A Cultural Portal: Windows & Doors

Travelling provides a portal between cultures, a bridge between what’s known and what’s unknown.

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The hot colours of Baracoa, Cuba.

Travelling makes me foreign; my perspective shifts from that of an insider to that of an outsider.

While I love the adventures and the hikes, exploring historical sites and the art world of the places I visit, it is people that intrigue and engage. One thing that soon became clear, as I wandered the neighbourhoods of Baracoa, is that people don’t shut themselves inside—even when home or at work—they peer out from windows and doors. Often, I was greeted with a dias (abbreviating the more formal buenos días/good morning) or simply hola (hi).

This collection of photos called “Windows & Doors” taken during my March-April 2018 trip to Baracoa focuses on people. Each photograph records a mere moment in time, capturing the liminal space between public and private, between personal and social. Each photograph documents spontaneous, transient moments, none were posed.

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These little boys lived near my casa and often popped into the window as I walked by. Gotta love that impish look.

Travelling, I become an observer of people’s connections with each other, and at times with people engrossed in their phone, newspaper, or thoughts. Sometimes—especially with the children—there’s awareness of my intrusion. The children, like me, are observers.

 

 

 

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Taller Mirate, Casa de la Cultural: young artists work in this studio.

Outside Baracoa in the little fishing village of Boca de Miel on a day when the rainforest earned its name, I captured this man who rode quickly down the muddy road. He took refuge under the awning of the park’s booth (entrance to Elemento Natural Destacado Mara-Majayara). I’d taken refuge with my friend “Alber the Hiker” on a cafeteria’s bougainvillea-verandah. (More of this later and about the Oriente’s rainforest where it poured proverbial buckets.)

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Also for a future blog: Excursion along the Toa River, seen here through the kitchen window where we enjoyed a visit with Alber’s relatives and a feast.

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Been traveling: Cuba’s Oriente

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One of my sketches showing the area of my recent visit where many adventures unfolded.

 

I’ve just returned from nearly a month’s stay in the eastern tip of Cuba where I explored nature, history, the unique Baracoa style of art and its many studios, and so much more. It was my third trip to the area and each visit opens doors to new experiences and insights.

Cuba’s eastern tip, known as Oriente, offers

  • one of the few rain forests in North America (although most of us think of Cuba as Caribbean, and it is that too) where Hurricane Matthew left a path of destruction but didn’t dispel the indomitable spirit of the people;
  • the tallest waterfall in the Caribbean (the 20th tallest in the world) and many lesser ones with their own special beauty;
  • a semi-desert in the region of Maisi (say My-see) and the Terraces that step up from the lowlands to the sea with breath-taking twists and views (and for geography buffs, the Maisi lighthouse on the Windward Channel is only 80 kilometres from Haiti);
  • the Farola Highway, which creates passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, is known as an engineering marvel, not to mention an adventurous ride (and on the south shore where I set off on foot to the site of poet-revolutionary José Marti’s famous landing in 1895, which set off a revolution that aimed to free Cuba of Spain’s rule);
  • Baracoa — a provincial city with a two-kilometre-plus-long malacon, that brims with art galleries, parks, and the friendliest people you will ever meet. It’s the biggest city in the area and the starting point for numerous day-trips to places like Rio Yumuri, Rio Toa, Rio Miel, each providing its own unique experience and ambience — and Alejandro Humboldt Nation Park, a United Nations designated site to touch on only a few places to enjoy a boat ride or to hike.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting photos and stories; click below to follow my many adventures in one of the most varied and beautiful landscapes in the world (and this is not hyperbole).

 

Memories from Fort St. John, B.C.

Travel memories: Winter in Canada has kept me reading and sketching, hence the book reviews and now this ink and watercolour sketch.

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Without travels, I’ve been kept inside reading-like-a-writer (my creative writing muse seems to be on vacation) and sketching. These moccasins, purchased from the Beaver People in northern British Columbia Canada, now have holes in the soles. I still treasure them and the memories of that visit in the 1990s. Here they’re rendered in ink and watercolour.

Up…up…and away (a weekend for the birds)

Water fowl – Canada Geese, Great Blue Heron, an immature Little Blue Heron, and Mute Swans – all put on spectacular shows for me over a couple of afternoons and two misty mornings last weekend.

We left the marina aboard Magic Badger (a 38-foot sailing sloop) on Friday morning and took our time (about five lazy hours) to travel across the Bay of Quinte down through Long Reach and across the northern end of Adolphus Reach to Picton Harbour where we arranged a mooring near the harbour’s entrance. It was a weekend of reading and photography – two of my passions – and the water fowl put on quite a show.

 

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Cormorants rest near the shore as Magic Badger takes the bend into Long Reach. (Notice the three Mute Swans looking on.)

Cormorants are my least favourite water fowl. They tend to flock to a single area and their guano kills the trees in which they perch. Seldom do you see one or two; they are very social. They’re easily recognized flying low over the water across distances with black, rough feathers and yellow-orange bill; quite big with up to a 33-inch wing span. Swimming they lift their beak in the air looking very snobbish. They rest atop rocks, holding their wings out to dry like Anhinga. This photo was taken near a tree the cormorants are defoliating. The reeds in the background provide protection from predators for the swans, and I managed to capture three of them along with the cormorants.

 

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View of Prince Edward County over starboard across from the village of Deseronto.

Saturday morning I woke early and crawled out of my sleeping bag and the forward cabin. Quickly I put espresso on to brew and climbed above into a spectacular morning. On Sunday I set the alarm and rose at 6:30, climbed above to enter what felt like a cloud. I could barely see anything. With coffee brewing I took a seat at Magic Badger’s stern, camera in hand. (She’s a 38-foot, 2-cabin and 2-head Beneteau sailing sloop with a fully-equipped galley and large salon; her cockpit is canvas enclosed and I think she’s beautiful. The camera is a Nikon Coolpix P610 that works very well when the situation doesn’t lend itself to a tripod and various lenses).

 

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Like a discombobulated chorus line, Canada Geese lift from Picton Harbour.

 

Watching the Canada Geese in early mornings made me laugh aloud. They swam across the channel from a place hidden behind a point of land over to a weedy shore across the way. I had a good view from Magic Badger’s stern. They honk and honk and honk, calling to each other until finally the last one must say okay in honk language because they all begin flapping and lifting up from the water like a chorus line that can’t get it together.

 

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Canada geese lift off the harbour on a misty morning that held dawn’s rosy glow.

Once in the air, Canada geese are graceful as they push the air with their huge 45-inch wing span. I snapped photo after photo as they emerged from early-morning mist.

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As the mist dissipated I was able to capture a clearer image of a goose lifting off the water.

 

On Saturday afternoon I dawdled away the hours keeping my eye on a small white heron (the guide says 27 inches) but I was some distance away stranded on the sailboat. It was feeding along the grassy shore and frequently hidden by a row of posts driven into the waters’ edge. Then one of the posts seemed to move ever so slightly; not a post at all but a Great Blue Heron (50 inches) in dark morph. It resumed a hunch stance with its head almost hidden. So it isn’t a great photo of the two, but the best I could do with the limitations of the camera I had aboard.

 

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Later, at dusk, I managed to catch the Great Blue Heron flying low across to the east side of channel.

 

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In this shot, we can see the cliffs surrounding the harbour, which makes it safe in a storm.

 

But the crème de la crème is the Mute Swan…and I saw a few, more than ever before as Magic Badger has journeyed back and forth through the passages leading out to Lake Ontario. They surpass the Canada Geese by 10 inches and are far more graceful with their S-curved necks. The adults carry themselves with extreme dignity, hovering and turning quietly toward their young, constantly checking like protective parents.

As we made our way up Long Reach toward Deseronto and our home port at Crate Marine, Belleville, I looked up to see three swans flying. Fortunately I had the camera slung around my neck.

 

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With a rush of wings, three swans fly over Long Reach.

 

In a short while – where Long Reach flows out of the bay – a large family swam across in front of us. They were moving toward to place where the first photo (with the cormorants) was taken.

 

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Days and nights off the dock and away from the marina are always treats, but this September weekend has outdone them all. It looks as if it will be the last time out this season before the boat goes up on the hard for the winter (like Scrooge, I echo “bah humbug”). But what memories captured in early morning mist and in the dusk of ever-earlier evenings.

 

Reference: Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

 

 

 

Hot days + cool nights = misty mornings

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On our last morning before returning to Magic Badger‘s slip, sailboats passed through the channel into early morning mist.

I’m a sailor — how thrilling it is to claim the moniker. Twice recently the ship’s captain and I have been out on the water at anchorages and moorings.

I have a new blog (#41) with lots of photos (few words). Take a look and let me know what you think…please.

Just click on the link: Adventures Over Land and Sea

Travel & Other Passions: A Room & A Reading Chair

Lucky me! I have a studio room, an atelier, a room of my own. It sits in the front of the house with tall north-facing windows and good light. Once it was the dining room, but rarely used. Now the dining table sits at the rear overlooking the small city backyard. It’s closer to the kitchen with an even better view. Why not?

With the dining table gone – replaced by a smaller more practical one in a place more convenient – the empty space quickly filled with a row of bookcases, a small collection of indigenous baskets, red-tailed hawk feathers (and others) from the fields, favourite photographs and paintings, a drop-leaf worktable, an old secretary topped with a computer (and more bookshelves), and a claw-footed piano stool for the desk. All this came together quite readily as I scrounged through the house and visited Funk & Gruven – all except for an oversize, elusive wing-back chair.

After weeks of peeking into antique and used-furniture stores, I was returning home from a workshop with a fellow writer in a neighbouring town. There, in an old church-cum-shop, stood my chair. It is big; I can curl up in it and be hidden by its high back and broad wings. It is plaid and in my favourite colours – rosy and green hues. It is the perfect chair. In it, I’ve been rereading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, again. Much has changed since c.1928, but travel, life experiences beyond the immediate family and social circle, and a room of one’s own – Woolf’s prerequisites for a literary life – remain paramount. They are more accessible, c.2017, than in Woolf’s day, but still….

I have now spent hours in the chair, lost in virtual travels through distant places and inside others’ lives (hence the book reviews), and I have sketched the chair (but that’s another passion for another day).

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