Posted by: lisaparavisini | February 22, 2014

Cuban writer Padura tests US literary waters


Christine Armario if the Associated Press speaks to Leonardo Padura about his current US tour.

Sitting in the courtyard of a picturesque Miami bookstore cafe, Cuban writer Leonardo Padura chuckles between drags on a cigarette.

Nearly all his life, he explains, has taken place in one Havana neighborhood.

It is there, in Mantilla, where he was born, raised, married and wrote the detective novels that have won him international acclaim. He still lives in his childhood home and likes sitting on a small bench in front of a new candy store that opened across the street and listening to the chatter of customers.

His neighbors call him “the famous writer.”

“But I am lucky,” he says, “because they also still know me as my mother and father’s son.”

Padura has carved a space that few writers in Cuba after the revolution have managed to attain: that of a public intellectual, at once accepted by – and critical of – Cuban society.

Now, at the height of his literary career, he is on a tour in the United States, visiting Miami, New York and Chicago. His critically acclaimed “The Man Who Loved Dogs” has been translated into English and published in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

“I think American audiences are intrigued by his detective novels,” said Ana Mario Dopico, a professor of comparative literature at New York University. “He brings a breath of fresh air to a very over-determined reading of Cuba which is very hyper-political, very Cold War.”

The principal character of Paduras work is Mario Conde, a downtrodden detective solving crimes in the underbelly of post-Soviet Union Cuban society.

Through Conde’s investigations, the contradictions and shortcomings of a revolution in decline are laid bare. Yet his novels are also never overtly political. Padura himself takes great pains to state that he himself does not identify with any political party, nor the state or the country’s dissidents. He sees himself simply as a chronicler of modern Cuban life.

“If there is any positive effect my work can have, it’s in the act of being independent,” he says. “Of having a stance, a mindset, a space, that is free from political preferences.”

Born in 1955, Padura is part of the first generation to grow up with no or little memory of life before Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. He came of age when the Caribbean island still benefited from Soviet support and launched his literary career during the Special Period, the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

His four Mario Conde crime novels were all published in the 1990s, a time when a limited tolerance for criticism within the arts began to emerge. Padura acknowledges that the situation before then was dramatically different. Writers like Reinaldo Arenas who condemned the Communist government were jailed, and their work was difficult or impossible to find on the island.

Today writers like Padura, Wendy Guerra or Pedro Juan Gutierrez can get away with casting a critical eye. Freedom is, however, still a tenuous concept.

“It’s a country that is governed by the party, and that party is of a socialist bent where there are still expressions of individual freedom that are not understood because they are considered aggressions against the party, the state, the government, which also represent the nation,” Padura says.

Part of the reason he has negotiated those boundaries successfully may lie in his choice of genre. The detective novel unveils hidden worlds, friends who betray, untrustworthy authorities, and is also a genre that allows a writer to “talk about politics without being political,” Dopico said.

But while Padura has been published without harassment in Cuba, he has not been promoted in the official media as often or as enthusiastically as other writers whose works are less scrutinizing of life in Cuba, Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College said.

“Padura can publish a book like ‘The Man Who Loved Dogs’ but that book will not be reviewed in any of the newspapers or mentioned on the television or radio,” Henken said. “At the same time Padura can be named and win the national literary award, which he won last year.”

“The Man Who Loved Dogs” weaves the stories of Leon Trotsky, his assassin Ramon Mercader and a down-and-out Cuban writer who crosses Mercader’s path. He also recently published “Herejes” or “Heretics” in Spanish, another historical work that explores the theme of individual liberty.

Padura, soft-spoken with a graying beard, says his friends had to convince him to do the U.S. book tour because he was worried his appearances would turn into political interrogations. But at his first event in Miami on Tuesday, all the questions were about his work, he said.

Staying here or anywhere other than Cuba for too long is not an option. He says he needs to be close to that same 200 meter radius in Mantilla where his father, grandparents and even great-grandparents were all raised.

“I need to be close to that reality to be able to take the pulse of what Cubans are living,” he says.

For the original report go to

Posted by: lisaparavisini | February 22, 2014

ANN: Conference in celebration of the Sir W Arthur Lewis centennial


A post by Peter Jordens.

January 23, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir W Arthur Lewis (1915 – 1991), St Lucian development economist, Nobel Laureate (Economics, 1979), a former Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and first President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

In celebration of the W Arthur Lewis centennial, the 16th Annual Conference of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) will take place from January 14 to 16, 2015 in St Lucia under the theme ‘Towards Caribbean Prosperity and Happiness in an Equitable and Sustainable World.’ SALISES will be the hosting the conference together with the CDB and The UWI Chancellery in association with the UWI Open Campus in St Lucia.

The subthemes of the conference seek to capture the main topics covered in Lewis’s work, the concerns raised by his critics, and the contemporary issues to which scholars believe his work can be applied. The conference will explore subjects of global significance as well as those of particular interest to the Caribbean. In celebrating Lewis’s work and envisioning new Caribbean futures, the multifaceted risks confronting the world require that this centennial conference be forward-looking. What new ideas, strategies, theories, policies and technologies are needed to build upon Lewis’ legacy and bring the Caribbean region and the developing countries as a whole into an era of enhanced prosperity and happiness? What are the new questions to be asked arising out of a study of the global political economy, and popular cultures that might support such a vision? What steps are urgently needed to redress questions of inequality on a global scale? Through what philosophical, political and cultural lens should the issues of transformation be addressed? In keeping with Lewis’s scholarship, well exemplified in his Theory of Economic Growth (1955), the conference will be interdisciplinary and aims to continue the dialogue in which he was engaged. We welcome panels and papers from all fields associated with the Social Sciences, Agriculture, Education and the Humanities, Engineering, Law, the Life, Medical and Physical Science, as well as the full range of interdisciplinary studies.

Full Call for Papers:

Deadline for submission of abstracts and panel proposals: July 31, 2014

Conference website:


Posted by: lisaparavisini | February 22, 2014

CFP/ Trauma: Voices and Silence



11th Annual Graduate Student Conference

Department of Spanish and Portuguese

University of California, Los Angeles

Trauma: Voices and Silence

April 17-18, 2014

Keynote speakers:

Christina McMahon (UC, Santa Barbara)

María Teresa Narváez Córdova (U Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras)

Michael Lazzara (UC, Davis)

Through literature, art, theater and film, among other artistic and human manifestations, mankind has found another way to talk about trauma. Dictatorships in America and the Iberian peninsula, civil wars, social changes mediated by violence, drug trafficking, among other possibilities, have encouraged many to face trauma as an act of reconciliation. This conference is open to explore the topic from a variety of perspectives. Variations on this topic include but are not limited to:

Literature and trauma

Cinema and trauma

Repression and dissidence


Human rights

Performing arts



We encourage submissions from Hispanic and Lusophone Literatures, Linguistics, Gender Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, Cultural Studies, Film Studies, and other related fields. Papers may be presented in Portuguese, Spanish, or English.

Abstracts should be approximately 250 words in length. Please do not include any personal information (name or institution) in the abstract itself. Paper presentations must not exceed 20 minutes (8 double-spaced pages). Please submit your abstract as an attachment via e-mail to The e-mail should include your name, institutional affiliation, paper title, and e-mail address.

The deadline for proposals in March 15, 2014

Contact information:

Posted by: lisaparavisini | February 21, 2014

The Olympics’ First Tropical Luger

1984 Olympics

Long before the Jamaican bobsled team rose to fame, Puerto Rico’s George Tucker was the first athlete from the Caribbean to compete in the Winter Games reports in this article for Outside magazine. For the complete report and a gallery of photos accompanying the article, follow the link below.

Long before the Jamaican bobsled team’s recent resurgence in popularity, George Tucker, a 37-year-old doctoral student in physics, became the first Winter Olympian from the Caribbean. Representing Puerto Rico in the luge, Tucker bumped down an icy track in the 1984 Sarajevo Games, where he finished dead last. Despite his disappointing run, he quickly became a press favorite—and an inspiration to athletes in other tropical nations.

Tucker was “the one who set the competitive standards for Caribbean nations,” luging coach Rich Kolko told The New York Times in 1992. Kolko’s right: soon after Tucker’s appearance in 1984, lugers from Puerto Rico, Brazil, Venezuela, the Virgin Islands, and, yes, Jamaica began to show up. (The bobsled team that inspired Cool Runnings, the 1993 Disney movie, was assembled after George Fitch, one of its founders, saw Tucker compete.)

To understand how Tucker found himself lying faceup on a sled in Yugoslavia, we must go back to when he was a young child, living with his parents—who both worked for the distribution arm of RKO Pictures—in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Tucker’s mother never forgot his early fascination with the stars there, a passion that continued after the family moved to the U.S. when her son was four years old. “We had a great sky; you could see the Milky Way,” Tucker says of the small town in upstate New York where he spent the bulk of his childhood.

As a teenager, Tucker taught himself and others about stargazing, light pollution, astrophotography, and physics. The future Olympian didn’t give much thought to athletics until, while an undergraduate, he became “reasonably good” at basketball. He was watching on July 20, when Puerto Rico’s Olympic basketball team caused a stir at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. Playing against the previously undefeated United States, the Puerto Rico team nearly managed a major upset. The U.S. got by with a razor-thin win of 95–94 after a buzzer shot by Puerto Rico was discounted. Credit for that shot, and for another 35 points during that game, belonged to a player named Alfred “Butch” Lee Jr.

Like Tucker, Lee had grown up mostly in the state of New York, after having been born in Puerto Rico to American parents. When his coach at Marquette University didn’t choose him for the U.S. Olympic basketball team, Lee discovered he could play for Puerto Rico instead. “Up until then, I’d never thought about Puerto Rico and the Olympics because I thought, well, I live in the U.S.,” Tucker says. “So I kept that in the back of my mind.” Years after moving away from San Juan, the place still meant something to him. “I had posters on my wall from Puerto Rico. I was born there, so I considered myself Puerto Rican,” he explains.

Four years later, Tucker was living in Albany when the 1980 Winter Olympics came to Lake Placid, just two hours away. Tucker and a group of friends made the drive up to watch athletes at the training site. At the luge track, they saw a competitor practice. At the start of a single luge race, a luger sits on a small sled and grasps a horizontal bar on either side of the track. He uses the bar to slide back and forth, building up momentum before launching himself down the track.

As Tucker and his friends watched, the Olympian stood, placed his hands by his knees, and jumped off the ground as if simulating a launch. “Well, he jumped a couple of times, then he came down and landed on the ice, and smashed his head on the ground,” Tucker says. “A friend turned to me and said, ‘Now there’s the sport for you.’” Tucker brushed it off. Another three years would pass before an Olympic thought crossed his mind.

Tucker is quick to point out that, while his participation in the Olympics probably amounted to his only 15 minutes of fame, that’s really only a minor part of his life. But what got him to Yugoslavia—some combination of a why-not attitude, a fondness for the underdog, sheer recklessness, and serendipity—also played a role in his academic pursuits. Though Tucker earned his first doctorate in astronomy, after learning there were few jobs for astronomers in the U.S., he went back to school for physics. For most of his life, astronomy was just a hobby. Then, as he grew older and watched his favorite childhood stargazing sites become lackluster with light-polluting development projects, he knew something had to change.

“It’s hard to rally the troops about light pollution because it’s such an incremental process,” Tucker says. “But, every day, year after year, it’s going to get worse and worse. As a kid, I was so thrilled to see the big Milky Way, and to realize that such views are going to vanish from most of the world is pretty depressing.” In 2003 Tucker traveled to Namibia, where he photographed the night sky as part of a passion project, hoping to get the NamibRand Nature Reserve certified as a dark sky site under the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). That designation would mean that the park would keep light polluting fixtures to a minimum and attract stargazing tourists.

Tucker helped fill out a 100-plus-page application, took inventories of existing light fixtures, and photographed the night sky. NamibRand got its certification as an International Dark Sky Site last year, and Tucker now has his sights set on locales in the Galapagos and Southern Africa. The thing about these sites, Tucker says, is that they’re not places the IDA usually recognizes for certification. The organization has overwhelmingly awarded dark sky status to sites in cities, or areas that are already quite developed and not nearly as dark as NamibRand.

“It’s kind of a lonely battle at the moment,” he says. Listening to Tucker, it’s hard not to think back to his Olympic experience, when he found himself in a new place, bringing an underrepresented country to the Winter Olympics—and all without much support. In both scenarios, you have to give him credit for really sticking with it.

Which brings us back to the spring of 1983. Tucker was pursuing his Ph.D. in physics at Wesleyan University, using a new technology called the tunable diode laser to measure the oxygen isotope ratios in nitrous oxide. As the 1984 Winter Olympics approached, Tucker thought back to the training site at Lake Placid. He decided to buy a $25 membership to the United States Luge Association, which would allow him access to training sessions at the track. Then he’d buy his buddies memberships as Christmas gifts so he could get revenge for some disastrous ski trips they’d taken him on. “I always got hurt,” he says. “It was the one time of the year I’d ski. So I had this evil plan: I’m gonna take them up, and they’re gonna get hurt. And, this time, I’m gonna stand there and laugh.”

Tucker next wrote to Puerto Rico’s Olympic committee, asking if he could qualify for the island’s Winter Olympics team if he became proficient enough at luge. “It was just for grins,” he says. “It was more to get the letter rejecting me.” During Tucker’s first training session at the Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex, he watched his fellow amateur lugers clumsily bang off the walls and decided they were oversteering. So he let his sled run mostly straight, and “got going really fast,” he says. But he still crashed—in three out of five runs—watching as his peers improved enough to luge from farther up the track. “I got left behind,” Tucker remembers. “It was like I failed the class.” Nevertheless, he signed up for a weeklong training camp in March. But, when the time came, warm weather melted the track, and the event was canceled.

Around that same time, a letter arrived from Puerto Rico. “My rejection letter, right?” Tucker deadpans. “I open the envelope, and it says, ‘Wonderful news, you are entered to compete in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. You will be the first Puerto Rican Winter Olympian.’” After a long what-the-hell-do-I-do-now moment, Tucker decided to follow through. There was still a chance, he thought, that he could become proficient enough at luge to qualify after all. The timing was perfect. His thesis was wrapping up, but because he was still waiting on lab results, he wouldn’t be able to get his Ph.D. until the following year. He had time to kill.

That December, Tucker went to train in Lake Placid, battering himself around on what he describes as “the worst, most dangerous track in the world.” Unlike athletes on the U.S. team, Tucker didn’t have access to protective gear like arm pads. His tendency to gash up his arms on the sides of the track quickly earned him a nickname: the Luger Who Dripped Blood. “I’d take maybe four or five runs a day,” Tucker says. “Every run I could get.” But then, at the end of the month, the track closed to everyone except U.S. Olympic athletes. Tucker knew he wouldn’t qualify with only two weeks of training under his belt, so he went to the Luge Association’s office to turn in his equipment for good.

Just as he was about to walk out of the office, another man entered. He’d seen Tucker around, and asked him what he was doing at the track. When Tucker explained that he’d wanted to represent Puerto Rico in the Olympics, the man said, “Come with me.” He was the president of U.S. Luge, and he was upset that no one had told him about Tucker (at the time, luge didn’t have the required minimum number of countries to compete in the Games and was perilously close to losing its place in them). “It’s really vital that you compete,” he told Tucker. Less than a month later, with special permission from U.S. Luge, Tucker arrived in Sarajevo early to train with the Yugoslavian Olympic luge team.

All it took was one quick chat with a reporter for Tucker to become something of a press darling. He didn’t pay much attention to the coverage—Sports Illustrateddescribed him as “the press’s favorite loser … an overweight but quick-witted doctoral student”—but he was getting plenty of it. In the U.S., he figured even more prominently than Paul Hildgartner, the Italian luger who ended up taking gold in the event.

“Trust me, I wasn’t looking for publicity,” Tucker says. “I thought it was going to end up with me splattered all over the track, so the less publicity beforehand, the better off I figured I was. I didn’t want to embarrass Puerto Rico—that was the big thing.” And then, 14 practice runs, several qualifying rounds, and a couple of actual runs later, it was over. Tucker finished 30 out of 30 (though, he points out, it was technically 30 out of 32 because two competitors crashed and were disqualified).

Just eight years later, much of Sarajevo would be destroyed during the Bosnian War. “At the time, I thought that I’d go back there someday and see all these people I’d befriended,” Tucker says. He speaks highly of his fellow lugers, having spent a lot of time with the Yugoslavian Olympians. “When you saw them all together at parties and stuff, they were wonderful,” he says. “But then it all fell apart.” Some of the Yugoslavian athletes he met have died since the war, and he’s not sure he’s ready to go back.

These days, Tucker keeps his Olympic memorabilia—sleds included—in his garage. He doesn’t talk about that time much anymore, although he did pave the way for Caribbean athletes hoping to compete in the Winter Games. “There were Puerto Rican athletes who approached me with questions about how they could represent the country,” Tucker says. “I helped about fifteen of them get started in different winter sports, and several did make it to the Olympics.” In fact, when Tucker returned to luge at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, he competed alongside Raúl Muñiz, a 31-year-old New Yorker whose parents were born in Puerto Rico. Tucker had convinced Muñiz to try luging when they bumped into each other at Lake Placid in 1984.

The Calgary Games saw another tropical team make its debut, thanks in part to Tucker’s influence. The Jamaican bobsled squad didn’t officially finish in its first stint at the Olympics. But they were crowd favorites—and, like Tucker, true underdogs—going on to qualify for every Winter Olympics through 2002. And participation among tropical nations in the Winter Olympics has been steadily growing ever since, with 16 such countries competing in the 2014 Sochi Games.

For the original report go to


Flappy Agapito, based on the famous Flappy Bird game, is a viral Puerto Rican satire based on a nickname given to Puerto Rican governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, Zachary Stieber reports for The Epoch Times

The basic concept of the game is similar to Flappy Bird but there are major difference.

For instance, the main character isn’t a bird, it’s a dollar bill with wings.

Instead of the tubes from Flappy Bird, Flappy Agapito features trashcans.

And the game starts off with the voice of the governor saying “let’s push this country forward,” reported the Latin Times. Also, every time the dolalr moves you can hear his voice say the word “deficit.”

This is one of many ways Puerto Ricans are trying to cope with the economic crisis the island is going through.

Nitza Pabon, an economics student at the Universidad de Puerto Rico and currently in her senior year, told the Times: “I think it is a very creative adaptation. I was curious and when I saw ‘Flappy Agapito’ it caught my attention and I couldn’t resist playing it. It is very well done.”

For the original report go to

Posted by: lisaparavisini | February 21, 2014

On a Caribbean Rum Trail: Travel


This article by Baz Dreisinger, a journalist and associate professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, appeared in The New York Times. For the complete report, practical travel informations, maps, and a gallery of photos follow the link below.

“Care to kiss the ground?”

The question came, with a slightly patronizing grin, from Norman Murray, local sage and tour guide in the rural parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica.

“Our visitors from Europe, America — this is a holy pilgrimage for them. So, really,” he egged me on, “feel free.”

Confession: I nearly knelt. After years of visiting Jamaica, I had at last landed in Appleton Estate, a centuries-old temple of sorts, teeming with spirits and nestled in the lush Nassau Valley.

I composed myself, and resumed the tour, moving from fermentation to distillation to tongue-titillation — a.k.a. tasting — under Mr. Murray’s erudite command. I learned how rum was born in the 17th century, when industrial waste — molasses residue from slave-era sugar production — was transformed via yeast into drinkable stuff, marketable especially in New England, where the “spirit of ‘76” so saturated American culture that George Washington demanded it at his inauguration. I also sampled molasses, met a donkey that demonstrated old-time methods for crushing cane, discovered how rum gets flavor and color (wood-barrel aging) and recorded factors affecting the final product (soil, climate, variety of cane, strain of yeast). I heard of Joy Spence, one of the rum world’s only female master blenders (“She’s all ours!” Mr. Murray affirmed). And thus this ardent rum fan did not divert from her sober — er, sometimes sober — mission: travel the Caribbean, steered by rum.

Call it rumming around: traversing three islands via the inebriating stuff — the oil of the colonial era — that, for centuries, lubricated economies and fueled bloody deeds. This string of islands may chat in disparate tongues and dance to divergent soundtracks, but one heady draft remains its common denominator: brown or white, served neat in roadside watering holes or garnished with cherries and umbrellas in tourist spots, rum yokes the region historically, culturally, intoxicatingly.

It’s also on the rise. Much as vodka did a decade ago, rum is enjoying a resurgence, with brands emerging from Connecticut to St. Croix, Australia to Trinidad. Never mind food and wine; food and rum festivals are the way to go, in destinations like Barbados, Grenada, Berlin and Rome. TheInternational Rum Council, an online community featuring awards, chat rooms and a visual “museum,” offers rum-themed cruises; there’s even a global National Rum Day, Aug. 16. Ah, liquor gentrification: an erstwhile low-class swill putatively named for “rumbullion,” meaning “great tumult,” nicknamed “kill-devil,” and described by a colonial visitor to the West Indies as “a hot, hellish and terrible liquor,” has turned trendy. All of which makes it the ideal chaperone through the Caribbean’s many faces: humble and haute, past and present.

I began my mission where many a mission was born: Goldeneye. On Jamaica’s north coast, the onetime home of the James Bond creator Ian Fleming is now a resort owned by the former Island Records impresario Chris Blackwell, the man who introduced the world to Bob Marley. These days Mr. Blackwell is promoting another Jamaican staple, which greeted me as I entered my swanky beachfront cottage: Blackwell Rum.

The bottle screamed “old-tyme pirate” — yellowing label, baroque lettering. I poured a glass on the rocks and savored its dense, caramel flavor.

“I drink it neat, and sometimes atop a nice fruit salad,” Mr. Blackwell said in a phone interview, adding that rum is the first venture he’s put his name on. It’s also a return to roots: Mr. Blackwell’s grandfather once ran J. Wray & Nephew, the Jamaican rum company that now owns Appleton, which makes Blackwell Rum; the younger Blackwell started a record label instead. In other words, had the rum industry been more alluring, the world might be devoid of many a reggae masterpiece.


Goldeneye, Mr. Blackwell told me, is his rum’s “spiritual home.” The place is matrix-like — a perfect marriage of barefoot funkiness (album-art walls, a soundtrack that veers from Bob Marley to U2) and elegance (a footbridge over the lagoon is torch-lit, illuminating the path to fine dining). My stay was punctuated by ordinary activities that become extraordinary at Goldeneye: transcendent outdoor showers under a half-moon; sublime swims in the lazy lagoon, escorted by flying fish and butterflies. Blackwell Rum was at the heart of it all. By day I sipped it with watermelon and ginger, meditating on the way sunlight pirouettes off a golden-eye mosaic in the pool; by night it marinated my lobster and coconut rice.

Following the rum route led south to Treasure Beach, a blissfully untouristy sliver of Jamaica where there are no all-inclusives or “yah, man” knickknacks. I checked into Jakes, a boutique hotel that’s really a band of fanciful cottages along six rocky acres — a place where your room experience hinges on the time of day: At what angle is the daylight reflecting off the blue bottles embedded in my outdoor shower? How fiercely does the sea splash on the crags of my deck this hour of the tide? In May, Jakes will stage Jamaica’s first food-and-rum festival — fitting for a property so close to the island’s spirits mecca.

That mecca, the Appleton Estate, seems like a tropical mirage. Set in a luxuriant landscape — 11,000 acres of swaying sugar cane, and terrain resembling an upside-down egg carton — is cumbrous industrial equipment for producing spirits. The ultimate effect, though, elevates industry: rum as testament to human innovation. “A journey through rum,” read Mr. Murray’s tour-guide shirt, and indeed it was. Appleton dates back to 1749. In the 19th century, Jamaica became the region’s leading rum producer, famous for its so-called overproof, whose extra-high alcohol content made it easier to ship. Nowadays overproof is almost exclusively a local thing, accounting for some 90 percent of rum sales here.

“I use it,” said Mr. Murray, holding a bottle of Wray & Nephew overproof to his nose, “to clear sinuses. For headaches. And to clean my tub. Just don’t strike a match nearby when doing that.”

The climax of our tour came in a reggae-infused bar: 13 varieties for tasting, including one standout — Berry Hill, flavored with pimento.

“Don’t be shy, folks.” Mr. Murray decreed. “We’ve got more. Keep drinking!”

I did, on another island. After the rugged terrain of Jamaica, Barbados’s flatness was striking. Such topography is ideal for cultivating cane. Barbados is one of the region’s only coral limestone islands, said to lend an inimitable flavor to the water used in rum production.

I arrived in time for the annual Food & Wine and Rum Festival in November: sumptuous fêtes, rum tastings and classes by chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Ming Tsai — and Paul Yellin, known as the Rhum Chef. Barbados-raised and author of the cookbook “Infusion! Spirited Cooking,” Mr. Yellin agreed to rum around with me on the island that boasts of having invented the stuff. This is dubious — the liquor was likely invented in many places, around the same time — but Barbados can claim one of the earliest documented uses of the word, in a 1658 plantation deed. As the onetime capital of sugar, Barbados developed a robust rum culture. One colonial settler deemed his companions “such great drunkards” that they would “buy their drink although they go naked.”

I planned to remain clothed, and slightly sober. Mr. Yellin had other ideas about this last bit.

“Breakfast in one distillery, lunch in another. And definitely more rum for dinner,” he explained, picking me up in his truck after sunrise. Breakfast never made it past the car: fish cakes with tangy pepper sauce that I devoured as we traversed a cane field. We toured the Foursquare Rum Distillery and Heritage Park, a sugar plantation turned modern factory. Wandering through the Willie Wonka-like plant and grounds, dotted with guava trees and pastel lampposts, home to a “folk museum” and a gallery of outmoded sugar-production tools, Mr. Yellin noted an irony: Once rum was the extra stuff made from the real moneymaking crop, but our globalized economy turned this on its head. Sugar, no longer profitable in the Caribbean, is now a footnote to today’s cash cow: rum.

I noted another irony at Mount Gay Visitor Center, in the capital of Bridgetown and home to the brand’s bottling and final distillation process. “There’s a Time and a Place,” declared the logo upon entry, and indeedMount Gay markets history with taste: Sir John Gay Alleyne, the company’s founder, is considered the father of Barbadian rum. After a rum punch welcome and a historical film, Mr. Yellin suggested we get right down to what the cruise-ship hordes come for: tastings.

All Mount Gay rums, I learned, are blends of distillates and none are age-specified — “it’s ready when its ready,” goes the logo. Rum matures faster than whiskey; unlike wine, it stops aging once it leaves the barrel. At the aroma bar, stooping before scented bowls, I learned what to taste for, in Mount Gay brands I’d never seen in an American bar: banana, almond, vanilla. The brand’s newest debut became my favorite: Black Barrel, finished in charred bourbon oak barrels. Here lies a delectable flavor that’s fruity, spicy, peppery — alcoholic fruitcake in a snifter.

But back to that irony. It hit me after our on-site lunch and dessert of local chocolate (accompanied by rum, naturally), as we passed through the rum museum honoring Bajan activities and events that go well with Mount Gay: domino-playing, sailing and Crop-Over, a festival once marking the end of the cane-harvesting season, now the island’s annual carnival. Ogling the extravagant costumes, I meditated on the manic-depressive vagaries of Caribbean history: a drink born in suffering — on the backs of slaves — is born again as fuel for an exultant, life-affirming ritual.

Irony intensified as Mr. Yellin and I made our way up the well-heeled west coast, past Sandy Lane, home to an upscale hotel and Barbados’s unofficial tourist attraction: Rihanna’s gazillion-dollar mansion. Through flocks of children in smart school uniforms, we reached the rural north and landed in the colonial Caribbean — St. Nicholas Abbey, 400 acres of cane fields, mahogany forests, mango trees and a Jacobean mansion built in 1658. From drawing room to dining room, slave records to family tree — one owner, John Yeamans, bears the ignoble legacy of having introduced slavery to the Carolinas — the place was hauntingly immaculate. So was its namesake rum, produced on-site in a mini-distillery. I tasted three varieties and decided the pepper rum, for seasoning, was quite the treat. Mildly tipsy, I walked the grounds. Cane reached clouds; the sun set crimson. It all seemed like a movie set: old sugar mill, sapphire sky, eerie calm. This beauty confounded me: How to juxtapose it with the dastardly deed at its core?

Such is the reality of Barbados’s past. It’s said that 17th-century Bridgetown boasted one “tippling house” per 20 residents; nowadays the number of rum shops dotting the island is disputable, but all agree on one answer: many. Between swim stops at spectacular beaches, I drove through countryside populated by small chattel houses, testing bar stools from one end of the island to the other. My haunts bore names like De Nest Bar and Hide Away, Survival Bar and Marshall’s — the latter owned, naturally, by Marshall, brother to a cricket player whose photo adorns the bar. One had a sign reading, “abusive language not allowed”; another had room for just a single stool; all were populated by motley regulars, debating elections and cricket in the same breath. On the Atlantic side I relished Bathsheba, where the views become cliffside dramatic. There I drank Mount Gay and coconut water with an eye on the frothy sea. Next thing I knew I was dancing to soca music in a rum shop just past the barber shop, to the left of the roundabout; then I was dancing while devouring something heavenly called “pickled seacat,” which is actually a ceviche of octopus.

Just when I thought I had a handle on rum, I discovered rhum. Enter Martinique, elegant French island, home to cane and banana fields, a hikable volcano, black-sand beaches — and a nationalistic, revisionary rum legacy.

I was schooled during a tour of La Favorite, near the island’s capital, Fort-de-France. There are 11 distilleries on the island, seven still producing rum. La Favorite, one of two family-owned ones, exhibits a 1905 steam engine, still powering the whole shebang, in a humble factory that looks, from the visitor’s trail above, like the inside of a grand old clock. A defining feature of all Martinican distilleries stands nearby: a distillation column, cap made of copper, as per regulation. Regulation? Indeed: from the French government, which granted Martinican rum the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC: a designation given to fine agricultural products like cognac and cheese. This means that La Favorite is governed by exacting protocols about such things as permitted cane (only 12 varieties, to be cut and crushed on the same day) and aging process: white rum ages at least eight weeks in metal vats; dark rum, 12 to 18 months in oak barrels; rhum vieux, old rum, a minimum of three years.

I explained to my guide that I was familiar with the production process, having just come from Jamaica and Barbados. Grand faux pas.

“Madame,” Emmanuelle said. “They make rhum industriel in those islands. Only the French make our rum — the rhum agricole.”

Ah, oui, oui, I reassured her. Rhum agricole, like Brazilian cachaça, is made not from molasses but the cane juice itself, which the French tell us is truer to the sugar flavor.

(“Rhum industriel? Ha!” Mount Gay Ambassador Chesterfield Brown had muttered during his tasting session at the Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival. “There’s nothing industrial about our rum.”)

In the end, it’s a matter of taste. Distinguished by alcohol level, color, age and, like wine, terroir, rhum agricole is earthier than my beloved Appleton. The whites had a sweet, flowery flavor; the extra-olds, unique vintages, evoked maple and coffee.

But in Martinique the taste of the rum was beside the point; the distillery was everything. Rum touring in Martinique rivals Napa wine jaunts.

I crammed six tours into three days. On the rugged Atlantic side — crossing rivers and bridges, past E.U. flags and through South of France-style villages — there was Rhum JM: all sleek lines and green tiles and modish tasting bar lit by straw chandeliers. Nearby Saint-James, the biggest, was overrun by French tourists lining up for rides through the cane fields on a Disneyesque “sugar train.” In its museum in a 19th-century Creole house, I pondered rum’s iconography: old ads depicting happy plantations with cheerful slaves, women with madras headwraps and seductive smiles. My musings led to a dialogue with Michel Fayad, distillery manager and former history teacher.

“Our whole history is wrapped up in this alcohol,” he said. “But what is it? Depends who you ask, yes? For the European visitors, it’s holiday. To the bekes” — white Martinicans, colonial descendants who still run the bulk of the island’s economy and all but one of its distilleries — “rum is pride. To blacks, locals, it’s also colonialism, slavery, alcoholism, sadness. We drink Champagne at weddings. Rum is for funerals.”

On the west coast, in the village of Le Carbet, is petite Neisson, where cane is cut by hand, and the mother-and-son team who run the place served up the ultra-crisp L’Esprit.

Then, past patisseries and roadside jus de cane stands, I landed in edenic Depaz, in the foothills of Mount Pelée, the volcano whose 1902 eruption turned the city of St. -Pierre from the Paris of the West Indies, as the bustling port was known, to its Pompeii. I’d been gawking at Mount Pelée since I arrived, but it played hide-and-seek behind clouds. At Depaz I stood beside it — fully, gloriously in view. A stroll through the property had me feeling like Alice in Wonderland: the Caribbean beckoned on one side, cane fields on the other; crowning it all was Le Château Depaz, a Gatsbyesque mansion rebuilt from volcanic stones by Victor Depaz — called mad for setting up shop on the doorstep of a volcano that had only just spewed lava, ruining the old estate and leaving a lone survivor, a prisoner in the underground jail, serving eight days for a drunken brawl and thus said to have been saved by — what else? — rum.

On the final day of my journey, even my morning coffee was rum. Well, rum cream, consumed at Habitation Clément, a plantation with botanical gardens, a Creole house and an art gallery. The flavors and blends sold alongside traditional Clément rums are dazzling: coffee, chocolate, mojito, coconut, guava, cherry.

But during an audio tour that thoroughly covered rum history and production — maps, diagrams, photo exhibits, French-accented voice-overs — I decided that here lay the educational apex of distillery-hopping. I wandered through the plantation’s sculpture garden and, reflecting on the legacy of the liquid I’d been trailing, spotted something remarkable: blood on the leaves. A massive red statue of the word “Blood,” poised before a picture-perfect cane field. It evoked, of course, the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit,” about lynchings in a pastoral Southern landscape: “Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,” she sang. This scene, stunning yet haunted by perennial pain, struck me as perfect homage: Behold a spirit whose legacy contains all the paradoxes and complexity of the wistfully beautiful region that gave birth to it so long ago.

For the original report go to


This book review by Teju Cole appeared in The New York Times.

“Writing poetry is an unnatural act,” Elizabeth Bishop once wrote. “It takes skill to make it seem natural.” The thought is kin to the one John Keats expressed in an 1818 letter to his friend John Taylor: “If Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.” Bishop and Keats both evoked a double sense of “natural”: that which is concerned with nature, with landscape, flora and fauna, and that which is unforced and fluent. In both senses, Derek Walcott is a natural poet.

Walcott, who turned 84 this year, began writing young. His first poem appeared in a local paper when he was 14, and his first volume, “25 Poems,” was self-published when he was 18. “Everyone wants a prodigy to fail,” Rita Dove wrote. “It makes our mediocrity more bearable.” Walcott did not fail. His early poems were expert, and even though they bore traces of his apprenticeship to the English tradition (in particular W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas), they were to prove thematically characteristic. Right from the beginning, he was keen to use European poetic form to testify to the Caribbean experience. This commitment made him a part of the boom in 20th-century Caribbean literature, a gathering of talents that included Édouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, Aimé Césaire and Maryse Condé on the French-­speaking side; and Samuel Selvon, George Lamming and C. L. R. James from the English-speaking islands, as well as the Trinidad-born V. S. Naipaul, with whom Walcott was one of the Caribbean’s two Nobel Prize winners for literature.

“The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013” does not contain all of Walcott’s poems, nor is it the first edited selection from his oeuvre. “Collected Poems 1948-1984” was a midcareer reckoning. The 300-page “Selected Poems” might have seemed, on its publication in 2007, a summation. The present volume doubles that page count. It includes many more of the earliest poems, a strong selection from “White Egrets,” Walcott’s 2011 volume, and in general more poems from every phase of his 65-year career. The notable exception is the epic poem “Omeros,” which was presumably omitted to avoid having to break its narrative flow.

Walcott pays indefatigable attention to the look of things, and writes with a spendthrift approach to the word-hoard. These lines from “The Prodigal” are typical:

The ceaseless creasing of the morning sea,
the fluttering gamboge cedar leaves allegro,
the rods of the yawing branches trolling the breeze,
the rusted meadows, the wind-whitened grass,
the coos of the stone-colored ground doves on the road,
the echo of benediction on a house —

This is poetry written with a painterly hand, stroke by patient stroke. Walcott’s early ambition was to paint, to inhabit the “virginal, unpainted world” of the Caribbean and take on, like some latter-day Adam, the “task of giving things their names.” He learned the basics of watercolor painting, and it became his most serious pastime; his book jackets through the years have featured his gentle and competent paintings of tropical country scenes. But poetry was the deeper and more substantial practice. He brought the patient and accretive sensibility of a realist painter to his poems. They are great piles of intoxicating description, always alert to the demands of meter and form, often employing rhyme or slant rhyme, great layers of adjectives firming up the noun underpainting. He names painters as his exemplars more often than he names poets: Pissarro, Veronese, Cézanne, Manet, Gauguin and Millet roll through the pages. And he embraces the observed particular as ardently as any Flemish painter might. As he wrote in the poem “Midsummer,” only half jokingly, “The Dutch blood in me is drawn to detail.”

From time to time, this love of description can strike false notes. “The Man Who Loved Islands,” from the 1982 book “The Fortunate Traveller,” is marred by poor attempts at American vernacular. Early volumes like “The Castaway” and “The Gulf” would have benefited from some compression. But at other times, the writing leaves mere lyricism far behind and rises to the level of prophetic speech, as in the extraordinary poem “The Season of Phantasmal Peace.” One inescapable conclusion from reading hundreds of pages of Walcott at once is the feeling that this is the lifework of an ecstatic. What if the descriptions do go on a bit? What else would one rather be doing?

Something of spiritual import did happen to the young Walcott, an experience he set down when he was older, in the seventh chapter (curiously omitted from the present book) of the autobiographical book-length poem “Another Life”:

About the August of my fourteenth year
I lost my self somewhere above a valley
owned by a spinster-farmer, my dead father’s friend.
At the hill’s edge there was a scarp
with bushes and boulders stuck in its side.
Afternoon light ripened the valley,
rifling smoke climbed from small labourers’ houses,
and I dissolved into a trance.
I was seized by a pity more profound
than my young body could bear, I climbed
with the labouring smoke,
I drowned in labouring breakers of bright cloud,
then uncontrollably I began to weep,
inwardly, without tears, with a serene extinction
of all sense; I felt compelled to kneel,
I wept for nothing and for everything

The power of the passage is not only in its strong evocation of an instance of sublimity, but also in the modulation of the recollection: the Dantean opening, the apt but unexpected split of “my” from “self,” and the uncontrolled syntax of “then uncontrollably I began to weep.” Epiphany became Walcott’s favored mode, his instinct, even as he struggled to satisfy each poem’s competing demands of originality and necessity. In “White Egrets,” a supremely controlled collection dominated by an elegiac mood, a welcome epiphany intrudes, often heralded by the word “astonishment” or “astonished”:

The perpetual ideal is astonishment.
The cool green lawn, the quiet trees, the forest
on the hill there, then, the white gasp of an egret sent
sailing into the frame then teetering to rest

Walcott has few equals in the use of metaphor. In his imagination, each thing seems to be linked to another by a special bond, unapparent until he points it out, permanently fresh once he does. Most of these metaphors he uses just once, brilliantly, discarding them in the onrush of description. The fine surprise in “White Egrets” of how “a hawk on the wrist / of a branch, soundlessly, like a falcon, / shoots into heaven . . . ” is not easy to forget. Nor is this, from “Midsummer”:

the lines of passengers at each trolley station
waiting to go underground, have the faces of actors
when a play must close . . .

Other metaphors he repeats with Homeric confidence through the years, and they are like irregular watermarks that place a subtle proprietary brand on his work: the night sky’s similarity to a perforated roof, the coin-like glimmer of rivers or seas, the way city blocks bring paragraphs or stanzas to mind.

But best of all are those metaphors he grounds in the rudiments of his craft, in grammar and syntax: when “dragonflies drift like a hive of adjectives,” when he imagines his late father pausing “in the parenthesis” of the stairs, or when “like commas / in a shop ledger gulls tick the lined waves.”

The reader imagines Walcott, as he sets these striking images down, mentally shuttling between the fact of the world and the fact of the poem. Often, he is evoking the sea’s activity, or the sky’s, and making analogies with his own practice of describing it.

And so it is that on the last poem on the last page of this largehearted and essential book, the two realities finally merge. The natural poet dissolves, astonished, into nature, “as a cloud slowly covers the page and it goes / white again and the book comes to a close.”


Selected by Glyn Maxwell

617 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $40.

For the original report go to

Posted by: lisaparavisini | February 21, 2014

An Evening with Ruben Blades


Join the Instituto Cervantes in New York City  for an evening with:

                   Rubén Blades (musician)
                   Edgar Borges (writer)
                   Ignacio Latasa (publisher)

Following the publication in 2013 of the e-book Vínculos. Apuntes con
Rubén Blades
, musician Rubén Blades and Venezuelan writer
Edgar Borges will discuss music and literature.
Moderated by publisher Ignacio Latasa.

In collaboration with: Editorial Leer-e

                      In Spanish with simultaneous translation.
Wine reception to follow.

General Admission $10 – ICNY Members: Free.

Buy Tickets – View Info

                     211 East 49th St, New York, NY 10017
Tel.  212 308 7720

Posted by: ivetteromero | February 21, 2014

Conservation Groups Request Speeding up Sea Turtle Analysis


Four conservation groups say they’ll sue the National Marine Fisheries Service because it’s taking too long to analyze shrimping’s effects on threatened and endangered sea turtles.

The groups contend that shrimp nets in the Gulf of Mexico kill more than 45,000 sea turtles a year and want the agency to bar shrimp trawling there until it completes its analysis. They also want to make Louisiana enforce federal rules requiring turtle escape hatches in shrimp nets, which shrimpers say let much of their catch escape as well. State law now bars agencies from doing so.

The letter sent Wednesday began a 60-day settlement period required before suing under the Endangered Species Act.

The division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration doesn’t comment about pending or active litigation, spokeswoman Allison Garrett said in an email. She said the analysis is underway. “NOAA has known there is a problem with the number of sea turtles stranding and being killed in the Gulf since the spring of 2010,” said Eric Bilsky, an attorney with Oceana, one of the groups involved. “And so, when we are coming on the spring of 2014, ‘We’re working on it’ is not enough. We need to know when it’s going to get done and we need it done soon. And we need the analysis not just to be an analysis; we need to know what specific steps NOAA is going to take to make sure that sea turtles are not getting killed anymore.”

Reports of turtle strandings increased from fewer than 100 a year from 2002 through 2009 to about 600 in 2010 and hundreds a year since. Last year 545 were reported through Aug. 25, according to the NOAA Fisheries website. However, because a closer watch has been kept since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the significance of the numbers is unclear.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Sea Turtle Conservancy joined the letter of intent sent Wednesday to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and three NOAA officials.

Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, responded by email: “Two words … ‘NOT GUILTY.’ ” He said shrimpers do all they can to protect sea turtles without killing their own business. [. . .]

For full article, see

Posted by: ivetteromero | February 21, 2014

Film: Ernesto Daranas’ “Conducta”


Conducta is the latest film by Cuban filmmaker Ernesto Daranas. This drama had its premiere at the Chaplin movie theatre on February 4, 2014, and has continued to play in the leading movie theaters in Cuba. Cecilia Crespo writes:

The movie is a call to reflection which intends to sensitize the viewer through the topic it addresses: the story of a teacher about to retire who is the only guide of an eleven years old boy who lives alone with his addicted mother. The film narrates Carmela and Chala’s drama, the special relation of this teacher with her students, specifically with the latter, a boy who has to face a tough life. Carmela is his mentor and adviser. The film’s plot begins to develop when she got sick and has to abandon classes, when returning she realizes that everything has changed, even the boy’s behaviour.

The film, co-produced by RTV Comercial, ICAIC (Spanish acronym of Cuban Film Institute) and the Ministry of Culture, shows a poor and rough context in which the characters have learned to survive according to occasions and adversities.

Daranas, whom we remembered by multi-awarded film ¨Los dioses rotos¨ (2008), insists in delving through his work in complex and painful issues, little addressed in current Cuban audiovisual. He explores problems of human sensibility in hostile events and circumstances.

The character of Carmela is played by renowned actress Alina Cruz, who declared feeling satisfied by her performance. According to her it is very well written and allowed her to express much what she wanted to transmit through her work. Her first job, before becoming actress, was precisely teaching, so she used her experience in that field to build the character.

Actresses Miriel Cejas and Yuliet Cruz make up the cast together with a group of children without acting knowledge, which was a great challenge for the completion of the film. The script also belongs to Daranas, photography direction is by Alejandro Pérez, and Eric Grass is the art director, while Osmany Olivare is in charge of the soundtrack.

¨Conducta¨ is a movie made by children but infants are not its main target. It is addressed to adults to make them think on core issues as education, values lost, ethic conflicts, responsibility, manners, feelings, and all that we have lost and can still get back, both in and outside the classroom. The film works as a timely call of attention to our society, to which what we must preserve and also recover, for the benefit of future Cuban generations.

For full article, see

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