Cuba -The Beauty and the Beast

By the time we left Cuba we were in love with the country and its people. We had many discussions, political and otherwise with our various hosts in the Casa Particulars where we stayed, inside the privacy of their homes and in cars whenever the driver could speak a bit of English. No one would dare to speak about the dictatorship freely in the plazas or the restaurants for fear of being overheard; the police were ever-present. We spoke, sometimes in whispers, about the inevitable change of power when Castro died, having no idea how eminent that was at the time of our conversations.

Since that trip to Cuba in early November Castro has died and the country has mourned. There was no dancing in the streets – that would have been foolish. The next shoe might already be dropping. The beast of communism is very much alive as I write this and the uncertainty of Cuba’s future looms large. The industrious, inventive, energetic, constantly musical and delightfully humorous people of Cuba wait and wonder what is to come next. There is a high degree of melancholy underneath the bustle of Cuba but hope is very much alive; I hope that their powerful hope is rewarded in the months to come. The contrasts are sharp between the arrival of the cell phone and the women lowering their baskets on ropes from 4th story windows in the early morning light to buy bread from a kid on a bike yelling “Panooooo.”

Change is a constantly grinding wheel and it will not be denied. But at what cost?

Attached are some photos; for more please visit my recent Archives about this enlightening journey to another exotic world just 100 miles from our shores where dictators deny their people freedoms and basic staples of daily life. The beauty is evident, the evidence of brutality is everywhere. More blogs to come, including the Ernest Hemingway experience…

Author & Artist Jo Ann Brown-Scott – http://www.thecreativeepiphany.com

New novel – http://www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com

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The Personalities of Cuba

The faces and facades of Havana are never-ending and always fascinating…every street brings a new discovery and a different jolt through the sensuality of color, the sounds of music and the aromas of exotic food. We wandered for 9-10 hours a day with no destinations in mind, allowing our senses to lead us. These photos were taken on our first day out in Havana, a city crumbling in many locations, ravaged by time, yet revealing older textures and paint colors newly uncovered.

 

My Injured Buddha

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I collect Buddha sculptures wherever I go. I have them displayed in my home and studios in a variety of materials and sizes. I do not discriminate. It matters not to me  whether Buddha is represented in bronze, stone, marble, solid silver, gold, terra cotta, jade or agate and if I see a plastic Buddha that stirs me I will buy it, because I am sure that the humble Buddha does not mind and I personally have no shame. In my collection I have Buddha likenesses from Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan,  Hawaii and various other locations around the world and in the mainland USA.

By far the most unusual geographic location in which I have ever purchased a Buddha was in a little shop specializing in Tibetan jewelry and other exotic treasures in Flagstaff, Arizona. My sister and I were wandering around aimlessly one morning following our fancy wherever it led us, having a great, leisurely escape when we stumbled upon the place – the place where I found the Buddha for whom I carry the most affection of any in my possession.

I was going through a hard time during that month, feeling a little wounded and beaten up by life. The event that caused those feelings actually escapes me now, years later, which is a good thing. Whatever it was, it was only temporary. Maybe my sister would remember. Vicki? Are you there?

I saw this remarkable Buddha in the glass case. I asked to see it, touch it and admire it closer. The face appeared to be gold leaf, but I doubted that preciousness coming from there, a tiny little shop in Flagstaff, AZ. and it truly did not matter to me whether it was genuine gold leaf or not. The lady removed it from the case and sat it on the counter. I sensed its weight with that gesture; she said it was heavy steel. I immediately noticed the deep crack that meandered from the golden forehead up into the head; it had been damaged somewhere and sometime in the very distant past. I found that both sad and intriguing. She assured us it was from Nepal.

She told us that she had another one, identical except for the crack, in perfect condition and asked if perhaps I’d like to see it. Of course!

It was perfect. I could not believe there were two. Obviously I chose the blemished Buddha, because upon that day, when I felt the pain, I decided to embrace it. I was sure I was meant to have the blemished Buddha, and I felt I had found a true, personalized relic meant as a treasure just for me…found randomly in a tiny shop in a very unlikely location a world away from its birthplace, and now mine. It seemed like Karma to me.

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Blogging Taught Me This

children  My photo taken in the countryside outside Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2015

I am coming up on a personal milestone in my blogging career of the past several years – soon I will reach 10,000 views which is a nice round number to achieve. I am excited about it, but compared to many others I could name whose blogs I follow and read religiously, that is a very small number. In my humble career as a blogger I have however, learned a great deal about people, travel, the art of writing, life, photography and the wonders of the world. Several meaningful discoveries have been made through my writing and reading of blogs.

  1. If you are able to find a way to travel, domestically or internationally, you owe it to a life well lived to do that at every opportunity. I am of the opinion that people who venture out of their own comfort zones and soak up the knowledge they gain along the way are the everyday prophets of the world. I don’t care if you simply walk across town, ride a bike, trek around Mt. Everest or trek to a national park,  journey on a train, or a bus or a boat or a plane or climb a fourteener in Colorado – just leave your everyday environment behind for a while. Even for just an afternoon! What you will learn far outweighs any perceived inconvenience in getting there. Then be sure you write and talk about it. Share your experiences. Impart some knowledge. Bring the world together.
  2. What will you learn? You will learn how to get outside your own importance. You will begin to know and appreciate other lifestyles; other people’s struggles and joys, other scenery, other people’s ways of making a living and how they spend their leisure time if they have any. How they raise their children, how they worship, what they eat, where they live, what they wear and what they sleep on at night. You might read all that in a book, of course but unless you smell it, hear it, touch it, breathe it in and see it with your own eyes  you will not truly know anything for sure about what other people are up against. Whether it is our Louisiana flooding or even if – even if it is a mere 10 miles away from where you live.
  3. As a result of traveling, you will get better at tolerance, kindness, understanding, generosity, love and even forgiveness. You will be a better person, I guarantee. Why? Because it is hard to ignore a barefoot, raggedy clothed, dusty little child, painfully underfed, without toys, living in a dirt-floored hovel that the monsoons are likely to flatten and flood in 2 months. You will think of him and his family, from a world away, when you hear on the news that there is flooding in Cambodia and hundreds of people have had their rice fields swept away. You will care very deeply.
  4. All of those experiences will make a better person of you and your children and friends. You will have a deeper and wider frame of reference upon which to base your beliefs and opinions about what needs to be done in the world. And you will use that platform for change, in whatever way you can. You will have personal stories to tell that will influence others and inspire them to travel and provide good works wherever they go. If you travel you have a fine opportunity to be a positive ambassador for the USA. We need more of those.
  5. Finally, for now, but certainly not lastly, if you are a creative person artistically,  musically, if you write or you photograph or you simply keep a humble travel journal – whatever expression stirs your soul – it will become far more profound in meaning if you travel. It cannot help but get better. You will employ travel and use it all as food and fuel for your heart and mind. You will find yourself saying poetic things you never thought you would utter, writing about other worlds, seeing everything with new eyes and loving the diversity of the planet as never before, because you had no basis upon which to know what you had been missing. Your mind will open up and you will become wiser for with every travel experience.

Ten Great Discoveries about Singapore & Siem Reap, Cambodia

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During our recent trip to these two enticing places we experienced a number of amazing things and had our eyes opened to sights we will never forget – the glitz and glamour of orderly, polite, uber-wealthy Singapore in stark contrast with the crumbling ruins of mysterious Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia set amid the poverty stricken, red dirt countryside  that surrounds that site.

Sometimes, however, it is the smaller discoveries on a trip that stick in your visual memories and linger in your heart and soul. My traveling companion and I are both artists and I am a writer – we cannot even comprehend how NOT to be visually oriented. We take thousands of pictures; we describe scenes, light, color, people and smells using a different vocabulary known only between the two of us…we store away ambience, mood, a fleeting happening there or a dialogue overheard here that will later fuel a painting or a paragraph in the book I am writing. We absorb everything, keeping it all in the loft of our minds for later use.

Here are ten things both large and small that impressed us, amid the hundreds of overwhelming experiences we had:

1) In the Singapore airport there is a special dimmed area of grouped reclining chairs for the purpose of giving travelers a place to sleep. Such a civilized, valuable addition…

2) In a different area there is a long table, supplied with free paper and crayons, where children and adults can do colorful rubbings of raised designs – perhaps a dozen or so  – in various Singapore-related images. It is easy, it is fun, and for weary travelers it is certainly a welcome change of pace.

3) All over Singapore on various street corners you will notice a lattice-roof area which shelters a sort of courtyard perhaps as large as your living room, with sturdy wires, arranged in a grid, hanging down about 20 inches with hooks on the end, and each hook is numbered. What could this possibly be, I ask ? Well of course these places are there for people’s caged household birds, so that they can enjoy an outdoor afternoon.

4) Do not go to Singapore without eating Chili Crab – it is messy, best eaten outdoors, perhaps at a restaurant along the water. Spend a long, leisurely amount of time for this dinner; it is an experience! Bring friends; keep ordering food.

5) Go to the Marina Bay Sands resort hotel in the city, have a cocktail on the top floor and take in the view, but sneak around to the infinity pool (that is  just for guests) – you must have a good look at it!  The pool is located on the top floor, visually losing its edge as you swim, and the top of this building, at closer glance, is the shape of a long, sleek ship balanced atop a logic-breaking skyscraper in three sections. It is the iconic image one remembers of Singapore.

6) Siem Reap is a short flight from Singapore to the sweltering interior of Cambodia.You are transported to another time and place. Hit your re-set button and dial it down a bit so that you can understand and appreciate the wonderful people there and what their brutal recent history has dealt them. Buy things – they depend upon tourism and they have lovely silver jewelry. Talk with the people – they are hungry for information from the outside world.

7)  If you are not faint of heart get yourself an authentic Cambodia massage. Lovely wafer-thin young women who cannot weight more than 70 lbs will walk on you, pull your limbs until you fear they will come off, bend and twist you like a pretzel and give your muscles a wake-up call the likes of which you have never experienced.

8) The most expensive restaurants in Siem Reap are not necessarily the best – you can have a gourmet Cambodian meal for about $12-15 per person, beautifully presented and delicious. The fruits and vegetables are delightful.

9) Do not spend less than two days touring Angkor Wat – if you do you will miss a lot and you will not be getting all the history and information you need in order to comprehend the vast importance of the ruins. It could not have been possible to construct such an enormous complex of temples and buildings were it not for the 40,000 elephants who hauled the stone.

10) Embrace the immense curiosity evident everywhere you go for the United States. People crave conversation – they want to understand you, where you live, what it is like there and why you came. You will love the people.

Weekly Photo Challenged – ENVELOPED

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Enveloped in tree roots: a temple entrance at the mysterious 12th century Angkor Wat, photographed 2 weeks ago in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The 3 days we spent exploring these enigmatic ruins was the highlight of our trip. The tree roots are invasive to such a degree that huge blocks of stone are jostled around like Lego blocks; the tree is peculiar in the fact that it grows from the top down, gaining the moisture it needs from the rocks it crawls upon rather than the ground underneath.

copyright Jo Ann Brown-Scott, 2015

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat…the moat, the mist and the mystery

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Today I am drunk from travel; jet lagged with brain fogginess. My appetite yells HUNGRY at all the wrong times and I am tired when I need to be awake. It required an entire 24 hours of travel to return home to the USA from time spent in Singapore and Siem Reap, Cambodia. I will be like this for a couple days.

My photos prove Angkor Wat was not a dream. I was indeed there, glistening with sweat from the unwavering heat, walking the powdery red dirt path up to the bridge that crosses the ancient moat surrounding Angkor Wat. Then, for several days,  experiencing a silent other-worldly shadow of a former civilization; a place where people lived and loved and laughed; a place where 40,000 elephants walked the same stone paths I walk as they built the city; a place crumbling from the insistent destruction of time and massive trees roots that meander along moving gargantuan blocks of stone as if they were legos. These were a people who appreciated the beauty of intricately carved stone – story-telling daily life in sculpture of meticulous detail – revealing subtle expressions on faces and costumes of fabric, folded and wrapped on dancing women, working elephants and animals, flowers, and gods and goddesses both evil and benevolent of spirit. Constant renovation is a given – it goes on and on  through the donations of other countries who care – as walls continue to collapse and the monsoons roar in hell bent on destruction.

One favorite of mine was a deep, dark stone room whose interior walls are covered in precisely spaced Ping-Pong ball sized holes; hinting that its walls were once embedded with giant gemstones so as to catch the sun’s rays from a tiny slice in the stone and light the darkness with multi-colored reflections.  Then another smaller stone room where we are told by our extraordinary guide, An Rachna of Cambodian Trails, that in spite of what might seem perfect conditions for acoustics, no human voice or music will echo there – but if you thump your chest over your heart seven times the deep heart-sound will indeed “echo” when you stop, seven times, reverberating in various intensities according to the stress level of your soul. And it worked. Angkor Wat is one discovery after another, each raising another group of questions in your mind – what happened here? Why did these intelligent people die? How could the site possibly have gone undiscovered for so long? It is an enigma wrapped in mystery…you almost feel that you know the people after two or three solid days of tracking their lives.

The contemporary people of Siem Reap will welcome you. They have melancholy eyes and joyful smiles. They are kind, helpful and eager to please. They spend time with you in conversations that go deeper than trivial inquiries about how you are today and where you are from – they hang onto your every word with a genuine curiosity about where exactly you are from in the USA and what it looks like there – how do you manage to get all the way up to your mountain home in the Colorado Rockies? What is snow like? They do not want you to leave without keeping the door open for your return. Cambodia is still, quite literally, maimed, mangled and war-torn from the days of the Khymer Rouge; land mines are a large concern, and the unspeakable atrocities toward the Cambodian people are evident everywhere you go. In rural communities fresh well water is becoming less rare thanks to donations from private individuals and countries, but still in short supply. A water well can be purchased for just about $100 and there are many organizations worldwide who will handle a donation for you – one well can supple several families who live near each other. The children are tiny, also in great need of better nutrition, and milk for babies and toddlers is scarce. We were able to spend hours of time driving the countryside, visiting and smiling with families and children, watching them cook lunch for the family along the winding dirt roadside.

This series about our trip to Cambodia in 2015 will continue…..probably for the remainder of my life. I would love to take you along.

Please visit http://www.cambodiantrails.com to learn about guides in Siem Reap.