Reflections on Cuba: Running Down Hemingway’s Cocktails

[Now that things have calmed down, I wanted to share some personal reminiscences about my time in Havana with the Minnesota Orchestra.]

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“My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita.” – Ernest Hemingway

This iconic line, written out by Ernest Hemingway in regards to two of his favorite drinks in two of his favorite haunts in Havana, was an inspiration. I have a long fondness for rum (the essential ingredient for both drinks), and one of my hobbies is putting together craft cocktails. And since no one knew either Havana or rum like Ernest Hemingway… well, I knew that as soon as I had some downtime, I was going to hit the cobblestone streets of Old Havana, find Papa Hemingway’s favorite rum joints, and experience them for myself. Continue reading

Reflections on Cuba: Talking Pirates in a Pirate Fortress

[Now that things have calmed down, I wanted to share some personal reminiscences about my time in Havana with the Minnesota Orchestra.]

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Like many people, I’ve had a long fascination with pirates. (Well, perhaps I should say like many people in the English-speaking world; people in the Spanish Caribbean tend to have a somewhat different view of the “golden age of piracy.” In these parts of the world, Sir Francis Drake is still remembered as “El Draque,” a monstrous bogeyman used to frighten children.) Continue reading

A Look Backstage from Cuba

One concert down… one to go.

In case you are just making your way to my blog, I’m currently in Havana covering the Minnesota Orchestra’s historic tour to Cuba. And as a man who makes a living from writing, I’m embarrassed to admit I’m having a hard time describing everything that’s going on… it feels like mere words are simply not enough. Continue reading

Cuban Surprises

Hola, amigos… this is “your man in Cuba,” checking in about how the Minnesota Orchestra tour is going.

Well. I have to say that as I was getting ready to come down here, I spent a fair amount of time planning out what I was going to cover on my blog, and when things would get posted.

As you may have realized, that whole brilliant plan did a massive, sunburned belly-flop into the Straits of Florida. “Surprise!” has become the byword of the trip. Continue reading

The Glory of Cuban Music

There are four musicians in Havana… these musicians are always engaged, an in order to gain preference it is necessary to rise their fee and on top of that, which is already exorbitant, provide mounts for them, give them rations of wine and give each one of them and their families (in excess of what they eat and drink at the function) a plate of what is placed on the table which they take home with them.

  —Hernando de la Parra, secretary to the governor of Cuba, 1598

Let me confirm, if you ever doubted it, that Cuba is an intensely musical place. As Señor de la Parra’s 400-year old complaint confirms, local musicians have had an outsized position in Cuban society since way back.

The joyous ubiquity of music is one of my first, and most powerful impression of the place. Continue reading