wish list: faraway, so close

13063619536535391028_1If you’re like me you’ve long dreamed of Cuba, the faraway, so close island off the coast of Florida that’s been off-limits to US citizens for more than fifty years. Rich in history, culture, and all that glorious music, it’s an American traveler’s version of Snuffleupagus: a rare creature able to be seen by everybody but us. Insight Cuba, a leader in small group people-to-people travel, is about to change all that. As travel to this enigmatic island is made legal for only the third time in fifty years, this licensed tour operator has me salivating at the chance to explore the once-forbidden island with a sweepstakes, running now through June 17th. To take part, ‘Like’ the Insight Cuba Facebook page and enter via the “Win a Trip to Cuba for Two” tab at the top. A winner will be selected at random on June 18th and receive a free trip for two on the tour of their choice: Undiscovered Cuba, Cuban Music & Art or Classic Cuba. The grand prize includes round-trip airfare from Miami to Havana; first-class accommodations, meals and activities; an Insight Cuba tour leader and Cuban guide; entrance fees; in-country ground transportation and transfers; 24-hour emergency service and maybe most important of all, a U.S. Department of the Treasury License and Letter of Authorization. Underdeveloped, stubbornly unchanged for decades, the revolution and the resulting embargo may have decimated the travel industry in Cuba, but it didn’t kill it. And the irresponsible policies of our own government have done nothing to squelch the abiding curiosity about our neighbors 90 miles to the south.

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One of the chief attractions at Carnival is the music. Mostly it’s ear-splitting, bass-thumping soca cracking the air from flat bed trucks piled high with amplifiers. But every so often along comes a steel pan band, which miraculously manages to make a raft of cut down oil drums sound like an orchestra.

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at the theatre: once

With some shows it’s love at first sight – or sound. Others slyly creep up on you after the fact, infecting you like a virus. Still others out and out break your heart for one misguided reason or another. But most frustrating of all are the shows you want to love that wind up leaving you cold. So went my heart at Once, the slender new musical which seems to have lost its way in an over-produced transfer of the well-received production at New York Theatre Workshop. For anyone who hasn’t seen the moody and romantic film on which it’s based, it’s the story of a socially disconnected Irish busker and an immigrant girl who meet and over the course of three Dublin days enjoy a mutual love affair with music and – unconsummated - each other. Simple, spare and elegant, it’s a film about the power of music and the redemptive effect of having someone believe in you when you no longer believe in yourself. When the film’s two leads, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – who had gone on to become partners in life as well – won an Oscar for Best Song (the hypnotic Falling Slowly) it seemed to bring the story full circle. What gets lost in the stage version is the Spartan elegance that lets you feel for the characters without being told what you should feel. Director John Tiffany relocates the action to a Dublin pub and suddenly we’re all pullin’ for pints, so we are. Feel free to go up on stage before the show and grab a drink. If that’s not twee enough for you, there’s a ceilidh band onstage to Oirish up the joint even more. (Don’t worry if you show up late, the whole noxious process will repeat itself at intermission.) Despite this annoying tendency to tart things up for Broadway – not to mention the now cloying trend of actors doubling as the band – there are a pair of wonderful performances by Steve Kazee and Cristin Miloti as – don’t choke – Boy and Girl. They share great chemistry  – and even better voices. If Once were built around their artistic collaboration this could be the stuff of fairy tales, as the title subtly implies. But Enda Walsh’s lumbering book skews the focus towards something far less interesting, another boy meets girl, boy loses girl story. A handful of barely sketched secondary characters make lame attempts at comic relief but it comes at the expense of dragging the story down to a leaden pace.  I’m wondering if the show ran with an intermission off-Broadway, too, or if what’s happening uptown is a just a bloated excuse to sell merchandise and drinks. Either way, a judicious bit of dramaturgy would have served this production well. If anything, Once highlights a problem specific to many a fairytale: let them go on too long and they eventually turn into nightmares.

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every day a parade

Twice-daily a boat arrives from the St. Kitts “mainland,” ferrying resort guests and provisions to the dock on Pinney’s Beach. Here at Four Seasons Resort Nevis even such quotidian occurrences are treated as cause for celebration. Colorfully-clad locals and the island’s best string band line the gangway in a scene straight out of Fantasy Island. As the sounds of jazz and bluegrass build to a crescendo the welcoming party unexpectedly transforms itself into a parade, dancing across beach and into the resort’s lobby. With a welcome like this, who needs Mardi Gras?

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taking pictures of you taking pictures

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wish list: in vino vibrato

Sonor Wines is the brainchild of Viennese food and wine expert – and horn player – Markus Bachmann. His pioneering method exposes wine to music during fermentation – a process that, according to its inventor, refines the finished product. Bachmann explains that once in the steel fermentation tanks, a biochemical reaction is set in motion by the tiny vibrations triggered by sound waves. He also believes that varieties of wine which have been treated using this technique contain less sugar, have a fuller flavor and are more drinkable. Different genres of music are also said to give the wines different characteristics. In principle, this means any type of music can be used, from symphonic works to hunters’ classics, waltz and polka melodies and even Viennese folk sounds like Schrammelmusik. The process has been put to the test in Vienna’s Wienbauschule Klosterneuburg on a Grüner Veltliner, but no reports yet on whether it bears similar results to playing Mozart in utero. However, a number of leading growers have taken the plunge and put the new approach into practice, including Vienna-based producers Peter Uhler and Franz-Michael Mayer, who have already bottled the first generation. If music be the food of wine, I say, play on.

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video: fado, fado, fado, fado

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Not to get too dramatic but fado is a song of the sea and by extension the Portuguese soul. The word comes from the Latin fatum, which means fate or destiny. For a style of music that’s all about embracing what destiny brings it couldn’t be more appropriately named. Disappointments in love, the longing for someone who has gone away, all are fodder for Fado; so, too, are the everyday joys and pleasures of life. The ingredients for good fado are simple:  a shawl, a guitar, and a voice ripe with emotion.  What I found so fascinating about this music on my last night in Portugal is that it’s ancient but not antiquated; sad, but not unhappy; dark, but not grey.  And if you think it’s camp, think again: fado is pure feeling, set to music.  When an audience feels it, they swoon, unable to resist mouthing the words or singing along. As the video below shows, even the cook – who spent the evening in the open kitchen singing along with three successive fadistas – couldn’t resist the urge to step in front of the restaurant and share her feelings after the headliners were finished. That’s fado.  And that, too, dear readers, is Portugal.

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