Saturday, February 28, 2009

Photo (s) of the Week - Fashion models

Past Photo (s) of the Week

Feb. 21 - Fashion models
Feb. 14 - Fashion models
Feb. 7 - Fashion models
Jan. 31 - Female performer/contortionist
Jan. 24 - Fashion models
Jan. 17 - Wardrobe malfunction.
Jan. 10 - Busty dancer
Jan. 3 - Fashion models
Dec. 13 - Swimsuits
Dec. 6 - Carnival dancers
Nov. 29 - Synchronized swimmers
Nov. 22 - Women at night
Nov. 15 - Carnival dancers
Nov. 8 - Swimmer on the Malecon
Nov. 1 - Ukrainian medical student
Oct. 24 - Butts at the beach
Oct. 19 - Sexy in red swimsuit
Oct. 11 - Woman gets tossed into water
Oct. 4 - At the beach
Sept. 27 - Tropicana and other dancers
Sept. 20 - Carnival dancers
Sept. 13 - Ukrainian teen-agers at beach
Sept. 6 - Horseplay at beach
Aug. 30 - Synchronized swimmers
Aug. 23 - Carnival dancers

Top Five Photo (s) of the Week
Christmas at the Beach - Swimsuit photos

The mysterious life of Fidel Castro

The Web site, Secretos de Cuba, says that Fidel Castro lives in the home, above, with the swimming pool. He and his wife grow tomatoes and other produce in the greenhouse shown just below the home, the Web site says.
In January, Hugo Chavez said the Fidel Castro who "walked the streets and town ... in his uniform and hugging the people, will not return. That will remain in memory."
Then yesterday, Chavez reported the latest: Castro took a stroll. He evidently appeared in public near the seaside town of Jaimanitas, not far from the comandante's compound on the western side of Havana. Chavez said:
Fidel went out and they saw him, Fidel walking in the streets in Havana. A miracle. The people cried.
Castro wasn't in uniform. But he walked the streets. It's unclear precisely when and where, and Cuban officials aren't commenting. But some residents are confirming the sighting.
A fisherman told one reporter, " this country, anyone can identify Fidel no matter how far away he is."
He said the person he saw was wearing an athletic uniform - "the same one that's come out in the photos and videos, with the three colors of the Cuban flag."
The fisherman, quoted in this story, said Fidel had two people at his side. "They looked like doctors or something like that."
If true, this would be Castro's first public appearance since July 2006.
Chavez said he's seen photos showing Castro during his outing and considers himself "privileged."
One day, I imagine that at least some photos of Castro's stroll will be public. I get the sense that Castro and his supporters are managing every detail of the historical record for posterity's sake.

A wider view of the Castro compound, from WikiMapia. Search for Punto Cero to find it.
I haven't done any research into the kind of life that Castro has led since suddenly falling ill. It's known that he reads voraciously. He writes essays. He meets some foreign heads of state. My guess is that he follows a strict diet and exercises regularly. But I don't know much beyond that. And I can understand why some secrecy is necessary. Just consider all the assassination attempts.
But some anti-Castro activists want to shed as much light as possible on Castro, pointing out, for instance, where he is thought to live.
One site - Secretos de Cuba - even notes the spot where Castro's security guards supposedly machine-gunned and killed four Mexicans who were in a car and inadvertently turned onto the road that leads to Castro's compound. I don't know if it's true or just an urban legend. But the Internet, the Web, is full of this kind of stuff.
Secretos de Cuba also displays an aerial photo of Castro's compound, showing the precise layout of his house and pointing out the greenhouse where he and his wife supposedly grow tomatoes. Some of the information is so detailed that it seems credible.

The supposed greenhouse

Along the Malecon's Fidel Castro Page - (Fidel Castro: Born 1926 - Still Kickin' in 2009)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Cuba frees foreign drug users rather than jail them, new report says

Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, or CDRs, are neighborhood watch groups that report illegal behavior, including drug use.
Cuban authorities freed 163 foreign travelers caught with illicit drugs in 2008, fining them rather than putting them in jail, according to a U.S. government report released today.
"Individuals are warned about Cuba’s regulations that prohibit the trafficking and possession of narcotics, and allowed to continue with their trips," the 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said.
The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, an arm of the State Department, produces the annual report, which assesses counternarcotics efforts around the world.
The Cuba section of the report says:
* Cuba isn't "a significant consumer nor a producer of illegal drugs," but "its ports, territorial waters, and airspace are susceptible to narcotics trafficking from source and transit countries."

* "Lack of discretionary income and an overwhelming state police presence limit access to drugs by the Cuban population and contribute to the low incidence of drug consumption."

* "During 2008, the principal source of drugs for the Cuban internal drug market continued to be drug wash-ups. Washed-up narcotics are aggressively collected and stored for eventual incineration to avoid proliferation and sale on the internal market."

* "The U.S. Government does not have direct evidence of current narcotics-related corruption among senior GOC (Government of Cuba) officials."

* "Incidents of marijuana harvests are considered “isolated” by the GOC. Cuba is not a source of precursor chemicals."
The report also said that between January and September 2008, Cuban authorities seized 1.7 metric tons of illicit drugs, including 1,675.7 kilos of marijuana and 46.8 kilos of cocaine, along with "trace amounts of crack, hashish, and other forms of psychotropic substances."
That compares to 2.6 metric tons of drugs seized in 2007.

CDRs also report suspected anti-government activities.

Cuban authorities over the past several years have repeatedly offered to help the U.S. government fight drug trafficking, terrorism and illegal immigration. The report said the Cuban government's "long history of anti-Americanism in rhetoric and action has limited the scope for joint activity."
Bilateral dealings with Cuba are "always subject to political imperatives."
The report also said Cuban authorities fail to provide "forthright or actionable proposals as to what the USG should expect from future Cuban cooperation."
That explanation rings hollow to me. The U.S. government should work harder to cooperate with Cuba on important security matters. Rather than try to improve relations, American authorities take the easy way out and say Cuba is the problem.

Time/CNN goof: They describe Cuba's most famous blogger as "he"

You can see the "he" error in this screenshot, above.

Generación Y is one of the 25 Best Blogs of 2009, according to a list by Time and CNN

Of the 25 bloggers, Yoani Sanchez of Generación Y says she most certainly has the least access to the Internet. And she says she can't see the very blog she writes because Cuban censors block it.

Generación Y is 12th on the list. The top three are:

The Time/CNN list calls Cuba "one of the few places where it's still dangerous to be a blogger." It also describes Yoani as "he," not "she."

I've met Yoani and can confirm that she is not a "he."

Seeing dumb mistakes like that makes me wonder about the entire list.

In any case, Time and CNN applaud Yoani for documenting "the prevailing sense of 'endophobia' in Cuba — fear of what will happen after Castro's reign ends." The list says:
There are also oddly wistful reminisces of his youth, like receiving free candy and soda at school thanks to Soviet Union subsidies. Sánchez's own photos accompany many of the entries, which offer a fascinating and brave peek behind the curtain of a still-closed society.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Carnival Cup: Cuba vs. Brazil

Rio dancers, above.

Rio's Carnival ended today. This is off topic, I know. But seeing images of the lavish parades in Rio makes me wonder what the carnival parades would be like in Cuba if there were more money floating around.
In Brazil, samba schools spend as much as $2.5 million to produce 80-minute parades, according to this AP story. Can you imagine what Cubans could do with that kind of money?

More Rio dancers. All Brazil photos shamelessly swiped from other Web sites.

Cubans, like the one below, manage to put on a heck of a show with almost no money. Many of the dancers' costumes are handcrafted, made from scratch. They're not as bold and shiny as the costumes in Rio. There is less gold and less glitter at Cuban carnivals.
Rio's a different story, of course. The carnival is big, as big as Brazil.

Both photos, above, are from Santiago de Cuba, 2008

Marilyn Monroe meets Che Guevara

Mix and match: Che wears military threads made of golden fabric and Marilyn Monroe is draped in an olive green uniform.
The two icons are intermingle in an unusual art exhibit that opens March 6 in Chelsea, a neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan, according to the Cuban Art Space of the Center for Cuban Studies.
The Che-Marilyn creations are the work of Cienfuegos artist Adrian Rumbaut.

New report criticizes human rights conditions in Cuba

The State Department's latest report on human rights practices in Cuba is out. It says:
At year's end there were at least 205 political prisoners and detainees. As many as 5,000 citizens served sentences for "dangerousness," without being charged with any specific crime. The following human rights problems were reported: beatings and abuse of detainees and prisoners, including human rights activists, carried out with impunity; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; harassment, beatings, and threats against political opponents by government-recruited mobs, police, and State Security officials; arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates and members of independent professional organizations; denial of fair trial; and interference with privacy, including pervasive monitoring of private communications.

There were also severe limitations on freedom of speech and press; denial of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on freedom of movement, including selective denial of exit permits to citizens and the forcible removal of persons from Havana to their hometowns; restrictions on freedom of religion; and refusal to recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally.
You can read the full report here. It's extensive, some 11,300 words.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement announcing the report is here. Video is here and country reports here.

Cough, cough. I think I've got the black lung, Fidel

The 11th Habano Cigar Festival ends Friday. More than 1,000 participants from 70 countries have been attending the festivities this week, Juventud Rebelde reported. I went to the bash one year and saw Fidel Castro and the late musician Compay Segundo together on stage during a cigar auction. Compay was smoking a fat cigar. Not Fidel, of course. He quit years ago.
A Cuban woman smokes at an outdoor cafeteria along the shore east of Havana.
Three hurricanes slammed Cuba in 2008, causing at least $10 billion in damage. Tobacco growers were among those hit hard. But they are recovering and expect one of their best harvests in years, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
"To produce the best tobacco in the world you have got to have the soil that we have here," grower Francisco Milan told the news agency.
The late Gregorio Fuentes lights up. He was Ernest Hemingway's boat captain. He was smoking - and drinking - every time I saw him.

He must have done something right because he lived to the age of 104.

Dallas Morning News story on Cuban smoking ban, 2004
More pictures of smokers
Cuban tobacco company has reason to light up, December 2008
Cuban cigar to winner of presidential race, November 2008
"It's maddness," says wife of Cuban who rolled world's longest cigar, October 2008
Post-Ike, Cuban cigar makers hope to cash in on vintage stogies, September 2008

Mattresses are priceless family heirlooms in Cuba

Cherished cargo
There's nothing like a good mattress, but in Cuba such luxuries are not always easy to find. Some Cubans tell me they have slept in the same bed - on the same mattress - since childhood. Having a mattress for 20 or 30 years isn't rare at all. But most mattresses don't hold up that well for so long. They flatten in the middle. They rip, they tear, they crumble. But Cubans patch them up. They re-stuff them with a variety of materials, including banana leaves and hay. They find ways to make them last.

New mattresses cost about 200 convertible pesos or more - some $250 U.S., which is out of reach for many Cubans. Even a re-stuffed mattress costs 40 to 50 convertible pesos - equal to two or three month's salary. So mattresses are coveted. They're not tossed aside or thrown away. No one leaves them at the curb for someone to pick up. Instead, they pass them from father to son, brother to sister, cousin to cousin.
Cubans also trade and sell them. Enterprising mattress makers walk the streets of Alamar, east of Havana, yelling, "Mattresses! Mattresses!"
When I lived in Cuba, I slept on a king-sized mattress that I brought to Cuba from Mexico City. Cubans marveled at that because you rarely see king-sized mattresses on the island. I don't think I've even seen one in a hotel. Queen-sized mattresses, introduced to the world in 1958, a year before the Cuban revolution, are a bit more common. But I'd venture to say that most of the mattresses in Cuba are singles and doubles.
A big jump in American tourism could begin to change all that.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Glimpse of Cuban solar system

Dancer Planet
Havana Planet
Skyline Planet

I confess I have found yet another way to waste time. Find a photo you like and use Adobe Photoshop or another program to create a planet.

 I created the planets on this page after spotting David Le Cardinal's recent post displaying a Little Planet he created.
Elian Planet
Cohiba Planet
Bride & Groom Planet
A just-married couple cruising along the Malecon in an old American car. This planet didn't work out as well. Too much concrete, not enough water.
Beach Planet
This planet showing teen-agers on the beach looks kind of strange.

The photo of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, above, was used to create the photo illustration below. This isn't an ideal photo. Panoramic shots work much better. Look for photos that are at least two times as wide as they are tall.
Creating a planet in Photoshop is easy. Here are the steps:
1. Pick a panoramic photo. Select Image, then Image Size and turn the picture into a square image. Length should equal width.
2. Rotate the image 180 degrees.
3. Select Filters, then Distort, then Polar Coordinates. That's it, you should have your very own planet.
A detailed tutorial on creating planets is here.
A gallery of planets on Flickr is here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Santiago de Cuba dancers on YouTube

Some of the same dancers I photographed during a trip to Cuba last year appear in the YouTube video, below.

More photos of these dancers:

From Nov. 15

Photo (s) of the Week

Past Photo (s) of the Week

Feb. 14 - Fashion models
Feb. 7  - Fashion models
Jan. 31 - Female performer/contortionist
Jan. 24 - Fashion models
Jan. 17 - Wardrobe malfunction.
Jan. 10 - Busty dancer
Jan. 3 - Fashion models
Dec. 13 - Swimsuits
Dec. 6 - Carnival dancers
Nov. 29 - Synchronized swimmers
Nov. 22 - Women at night
Nov. 15 - Carnival dancers
Nov. 8 - Swimmer on the Malecon
Nov. 1 - Ukrainian medical student
Oct. 24 - Butts at the beach
Oct. 19 - Sexy in red swimsuit
Oct. 11 - Woman gets tossed into water
Oct. 4 - At the beach
Sept. 27 - Tropicana and other dancers
Sept. 20 - Carnival dancers
Sept. 13 - Ukrainian teen-agers at beach
Sept. 6 - Horseplay at beach
Aug. 30 - Synchronized swimmers
Aug. 23 - Carnival dancers

Top Five Photo (s) of the Week
Christmas at the Beach - Swimsuit photos

Garage doors as street art in Cuba

Artists spiffed up these garage doors in Alamar, Cuba.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lip sync queens of Havana

A tad over the top?
I crouched near the front of the stage and took these pictures at Club Atelier, a dimly-lit hole-in-the-wall along Calle 17 near Lennon Park.
Spectators watch the show
This picture was taken with a flash
Here's the same drag queen photographed with existing light. As I took pictures, he (she) pulled me on stage for a moment and danced a little jig. The audience got a kick out of it seeing the gringo photographer on stage with the queen. 
Something was going on in this picture. I didn't look too closely. But whatever it was, it was over in a few seconds. Not even a misdemeanor....

More on gays:

Feb. 20 - Drag queen snags big tip
Dec. 11 - Yoani: Why gays and not gusanos?
Oct 9 - Cuba isn't a gay Mecca quite yet