Colon Cemetery in Havana.

Colon Cemetery: Havana’s Work of Art

When I saw our itinerary for our “people-to-people” cultural tour of Cuba (one of the only legal ways to visit Cuba as an American), the one event out of all that I was the least excited about was the visit to a cemetery. To me, visiting cemeteries are rather morbid and oftentimes depressing. Unless of course you are at the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, who wants to see a bunch of grave stones while you are happily enjoying a vacation?

Our morning visit to the famous Colon Cemetery or Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón as it is called in Spanish, proved that not only was I completely wrong but that cemeteries can be actually quite a beautiful place loaded with gorgeous architecture, flowers, history and art. If you have to be buried, then there isn’t a more beautiful place than the Colon Cemetery in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana.

Founded in 1871 as the prosperous Spanish colony began expanding its architectural works into new posh neighborhoods and theaters, train stations, markets, hotels and parks, the Colon Cemetery was built on top of the existing Espada Cemetery and named after Christopher Columbus, the Spaniard who “discovered” Cuba. The Colon Cemetery was based on a project designed by Calixto Aureliano de Loire y Cardoso, a Spanish architect who lived in Cuba. Sadly, he died only two years after starting the project and was one of the first people buried in the cemetery.

Colon Cemetery in Havana.

The beautiful church at Colon Cemetery in Havana.

The Colon Cemetery is known as the third most important cemeteries in the world based on its glorious architecture and history. In Latin America, it is the second most important cemetery after La Recoleta in Buenos Aires that I have also seen. Both are equally beautiful yet in drastically different ways.

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Fusterlandia Havana Cuba

A Look into Cuban José Fuster’s Fantasyland Fusterlandia

One of the true joys of going on a people-to-people tour in Cuba was the fascinating look inside the real life and culture of Cubans. Our first cultural visit occurred on the very day we arrived in Havana after a charter flight from Miami that morning. We were met at the airport by our fabulous, charismatic Cuban guide Abel, and taken to see the work and community art of Cuba’s most celebrated ceramic artist, José Rodriguez Fuster, at his outdoor ceramic fantasyland “Fusterlandia”.

A step inside “Fusterlandia” is like taking a walk inside a Disneyland of art. The entire community surrounding José Fuster’s studio and home is decorated in Fuster’s unique style of mixing painting and ceramic and it is utterly surreal.

Fusterlandia Havana Cuba

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El Presidio Tucson

Exploring the Barrios of Tucson: El Presidio

Tucked away discretely behind the tall buildings of Downtown Tucson lies the oldest barrio of all: El Presidio.  This neighborhood is where Tucson all began as a modern-day city. Although Tucson was established thousands of years ago by the Hohokam Indian (c. 700-900 A.D.), in the 1700’s Tucson was taken over by Spanish missionaries and soldiers establishing Tucson as an important Spanish colonial outpost.

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

Entrance to El Presidio Museum and site.

In 1775, Captain Hugo O’Conor who was of Irish descent but working for the Spanish army, selected a piece of land to the east side of the Santa Cruz River to build a presidio, or fortress.  The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson was built over the next eight years with adobe walls which enclosed an area to protect people inside the fort from Apache attacks.  Inside the presidio were homes, barracks and stables as well as a cemetery and several plazas. (Source: City of Tucson historical files).

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

Mural painting of El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio remained intact until 1856 when the Americans entered Tucson and it was no longer needed. Soon after, it was dismounted and the last standing wall was torn down in 1918.  Parts of the original walls of the presidio have been uncovered during various archeological digs and today a small museum remains on the site of the original presidio. ”The Old Pueblo,” as the adobe-walled Tucson Presidio became known, became one of Tucson’s beloved nicknames for the city.

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio. Tucson, Arizona

El Presidio. Tucson, ArizonaSurrounding the original grounds of El Presidio lies Tucson’s first barrio (neighborhood) to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. El Presidio is where Tucson began and many of the structures date from the 1860s on after the Presidio was torn down. Homes, shops and stores line El Presidio barrio today and most remain as they were originally built in architectural styles common of that time period ranging from Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American to Eclectic.

Walking down the streets of El Presidio reminded me of being on a street somewhere in Central America. Buildings were colored in bright hues of pinks, reds, greens and creams, and were all in various stages of disrepair which added to the charm and picturesque nature of this part of town.

El Presidio TucsonRestaurants….and art

El Presidio TucsonA must visit in the El Presidio barrio is The Tucson Museum of Art followed by lunch or dinner at the delightful, bohemian Café á la C’Art. Recently named on Food and Wine‘s list of the best museum restaurants in the country, we randomly stumbled upon this gorgeous Southwestern eatery all by chance, and what an amazing treasure of a restaurant it is!

Step inside the restaurant and you are bound to be surprised….

El Presidio Tucson

Yet I enjoyed the beautiful back terrace for enjoying our delicious lunch. El Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonI loved my grilled portabella mushroom sandwich with goat cheese. El Presidio Tucson

Just a few steps behind the restaurant is the entrance to the Tucson Museum of Art. El Presidio TucsonAfter a fulfilling, savory lunch it was time to walk it off and tour El Presidio barrio. Once again, I was thrilled to see so many lovely murals and many noteworthy historical homes and mansions set from another era in time.

El Presidio Tucson

Exploring this historic barrio is fascinating as many of Tucson’s oldest homes dating from 1860 to 1920 remain. The architecture of the homes are exceptionally interesting given they were constructed in the styles prevalent of the times including Sonoran, Transformed Sonoran, Transitional Territorial, Mission Revival and Craftsman Bungalow (Source: The Tucson Historic Neighborhood Guide).   The homes are a sharp contrast from the typical Tucson home made either of stucco or adobe style which makes a visit to El Presidio barrio all the more fun.

El Presidio Tucson

El Presidio Tucson

El Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio TucsonEl Presidio Tucson

Are you a history buff and craving more information on El Presidio’s past? If so, I found these sites with really cool historical information that I used to help write the post:

Getting there:

El Presidio Historic District is roughly bounded by W. 6th St., W. Alameda St., N. Stone Ave. and Granada Ave. in downtown Tucson, Arizona. The Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N Main Ave., offers tours of the historic block in the district on which the museum is located. Call 520-624-2333 or visit the museum’s website for further information.

Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701. (520) 624-2333. www.tucsonmuseumofart.org

Café á la C’Art, 140 N. Main Ave., is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Dinner is served from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

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A World View

Different Walks of Life: Interview with Cartographer Doug Crews-Nelson

Author’s note: I have decided to start a new series called “Different Walks of Life” where I interview an interesting person who is either an artist, humanitarian, traveler or someone doing something awesome with their life. We all get tired of the 9-5 grind. So here is my chance to showcase different people and highlight their inspiring work. 

Meet Doug Crews-Nelson, a Cartographer/Artist from Madison, Wisconsin, who is just beginning to promote his ingenious maps for sale. As Madison is my alma mater (I went to school at University of Wisconsin-Madison and met my husband there) of course I had to support a fantastic local artist whose work is fabulous.

A World View by Doug Crews-Nelson

A World View by Doug Crews-Nelson

Doug was kind enough to send me one of his maps and of course I had to choose the Paris Map (shown below) as Paris holds a special bond within my heart. I lived and studied there my junior year of University. The map is utterly gorgeous and I can hardly wait to frame it and hang inside my home. There are many more beautiful maps to choose from and this is only the beginning.

CULTURE

The Arts and Carts of DC

I recently spent five days in our nation’s capital, Washington DC for a conference, and had the interesting experience of staying in nearby Crystal City an “urban village” as it is called on Wikipedia that is located south of Washington DC in Arlington, Virginia.

I had spent some time there at a week-long conference years ago and that trip did not leave me with good impressions of the urban-suburban-feeling place. In fact, I hated it. Fast-forward ten years and I could not believe how much it has changed.

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The color of Guatemala

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky. – Rabindranath Tagore

There is no place on earth that has as vibrant of colors as Guatemala. From the brightly painted buildings in hues of a brilliant rainbow to the intense, magical colors of the Mayan clothing and textiles, I’ve found no place quite like Guatemala.

Here are some of my favorite photos from my trip that burst off the page with color and imagination. Since I’ve already written quite a lot about Guatemala, there will be no descriptions of these photos and it will only be a journey of colors.  Hope you enjoy!

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