Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trinidad, Cuba - the Perfect Spanish Colonial Town

View from Plaza Santa Ana
Trinidad is one of those impossibly interesting towns if you like old architecture, cobblestone streets, and a sleepy ambience. Lonely Planet said it better than I could:
Trinidad is one-of-a-kind, a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement where the clocks stopped in 1850 and – apart from a zombie invasion of tourists – have yet to restart. Huge sugar fortunes amassed in nearby Valle de los Ingenios during the early 19th century created the illustrious colonial-style mansions bedecked with Italian frescoes, Wedgwood china and French chandeliers.
Calle Santa Ana
We spent a few nights in a Casa Particulare - a private home that takes in visitors. It was Hostel Casa Gil on Eliope Paz (Virgia), near the Plaza Santa Ana. Addresses are a bit confusing because many streets in Trinidad have two names. Is one the one is historic and common name while the other is newer and official? I bet the postman has fun.
As we found in other towns, in late afternoon, people sit out and enjoy each other's company. Social interaction happens out in the streets.
At the Plaza Major.
As Lonely Planet noted, the tourist Zombie invasion was in full force. We did not see many Americans, but saw plenty of Europeans and Canadians. The chubby ladies in the photograph above were Germans.
Calle Santa Ana
Trinidad is a visual treat, and it appears to be resisting the inexorable influence of the developers more successfully than Havana. Still, if you are interested, visit soon.

I took these photographs on Kodak Tri-X 400 film with my Leica M2 rangefinder camera (with 35mm and 50mm Summicron lenses). The film was developed in HC-110 developer and scanned with a Plustek 7600i scanner.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cienfuegos - French Vibe in Cuba (B&W film)

Hanging out in Marti Park, January 2017.
Cienfuegos is an unusual city in Cuba. It is the capital of Cienfuegos Province, on the southern coast of Cuba. It was settled by French immigrants from Bordeaux and Louisiana, and therefore has a much stronger French appearance than other cities in Cuba, which are almost completely Spanish.
My fellow travelers and I only had a few hours in town, and it immediately reminded me of  New Orleans. But the big difference is the historic architecture in New Orleans is largely wood, while in Cienfuegos it is stone. Nevertheless, the arches and shaded sidewalks looked familiar.
Decorative elements have a Beaux Arts exuberance.
Hanging out in Marti Park.
The cultural and tourist center of town is the Parque José Martí, a handsome rectangle with grass, trees, park benches, and a fountain. The prominent buildings face the park, including the imposing Teatro Tomás Terry, built between 1887 and 1889.
The Teatro Terry, between 1880 and 1901, glass negative from the Detroit Publishing Company, from the Library of  Congress:

Teatro Tomás Terry, January 2017.
Casa de la Cultura Benjamin Duarte, with an impressive spiral stair leading into the dome.
Chevrolet, Cienfuegos, Cuba
Cienfuegos does not have as exuberant collections of old American cars as you see in Havana, but they are present in various states of preservation or decay.

Photographs taken with a Leica M2 rangefinder camera on Kodak Tri-X 400 film, developed in Kodak HC-110 developer.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Santo Thomãs - the end of the Road in the Zapata, Cuba

If you take the lonely road west through forest and scrubland in the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata, eventually you reach the hamlet of Santo Thomãs. A rough road may continue further, but it's surprising you can drive this far. But as you can see from the sign, there is bus service.
Zapata sparrow, photograph © Carl Mease 2017
We were with a birding group and took boats along a canal to find the Zapata Sparrow. We saw the little guy, one of the endemic birds of Cuba. The canals lead to the Gulf of Batabano and were dug by the timber industry in the early 1900s. This one has been maintained to let villages reach the sea and go fishing.
Santo Thomãs is quiet now. A local gent said once there were 500 residents, but only a few dozen live here now.
The town had a small community center, a place where the gents (and ladies?) could sit with a beer and play chess or other games. We saw similar community centers in many rural towns.
This modest house is the community clinic. The visiting nurse lives on the second floor, while the clinic is on the ground floor.
The examining rooms were basic but clean. However, there was no air conditioning, and I am not sure how they keep out mosquitoes in the wet season. The nurse comes for 5 or 6 days and is replaced on a regular rotation. The gent above was a college graduate.
A sheet of paper had listed several medical procedures and the value of this service in Pesos. Even though medical care is free, I suppose the card's purpose was a form of advertising for the government. The prices were in the Pesos used by local Cuban citizens. As of early 2017, 24 local Pesos = 1 CUC Peso or U.S. $1. So, a consultation with a cardiologist is worth 79.64 Pesos or $3.31. Attention for a grave patient is 770.50 Pesos or $32. The nurse told us that for serious illnesses, an ambulance would take the patient to the city or a helicopter might even be used. I am impressed that such a small town has a full-time clinic. We need more walk-in clinics in the USA, where people can get inexpensive or free preventative care before their illnesses blossom into major medical emergencies, requiring ultra-expensive hospital emergency room treatment or long-term hospitalization.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Kuhn Memorial Charity Hospital before the Fence

The City of Vicksburg finally gained legal title to the Kuhn Memorial Charity Hospital and land in late 2016. The legal battles and title searches took several years, and I can't begin to understand the details. On November 29, 2016, I was taking some photographs on Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., and a fence company was erecting a chain link fence to secure the property. Therefore, the following photographs may be my last of the condemned site

Severe and formal facade of Kuhn Hospital. The grass field had just been cut.
Entry main door with vandalized furniture.
West side of the hospital complex with the connector passage between the two main buildings.
Former ambulance entrance on the west side.

The interior is such a mess, I did not want to venture inside. I photographed some of the first floor rooms in early 2014 and the upper floors in 2014.

The October 20, 2016 Vicksburg Post summarized the history of the building:
A former city hospital, the city sold Kuhn to the State of Mississippi in 1956 for $5, and the state operated the facility as a charity hospital, initially known as the Vicksburg Charity Hospital, until 1989. 
The city regained the property in 1990 under an agreement with the state to turn it over to a private corporation.
In 1993, the building was considered as a possible veterans home, and in 1994, it was considered for a possible 38-bed adolescent psychiatric ward. 
In 1999, the building was sold to the Lassiter-Studdard Group Inc., which planned to open a 100-bed clinic and assisted living center. The plans fell through, and in 2000 the company donated the building to the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation. 
The property has been sold six times for taxes, and city officials have been trying for at least the past 10 years to get the property owner to clean the property and demolish or renovate the buildings on the site. 
The board on July 6 put the 12.8-acre property under the city’s slum clearance ordinance in a move to step up its efforts to remove the complex’s main building. The city’s efforts to do something with the property accelerated in the aftermath of the abduction and murder of Sharen Wilson, whose body was found on the property June 28. Police said Wilson was killed in the back building and her body left on the property, where ghost hunters who were on the site found it. When the parties with an interest in the property failed to present plans to either raze or renovate the two buildings on the site in September, it cleared the way to begin the process for their demolition.
I took these photographs on Tri-X 400 film with my Fuji GW690II 6×9 camera and its 90mm ƒ/3.5 Fujinon lens. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta ScanMulti medium format scanner operated by SilverFast software. Click any photograph to enlarge it to 2400 pixels wide.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 Revisit to the Secret Playground, Vicksburg, Mississippi

In February, I walked back through the brush to the Secret Playground off Wisconsin Avenue. The path was reasonably clear, but the playground area has a lot more brush than before. It looks like the City has not cleared or mowed since my original 2013 visit.
The merry-go-round still turns
The slide into the poison ivy thickets
These photographs are scans from Kodak Panatomic-X black and white film exposed with a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera with 75mm ƒ/3.5 Xenotar lens. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta Scan Multi medium format film scanner controlled by Silverfast Ai software.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Bikinis at the Bay of Pigs (Cuba)

Checking out the scene, Playa Larga, Cuba
The US-sponsored invasion Bay of Pigs plays a large role in the history and mythology of the Cuban Revolution.
After reading about how the invading force flubbed up just about everything and how Cuban soldiers under the direction of Fidel Castro rounded up and arrested the demoralized invading force, I expected to see rusting military equipment and debris on the beaches at Playa Larga. Oops, now there are Europeans lounging around in small swim suits enjoying rum mojitos. Yes, I suppose even the Revolution must slowly adapt to the new economic reality.

The little town of Playa Larga, at the northwest tip of the Bahía de Cochinos or Batalla de Girón, was the Red Beach landing site for the CIA-trained paramilitary group Brigade 2506 on April 17, 1961. The beach proved to be floodlit, the boats grounded on coral reefs, and within three days, the Brigade 2506 was defeated by Cuban Army and militia forces. It was a tremendous embarrassment for President Kennedy, although the operation was hatched by the CIA and approved by President Eisenhower long before Kennedy began his term.
Then Playa slumbered, but is slowly transforming itself into a tourist destination. I am not sure if there are any hotels, but there are numerous casas particulares, which means private houses that have been certified to take in tourists. The one we stayed in was really more like a small inn rather than a private house, but someone on the staff did sleep in a tiny interior room. The staff was very courteous, the water was hot, towels clean, and our room faced the sea.
Despite the new tourists, much of Playa Larga looks like a place left in a previous time. The streets are sort-of paved. Local folks walk or take tricycle taxis. The rooster sings every morning (and much of the day and night, as well).
We walked around and came across a shop where the gents were restoring an old car. The next day it was gone, so I assume it ran on its own power. Cuban mechanics are pretty innovative considering the embargo for the last 50 years.
We were surprised that there was not much of a fishing fleet, just small open boats with outboards.
Propaganda in visitor's center at entrance to Playa Larga.
Victory billboard in Bermeyas, near the Bay of Pigs military museum.
Capitalist transportation in Playa Jardin 
Non-Capitalist transport in Playa Jardin
Playa Larga is fun enough, and we had wonderful weather without mosquitos. We were on a birding group, and the Zapata Peninsula is fabulous for bird-watching. But I'm not sure if I would go to Playa for a beach vacation.

These are digital images from a Fuji X-E1 digital camera.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Our Man in Havana 10: Nuevo Vedado (B&W film)

1950s flying saucer petrol station
The modern suburb west of Habana Centro is known as Nuevo Vedado. We stayed in a Casas Particulares, meaning a house in which the owner rents rooms to tourists. The one we were in was really nice, of modern 1950s modernist architecture with huge glass walls, It resembled a merging of a Mies van der Rohe glass house and one of Joseph Eichler's "California Modern" homes. In contrast to our challenging Park View Hotel downtown, we had immaculate modern US bathroom fixtures, hot water, clean towels, and excellent food. There were framed photographs of musicians and artists, who gather at the house.
There was even a hair service! Disadvantage: the house was a long way from downtown and we needed to use taxis.
As in downtown, there was a dearth of stores, at least on USA or European standards. I saw a pharmacy and a few restaurants, including the pollo snack bar on 26 Calle in the photograph above. I don't know if this was an example of the small-scale private industry that is now allowed now in Cuba, but it was busy.
Some of the apartment blocks reminded me of ones in Rangoon: lots of mildew creeping over the facade. I assume these were pre-revolution, meaning pre-1959. Despite some decay, this is a nice area. One taxi driver pointed out a house to us and said it is where Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar (the U.S.-backed dictator from 1952 - 1959) lived.
The playground on 41 Calle was pretty rough.

Dear Readers, we are done with our short tour of Havana and will proceed to other parts of Cuba. Stay tuned...