leave It To Me I Know How It's Done") Corp. The blueprint program itself is called: "W.Y.P.O.S" ("Work You Piece Of Shit") Blueprint management system.
I was stopped for speeding in a Lada, but I was let off due to the cop laughing too much. You see, I wasn't even accelerating, someone pushed me down a very steep hill, an I managed to reach 34 mph...
Still, you don't have to think up any Lada jokes, the Lada is a joke. In Soviet Russian language, "lada" means swan - the name was chosen as the vehicle is basically an ugly duckling, but another nation had already claimed the name Turkey."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lucky Coin

Coins build up around here and I can't help saving them. Instead of dropping them in the Salvation Army box, I continue my life-long habit of tossing them into a piggy bank. The other day, I dumped the pigful into plastic bags and carted them to the Coin Star machine at Albertson's. The machine was noisily gobbling up the coins on schedule and suddenly I got the message to check the return slot. Much to my surprise, I removed a 1943 Canadian nickel.

It looks like a penny, sort of bronzy in color.

As I was born in 1942 and just had a birthday, it struck me as an incredible coincidence that a 70 year old coin should suddenly rattle onto my "radar screen". My best guess is that it got mixed into my piggy bank after my mother died in Canada and I brought her little change purse home.

It was in 1942, the first tombac nickel was issued in Canada. Nickel was essential to the war effort being a critical ingredient in metal alloys that would resist the incredible heat generated by new high speed jet engines. Instead, tombac, an 88% copper - 12% zinc alloy was used. Tombac got it's name from the indonesian/Javanese word for brass or copper.  In 1942, the traditional beaver design remained on the reverse but the coin was made in dodecagonal shape, with 12 sides, to help distinguish it from the cent after it tarnished in circulation.

Moving forward to my coin, in 1943 the commemorative nickel was struck incorporating a flaming torch and the V for Victory. If you don't know roman numerals you'd never know the value of the coin as V is the only designation. If you look carefully and closely you can see Morse Code under the rim which spells out the phrase, "We win when we work willingly". Somebody really liked W's! W, in Morse Code is .-- (dot dash dash). Personally, I might have gone with a V message for the rim - working in words like Valiant, Victorious, Value, Verity, although I have to admit I'm stumped when trying to think of a complete sentence composed of V words -never mind a sentence with a patriot theme. V in Morse is ...- which might not have worked so nicely around the rim. 

23,000,000 of these nickels were struck so they're hardly rare and worth between $.50 and $1.00 on Ebay.  I just thought the incident was curious. And I'm keeping the "lucky" coin. 

Cantores de Cienfuegos

"Tomorrow evening, we'll be hearing a choir here" said Ernesto, our tour guide, as we walked by a building in Cienfuegos on our city tour.  "They're quite good." he added.

As time went on, we realized that Ernesto was not one to over-sell the events on our carefully planned agenda in Cuba. We expected something like a high school or church choir, swaying to the inevitable samba/rumba beat with castanets and bongo drums -  lots of enthusiasm and probably more energy than musical expertise. The concert began at 5:00 and after a full day of sight seeing (photos below) and an hour on the bus, we were hoping it would be over quickly and we could get back to the hotel and a glass of wine.

The Cantores de Cienfuegos was a shock.  23 singers performed for our small audience of only 18. We were all blown away. At the end of the performance Richard and I agreed that it was worth coming to Cuba to see and hear just that 40 minutes of perfection. Glass of wine? Hotel? We could have sat there for hours listening to them.

The elegant choral group sings under the direction of Honey Moreira Abreu, who became their conductor originally as part of Cuba's required community service and loved it so much that she stayed on. The choir has an eclectic repertoire, singing everything from Renaissance and Baroque to Negro Spirituals and Japanese fisherman's folk music.

Honey, the director, is a beautiful, poised and articulate woman who dresses in garments with flowing dolman sleeves. When she raises them as she conducts she looks almost angelic, the sleeves billowing around her arms like wings. You feel like she's physically pulling the music out of the choir, note by note, modulating it as she desires. The choir's control of volume is so precise it's as if the director is turning a dial, like the volume control on a radio.
Right from the start, the performance is mesmerizing. Facing the audience, she introduces the piece they will perform and then turns to the choir. You can feel a change as she shifts into music mode. She settles her stance; they follow suit. From the folds of her garment she removes her tuning fork, strikes it against her wrist and presses the forks behind her ear. After a small nod with her head bowed for a second, she looks up and hums two or three notes to tune the choir. Her voice is clear, bell-like and even.  She raises her arms, counts a couple of beats using subtle movements of her shoulders, wrists and head and the choir starts. She conducts holding the tuning fork in her hand. It glints occasionally in the light and you can't help shifting your eyes to it once in a while. There's something magical about the small sparkles appearing and disappearing as she conducts. 

Rarely can you hear a choir with such skill. They rehearse three hours a day. Singing is their full time job and they're paid by the government to perform. Some of the performers have been singing in the choir for 20 years or more. 

I fought back tears at the beauty of the sound. It was exquisite. 

Here's a link to a youtube performance with poor sound quality. It just barely represents the superb choir but will give you an idea of their skill. 

Cantores de Cienfuegos

Since returning home, I've found that Cuba is well known for these high quality acapella choirs. Here's a clip from a madrigal group, Exaudi, world renown: 

Exaudi Cuba

Saturday, November 02, 2013


This is an older Sepia Saturday that I didn't get finished in time.

I don't own much jewelry.  My wedding ring was purchased for $20 in Bali, where we were married. My earring days are long gone as I've developed some kind of allergy. Working for much of my career in laboratories and food plants, jewelry was out of the question because of the obvious:  danger from snagging yourself on equipment and having a finger ripped off; dropping bits and pieces into food being processed; harboring contaminants in the nooks and crannies. I eschewed it for myself but admired it from afar.

I remember most of my female relatives being adorned by little more than a wedding ring. My mother liked jewelry but never owned anything really valuable.

The contraption-like rigging of the jewelry in the prompt photo leads me to think this Texas belle may have had kinky masochist tendencies. The necklace connected to the belt has an S/M look; something was hurting in that arrangement. The belt looks vicious...metallic, stiff and uncomfortable. If she bent over to pick up a handkerchief, she'd be jabbed in the gut. She's probably girdled up and adding to her discomfort are those impossibly complicated earrings fluttering at the edge of her peripheral vision. If she wasn't a masochist, she'd at the least be damned uncomfortable and cranky. Using a little imagination I can see a "Get me out out of here!" look in her eyes.

Personally, as I sit here in my elastic-waisted garden pants and sneakers, the notion of wearing any kind of constrictive clothing or dangling jewelry sends waves of revulsion running down my spine. I'm eternally grateful for having been born when I was, missing some of the most uncomfortable dress eras, for instance the aforementioned girdle. Blissfully by the time I could use one, it was okay at last to jiggle a bit.  How disappointing it is (because the freedom to jiggle took a while to secure) to see the young women now choosing to squeeze themselves into Spanx Power Panties.  Is this not the girdle redux?
Spanx power panties

There's also an opportunity now for men to enjoy being squeezed for fashion in various kinds of undershirts and shorts described as "power performance" and "hard core compression" and cleverly sub-branded "Manx".  Enough of that.

It was actually the lady's bare shoulders that first interested me about the prompt. A little racy perhaps?  I was going to write about shoulders but I've already run on and on about nothing and the weeds in my garden are edging toward control. Because I did find this lovely Michael Buble rendition of my favorite shoulder song and as I'm all over the place with this post, I'm just tossing it as an ending. The tempo he chose is langorous and lovely....

 Michael Buble - Put your head on my shoulder

Friday, November 01, 2013

I wish I had crazy eyes to see you twice!


The piropo (a compliment) is the channel to project that joyful charge of imagination in the spirit. Forty years ago it was more delicate and elegant, nowadays, although it keeps its original charm, it applies to modern resources. For instance our parents used the night (her eyes are dark as the night), to nature (if the sea were a woman, you will be its queen), to religion (God created women so that I could meet you), and even floristry (you are the favourite flower in my garden). Nowadays the piropos are different. 

They keep their charm, but they are less poetic and more realistic. You could hear:El Piropo
with those fishermen pants I would not hesitate to be fished by you; I wish I were a computer to have you navigate in my Internet. Some of them survived decades and are in used today. If you cook the way you walk, Id eat it all. In some cases the piropos can be offensive and rude, but always have a witty touch of poetry.  pick-up lines.....

"From what toy store did you escape, pretty doll?" 
"Why is doing a star flying down here?" 
"I wish I had crazy eyes to see you twice!" 
"If kissing you were a sin, I would volunteer to go to hell." 
"Don't worry if you are married. Im not jealous!" 
"With a candy like you, I would not mind to suffer from diabetes." 
"Whats going on in heaven? Angels are falling?" 

The final goal of the piropo is conquest!

Continuing on our itinerary for Cuba on Day 5, we leave Cienfuegos and bus to Havana via the Bay of Pigs, Caleton and Playa Larga. We have a Spanish lesson at the University of Havana and a tour of old Havana with a local architect. Is this instant Spanish? How much could you possibly learn in one lesson? Some of the planned events on the schedule are
laughable but will probably be fun, at the least.

For lunch we meet with a local baseball expert and then we go Jaimanitas home to ceramic artist Jose Rodriguez Fuster a muralist. After a dinner at a local restaurant we head over to La Cabana Castle and end the evening with a bang;  a cannon is ceremoniously fired into the night. Sounds kind of corny but sometimes these things are a surprise.

I'm working on some original piropos to try on my husband.
"Hey Ricardo, every time I see you I feel like making guacamole."

Sepia Saturday 201: Grannie was a Gambler

The splendid Robert Goelet House in Newport, Rhode Island is the prompt this week.


St. Edward's Church - raffle site
My grandmother Lucy won her home in a St. Edward's church raffle. Unfortunately I couldn't find the only photo I have of it. I loved visiting that house where she, her husband Bertie, my three maiden aunts and my bachelor uncle all lived under the same roof. After mass on Sunday, the place was full of relatives drinking tea and dunking cookies. The air was thick with chatter and every once in a while a mickey full of whiskey would be passed around to fortify the tea and fuel the conversation. Fresh from communion, we were ready to roll up our sleeves and dig into the bad behavior again as soon as possible. 

Other than Sundays when we invaded the place, the house was quiet, except for the clickety clackety sound of Grandma's rosary going round and round. It never stopped because she prayed for everybody and everything - including the horses she'd wagered money on in races all across the U.S. and Canada. She'd set the rosary aside only to commit mortal sins against the First Commandment, to wit - reading tea leaves which was considered a kind of fortune telling. She knew it was a sin and even though extremely devout, she was able to reconcile her behavior with the church law. If the priest was coming over however, tea leaf reading time was over.
When it was time to place her bets she did her phone work with one hand. The other one kept the rosary in action. The racing form, shop worn and tea stained, lay open across her lap covered with pencil marks, signs, circles, arrows and arithmetic equations of various kinds. I liked to look at the discarded forms and at a very early age had a rudimentary grasp of odds. She largely won and she won largely. There's an even longer story here, but not for now.
Not one of Grandma's forms - merely illustrative
Even though I got an early introduction to gambling and handicapping, knowledge wasn't enough for me to succeed in this branch of the family business. I didn't inherit Grandma's luck! At 17, after an initial lucky streak at the track, I lost almost all my summer earnings (around $300.00) and that was enough serious gambling for me.

I still love horse racing though and I defy you to tell me where else you can have so many thrills for a mere $2.00.

Fortunately I was able to find another favorite house photo.  My French Canadian farming relatives (not gamblers) moved their home from one farm to another on sled runners. The moving was done in winter when the ground was frozen and icy.

You can't see the runners on the big house but you can see them on the smaller outbuilding. 

Notice there are icicles under the eaves on the big house. I'm guessing the move was just getting underway in the photo. If the house moved one inch, I'm sure the icicles would have fallen. I also like the curtain at the window...just as if it was another ordinary day.

For something completely different, here's the trailer for the documentary film Queen of Versailles about the couple who are building the largest home, at 90,000 square feet, in Lake Butler Sound, Orlando Florida.