Oh Philadelphia freedom, shine on me, I love you
Shine the light, through the eyes of the ones left behind
Shine the light, shine the light
Shine the light, won’t you shine the light
Philadelphia freedom, I love you, yes I do – Elton John
While traveling the world, I strive to learn about impactful historical events. Both good and bad. In Budapest Hungary I toured the House of Terror museum, absorbing horrific facts about two very bloody regimes that ruled the region through fear and violence. The House of Terror was opened in 2002 and is a monument to the memory of those held captive, tortured and murdered in that building. The facts are not sugar coated. Torture chambers are open to the public. You can wander among the mechanisms used to string up and systematically electrocute prisoners. Drains line the floor beneath the gallows. Hoses and electrical sources nearby. A hall is lined with tiny closets whose walls are covered in sharp stone shards. Prisoners were packed in like sardines. No food, no water and no toilet breaks. If one because so exhausted they slid down the wall, skin shredded. I stepped inside one of these torture closets and closed the door. I barely had room to lower myself to the floor. My core was chilled. My throat and chest still constrict as I write this, remembering the stark reality. The crime committed by most of the people imprisoned? Resistance to a tyrannical ruling government. These torture chambers continue to exist in many countries around the world. A friend asked me, “why would you go somewhere so grim while on vacation.” The question surprised me. How could I not go? I’ve thought about her question many times in the ensuing years. I think the true answer is that I want to understand the human race. How can some be so kind and generous and others cruel and destructive? How can all these traits be housed in a single soul? What causes a seemingly “normal” human to cross the line in either direction? Our world has repeatedly experienced extreme events of human kindness and of ruthlessness that defy reason. No country is exempt from the threat of tyranny. Including America. In territorial battles, the first immigrants to the land brutally slaughtered natives, and vice versa. Many early American immigrants enslaved humans for profit, simultaneously fighting for freedom from the iron hand of Great Britain. As the House of Horror teaches us, freedom is an amenity to be cherished, not taken for granted.Thirty miles from Philadelphia lies the town of Valley Forge. A popular bicycle path now joins the two cities. Valley Forge was Pennsylvania’s first state park, covering 3,500 acres and hosting 1.2 million visitors annually. In 1777 the British captured Philadelphia as a maneuver to end America’s “rebellion.” In December, the Continental Army retreated to Valley Forge to over-winter. The conditions were brutal. Approximately 2,000 soldiers died from exposure and disease. In spite of this, the desire for freedom prevailed. In June 1778, the Continental army retook Philadelphia. In 1781 the British surrendered and Americans were freed from British control.
In 1782 the United States Seal was adopted. The US constitution was written in 1787 and ratified in 1788. It is reputed to be the oldest written constitution in operation in the world. In 1789 George Washington was the first man elected to the office of the US presidency. Donald Trump is the 45th man elected to the office of the US presidency. He was recently impeached by the US Congress for high crimes and misdemeanors. This is only the third time in America’s history that a president has been impeached since ratifying the US Constitution 231 years ago.
I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Philadelphia’s Independence Hall stands in homage to the historic actions of leaders with the foresight to fight for and create a democracy. The Constitution they created is a sacred written pact for governance. As President Abraham Lincoln so succinctly stated, we are a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” More than 5 million individuals a year visit Independence Hall, learning about America’s history, the battles fought by immigrants seeking freedom, and the solutions for protection against overreaching governmental control.
In 1791 the first amendment to the US Constitution was adopted, guaranteeing freedom of speech. We had learned lessons from history. Our people were not to be persecuted for speaking their minds, even in opposition to the government. America’s current president may have the right to Twitter out his inner soul to millions of followers. I suppose he is entitled to broadcast offensive eruptions, undignified rants, destructive tirades – mocking, hatred-filled, and openly threatening those who speak out against him. But it is not these ludicrous self-serving public outbursts that resulted in Congress’ decision to impeach.
Article II, Section 4 provides: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Seventeen witnesses testified during the Congressional hearings to determine whether impeachment was justified. Twelve testified publicly during televised hearings. Using a simply google search, one can watch the testimony or read the transcripts. I spent 10 years working as a trial lawyer. Some of my cases were solid and others iffy. I watched the entire testimony of every witness that testified during the Congressional impeachment proceeding hearings. The case against Trump is not iffy. There is ample evidence to conclude he worked in concert with others to solicit the interference of a foreign government in the 2020 United States presidential election solely for personal gain. Power is a hungry beast to feed. Yet it is not time to reach a full verdict. There still must be a legitimate trial. The articles of impeachment state Trump withheld $391 million in congressionally approved military aid in exchange for a commitment from the President of Ukraine to publicly announce his country would investigate two things: (1) a political opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.; and (2) the discredited theory promoted by Russia alleging that Ukraine — rather than Russia — interfered in the 2016 United States Presidential election. What is odd about the second allegation is that all reputable leading scholars who have conducted investigations, including those by led Mueller, conclude there is zero doubt Russia interfered with the US elections in 2016 and that they are posturing to do so again. America cannot afford to turn the other cheek. We need to get the the bottom of this. A fair trial will help us get there.I listen to political pundits and elected officials crying “foul” over the impeachment processes. I wonder how long it has been since these people have studied civics. Under our Constitution, the United States government consists of three co-equal branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Each branch of government is granted clearly enumerated constitutional powers to provide checks and balances against abuses by the other branches. The House has not only the the authority, but the responsibility, to decide whether to issue articles of impeachment when an elected official engages in abuse of power. Impeachment is similar to an indictment. An appointed tribunal listens to evidence and decides whether there is enough to make a charge. A trial still needs to be held to determine whether the charge holds water. Under impeachment it is the US Senate that must hold that trial, The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the tribunal. Co-equal branches of government in action. Checks and balances. Our democracy.I am truly horrified by the the US Senate’s lack of willingness to bother with holding a fair trial. Senator Mitch McConnell has openly avowed he has no intention of being impartial. He has said that, under his watch, the president will be cleared. Period. No trial needed. Senator Lindsey Graham, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee publicly stated he did not watch the hearings and wasn’t going to bother to read the transcripts. McConnell plans to block any witnesses from testifying at the trial and prevent any documents, even critical new evidence, from being reviewed. Whoa! I’m sure glad I’m not in their courtroom! What are they afraid of?
What is even more shocking is the complete lack of courage by other US Senators, no matter what their political affiliation, to stand up and speak out in favor of a fair trial. Apparently, pure partisan loyalty, or perhaps fear of retribution control these elected officials actions. Even if this means ignoring their constitutional mandate when serving in office. Do the ends justify the means?
It is lemmings to the ocean, only the American citizens are the ones at risk of drowning.
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island,
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters;
This land was made for you and me. – Woody Guthrie
In 1968 my elementary school band played at a competition in Pittsburg. As part of the trip we were scheduled to visit our nation’s capitol. Then, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. As an eleven-year-old I did not understand the magnitude of this event. While riding in the tour bus through Pittsburg, I saw burning buildings and chaos in the streets. The trip was aborted and we returned to Atlanta. I was disappointed in not being able to see Washington DC. My father, a Delta airlines captain, promised to take me there. He held true to his word and several years later the two of us toured DC. We visited Arlington Cemetery where I saw the Tomb of Unknown Soldiers. I remember the Capitol Building and its dome from the inside. We toured the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum filled with planes. My dad took me to the National Museum of American History where I saw the collection of first lady dresses. The tiny sizes of the early first ladies caught my attention. I remember feeling pride in my nation. I’m not sure if this influenced me, but I eventually got an undergraduate degree in Political Science and worked “in politics” for seven years before earning a law degree.
I returned with Conde to DC in the mid-1980s. The timing turned out to be a little off. Just before we arrived, the Reagan administration spawned a government shutdown. Not much was open. But, the Senate was in session. We easily entered the Capitol Building and were admitted to the visitors gallery without an official pass. We watched the proceedings from a birds nest view. It was a hoot to see US Senators from all across our country. Conde and I were equally excited as we pointed out members from both parties. It was kind of like visiting Hollywood and seeing lots of stars in one place. I wasn’t enamored by all of them, but still felt an immense respect for the institution.
Fast forward to June 2019. Conde and I visited long-time dear friends Steve & Jody. They have lived in DC for around thirty years and were wonderful tour guides and hosts. I took tons of photos and planned to immediately blog the trip. Only I couldn’t. I felt a heaviness in my heart about our current “political situation.” I could not disconnect this feeling from the brick and mortar of the city where so much discord is being unleashed, trickling down into our county’s fabric and arming so many with feelings of hatred and violence. Once I reconciled my need to express myself with honesty, rather than create a false patina, my writer’s block evaporated.
I wanted to visit the Capitol building. As the rotunda appeared in the distance I got pretty jazzed. But it turned out to be nothing like my earlier visits. We started at the building’s main entrance before learning we needed to go through the visitor’s entrance. Herded in a circuitous route far away from the building, we were directed through muddy grass, past hurdles and finally entered impressive security checks. When I asked a question, the heavily armed guard was rude and surly. I totally get the need for security, but why be rude during the process?
Upon entering the visitor’s center we learned tour tickets only included a tiny portion of the building. To visit the House or Senate gallery we would need to get passes from our elected representative in advance. There was a four hour wait for the mini tour so we left, my sense of pride and ownership soundly eroded by the whole experience. This was no longer “my” Capitol Building.
I recently read that the members of “the squad,” a group of newly elected women of color to Congress, were fielding daily death threats. Why? Because people don’t agree with their politics? When did fear become the emotion de jure rather than a backdrop? When did acts of violence become the norm? I place a huge amount of blame directly on the shoulders of our current President. Daily I am mortified by his undignified tweets and lies. But mostly I am shocked by his complete and dangerous lack of respect for our constitutional structure of checks and balances among the branches of government. I didn’t want to write this blog because I did not want to say these things. But I couldn’t write this blog without speaking my truth.
It was sunny and humid when we left the visitor’s center. While cheered by the goose family headed for the fountains, I couldn’t shake my angst. Wandering down the west lawn of the Capitol Building we happened upon a lovely small red brick building. We learned it is the Summerhouse, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. It was built in 1881 as part of a project to develop and improve the Capitol Grounds. The small building is hexagon-shaped with a surrounding garden and fountains. I learned Olmstead envisioned an oasis for visitors, providing rest and fresh water to drink. We joined another couple partaking in the cool quiet. Olmstead certainly achieved his goal. I felt refreshed after a respite. I wasn’t going anywhere near the White House, but I could approach other parts of DC with an open heart.
On to the Library of Congress. The original facade was completed in 1897 with annexes added to accommodate needs. It is reputed to be the largest library in the world, serving members of congress, committees, congressional staff and some areas of the public. It is an institution rich with knowledge. And the building is truly magnificent.
In front is the huge Neptune fountain designed by 27-year-old architect Roland Hinton Perry. His work inspired by the 18th Century Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Inside there are elaborate tile mosaics, columns, and oddly shaped windows in huge spaces. Definitely eye candy, and the history isn’t so shabby either. The Library of Congress was created in 1800 when President John Adams agreed to a congressional act moving the US capitol from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. That bill allocated $5,000 for books to be used by the Congress. It was an era when education and literacy among the elite (read rich white males) was flaunted. Under Thomas Jefferson, Congress passed a bill creating the position of Librarian of Congress. The institution flourished. Originally there was a small library attached to the Capitol building. It was destroyed during the War of 1812 when the British burned the Capitol to the ground. In 1815 Jefferson sold his massive personal collection of books to the US for approximately $24,000. This collection populated the new Library of Congress. But, another fire destroyed almost 2/3rds of Jefferson’s collection in 1850. When we visited, there was an exhibit showcasing some of Jefferson’s original books. They were arranged by topic. It was illuminating to see his taste in literature.
I absolutely loved the United States Botanical Garden Conservatory. I lost myself in the plants and calm while surrounded by the muffled clamor of the bustling city.
D.C. is an easy city to traverse. The metro (WMATA) is clean, timely, affordable and easy to use. And a fun place to take photos. Definitely a poster child for the potential success of mass transportation in the US. Never too late to start. How about we use The Wall money for a public mass transportation system instead?
We indulged in the public museums. The Smithsonian web site alone lauds, there are “19 world-class museums, galleries, gardens, and a zoo.” It took me a while to get used to the fact these national museums and many historic sites have no admission fees – a use of tax dollars I wholeheartedly support.
I was enamored with the National Portrait Gallery. We entered through the events hall which was in full swing celebrating Pride Week. Music was blaring and blue lights illuminated black clad dancers strutting their stuff on tables scattered around the hall. People of all ilks watched and milled about. The events hall holds a full schedule of free events throughout the year.
The Experience America exhibit is eternally timely. During the 1930s President Roosevelt incorporated art in the New Deal programs. For about 10 years, artists captured the essence of the people and landscapes of America. Thousands of paintings, sculptures and mural were placed in schools, post offices and other public buildings showing the resilience of Americans during historically difficult times. Most of this art remains on view.
I lost complete track of time while perusing the Presidential Portrait gallery. Every single past US president is represented. The variety in artist style and choice of setting were fascinating. A Norman Rockwell depicting Richard Nixon. Abstracts of Bill Clinton and John F Kennedy. An array of Franklin Roosevelt’s hands included below his bust. Barak Obama’s portrait was the last in the series. As I turned the corner to find his painting, I simultaneously felt joy and sadness, remembering the integrity and dignity he and his family brought to the White House for eight full years.
The National Gallery of Art is HUGE. It takes up three city blocks and is comprised of a West Building, East Building and a Sculpture Garden. We focused on the exhibits in the East Building. On the concourse level we meandered through “the Life of Animals in Japanese Art.” The name wasn’t a big draw for me, but once I entered, the 18,000 sq.ft. exhibiti sucked me in. The permanent collection has works by Calder, Rothko, Miro, Duchamp, Ernst, Warhol, Giacometti, Hopper… you get it. A veritable who’s who of art.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was a huge draw for me. I vividly remember the controversy surrounding its creation. A contest was held and the winning design was created by 21-year-old Yale architecture student Maya Lin. She was a first generation American. Her parents, Chinese immigrants. The outcry was huge. Why wasn’t a “real” American selected as the designer. And why wasn’t a traditional memorial (statutes) erected instead. The bronze sculpture created in concession is of three soldiers. It is beautiful and true to the honor of those who served. And, I especially liked the interactive nature of the wall. The engraved names are accessible to both sight and touch. Visitors’ images are reflected as if they are united with those who were killed. The whole scene hits home the magnitude of that war and the immensity of resulting losses.
After a long day of museums and monuments, we dined on a small plate feast at The Dabney, located in one of many gentrified alleys in the DC area.
The Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens is a bit off the beaten tourist path in DC, located in the middle of wooded acreage along Rock Creek. Walking distance from our hosts’ home, I really enjoyed visiting and learning about Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Postum Cereal Company. She built that company into General Foods, Inc. Post’s former estate is now a museum, filled with art and her massive eclectic collections. A successful business woman and philanthropist who loved to entertain and live big, Post’s former estate is surrounded by lush gardens. And, there is a delightful cafe worth visiting. When we toured the property there was a memorable exhibit of the photography of Alfred Eisenstaedt.
Steve, Jody, Conde and I all piled into the car for day trips and a three night stay in Philadelphia. Sorting through my photos and writing this blog, I realized just how busy we stayed.
Thanks for joining!
I love the Oregon coast – from Brookings in the far south to Astoria in the far north, each town boasting a distinct personality. After six-months of breast cancer “treatment,” I decided a week at the ocean was needed to celebrate my cure. A full-on absorption of negative ions to displace the nattering nabobs of negativism that had nestled in the neurons of my nutty noggin. A last minute call landed a cute Seaside beachfront home with 180 degree ocean views. Mother Nature delivered a week of sunshine and moderate ocean breezes.
Seaside is 80 miles NW of Portland. Its claim to fame, “the end of the Lewis and Clark trail.” We had passed through Seaside many times, but never stayed. Until now. It’s a busy place with about 7,000 full-time residents and a lot more tourists. The whole city is designed to accommodate families seeking fun on the ocean. Pizzas, burgers, fish & chips, ice cream parlors and taffy shops abound.
The promenade, known as The Prom, runs for a 1½ mile stretch along the beach. Seaside’s just north neighbor, Gearhart, pridefully maintains a natural coastline. In contrast, the city of Seaside pridefully clears the beach of foliage to increase the play area for visitors.
Our cute rental sits on the North Prom about 20 feet from steps down to the beach. A steady trickle of people, many with dogs, pass throughout the day. Walking, biking, skating, jogging, stroller pushing and skateboarding, all seemingly enjoying the experience. The kitchen is perfect for watching the sunset while cooking dinners of fresh fish and veggies. The bedroom windows showcase an unbroken beach vista. Long walks on the beach followed by a curl-up on the couch with a book and an afternoon nap, all the while listening to the waves from the ocean, make for a perfect day. Oh, and there is a haunted house next door broadcasting weird vibes that permeate my dreams!
The east and west sides of Seaside are divided by the Necanicum river. The river is spanned by a handful of attractive small bridges.
There is no shortage of family activities in the town.
The legend goes, five men worked for seven weeks boiling salt water to produce 28 gallons of salt. Captain Lewis wrote about the salt in his diary, “excellent, fine, strong & white; this was a great treat to myself and most of the party.”
The seaside aquarium is still housed in the same 1937 building as in this picture and is a popular attraction. You can hear the sea lions bark as you pass along the Prom.
This industrious young man created giant bubbles in city center. He played upbeat music as dogs and children chased bubbles while adults watched with smiles. His tip jar displayed in a prominent spot.
Ecola State Park looms above the ocean at the city’s southern end, separating Seaside from Cannon Beach. Ecola has wonderful hiking trails with stellar views. You can take a 7-mile hike between the two cities. If you shuttle a car to a parking lot on one end, you don’t have to turn a 7-mile day into a 14-mile round trip. Choices abound! Bell Buoy is a seafood institution on the south end of Seaside. It’s a good place to pick up a fresh catch of the day. The canned tuna is very good, as is the smoked fish. They have a tiny restaurant. I enjoyed the fish and chips – fresh, not greasy. Conde was not enamored with his crab cakes. But then, he makes the best crab cakes in the world.Seaside has visible civic pride. We stopped into the Historical Society museum which houses a funky collection, giving insight into the area. Next door is the Butterfield Cottage, formerly sited in the middle of downtown and owned by …. the Butterfields! The lovely volunteer docent clearly embraced her community as she pridefully led a tour of the cottage. She said y’all a lot, so won my heart. Astoria is 15 miles north of Seaside. The town reeks of Oregon history. I won’t digress into the multiple Lewis & Clark historical sites in the area, as that’s another story for another time. We drove over for lunch at the Buoy brewery.
We scored a window table overlooking the Columbia River, enjoying a great meal that included local steamer clams, fresh halibut cheeks and chicken salad. Conde indulged in an extra glass of fresh brewed beer. A good day.Cannon Beach is a 20 minute drive south of Seaside. There is no way we would come so close and not walk on the beach and say hello to my Haystack Rock. We walked on the beach for a couple of hours, then stopped at the local grocery for lunch provisions before heading back to the cottage.
Ari loves his off-leash beach runs. One of these days … for sure … he’ll get one of those crazy seagulls. It could happen.Sunsets are my favorite time of day. Nothing better than a nice glass of wine while watching nature strut her stuff. Thank you Oregon Coast for helping me re-center. Until next time.
The morning of my 62nd birthday, we boarded a huge ferry in Montevideo Uruguay for a 2½ hour ride on the Rio Plata back to Buenos Aires. Buquebus has high-speed catamaran ferries (and bus services). We reserved seats on a ferry with a 1,000 passenger capacity and 150 spaces for cars. They have first, business, and tourist class reservations. There are small cafes on the boat’s multiple levels and, of course, duty-free shopping. Before boarding we went through customs, stamping out of Uruguay and at the next window we officially entered Argentina. The Buquebus online reservation system is a breeze. There are comfortable secured lobbies with easy baggage check systems. The only caveat when traveling between BA and Montevideo is the bus/ferry option versus the ferry only option. If opting for the bus/ferry option, you take a bus to Colonia and then the ferry across the river to BA. It’s a few hours longer, but gives an option to poke around Colonia for a short while, if you haven’t already.
We were back in Buenos Aires by 2:00 pm. The first cab we hailed tried to gouge us. We politely declined and hired another ride. In spite of the bad rap about BA cab drivers, this was the only time we experienced a problem. I’m a fan of the cab drivers in BA.
While in Buenos Aires we stayed at The Poetry Building. It’s a small property that rents first class fully furnished apartments with equipped kitchens. We found it perfect for eating breakfast in and for the occasional light meal when we tired of restaurants. The Poetry front desk staff were beyond helpful, especially with bridging the language barrier. Yani stayed late to help when we learned at 9:00 pm that our next morning flight departure time had changed from 11:00 am to 4:00 am. With her help, we figured out why and bit the bullet. Who needs sleep anyway? The Poetry even has a roof-top garden where guests can harvest fresh seasonal produce. I can’t say enough good things about the place.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a huge bookstore housed in a beautifully restored theatre in the heart of Recoleta. The stage has been repurposed as a coffee shop. The pile of Michelle Obama’s Spanish translated memoir was at least 4 feet high. It is well worth a visit to the bookstore just to browse the venue.
Dogs are clearly embraced as family members in Buenos Aires. The city is filled with apartment buildings housing busy dog parents. The dog walking business is booming. Clients are tied to trees during drop-off and pick-up. I didn’t see any conflicts. Yes, there is dog poop on the streets and you have to be careful where you step. But, the dog walkers try to minimize the problem, picking-up after their clientele.
Although huge, Buenos Aires is a very walkable city. With maps in hand we were easily able to navigate our way around. I never felt unsafe. We heard pick-pockets are the biggest threat. We had no problems, but heeded the warnings and were careful. Women frequently wear their purses across the body and you’ll often see backpacks worn in front. Flaunting iPhones, even to take photos, is a no-no.
Realizing our days of warmth and sunshine were coming to a close, we spent as much time as possible outdoors. It took about an hour to walk from our apartment to the rose garden. It is a totally different experience than the Portland rose garden. Not better or worse, just different. A serene place to absorb heat and enjoy beauty while catching fragrant whiffs from rose bushes.
While meandering, we passed the Argentinian National Library. It was closed for the summer holidays. We wandered the grounds and learned about the building’s “harsh architecture.” The exterior reminded a bit of the LBJ Library in Austin.
After the library, we strolled a heavily treed street where many foreign government embassies in Buenos Aires are located.
Not far beyond was our destination, the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires. (MALBA).
The interior of the building reminded us both of an improved version of the High museum in Atlanta. We were hungry, so decided to check out the museum restaurant before viewing the exhibits. It was great! I relished a quinoa salad and kale smoothie while Conde rocked-out on Belgium ale. Sated, we were ready for some art. I had no idea what I was getting into with Pablo Suarez Narciso Plebeyo. Whoa! This dude loves to shock! I held off on photos, but imagine (or not) very large graphic male genitalia and its multiple uses. Most of the pieces showed raw humor with egotistic genius.
The “Dirty War” in Argentina involved three succeeding military juntas, lasting from 1976 to 1983. Roaming Buenos Aires we encountered tiny reminders of that dark period in the country’s history. More than 30,000 individuals, deemed left-wing subversives, were “disappeared.” Unmarked Ford Falcons cruised the streets. Public kidnappings became the norm. Mostly young people, the disappeared were imprisoned, tortured and the majority murdered. Some lived to tell their stories. Young children of citizens labeled “subversives” were separated from their parents and given to supporters of the juntas to raise. To date, these children have not been traced or reunited with their birth families. It is a period of Argentina’s history that is minimized as you travel the country. I am of the opinion that history is more likely to repeat itself if we don’t openly and wholly acknowledge both the good and the bad.
The National Museum of Fine Arts is first class. Once again, we were not charged an admission fee. The city definitely favors opening art to all classes of the public. The museum’s lower floors are devoted to many of the well-known masters from different periods. The upper floors are devoted to Latin American artists. If I were to have a “do-over” visit, I would start with the upper floors, to view the works of artists I was not familiar with.
This is Conde’s story: Casa Del Habanos is the worldwide Cuban cigar distributor, distribution, franchise and sales system, which in effect allows each region/city in the world to have an exclusive local Cuban cigar store and distributor. There is a Casa Del Habanos in Toronto, one in Hong Kong, at least one in Madrid, one in Paris, London, Rome, Vancouver BC, etc. I found the only Casa Del Habanos in Buenos Aires, located in a formerly chic shopping area near Florida Avenue, not far from the Casa Rosada. It has been there for over 35 years, and is the third oldest Casa del Habanos in the world, which is not surprising, because BA is one of the three or four most important Spanish-speaking cities in the world.
The store has a locked front door. Visitors are required to ring a bell for entrance. The humidor has a nice selection of quality Cubanos, although not terribly large. On the wall are photos of Alejandro Robaina, one of Cuba’s most famous cigar makers. He visited the store in celebration of its opening 35 years ago. I visited with Mr. Robaina at his home in Pinar Del Rio, Cuba, in 2005, prior to his passing in 2010. He was a delightful man, perhaps the most well-known as an international good will ambassador for Cuban cigars. His brand of cigars, “Robaina,” are especially smooth yet richly flavored. I left smoking a “Short Churchill” by Romeo y Julieta, one of my favorites, which set me back about $14, a very good price for such a gem. When I go back to BA (hopefully soon), I will for sure drop by the CdH store very early on in the next visit, to stock up on some Cubanos.
The Museo Del Agua y de la Historia Sanitaria (Museum of water and history of sanitation) operates inside the Palacio de las Aquas Corrientes. The museum is only open a few hours a day. The exhibition is quirky and filled with tidbits about the construction of the palace and its inner workings over the years. Here are a few photos from the exhibit. Hoover over the photo to get a caption to appear. Blog magic!
The Obelisk was erected in 1936 to commemorate the city’s quadricentennial. It is a national historic monument and an icon of Buenos Aires. Think the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. It is located at the Plaza de la Republica at the intersections of Avenues Corrientes and 9 de Julio. Not noted on the Obelisk is an incident that occurred during the Dirty War. In the early morning hours one Sunday, citizens witnessed a man wrested from a green Ford Falcon, tied to the Obelisk and machine-gunned down. Perhaps a memorial honoring his life and shunning that period will someday be added at the Plaza.
On an afternoon graced by torrential rains we visited the Museo Evita. It was opened by her grandniece, Cristina Alvarez Rodriguez, fifty years to the day after Eva Peron’s death. The museum is housed in a 20th century mansion, which was declared a National Historic Monument in 1999. It is lovely to walk about and is filled to the brim with everything Evita. If you weren’t in love with Evita prior to a visit, the exhibition does everything in its power to change your opinion. Definitely worth a visit.
If you would like to know when new post is made, scroll to the top right and sign up. You won’t get harassed. But you will get an email notification whenever a new post is made.
Thanks for joining my adventures. See you next time!
Uruguay is a tiny South American Country nestled between Brazil and Argentina. Geographically the same size as Missouri, it has a population of 3.5 about million. Spain was the first European country to reach the area, settling the region in 1624. Not long after the Portuguese took over and a tug-of-war ensued. Then, Great Britain jumped into the fray. The control wars for domination ended in 1828. A national constitution was enacted, and on July 18, 1830 the democratic republic of Uruguay was established. One of the first acts of this new country was to gather and massacre its few remaining indigenous males. The women and children were “saved” and distributed as slaves. This inauspicious beginning has, in modern times, been eschewed. After a long period of military dictatorships, enabled by the CIA among others, Tabare Vasquez was elected president in 2004. As an overt symbol of independence from the US, diplomatic relations with Cuba were restored. Vasquez was wildly popular. He was succeeded in the presidency by Jose Mujica. In 2012 abortion was legalized. Same sex marriage was recognized in 2013. That same year the country legalized marijuana. Uruguay is financially stable, is one of the most secular countries in South America, has an extremely high literacy rate and enjoys a profusion of diverse cultural activity. It is a safe country with kind people and a decent quality of life.
In 1723 the Portuguese established Colonia del Sacramento (Colonia) along the east bank of the Rio de la Plata. We booked a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia. The boat ride took about an hour. We had been told a day trip to Colonia was plenty of time to explore. We opted for 3 nights and 2 days. It was a good choice. It gave us plenty of opportunity to roam the entire city, expanding our boundaries beyond the old town.
Lonely Planet describes Colonia as “an irresistibly picturesque town enshrined as a Unesco World Heritage site.” Apt and succinct. The historic district has narrow cobble-stoned streets lined with huge sycamore trees. Large palm trees house flocks of squawking green parrots.We stayed in a gorgeous plush hotel overlooking the river. With the windows opened, it sounded like we were on the ocean.
Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay. Over 1/3rd of the country’s citizens reside there. I was enamored with the city. It has wholesome undertones in a big city setting. Family life is obviously very important. The architecture is wildly eclectic. Older buildings in various states of repair sit alongside modern structures amidst fascist 1950 and 1960s style apartment buildings. The setting is as eclectic as the culture.
Bus travel between cities in Uruguay is comfortable, affordable and common. We showed-up at the bus station in Colonia at 11:30 am and boarded the 12:05 pm bus to Montevideo – reserved seat tickets in hand. It was a 2½ hour ride and a great way to see the countryside. Lot’s of agriculture, clean, wide-open and an interesting assortment of people getting on and off the bus. As if things couldn’t get any better, the bathroom was sparkling clean, albeit bumpy!
We arrived in Montevideo on Friday afternoon and left early Monday morning. The timing wasn’t great. Many establishments are closed over the weekend and Sundays are virtually shuttered. Not to be deterred, we donned our tennis shoes and hit the streets. One of the first things I noticed are the mate toting locals. Yerba mate is a tea made from Yerba leaves. It is pungent and contains a caffeine like substance. Friends pass it around. As best as I can tell, the whole country is cheerfully addicted.
The consumption of mate is more than just drinking. It is a ritual. Special cups are packed tight with mate leaves. A thermos of hot water is carried under the arm (some folks have special carrying cases). The silver straw has a flat filtered bottom. All day long, small amounts of hot water is added to the cup and sips taken from the straw, using care not to close the lips while sipping. If in a group, one person carries the cup and cradled thermos of water. It is passed among friends. I was introduced to mate in Argentina, but Uruguay seems to have embraced the love of the drink widely. Pardon the pun. Not my cup of tea.
One of the most interesting museums I have ever visited is in Montevideo. The Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo (Contemporary Arts Museum) is incorporated into an 1800s prison. Created in a collaboration between Spain and Uruguay it opened during a 2011 bicentennial celebration. Exterior prison walls were left intact and are covered with an array of graffiti. The wall is a striking feature as you approach. The architecture of the prison is incorporated into the exhibits. Individual cells showcase art. Peep holes through the original prison doors give glimpses of exhibits. It is impossible to forget your setting. The museum is small, unnerving, and free to anyone who wishes to visit. When exiting out the rear, you walk through a small park and playground. Somehow, this helps cleanse the soul after an intense encounter.
The locals love their beaches. After work and on weekends, folks congregate along the waterfront’s Malecon playing beach volleyball, roller skating, fishing, bicycling, jogging and just visiting. It is a place to see and be seen. But, mostly to relax with friends and family. The brown river water was not to my taste, but the lifestyle is lovely. One could grow fond of most anything, given time.
One of the few things to do on Sundays, other than hang at the waterfront, is the Sunday market. It is huge! Filled with locals, there is every type of ware imaginable. Lot’s of haggling and buying. The propensity of this society to recycle is showcased by the volume of available used goods.
As with most cities in Argentina and Uruguay, there are public trash and recycle containers on the streets. This is where one deposits disposables. In Montevideo, many of these receptacles are brightened-up by public artists. Porque no?
On Saturday, we took a tour of the Opera house. Not nearly as opulent as the one in Buenos Aires, but respectable with an interesting history. A couple of local actors were hired to spice-up the tour. They appeared on several occasions portraying funny skits filled with lots of physical comedy that could be understood in all languages.
Hungry and thirsty after a long walk, we saw this place across the street from the Malacon. What a serendipitous find! At the Tincal Bar we were introduced to the chivito, a sandwich invented in Uruguay. Anthony Bourdain called it the best sandwich in the world. He wasn’t far off. The name means “small goat,” but there isn’t any goat meat in it at all. The chivito consists of thinly sliced tender flavorful beef with endless options for toppings. Think ham, eggs, cheese, etc., etc. Served with a big plate of french fries, the chivito satisfied my monthly craving for a juicy burger and fries.
The US embassy is just around the corner from the Tincal Bar. It is currently undergoing a major renovation. Work on the $90 million project was continuing in spite of the government shut-down at home.
While in Montevideo we stayed at the Alma Historica hotel, a small boutique hotel right in the heart of old town. Very comfy digs for three nights.
This is a wonderful public mural signifying girl power. Political messages in public art are rife throughout the city.
If you would like to know when new post is made, scroll to the top right and sign up. You won’t get harassed. But you will get an email notification whenever a new post is made.
Thanks for joining my adventures. See you next time!
Argentina is a huge country divided into 8 geographic regions and 23 provinces (states). The Andes mountain range runs from north to south along the country’s western border, separating Argentina from Chili. The county’s national park system is huge, accessible and very well-managed.
We flew from Buenos Aires to the small city of El Calafate, gateway to Parque National Los Glaciares (Glacier National Park), picking up a rental car upon arrival. El Calafate reminds me of a ski resort city. Lots of shopping and restaurants along the main drag. But instead of ski gear, young people haul fully loaded backpacks. We stayed in a vacation rental, walking distance from the heart of town. Then again, most everything was within walking distance in El Calafate.
In El Calafate there are dogs roaming everywhere. Most seemed healthy enough. That didn’t stop me from wanting to take them all home for TLC and a visit to the vet for a quick fix job. The entire region is windy. Really windy. So windy the rental car company warned us about the danger of our car doors being damaged by gusts. The skies are huge, with magical light and unique cloud formations. And, great sunrises and sunsets. There is a wonderful bird sanctuary called Laguna Nimez Reserva Natural. It boasts a 1½ mile circular path around a lagoon with views of a glacial fed lake. The cost of entry is $10US with all proceeds going to sanctuary preservation. Conde and I battened down our hatches and checked it out. Part way into the walk I was joined by a canine companion. Whenever I stopped to gander or take a photo, she would lay at my feet, jumping up when it was time to move on. Just before the end of the trail she silently disappeared in the bushes.
Jody, with her amazing nose for the finer things in life, tripped upon a hotel and wine bar while out for an evening stroll. Turned out they served excellent food and a heck of a mountain view with Largo Argentina (Lake Argentina) as a front drop. We took our time with dinner at Los Canelos, absorbing the 180 degree sunset views. My hunger and soul were sated.
Glacier Perito Moreno is in the southern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and a 1½ hour drive from El Calafate. The roads are undivided two-lane highways with very little traffic. Cross winds are the biggest hazard. At the park entrance you have to get out of the car to pay. One person stays in the car snaking forward with the line, while another goes inside and pays the $20 per person entry fee. We parked in the lower north entrance lot. After a short walk, it was easy to set out along a complex series of steel catwalks running 2½ miles. One can access multiple views from both the glacier’s north and south sides.
I managed to catch a calving in action. I heard the boom, zeroed in and set my shutter in motion. Note the clear blue surface after the face of the glacier has severed.
Before leaving the park, we needed a bite to eat. Heaven forbid 4 hours might pass without a meal. We popped into a restaurant at the north side with a spectacular view. A fair fixed-price lunch menu was offered. We had hearty lamb and lentil stews with dessert and coffee. It was enjoyed by all. The waitress even brought us a bucket of glacier ice for chilling our mineral waters. Talk about the lap of luxury!
On the way back to El Calafate we stopped at the oddest place. The Lonely Planet guide gave the Glaciarium a big fat one star. It is a museum showcasing glaciers. When we arrived in the parking lot, the wind was gusting so hard, I was pinned by the car door as I tried to get out. My shrieks for help were lost with the wind as I pushed with all my might to free myself. Success ensued. The Glaciarium is reputed to have an ice bar. No kidding. The bar is maintained below freezing and drinking glasses are molded from ice. Fur coats are provided. The bar wasn’t operational when we stopped. We pondered over whether to visit the exhibit anyway. The staff at the front desk was indifferent. We decided against the steep entry fee and made free use of the impeccable rest rooms. Tour buses were pulling into the parking lot as we battled our car doors against the wind before escaping.
The next morning we loaded up the car for a 2 hour drive to the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We scheduled a stop for lunch in El Chaltan. From there it was a 30 minute drive along a dirt road to our hotel, El Pilar. Along the way (okay, maybe 30 minutes after we set off) we needed sustenance. Good thing we had leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Something about snarfing down food from the trunk while standing on the side of a deserted highway makes it special. Life is good!
El Pilar is run by Cristina and Guillermo. In Argentinian Spanish, the double “ll” is pronounced “jee” – can be a bit of a tongue twister. The hotel is wonderful and has great food. There are no wi-fi connections. Guests congregated for cocktails around the fireplace before dinner and chatted over coffee and breakfast in the mornings. There were folks from all over the world. Before we set out for our 10 mile trek, we were provided with a sack lunch. It was not raining, which is a great thing. The wind was driving little pellets of frozen ice, but it was intermittent. The snow-capped mountains with glaciers tucked in their crevices surrounded us. I loved it!
It’s impossible to capture the beauty and magnitude of this hike. We passed through groves of trees and wide-open areas with everything in between. Sometimes we were in sunshine, at other times in the fog. The wind was intermittently intense. Here are a few things we saw along the way.
The next morning we were greeted by rain and winds. Given the conditions, I passed on the opportunity for another hike. As we drove from the area, we moved into sunshine. Another lunch in El Chalten, then back to El Calafate for a good nights sleep and plane trip back to Buenos Aires. Steve and Jody returned to Washington DC. We hopped a ferry to Uruguay.
If you would like to know when new post is made, scroll to the top right and sign up. You won’t get harassed. You will get email notification.
Thanks for joining my adventures. See you next time!
Summer in January! The phrase makes me giddy. A promised reprieve from Portland’s dreary, bone-chilling, wet, gray winter days. Destination — south of the equator. First stop, Buenos Aires.
Approximately 3 million (living) people inhabit the vibrant South American cultural hub of Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina. But, before exploring the living, I’d like to share a visit to the Cementerio de la Recoleta.
The Recoleta cemetery covers over 14 acres, containing thousands of mausoleums, statues and monuments. It is an oasis filled with tiny, often ornate, houses for the dead. Mausoleums can house whole families. Their personalities, social status and cultural mores are showcased by decor. Cementerio de la Recoleta is known as the burial place for Argentina’s rich and famous, although some of the interred are neither rich or famous. Included among the non-living is the country’s beloved Eva Peron (nee Duarte). Think Andrew Lloyd Webber’s broadway musical and the movie version starring Madonna. To ensure the protection of Evita’s remains, she was nestled in a fortified crypt and buried more than 16 feet beneath the earth’s surface. Another cemetery resident, Isabel Colonna, was only six days old when she died. She was reputed to be the illegitimate grandchild of Napoleón Bonaparte. Luis Firpo was a famous Latin American boxer, known as the Wild Bull of the Pampas. Forty three years after his death, Luis was included in the list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. The roster of residents in Cemeterio de las Recoleta is expansive. Argentina reveres its cultural icons.
The walled city of the dead contrasts with the abutting towers that house Buenos Aires living. Like most cities, BA is divided into neighborhoods. The cemetery is located in the Recoleta barrio. On weekends, the park in front of the Recoleta cemetery transforms into a crafts market where local artisans hawk their wares. The market starts and ends early. If you want plenty of time to peruse the goodies, don’t do like we did and sleep half the day away.
Like most of the Americas, Argentina was originally inhabited by indigenous people. In 1536 the Spaniards arrived, but were quickly run out by the Queradi. Around 20 years later the Spaniards gave it another try. This time with more success. The city of Mendoza was founded in the west, not terribly far from modern-day Santiago Chili. Later the Jesuits arrived and build missions. Spain tired of the Jesuits and in 1767 they were ousted by the Spanish crown. In the early 1800s the Brits arrived and tried to take over, but were defeated. The city of Buenos Aires declared its independence from Spain in around 1810. The independence movement from foreign occupation spread throughout South American. In the mid-1800s a “forward thinking” fellow was elected President of Argentina. President Mitre ramped up public education and welcomed the Europeanization of the country. Immigration dramatically increased and the melting pot of Argentina grew. By the late 1800s Buenos Aires’s population was 670,000. Around that same time the Tango was born! In 1946 Juan Peron was elected president. First lady Evita created social assistance programs and helped lower class women and children, winning the love of the people. Evita died young and Juan couldn’t handle the job without her. In 1955 the country slid into recession. Then there was a military coup. From 1976-1983 the country launched into the “Dirty War” and an estimated 30,000 citizens disappeared. By 1989 inflation had reached 200%. Corruption reigned and the public coffers were drained. President Christina Kirschner reputedly robbed the country blind. In 2015 Macri was elected president. The country struggles to find economic stability. Government programs are being cut and the local currency is on a valuation roller coaster. Meanwhile, the lovely vibrancy of Buenos Aires and its resilient people shine through.
On our second day in Buenos Aires we took a three-hour urban art tour hosted by Graffittimundo. The tour showcased graffiti hotspots, teaching about the artists and the social circumstances leading to the birth of graffiti art in Buenos Aires. The tour lasted three hours and is on my list of a must do when visiting the city. Graffittimundo is a non-profit serving the urban art scene. All proceeds from tours and events are funneled back into their mission. Our tour began in the Colegiales neighborhood. We wandered the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood and ended in Palermo Soho at a graffiti adorned bar and artist operated gallery in the rear. Not only was the tour a great way to see samples of various styles and periods of graffiti art, it was a fun way to be introduced to some of BA’s hipper neighborhoods.
Once street art becomes public, it is subject to alteration and is frequently tagged by other street artists. To many, this alteration is disrespectful to the original artist. And, perhaps it is. But in reality, the art is in the public venue and stuff happens out on the streets. An interesting exception to tagging public art exists. Note the floating scarf images. These are revered and never adulterated by others.
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo is a group of women whose children and grandchildren disappeared during the 1976 – 1983 “Dirty War.” Only a handful of the disappeared have been recovered. The women of the missing have not stood by in silence. They began their quest to learn what happened to their loved ones while the war was still ongoing. It was a very dangerous time to speak up against the government. These women did not care. Their mission remains. Organized marches are held weekly, demanding details about lost family members. Government denial and minimization of the numbers continues. Protestors wear white scarves, which have become synonymous with the search for answers about the missing.
Graffiti art has been embraced by the city. Each depiction has a story to tell. Police may stop and watch as a creation is being made. No altercations, handcuffs or squad car rides. No problema!
Gran Cafe Tortoni is touted in guide books as the most reviewed cafe in Buenos Aires. We bit, arriving at 2:00 pm to a long line stretching down the block. Wait time, one hour. Our travel partner, Jody, had targeted the place and goaded us on. Her husband Steve, not so sure. After some feet shuffling, we joined the queue. All of us were super glad we did. The place is amazing! Not the food so much, although it is just fine. The cost of a table and meal is the price of admission. The entire cafe is an impromptu museum filled to the brim with original art and memorabilia from the global arts scene, starting in 1958 and spilling forward to current times. Wander the back rooms. Don’t be shy. Take time to look upward at the original stained glass ceiling fixtures. Peruse the glass fronted curio cabinets, chock filled with photos and newspaper articles. Check out the original art work gifted to the owners and crowding every space along the walls. I spent more time wandering around than sitting at the table. Do be aware, as you will need to dodge tray laden impatient waiters rushing about to accommodate hungry diners. And, resist the urge to succumb to a sense of impolite unease as you look over the heads of other diners at the art. Your discomfort will be rewarded.
The Catedral Metropolitana was build in around 1827. Not surprisingly, it is in pristine condition and quite beautiful. The guarded remains of Argentine Liberator General Jose de San Martin are interred in a grandiose marble mausoleum. Two guards frame the doorway stand motionless as visitors walk past taking photographs.
The Theatro Colon (opera house) is a must see. Several months before traveling to BA, Conde scored tickets to a sold-out performance of the Nutcracker. Only $25 per person. Beyond worth the price of admission. We celebrated December 30th with a 5:00 pm matinée. The performance was absolutely lovely and a great way to usher in the new year. If you can’t get tickets to a show, the Theatro has guided tours. No expense was spared in its construction. It’s beautiful inside and out.
The La Boca neighborhood is a hotspot for tourists. El Caminito, a cobblestone street near the southern edge of La Boca, is at the heart of the action. Caminito was originally home to sailors working the harbor. They painted their homes with left over paints, creating an unintended eclectic bright-colored area. When the harbor wound down, community members capitalized on the unique nature of the area, keeping the festive bright colors and turning the area into a very cleaver tourist destination. I wanted to check it out. My three travel partners were good sports and went along. Unfortunately the museums in the area were closed for the new years holiday. I enjoyed El Caminito, but would put a visit near the bottom of the list, unless you are a big shopper.
Taking a break from the city, we booked a tour of the historic town of San Antonio de Areco and a visit to an Estancia. Guillermo González Guereño, proprietor of Camino Pampa, accommodated us with style. His driver Juan picked us up at our hotel at 8:30 am. and dropped us off at around 7:00 pm. It was a fun day.
San Antonio de Areco, named for the town’s founding estanciero (ranch owner), is a small gaucho town with cobble-stoned streets, a town center park and lots of history. It was developed in the early 18th century and preserves many traditions of the gaucho and criollo cultures. Gauchos were nomadic horsemen who lived in the pampas. They still prosper, but are no longer nomadic. In San Antonio de Areco, there is an annual festival called the Dia de la Tradicion (day of tradition). The town hosts the largest gaucho celebration in all of Argentina.
After leaving the town, we traveled to an Estansia. The last couple miles of road was heavily rutted mud, worsened by a torrential thunder storm. We had to transfer from the van to four-wheel drive vehicles. The crazy sideways sliding towards a ditch was akin to a carnival ride. Well worth the price of admission. Once at the Estansia, we rode horses, gorged on traditional barbecue and danced.
If you would like to see when new post is made, scroll to the top right and sign up. You won’t get harassed. You will get email notification.
Thanks for joining my adventures. See you next time!