Mature Motivation aka Life Lessons

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To paraphrase Janis Joplin…Failure is just another word for nothing left to learn. My primary project in my seasonal wood shop was to use the remaining 100-year-old beams removed from the original cottage & make an outdoor bench showcasing the beauty of  recycled lumber. Making rustic furniture with recycled wood is much better than just adding to the landfills. It’s a small step but rewarding. I also like the idea of extending the history of what a tree created. The imperfections in the wood also provide a balance to my limited woodworking experience & skills.

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My motivational inspiration came from a graphical representation of the mathematical symbol of Pi. The basic symbol is from the Greek alphabet but many artistic licenses have been taken to this form. In addition, the purity of it’s never ending sequence without a pattern is fascinating. When I fist saw this particular form my minds eye envisioned a comfortable bench to set beside the Mini-Meadow I’ve been cultivating.

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I visualized the bench with 4 primary pieces on each end. Using enlargements of the symbol as templates I adjusted the patterns to fit the limitations of a 7-inch wide beam. By my calculations I had about 20% more board feet than needed. It gave some room for error but not a whole lot. The rough cuts of the first pieces were very encouraging. I was pleased with the beauty of the grain on the century old pieces.

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As I was beginning to work on some of the more challenging parts I ran into an unexpected problem. At first I dismissed some of the imperfections in the beams as flaws that would provide character. In reality it became a design-changing dilemma.

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I hadn’t expected the beams to be rotten. Beams I had used a few years ago for a dinning room table was fine. These were not. At first it seemed like the rot was not in areas that would experience stress so I still had hope. The basic form that motivated me would be preserved. Initially, I used wood glue to repair & keep structural integrity.

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As I cut more of the primary pieces I found lots more rot & realized I would need to attempt/inject some more serious repairs. It is always worthwhile to make a plan before you start. The Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” was an early & valuable lesson. As I got older, especially in my Freelance Career, I navigated challenges with a mantra of “Making It Up as You Go Along.” Even, when following your plan you encounter unexpected challenges & must adjust.

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Filler, putty & even Bondo for Wood made the beautiful old lumber into a Frankenstein creation. I realized I would have to put some “lipstick on this pig” to cover the problems. I adjusted my plans & decided to paint the bench hiding the ugly patches made. At least the design would still be there even if I couldn’t highlight the pure color & grain.

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I anticipated proportions of the basic sections would need to be tweaked. Before I assembled what I had cut I staged the 4 primary pieces. I saw it would require more than just a tweak. The basic concept was still good. But, for a functional bench, adjustments to the design proportions would need to be made.

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Using an old bench side for scale I saw that I was close but the shortcomings of the Pi Bench were pretty extreme. I didn’t have enough lumber to re-cut so I procrastinated & pondered for a while. I’ve learned patience has value.

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It might be maturity or a twist on being stubborn but I refused to abandon my idea. I went ahead & assembled 3 pieces for one side. I liked the form but realized continuing to make what I had into a bench would be disappointing on many levels. I know myself well enough that if I moved forward with the bench,  every time I looked at the finished work I would see flaws & compromises I made. My plans had become a failure.

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I told a neighbor about my mistakes & he said to call it practice. Making lemonade out of lemons now became a reference for my next step. These simple & memorable phrases can be helpful. I had learned a lot from the process, the problems I encountered & design errors. That simple nomenclature adjustment did change my perspective. I decided to use what I had cut & make a plant stand!

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Now when I look at what I made I don’t see mistakes & problems. I see a decisions that made the best out of a bad situation. I also see the next steps in learning how to take a good idea & bring it to completion. Instead of a Pi bench I came up with something else. I call it the Practice Stand.

A Confluence of Motivations

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Our road-trip took us to The White Mountains, Camden ME & Acadia National Park. Although landscape photography isn’t high on my list of motivational genres, I enjoy experiencing the dynamics of nature. Understanding weather, the suns position & atmosphere is crucial to capturing a memorable image. After we returned, I went to a Climate Reality Training conference. The presentations about changing weather patterns linked to destructive storms grabbed my attention. Mother Nature is giving  clues to the damage we are doing to our atmosphere. In preparing this posting I realized a transition in my perspective that shifts my motivation. I may not become a nature photographer but I’m going to advocate for eliminating fossil fuels to help preserve the natural world.

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At Climate Training I learned the atmosphere that supports life is only 6 miles deep. In that very thin layer we’ve been putting 33 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year for way to long. Looking at the pristine beauty of Acadia National Park our thin atmosphere doesn’t look like it has problems. That may be part of the challenge. We all must realize how urgent it is that we switch to green energy sources like wind & solar.

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One of my motivations with a camera is the challenge some subjects provide. The skittishness of chippys fits this category. Their home in the forest is not at immediate risk from climate change. Until drought becomes a pattern. Then wild fires will become a threat. Long-standing patterns of the Jet Stream in North American & around the world are changing. Static weather has become common & can lead to drought or floods in places where we rarely see these extremes. The agriculture community, which keeps eyes on the weather, is watching those shifting patterns & recognizes the need to evolve.

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The small tidal ports along the coast of Maine are jewels. The tighter constriction of landmasses in the northern latitudes results in severe tidal changes in these areas. Routinely, 8-foot tides are a part of the NE coastal community. This rugged coastline is not anywhere near the risk as communities in lower latitude with flatter land. Rising temperatures are melting ice that will bring life threatening conditions to many coastal areas around the world. Sea levels are rising & the circulation of our enormous oceans is being impacted. Fishermen, who depend on the ocean for their livelihood, realize these changes will have a negative impact on our food supply.

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Grabbing the power of the wind in your sails is a wonderful experience. The unseen energy is to be respected. But, it is a force we can harness on the land. Building wind turbines is an industry we can further develop creating jobs & careers. A simple day-sail on the Gulf of Maine gave first hand exposure to some simple parts of the solution. The sun warmed the body & the wind carried us across the waves. When you are on a sailboat some of the answers to renewable energy are right in your face.

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With my mind & eye in the viewfinder I was looking for the perfect composition. Initially, I was annoyed by the solar panels. I now see the solar panels as part of a dramatic story. The Curtis Island Light was built in 1835 & likely used whale oil for its beacon. Now solar power illuminates the path to a safe harbor. Change is inevitable for societies to advance.

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The sun does amazing things if you take the time to observe. Capturing this classic fall reflection was the luck of being in a great spot at the right time with perfect weather. I learned that in a 24 hr period the sun puts enough energy onto the earth to power everything for a year. I have come to better harness the sunlight in my photography & I have learned about the challenges of a changing climate. I think I am in the right place at the right time with advocacy for sustainable energy.

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The left face of that hill is what I climbed to take image #2. These old knees go slow but they do still go. It is an excellent trail for younger climbers that can safely scamper up a rocky path. It might also be an analogy for my journey with the Climate Reality Corps.

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Water is a subject I enjoy incorporating in my pictures. I also enjoy landscaping with rocks so this perspective of Jordon Pond was a real magnet for me. As I was marveling at the lack of development my appreciation for our National Parks was rejuvenated. They are inspiring parts of our country. After the Climate Conference, I realized these places are being impacted by a warming climate. The changes happening to glaciers are far removed from most of our lives. However, these cathedrals to nature could also suffer. Fortunately there is hope with new opportunities to harness renewable & stop adding tons of carbon into our world. The inspiration provide from nature motivates me.

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As always, never pass up the opportunity to include red in the frame or it the blog. I highly recommend visiting the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Located in Boothbay there are almost 300 acres that will inspire meaningful connections with nature.

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In life, timing is an interesting thing. The training immediately after Acadia lead me to examine my own perspective & put a variety of pieces into place. Although I am not a devoted landscape photog, I enjoy the natural world. The roots go back to the Boy Scouts. Appreciation of boating/sailing is part of my Chautauqua Lake DNA. Still photography inspired a career in video and now I have returned to stills. Like everyone else I can’t tell you where the path of my future will take me. However, I do know a confluence of motivations will help me to focus on a sustainable energy future.

This is my 14th & final…for now…posting about Cuba.

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The one word that I would use to describe my experience traveling in Cuba is compelling. As I hoped, the opportunities for photography were everything I expected. My plan was to immerse myself, albeit briefly, with people to gain a perspective & document their way of life. The narrow glance I observed was insightful & rewarding. Somewhat unexpectedly I opened a window to personal introspection that will resonate with me for a long time.

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My decision to avoid Havana was helpful in minimizing cliché images & experiences. The smaller cities were more open to personal interaction. With few exceptions I easily engaged people with just a smile. In conversations thru my interpreter, politics was seldom a topic. My curiosity eclipsed any preconceived ideas I had about their day-to-day lives.

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I saw typical differences between young & old, city & rural, men & women even professional vs blue collar. What surprised me was a disparity of standards of living. Communism in Cuba is far from the theory Marx had advocated. I didn’t witness anything I would describe as poverty or affluence. However, I saw a comfortable cohabitation between those with more opportunities & a more comfortable way of life than others. I also recognized a discrepancy with access to & use of technology. Most of the digital divide coincided with age.

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Cuba has the natural resources of climate, beaches & tropical waters that attract tourists. Since the mid 90’s non-US tourism has provided a significant percentage of hard currency to the economy. The Cuban government owns most hotels. There are a few International chains but uncertainty has stalled investment. I find it difficult to believe that trinkets, restaurants & service jobs to the tourist industry can provide both a long term & broad based impact on the overall economic well being of the people. This is especially true if the government continues to keep restrictive oversight on commerce.

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The topography of the Cuba is diverse. Their are 9 UNESCO sites, 8 National Parks & 7 Biosphere reserves in this nation roughly the size of PA. I only took time to briefly explore 1 Bio reserve, which was impressive. There are numerous examples or environmental programs including organic & self-sustain farming. I got the impression many of these were out of necessity rather than altruism. However, the one dominant fact is that surrounded by water, it is easy for the government to control access on & off the island.

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The majority of people I interacted with have only known life under Communism. Some challenges they face have roots that go further back than 3 generations since the revolution. The Cuban people are far from illiterate or in ill health. Education & health care have been priorities of the Castro brothers & now economic reform has become a goal of Raul. Change is happening. However, over the past 5-10 years the pace is faster than it has been the precious 4 decades.

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For many Cubans on meager pensions & low paying government jobs their lives are Spartan. Food is rationed at Bodegas at subsidized prices with proportions determined by age & gender. I visited Orlando Zayas, my guides’ grandfather, in his 400 sq foot apartment. The space fronts a busy street & he rents a few square feet to enterprising merchants. He is content & fortunate that family lives close & visit frequently. He enjoys watching baseball & complained that boxers today were nowhere near as good as Joe Louis or Kid Chocolate. Talking about his life he said, “Communism does not work”.

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My primary goal was to photograph individuals & document their lifestyles. Generalizations can be dangerous but I can confidently say I was warmly greeted buy a population that is easygoing, resilient & enjoys life. Lacking commodities we take for granted Cubans make the best out of the situation they are in…even if they have to bend a few rules. Daily life is simpler & slower. Personal interaction is routine. No doubt there are problems but the people I met were upbeat. When I asked what made people so happy I was told, “We laugh at our problems so we have lots to laugh about”.

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I believe an individual’s work ethic is a reflection on their character. I saw many examples of confidence, problem solving, & a resourcefulness to work with what they have without complaining. Although the tempo of work isn’t equivalent to our expectations, Cubans have few distractions & a persistence to get the job done. They are proud of the work they do with their hands & find happiness in their accomplishments not their possessions. I have deep respect for what Cubans have archived with only the basic resources.

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The elements of culture are common. Art, music, literature, religion, food, architecture & fashion are things I observe when I travel. The details of these expressions make people & places unique. I have had very little exposure to Latin American. The rich culture of Cuba was a wonderful new vista. I observed a flair for painting that was cultivated after the revolution when national schools of art were created. In contrast to the many examples of architectural decay, the diverse art was a peak into the bright light of the soul of the people. In a society with few outlets for expression I sensed a passion in their demeanor for artistic freedom.

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Children give us examples of how we can enjoy life & accomplish more when we cooperate with each other. When I observed children I thought about my friend Mark Zinnoni. His mother fled Cuba’s oppression & he wasn’t happy I was going there because he felt it diminished the possibility of freeing Cubans from oppressive Communist rule. I respected his opinion & looked forward to sharing what I saw & experienced when I returned. Unfortunately he passed away before I departed. I like to think he would have enjoyed my perspective of the Cuban people. Amid the hardships there is a joy for life & hope for the future…emotion & optimism that were part of Mark’s character.

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Like most people when I read or hear about a place it is impossible have a deep understanding. Our perspectives, no matter how broad, lack the important element of a personal connection. Although many individuals I only met briefly, they will be a touchstone to my understanding of our neighbors. During my trip I was formed a deeper relationship with my guide Lidear. On my last night there he invited me to his “humble home with his family for a simple dinner.” For me it was an honor & a wonderful epilogue to my trip. As hurricane Irma was striking Cuba it was him and his family that were in my thoughts. I wish nothing but the best for him, his family & the people of Cuba whom I now know just a little bit better. I hope that my blog postings have opened the curtain just a bit to allow you to see the Humans of Cuba.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback or comments on this or any of my postings about Cuba.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.

Cuba by the Sea

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In planning my trip to Cuba I had a wish list of subjects I wanted to photograph. As anybody that knows me will attest, boating is an activity I love. I wanted to experience some time on the water, preferably a sailboat, with a fisherman. In emails with my tour company & guide prior to departure, I realized this was not going to happen because of strict regulations on boats on this tropical island. Even before I departed I got a sense of the governments strict authority on peoples lives. I felt a sense of shear disappointment for Cubans because they couldn’t experience the pleasure of the water as I did.

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I was able to visit a fishing village near Trinidad along the Rio Guaurabo where it flows into the Caribbean. The marina, where I estimate about 35 boats were moored, was as primitive as any I’ve seen. The long narrow design of all the boats was similar. Those that had motors had small inboard engines. While some had a fresh coat of paint, all of the boats had the rugged & rough appearance of a craft designed for work not pleasure.

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The pallet of vibrant colors could be seen in various stages of faded repair. A few of the larger boats had a permanent top to provide shade but most had no protection from the harsh tropical sun. The still clear waters of the river provided reflections that surrounded the marina.

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As anyone who has owned a boat can verify there is always maintenance that needs to be done. In Cuba, with only basic hand tools to work with, building or repairing is a slow process. My access to the marina was tenuous & I didn’t try to engage with anyone for fear of getting them in trouble. I easily could have spent the day with the men in this harbor. However, I was told “jefe” was coming. It was an inspector from the government checking the status of a boat being repaired. It was time for me to depart.

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In almost every marina I’ve ever seen there is at least one boat that makes me curious about the failed hopes of the owner. Even still serene waters can consume a person’s dreams. It appears the name of the boat is Fortia, which translates into Strong. Look closely at the reflection on the starboard chain. You can see a link has separated. Soon the persistent power of water will overpower the craft. Water always wins.

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Dervis Lopez Abram has fished in the Bay of Guaurabo for the past 15 years. In that time he learned many tricks from a mentor who fished these waters his entire life. Trolling with artificial lures on lines, not nets, his catch is Red Snapper, Salt Fish & Tuna. He told me over the past 5 years fewer fish are being caught & he believes it might be due to climate change. The government buys 90% of his catch at prices they determine. He is able to sell or consume the reaming 10%. When his son is not in school Dervis is passing on to him the lessons about fishing he has learned. He is proud of how quickly his only son has learned to catch different kinds of fish.

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The Fara is Dervises boat where he routinely sets out on the sea in early evening and returns at dawn. At 6.4 meters by 2.4 meters it is one of the larger boats I saw in the crude moorings. It is powered by a 12 hp Soviet diesel. He hopes after his son graduates & does his mandatory 2 years in the army he will follow in the tradition of his father. If he does, he will pass the boat on to him giving him a head start in life.

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In hindsight I couldn’t help but to reflect on Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize wining novel The Old Man & The Sea. While Santiago struggled with a big fish, the fishermen in this village contend with much more. Making a living on the water may have a romantic appeal to some. However, for Cubans, the effort to survive as fisherman is a way of life filled with endless challenges beyond those that mother nature presents. In spite of the hardships they hope for a better catch tomorrow.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.

What I did This Summer

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Do teachers still use this prompt for students to write about? Summer 2017 had a variety of motivations where I explored new challenges & improved on some go-to subjects & techniques. I took a Master Photography Class & spent a few days with the Chautauqua Ballet. The original shot of Sarah Lapointe was completely over exposed. However, I loved her candid form so I decided to try & salvage it via B&W. Previous attempts at creating a dynamic monochrome image were frustrating & I was unhappy with the results. Their was a high learning curve & numerous hours spent on this image but I’ve developed a better understanding of how to get to where I want in the realm of B&W.

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One of my favorite subjects is our daughter because she does so many visually interesting things. Always challenging herself, she competed in a decathlon in Burlington VT.  I’ve become comfortable working with Photoshop & using it to alter the reality of the moment. I have come to concede that with the exception of photojournalism or documentary, PS is a tool that allows the image to be enhanced & improved. Prior to desaturation & blurring I considered the background distracting of the primary subject.

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At the 2 day competition I was successful at being in positions to capturing solid images of all 10 events. I got some good shots of women pole-vaulting & was moving onto another event when I looked at the sky. As an exhibition jumper was attempting a new personal best I realized the clouds might provide an opportunity to capture an image similar to ones that inspired me back in 1971. He achieved a new personal best & I captured the image that was in my minds eye.

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Since I believe you never have really visited a place unless you have been in or on the water, we went sailing on Lake Champlain. While it is impossible to show the grace & beauty of this 35 foot Friendship Sloop while on-board I did see this CU of the clew of the mainsail as the boom strained against the main-sheet & wooden block.

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Back on the waters of Lake Chautauqua I captured the elegant contours of sailboats racing near Chautauqua Institute. Always looking to improve the image I would love to have been higher so as to eliminate the horizon line of the trees going thru the sails.

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During my photography class the instructor, Marta Rial, in critiquing some of my images suggested I shoot a bit wider. Normally I would have zoomed in to include just the dog and the walker. But her advice proved to be valuable as the leading space of the woman gives weight to the small dog,

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At an exhibit of birds of prey where hawks were tethered to posts I had the opportunity to get within a few feet of these beautiful birds. The advice of shooting wider was completely ignored. The details and the colors revealed in this CU make it one of my favorite images of a bird even though it is in captivity.

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I have a folder of images I have shot called “people taking pictures”. When I saw this person moving in to get a close shot of the owl I wondered if she had any idea she was well within striking range of the hawk behind her. I’m glad her dress didn’t have any patterns that resembled a mouse. Again, the wider shot showing the relativity of the hawk behind her gave a stronger story.

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My dominant motivation in taking a photograph is the subject. I realize that form, line, texture & color are also important elements of an image but I struggle to get inspiration from them. Here it was impossible to ignore the forms created by the lines of the shadows & the windows. I like the juxtaposition & the position of the graffiti infused with the hard lines of the structure.

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Flowers are subjects that provide opportunities to capture color & form. Usually I am less than satisfied with my attempts. But, I shot about 2 dozen images of Day Lilies after a morning rain & I found 1 shot I liked. I’m not sure if the accents of the raindrops were missing if I would like this as well.

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The staggered flower boxes on my shed/wood-shop are wonderful accents to see in person. A photo of them is less appealing. I’m not a fan of collage but I decided to give it a shot. I think the concept may work better if each image was in a separate frame & hung on a wall. Making the frame out of similar color wood as the shed would also be helpful. That might be a project for the wood-shop next season.

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Having nothing connected to photography, I have been watching the Bemus Point Stow Ferry cross Chautauqua Lake my entire life. At the end of last summer I got my Joint Pilot & Engineers license, which allows me to pilot the Ferry. This summer I volunteered to be part of a tradition that has been going on since 1811. Life is good.

Cuban Farm to Table Restaurant

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I wasn’t motivated to do any kind of Foodie or Traveling Gourmet stories during my trip to Cuba. In my opinion, photographs of food are best done in a studio with controlled lighting & props. When you set the food down in front of me it becomes a meal not a subject. However, El Paraiso was as unique a restaurant as I have ever eaten at. It had a great location on top of a hill overlooking Vinales, good food with great service. What motivated me to take a trip back in daylight to photograph was the self-sustainability of this thriving organic restaurant.

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My guide/translator, Lidear, had taken me there for dinner. The overwhelming quantity of the food they served their guests was something I had never seen. Their were no menus to choose from. Our waiter just started to bring food & it seems like he never stopped. Vegetables, rice, potatoes, salads, chicken, pork & fish. At one point I counted 17 different plates of food on our table. Initially I was upset by the waste until I found out that leftovers were an integral part of the composting. I began to see a bigger picture of how this thriving restaurant was self-sustaining.

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We returned the next afternoon so I could interview one of the managers & take some photos. On the surrounding hillsides of the open & simple structure are terraced gardens. They are designed, maintained & organically farmed with the objective of growing everything the restaurant needs.  I learned not all the waste from the previous meals gets composed. Some is used to feed the livestock.

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Greeting guests & answering questions is Mardin Luis. In his 70’s he has seen the value of how the family owning El Paraiso has influenced & benefited the community. Wilfredo, the father who began the restaurant, told him the best garden to grow is your conscious. On a trip to the United States Mardin learned about Kale & has recommended they explore it as a crop. His dreams for the future are to to continue to work, study & be an example to young people.

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At our dinner, the previous evening, the valley below had few lights. The mountains blended into the dark February night sky so the view offered nothing special. In the late morning of the next day the full picture of this family run enterprise was revealed. The vista of the valley & the unique mogotes was an excellent accent to well kept plots.

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Lunchtime guests are invited to wander the hillside gardens on a mini hike around the grounds. Alongside the vegetable gardens are flowers & bushes attracting insects that help to pollinate. I was tempted to chase after the iconic hummingbird shot or stalk butterflies with my camera. The translation of El Parisio in English is paradise.

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In the tropics, the growing season is basically year round. Seeing plants ready for harvest in a raised garden right beside young sprouting crops was something you don’t seeing living near the 40th parallel. As “farm to table” dining experiences as well as organic food becomes more popular in the US I think the self-sustainability of El Parisio is a noteworthy example.

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Rachel Garcia, one of Wilfords daughters, told me when El Parisio opened they had 6 customers a day. It has grown to serve 300.  To keep things running, 20 family members work in the restaurant or on the farm. Her dream for her daughter is to learn the ability to work hard because that makes everything possible. To make a restaurant successful is one of the most challenging businesses to operate. It is almost as demanding as being a farmer. Combining the operation of a farm & a restaurant while serving primarily tourists in a communist country is not a business plan I would think would succeed.

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She is rightfully proud of her family’s success. She also recognizes El Pariso demonstrates how an ecological focus can bring visitors to other community entrepreneurs. Beyond the success of the thriving restaurant she realizes the work her family has done can inspire others in Cuba as they navigate the new opportunities the government is allowing. If you visit this tropical island don’t miss Vinales. And while you are there visit El Paraiso for lunch so you can enjoy strolling the garden before you dine.

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I asked Rachel if she would pose for a portrait. She agreed but only if I include her soon to be delivered child. Before I departed she shared a photograph of her with of Dr. Jill Biden at the White house. As I glanced up from the photograph & looked at her with surprise in my eyes and a big smile on my face, the pride of her families achievements was written all over her face. All of the people I interviewed while I traveled thru Cuba had overflowing self-confidence. With Rachel her self-assurance filled the restaurant.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.

Cuban Casa

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Throughout my travels I stayed in Casa Particulars, which are similar to B&B’s in the US. Staying in private homes gave me a glimpse into lives of Cuban families that could be considered middle class. Villa: Tres Hermanas is the house of 3 sisters near Las Terrazas.

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Anabel & Mario & multiple generations of  family live under 1 roof. He built the home on land owned by his father & not seized after the revolution. He added an apartment on the roof for one daughter. When the room I stayed in wasn’t rented various family members sleep there. His parents cook many of the meals, do laundry & maintaining the chicken & pigs. While sharing small living spaces has challenges it reinforces a common history, provides a support group & creates esprit de corps within families.

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In urban areas those that don’t own a home live in government owned apartments void of character. Many live on meager wages & pensions that can pay the state controlled rent & expenses. Due to a shortage of public housing there are waiting lists to get into these buildings. Although they provide people basic shelter at an affordable price, these buildings exemplify a basic flaw of Communism.

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Just outside the center of Vinales is a street lined with tropical colored Casa Particulars which are licensed by the state. It leads to the Valley of Silence & has quite a bit of local & tourist traffic. The region has many natural attractions making it a popular destination for visitors to Cuba. This influx of travelers allows homeowners in this community to participate in the growing opportunities for small businesses.

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The Caribbean weather has a significant influence on the design of courtyards & terraces as a part of the living space in old & new buildings. Windows & doors are large to allow daylight in. Timber is scarce so concrete is the common building material. Beautiful mosaics are abundant. The architectural style & detail of Spanish plantation homes, which are now mostly museums, are spectacular. However, understanding the inequities of the wealthy owners compared to the slaves/workers dampened my appreciation.

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An initial reaction to some living conditions might resonate poverty. However, the needs of people are simple & often the places they live in reflect that. The humble furnishings are a source of pride for this man whose son & grandson are putting a roof on a home he & his wife own. The most common deficiency I saw in these neighborhoods was inadequate infrastructure. The living conditions are far below the standards we expect. However, Cubans have pride in ownership of their Spartan dwellings.

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The overall consumption of electricity for average Cubans is low. Per capita they use 5% compared to the US. A few homes I stayed in had AC for guests but beyond that & refrigerators they had few electrical appliances. On many levels the services supplied by the government is lacking. But as with many problems, the people innovate a way to get it done. I am not an electrical engineer however; I do believe the tropical sun & low demand could be an opportunity for powering the entire nation with solar power.

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This is the kitchen of my driver Ricardo where he lives with his parents, wife & son. His father is a doctor & his mother is a nurse at the local hospital. His father recently returned after working 2 years in a remote village in Brazil. Volunteering for that position the Cuban government raised his salary. Ricardo’s routine job is a programmer for the government. He works on the side as a driver earning .5 CUC per km. Their home is not luxurious but as a family they earn money outside the structured regulations to raise their standard of living. I asked why refrigerators were a few inches above the floor. Since most Cubans are meticulous about cleaning. The platform keeps the refrigerator dry during the daily moping of the floor.

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In the Valley of Sugar Mills outside of of Trinidad a farmer has a small cozy 4 room home tucked into a shaded grove of trees. It sits a few hundred yards from the former plantation home of wealthy landowners from the 1800’s that is now a museum. The inhumane artifacts of slavery the farmer has uncovered while plowing the fields are displayed on the side of his home including leg irons, metal collars & handcuffs.

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In the urban center of Camagüey, & other cities, the centuries old narrow cobblestone streets have no room for parking. The entry room of many homes also serves as a garage for two wheeled vehicles.

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The openness & light throughout the homes enhanced soft tropical colors. I discovered wooden accents like the corner wall mounts. Those will be added to my wood shop projects.

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All the places I stayed were comfortable, clean & used attractive outdoor areas & rooftops as part of the living space. The aesthetics varied in each city & my experience was unique to each owner’s casa. The breakfasts were enough to get me to dinner although I think the start of my day was a bit early for most hosts. As I had hoped, Casa Particulars provided a memorable glimpse into a segment of Cuban society.

The content of these postings are based upon my observations, conversations with my guide, interviews with people interpreted by my guide & interactions I had with people I met. Any mistakes are entirely mine with no intention to mislead.