Weekly Photo Challenge – Corner

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This week’s Photo Challenge brought back so many memories of travels to Siem Reap Cambodia where every street corner is jam-packed with so much visual stimulation that it takes a while to digest each one. Layers and layers of texture, color and pattern….and in nearly every photo I, the artist, see an abstract composition. There is usually a path for your eye to follow, a focal point, and places for your eye to rest….in layer upon layer of surface and depth. As with abstract art, if you divide the image into quadrants, each square stands well on its own as a fascinating composition.

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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 Confetti that is Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad is a gutsy but laid-back lady of many moods and faces – she has a twinkle in her lovely eye, lives with constant music, she loves Americans, she enjoys a hearty laugh, she offers you her roof-top restaurants and a day at the beach, she has contemporary art for your viewing pleasure hung on old painted fresco walls because she likes the contrast of the very old with the brand new, she becomes one loud and crazy broad when the sun goes down and she dances and sings with wild abandon. You would love her – she will become your best friend in Cuba. She knows everyone!

We took a bus trip across country of such deep green density and beauty that it took our breath away and reminded us of Hawaii…wandering valleys and streams, endless rolling hills toward distant mountains, and finally into the beachy little coastal village of Trinidad. Our Casa Particular hostess had walked to the bus station to meet us, greeted us by name from pictures she had seen of us on Air B&B, and led us back to her home with white grillwork fronting the street and then directly through the door to her life. The magical little world we entered was colorful, to say the least, with grape vine roof over head (and clusters of hanging purple grapes ) on the secluded outdoor patio,  a tiny but comfortable air-conditioned bedroom behind a window-paned door, and a newly tiled luxury bathroom, all to ourselves. (see photos in my gallery with this blog)

We could not wait to get acquainted with Trinidad. Such contrasts – the shops with fresh hams hanging in the open windows, the bread delivered daily along each skinny street by a horse-drawn buggy clop-clopping along and a guy yelling “PAN! PAAANNNOOOO!”, the stray dogs and cats, the music coming from several homes at once, the garlic salesman, the produce guy with his cart on the corner, the old ladies hanging out of windows watching as we passed, the 2 amigos posing for my camera as one says “Amigos!” and loops his arm around the others shoulder. It was all as if from a storybook.

Trinidad gave us one particular treasure we will never forget – Manuel G.- a hysterically funny guide who we enlisted to drive us around for about 2 days, including a day trip to sugar plantation country where we saw ruins being restored of an old but very extravagant mansion house accompanied by a slave village just a few hundred yards away from the house in a grove of trees. A tall bell tower for keeping watch on the entire operation was strategically placed so that there were no slave escapees. In the event of that occurrence, the bell was rung and other plantations for miles around knew that there was a runner; everyone dropped what they were doing and gave chase until he or she was tracked down and returned. We saw exactly where the sugar was distilled in gigantic copper pots and the ingenious process that made use of every single part of the sugar cane plant so that wealthy families in America and Europe could enjoy the new imported sweetener that was sugar. When it was discovered that rum could also be manufactured from sugar cane, the wealthy plantation owners became even richer. I will do another blog with pictures of this plantation…

In the several hours spent with Manuel as he drove us around in his AC car, we were treated to some crazy funny conversations about women, marriage, old cars, new cars, and Cuba in general, frank as frank can be in a car where no one could be overheard. You do not want to say anything about the Castro brothers where you might be overheard by the Policia and they are always listening. But with everyone we met, humor is firmly intact in the Cuban people and it is brutally honest at times, because if you are sick and tired of crying and complaining about the dictatorship and the food rations and the impossibility of ever getting off the island, you try your best to make it funny.

I would be glad to provide links to Casa Particulars that we used on this trip if you can manage to get my email address and contact me personally – I do not want to get any Cuban in trouble by mentioning them by name in a blog where I talk so openly about my strong distaste for the dictatorship.

The long, nearly deserted beach just outside downtown Trinidad is gorgeous in its privacy and simplicity. But we were way to busy for the beach. We are both artists. We soak stuff up like giant sponges and take pictures until our arms fall off and we talk in paint color language. The confetti colors of Trinidad are there for us.

For music – and I do mean !MUSIC! – that is authentically Cuban and nearly free almost every night please, please go to Café de la Musica, with its large outdoor stage situated at the side of some wide old stone steps just off the main plaza. You cannot miss it by late afternoon, if you are wandering around looking for a place to have some cocktails and have dinner later. You will hear it! You will feel the ground vibrating! Or just ask anyone… The band and singers number 11 or 12 guys and gals and they are energy personified. You sit at café tables on the steps and order whatever you want to drink and you might be there for hours on end. The people watching is magnificent and the entertainment is the best we had in Cuba. One little snapshot in this gallery does not do it justice.

Our best sunset dinner in Trinidad was eaten on the rooftop terrace of a restaurant near Café de la Musica – there are several rooftop hot spots in that area – just pick one and go with it. They are probably all good. We ate grilled shrimp, onions &black beans with dark rice of some kind, vegetables, shrimp cocktails, bread and salad with flan for dessert. It was delisioso. Of course we continued our research about where to find the best Mojito in all of Cuba, an extensive study requiring hours and hours of dusk time and beyond into the dead of night.

to be continued…..

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.

 

…and then we went to Cuba

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” And you came to Cuba so you could touch it with your eyes,” said our unforgettable friend and guide of two days, Manuel Gonzalez of Trinidad, Cuba.

Never before in my personal writing history, including this blog and the three books I have published, have I felt the burning need to get out of bed in the middle of the night and put down words. Until now. I don’t want to lose the freshness of my impressions about Cuba; its lush verdant scenery, its grand but crumbling Spanish colonial cities reminiscent at times of both New Orleans and Mexico, its mysterious Mafioso ties to America and the hotels where “doze guys” partied on trips down from Miami, its sexy music, its beloved Ernest Hemingway whose books are still studied in Cuban schools, its crazy, off-the-wall humor and its brave, kind and endlessly resourceful people who get up every day and make the most of a difficult situation. Emotional evidence of the Revolution is plentiful; reminders of Cuba’s tumultuous history and its love affair with Che Guevara are alive around every corner of the Havana city streets and in the other cities we visited. The history of Cuba is sad and offers little hope of change under the Castro regime, but its people maintain a joyful Spanish facade. We see the motto Tu Ejemplo vive, Tus Ideas Perduran – your example lives; your ideas last  posted in many places with Che’s picture. Che is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of the Cuban people.

When they thought Batista’s dictatorship was brutal, they soon learned that Castro certainly did not have the welfare of the people in mind when he grabbed power for himself. Learning in conversations with the people of Cuba about how the current dictatorship and how the embargo (which by the way is still in effect, even though our President announced that it is lifted – it has not yet opened anything up for the Cuban people expect USA tourism)  applies to their everyday lives was enlightening in ways I never expected… sitting with people in their homes and eating delicious, generous portions of hand-prepared food from spotless Cuban kitchens during our Casa Particular ( Air B&B) stays was priceless. Every family is given a monthly ration of food – basics – eggs, 1 chicken per family, flour, sugar, beans, rice, milk. The “frills” such as produce, cookies – whatever else a family might need must be provided with income so pathetically small that we wondered how anyone could ever make ends meet. The bottom line to every detail of Cuban life is genius invention, constant recycling, trading among friends and helping each other. As our guide Manuel said, “If you can ever get the money together to afford a new car in Cuba, you are in big trouble! You will never be able to find parts for it!” Most of the iconic candy-colored older cars for which Cuba is known manage to be kept running with parts from China and Korea.

When people asked us where we were from they were excited and instantly curious about where in America. OH! Wow! Colorado! Mountains? Snow? Of course other countries have been traveling to Cuba for years and so the Cubans see tourists from Europe, China, South America, Sweden, Great Britain, etc but Americans hold a special place in the hearts of Cubans. “Americans are good people – Cubans are good people! What’s the problem? What took you so long? You need to all come and visit us. We love America!”

From Havana we traveled east by bus for about 5 hours through rolling, thickly forested hills set against distant mountains on our way to Trinidad, a charming village on the southern coast of the island where homes are the paint colors of Cuba – lavender, yellow, sunset pink, citrus orange…red, blue…old old homes often as tiny as an American walk-in closet and usually just a story or two, but oozing personality and radiating happiness. Music starts in the morning and continues through the old narrow streets all day long as we walk and roam. Speaking now with an artist’s voice, Trinidad is nirvana for painters. The ancient textures of stone and brick, peeling paint, iron grillwork painted white or left black, potted flowers and greenery – hidden patios and secret nooks where cats sit in the sun – carriages pulled by one horse clop-clopping on cobblestone streets and guys selling bread up and down every skinny street in the early morning. All this and the deep Prussian Blue Caribbean as a bonus. This is the Cuba I loved the most.

Outside Trinidad we were fortunate to visit the ruins of an old sugar plantation, including slave quarters and the current restoration of the big mansion itself to its former glory with its Italian Cararra marble floors and painted frescoes. We saw where and how the sugar cane was refined, the enormous copper pots where they boiled it down and the ways they used the leftover pulp. We learned about the daily lives of the slaves, who were shipped in from all over the world to begin working at age 4-5, and the tall white stucco tower built for the only purpose of keeping watch over the slaves in a landscape of tall sugar cane. When a slave was observed running away, the tower bell was rung and slave owners for miles around took that as a warning and a signal to drop everything and search for the escapee.

Cien Fuego (100 fires) was our next destination, a morning’s drive west of Trinidad – Cuba is a big island so we saved far eastern Cuba for another time… Cien Fuego is quite different than Trinidad, with an outdoor mall of nice shops and some great restaurants on roof tops and terraces. Mojitos flow, and if you know even some of the words you might be asked to sing with band…oh my god!  I had a lot of authentic Cuban food while on the island, but the best spaghetti I ever ate in my life was in Cien Fuego. But – the outskirts are very poor, the hovels are dirt-floored and similar to those we saw in rural Cambodia. Horses, cows, cats and dogs are brittle and emaciated, skin over bone; the people are painfully dulled of any signs of a happy life. I was terribly upset by what I saw there, just a few blocks away from the city. I actually had to fight my impulse to get out of the car and start handing out money, as small a difference as that would have made for just a day or so.

In Cien Fuego on the main plaza is a lovely old mansion that has been made an art gallery – the inside of the building itself was as interesting as the art. Contemporary Pop Art set against centuries’ old frescoes and floors was a fascinating contrast. The art scene in Cuba is quite active – the dictatorship subsidizes artists to some extent. But we talked to many artists and a tiny tube of paint the size of a child’s little finger is the equivalent of 15 dollars. We do believe that studio space might be cheap, however, because there were some wonderful old buildings with spacious art studios in them. The art ranges from realism to abstract, as one would expect, and I am happy to say that mixed media has made a bit splash in Cuba! Very nice examples were to be found in every genre and I bought a few small pieces. Many Cuban artists have been educated formally in fine art and art history, some outside of Cuba. Art is respected and artists are prolific, turning out a lot of work – we have no idea if any of them are making a living at it however. One artist we met was  lawyer. Doctors, lawyers and other professional people are paid by the state, and many of them have free time to do other things, we learned.

This is only my first installment about our trip to Cuba. The subject of Cuba is vast enough for 10 blogs and I will be writing other posts about it in the days to come. I took over 1000 pictures and am attempting to categorize them for easy access while writing. The people of Cuba are very pleased to know that so many of us here in the USA are interested in their lives. We noticed a lot of people on cell phones in Cuba but only in WIFI hotspots – just a few wealthy families actually have internet access. Public internet is still a few years away but things are changing very rapidly there now. They are quite aware that the next Revolucion with be in communication and they are also aware that it could be both the good news and the bad news, because they want Cuba to remain unspoiled.

The country of Cuba is in dire need of money to save its infrastructure, because it is centuries’ old and falling down around them. The tax money the Cubans pay goes…..where? Nothing gets done. I could go on and on…but for now I will leave you with my humble thoughts and my cherished photos of a place I now love.

to be continued…

 

 

 

The Anticipation of Travel

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Malaysian Dusk  and  Bangkok Moon, mixed media by Jo Ann Brown-Scott copyright 2015

You know how I feel about creativity and stoking the fires to keep it smoldering – always awarding yourself with fresh experiences – feeding the creativity beast gourmet delights so that it will return to your work table and want to spend time with you. Travel is,  to me, one of the finest sources of creative stimulation. Travel is a luxury we can all afford if you define it as a departure from your normal routine that takes you out and away from your home headquarters. Therefore a trip down the block is travel, an excursion to a nearby city is travel, even a hike in the woods or watching a movie is a version of travel. You just need to get out of your own mind for awhile and experience new visual surroundings. I do all of that and more…..it is part of my job description as an artist and writer.

But this time I am headed to more distant horizons. I am traveling to the far regions of southeast Asia – Singapore in fact – for the second time, and my side trip during this trip will be to Siem Reap, Cambodia for three nights to visit Angkor Wat. I am traveling with a dear friend, also an artist, so I am going to experience double happiness. We will stay with my daughter and her husband who live in Singapore ( http://www.compassandcamera.com ) and therefore we will have a resident guide for every move we make, and we will be making some major moves.

I will love seeing Singapore again through my friend’s eyes – the spectacular cutting-edge architecture, the glitz and sparkle of the immaculate, well-mannered Singapore, along with its quaint and colorful shop houses in the older sections of Chinatown, Arab Street and Little India. Then on to the massive ruins of Angkor Wat , one of the ancient wonders of our world, now overgrown with gnarled tree roots and steeped in mystery. This is my favorite vacation contrast – the precious against the poor – the opulent compared to the common. It rounds everything out and gives you a conscientious balance. It jolts your senses and keeps you humble, seeing what has gone long before and what is happening now. You can’t have one without the other.

Creatively speaking, this makes for a rare and wonderful experience. The last time I traveled to Singapore I came home and painted a body of work based upon my  trip, capturing my visual, sensory, auditory and olfactory impressions of how it felt to be there. I was on such sensory overload that I could not sleep. Remembering the sights, smells, noise and food aromas of just the wild and wonderful Chatachak Market in Bangkok, for instance, fed my creativity for days on end.

Travel is the closest we can get, as human beings here in the 21st century, to time travel as it is explained by physicists and scientists  – living backwards or forward in time, almost in a parallel universe to our own and finding it remarkably exotic and foreign to your senses. Yet confined to this one planet. The big blue one. I highly recommend it for your enlightenment, your creativity and your fun.

My Big Island Favorites and “The Whistler”, 2015

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Photos taken on my recent month-long stay on the Big Island of Hawaii – my 4th annual trip in what has become a welcome rest from the Colorado snow, although I do love snow. As you probably know by now, in my paintings or my photos, I am all about pattern, texture and color…as you can see.

We painted plein air, we painted in studio, we took day trips both north to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Waimea and down south of the Captain Cook area to a black sand beach where we were told about one particular whale who has become a local favorite, and a legend I predict. This whale is a female (because they see her every year with her newest baby) whose blow-hole is damaged or deformed somewhat, so when she blows she whistles a loud haunting whistle that everyone on shore can here. Each year they look forward to the return of “The Whistler” and watch her playing just off shore of this black sand beach in the evening hours. I took the sunset pictures you see here at that very location. They also tell me that the whales breech here daily in February/March making loud smacking sounds when their tales hit the water – loud enough in the morning hours to wake you from a sound sleep. They are swimming north on their yearly migration, headed through the Maui Channel onward to Alaska, and this beach is a resting place to stop and play. We also saw whales in Kona harbor, purposely, I believe, putting on quite a show for everyone lined up on the pier one evening. Is it possible….can you imagine….that this human-being/whale connection is somehow bigger than we all imagine? They know that in certain areas of the planet we are appreciative and friendly, desperately wanting to know them better and wishing them no harm, while in other foreboding seas they might be cold bloodedly slaughtered.

All animals who migrate, including whales, sea turtles and sharks, migrate for just three simple reasons – mating and birthing, abundant feeding and a climate that is tolerable. Those three conditions rule their travels.

I do believe that the same three conditions rule the travels of human beings! Think about it.