In the Shadow of the Wind: Prologue

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

And it is in dying that we are born again into eternal life.

St. Francis of Assissi

Lord, make me an instrument.

If it be Your will, use me as Your pen.

Make my mind like a blank piece of paper

And write upon it Your truths and Your wisdom.

Lord, make me Your instrument.

                                                             Ann Christine Fell  1985

 Prologue

“It’s okay, Daisy Pup,” I said. The small spaniel whined. I drew her to my chest and we cuddled together. Thunder exploded in the air above our little tent. The after-rumbles faded. Seconds later rain pelted the nylon roof of my fair-weather shelter. Daisy shivered in my arms. “It’ll be okay.” I tried to convince myself.

I felt foolish. How could I have thought this was a good idea? How could I have dreamed that I would be able to withstand forty days in the wilderness? The rain turned my plan into a futile effort that bordered on the edge of insanity.

A drop of water stabbed my forehead. In the gray afternoon light, I saw hundreds of droplets hang heavily from the inside of the tent roof. The threat of a cold shower hovered inches away.

“Good Lord, Daisy—it’s going to rain inside the tent.”

There was no escape from the chill in the air. No escape from the fingers of cold that crept up from below. No escape from—“Oh, my God, the sleeping bag is wet.”

I shifted sideways in the orange tent and discovered we huddled in a growing pool of water, now about an inch deep. “Oh, God, this is crazy.”

My canine companion stood and shook.

“You need to go out?”

She wagged her stubby tail and shook again. I unzipped the door and she jumped into the deluge. I grabbed my boots and began to pull one over a damp sock. On second thought, I tied the laces together, removed my socks, and backed out of the low-slung tent. I pulled my backpack into the soggy afternoon, zipped the tent door shut, and stood barefoot in black ooze.

Daisy splashed through standing water. She located a slight rise, squatted, and relieved herself. I glanced at the sodden landscape. Water stood everywhere, and I was already soaked to the skin in the downpour. What were we to do? I turned in a circle and searched for shelter. An old railroad boxcar, the only farm structure that remained on the abandoned farm, stood behind the tent.

I stooped to look under the boxcar. We could wiggle under it. I quickly discarded that idea. The prospect of lying in muck was no better than sitting in a wet tent. Though padlocks secured the sliding doors of the boxcar, the aged wooden sides looked weathered. One ragged gap at the leading edge of the north door panel appeared almost large enough for me to wiggle inside.

I slogged to the side of the boxcar and grasped the lower edge of one wooden slat. Frantically, I tugged on the worn end. I put my entire weight behind my efforts and ripped panels, inches at a time, until the opening had grown twice as large.

“Come here, Daisy. Let’s check this out.” She was instantly at my mud-covered heels. I patted the dark floor of the boxcar, which stood forty inches off the ground. Daisy leaped. With an assist from me, she scrambled into the dark interior. I stuffed my backpack behind her, slogged to the tent and pulled my boots and the bedding into the storm. I struggled to maintain balance as I slipped back to the hole in the door and crammed the bundle of blankets inside. Then I leaned into the darkness of the abandoned car and jumped. On my stomach, legs dangling out the opening, I snaked forward a few inches. With flailing arms, I reached into the darkness in search of something to grab.

There. Something metallic. Perhaps an old piece of farm equipment. I didn’t know. I could see very little. But it didn’t budge, so I was able to pull myself into the relatively dry interior of the old boxcar. Across the car, Daisy explored the darkness through her nose. She snuffled and sneezed a couple times. I stood and felt my way around the area. After locating a pile of old shingles along the south wall, I propped the backpack on the floor beside them. I shook the bedding. All of it felt damp. My clothing was soaked through, so I wrapped the blankets and sleeping bag around my shoulders. I sat on the shingles and leaned against the wall of the boxcar.

Daisy jumped lightly onto my lap. We shared each other’s warmth as the deluge continued outside. Moments after we both settled down, I heard scratching noises inside the boxcar. Light-footed creatures scampered about the interior now that we sat still. I hugged Daisy a little tighter. I could see pinpoints of light here and there, small eyes that reflected the afternoon light filtering in through holes in the wall. Oh, my God.

Rats. Lots of them. I screamed.

“I am such a fool, Daisy. Why do you put up with me?”

She licked my chin.

I spoke to my husband Craig. “What am I going to do? I can’t do this. I can’t live without you.”

He didn’t answer. I was on my own.

Time is a funny thing. To a child, a year seems a long time. Ten years, an eternity. To a grandmother, those same ten years are but a blink of an eye. For Craig and me, a young couple in love, ten years before us was hard to visualize. But the decade passed too fast, too soon. If we had known that all our joys and memories, our plans and dreams, would have to be packed into one decade would we have spent our days differently? Would our choices have been laced with more love and wisdom, or with desperate lunacy? Based on the law of averages, we had every reason to expect several decades together.

Yet there was barely one.

“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” I railed against the universe.

Daisy whined softly and licked my chin again as if she understood. The storm mirrored the anguish in my heart. The entire universe wept with me. “What are we going to do, girl? I don’t know where we’re heading. I only know where we’ve been.”

 

Following a series of tragic losses, at age thirty the author struggled alone in a strange and frightening world.  The young widow and bereaved mother retreated to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, she set up a solitary camp on the river bank of her family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood waters after only a few days, she faced her own mortality.

There is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells how one ordinary woman learned to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in her inner resources to conquer adversity.

To read more, order from these book suppliers or come to Art in the Park in Winfield, October 3.

https://www.watermarkbooks.com/book/9781502478375

https://bracebooks.indielite.org/book/9781502478375

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1502478374

This Whirlwind Called Life

Do you ever feel like we’re caught up in a whirlwind? Daily disasters headline every news source. Everyone feels like we’re doomed if “the other side” wins the coming election.

(And we are, aren’t we?)

I am overwhelmed with topics to consider for posts on my blog. Book reviews of memoirs written by significant characters in the 2020 dramas, highlights of critical climate situations, hopeful solutions to drawdown the carbon/greenhouse gas levels in our atmosphere, life issues, family issues—the list is so long, I am paralyzed with indecision about where to begin.

What’s a writer to do?

Maybe we need a breather. Let’s step back for a few precious moments and just think about something else. Indulge our frantic minds with something trivial and entertaining. Perhaps through perusing something unexpected, something less dire, we might actually come out with new ideas and readiness to continue onward with renewed hope and a glimmer of optimism. I hope so.

There is a weekend approaching that offers some refreshing diversion. The first days of October bring two opportunities to take a break, go a different way, rejuvenate and refresh with a bit of entertainment and social interaction of a different sort.

2019 KAC convention in WIchita, Kansas

I refer on one hand to the annual Kansas Authors Club convention, often the first weekend in October, as it is this year. For the very first time ever, the 2020 convention was planned for District 7, out in Colby, Kansas. I was looking forward to that, since my childhood years were spent in Colby. I still have good friends there, not to mention many fond memories from my early life. But when COVID hit, the convention plans switched to an online format, another first for KAC.  It’s not too late to register for this online convention. Check it out here: https://kansasauthors.org

While disappointing in one way, I am enthusiastic in another. Since online access to virtual events can be found anywhere, I can be in two places at once. The second place is the annual Art in the Park event in Winfield, which I have missed for several years. But this year, I plan to set up a table for my books.

The layout will be a little different this year due to the COVID restrictions. More space than usual will be allowed between booths. Though this is an outdoor event and the park is spacious, vendors and visitors will wear face masks.  Amble among the booths, allowing plenty of space between families and small groups of art lovers. It will still be fun–and a much needed activity during this difficult time.

Come to Island Park on Saturday, October 3, to amble through the displays. Stop at my book table. Perhaps you are someone who needs a break from the disastrous news headlines. Look to find diversion through fictional stories. Lose yourself in a book, or two, or three.

In preparation for both events that celebrate the arts and literature, I will share the introductory chapters of my three books in the next few days. In blog posts, take a look at what you might find in the virtual KAC bookroom, or at my table in Island Park.

On that first Saturday in October, don your favorite facemask and head to the park. Drop by my table to say hello. Practice your smeyeling! Perhaps a mask contest for the most unique or artistic creation is in order. Details coming soon.

 

That Open Window

Sheltering at home has not prevented or even postponed any adventures in life. Maybe it changed the route a bit. But like the proverbial door versus the window, my window opened onto an international stage and increased my exposure to international connections. And THAT, friends, is a most exciting adventure.

About a month ago, I received an email invitation to join a virtual book launch, London time! You know me and books, not to mention book launches. This book spoke to my heart, Every Woman’s Guide to Saving the Planet, by Natalie Isaacs. I had to make that Zoom launch.

With no clear recollection of the date I first learned about Natalie Isaacs and her Australian-based environmental group 1 Million Women, I do remember being intrigued and I signed up to support the mostly Australian project in my Kansas grandmother’s heart. We all recall the horror felt in the sights and sounds of the rash of bush fires in Australia last January, as well as the bleaching of coral reefs off Australian beaches. Climate change has no boundaries on the planet. Go for it, Aussie friends!

I wanted to participate in this book launch. It had an international, boundary-ignoring appeal. So I dragged myself to my office early in the morning of August 18 to meet faces from Australia, the UK, and other nations around the world, (Spain, Philippines, Germany, Canada) as well as a few other participants in the states (Illinois, California, Arkansas, Ohio). The organization Natalie founded in 2009 has received international awards at the UN Climate Conferences.

On that Tuesday morning, at 6:30 am, Natalie Isaacs launched her book to the UK. She herself, and many other participants, spoke from Australia where it was evening already. In London, it was 12:30, lunch time, and it was morning in the west.

With a youthful countenance that belies her grandmotherly status, Natalie opened the meeting with the notion that we are talking about profound behavior changes and how to make them stick. A cosmetics manufacturer for 24 years, she had heard about the climate challenge, but believed there was nothing she could do about it. Then came 2006, and the release of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The problem became hers and she set out to learn what she could do about it.

“When you don’t know enough about something, it’s easier to do nothing,” she said.

After 2006, she did something—something simple—but she saw an amazing result and it changed her life. She discovered ways to reduce her family’s electricity consumption by 20%. She realized that climate change wasn’t somebody else’s problem. “It was about me, and about living a different way of life.”

A lot of personal witness and encouragement was shared in that one-hour Zoom call. Towards the end, she offered a few minutes of break-out time with other participants. I was thrilled to be paired with a 30-something woman, Anna, in Melbourne, Australia. How invigorating to share perspectives from opposite sides of the planet!

Wrapped tightly in a warm robe, Anna was preparing to retire for the night. Her window already revealed nighttime outside. I was first a bit puzzled why she looked cold—it’s so warm here—until I remembered that it’s winter down under!

We returned to the main group moments later to wrap up the session. Natalie Isaacs gave two important take-away thoughts.

#1: We must understand—in our hearts (the woman’s realm) as well as our heads—that everything we do shapes the world. Though individual actions and choices seem inconsequential, we must realize we are a collective! Just do something. One small act leads to another.

#2: We need to nurture a relationship with Earth, just like we do with our families and friends. When you truly love something, you fight for it. And it’s a reciprocal relationship. Earth provides everything needed for our healthy, satisfying life. “Don’t take without giving back,” Natalie said. It’s as simple as that.

I just had to have one of her books. Clicking on the links provided, I ran into the same roadblock every time. The book suppliers and outlets do not yet have delivery options in Kansas, nor I suppose, in any of the states or countries in the western hemisphere. On the Amazon website, I learned that the US launch on Amazon will occur late this month (September 2020.) However, the e-book is already available.

The book’s prologue on my Kindle described the history of 1 Million Women. I learned the organization was launched in 2009. It is the story of individual women taking on the climate crisis by changing everyday “behaviours” (habits). Sections in the book give “Toolkits” for addressing consumerism and overconsumption, food, energy, plastic use, fashion and cosmetics, economic power, the burgeoning waste stream, and travel.

There is a free app you can download on your smart devices to help discriminate between choices. (Search: 1 Million Women app).

There is no time to waste, Natalie reminds us. “No time to talk about guilt or scold ourselves.” Just do something. With action from a million women—a million women on every continent, I would add—“Together we can literally change the world.”

The Zoom meeting concluded with more music from a previous Australian Love Earth festival, Katie Noonan singing “I Am Woman” and it brought back memories of Helen Reddy’s voice: “I am strong. I am invincible.”

What are you waiting for? Please share this post. Order one of Natalie’s books. Connect with your friends. Make some new friends. Take action.

We Need More Hugs

Meadowlark Books (https://www.meadowlark-books.com/) recently sent a book I’d ordered, accompanied by a couple of bookmarks and a “Thank You” insert. On the back side was a list, “How to Hug an Author.”

I started thinking about hugs. We all need them but they’ve become scarce in this age of social distancing. A quick google search will turn up beneficial information. Family therapist Virginia Satir is credited with this: “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”

That gives us a real quandary during the pandemic. Of course we can rely on our housemates for a few genuine squeezes, and of course, we’ll reciprocate. But will it be enough to keep us sane?

What happens in a hug? More google information: “your muscles relax, circulation increases and this helps release endorphins that reduce tension and soothe discomfort. Hugs can increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, which elevate your mood and relieve depression.”

Goodness knows we need lots of that these days.

On a roll: “Hugs boost oxytocin levels to decrease stress hormones and reduce feelings of loneliness, anger, and isolation. They build trust and a sense of safety. They strengthen the immune system.”

But when your health and survival depend on keeping your distance, how do you manage to keep up with the hugs?

A local friend, instructor at the private college in town, encountered my daughter this summer while she was home for a few days. His first inclination was to wrap her in a big hug, to let her know he was glad to see her. BUT, he couldn’t do that, given all the unknowns, and unseens, and risks that are too great to be ignored. His solution was to reach toward her, keeping the prescribed distance, and draw his hand to his own chest, over his heart, with a smile. See the suggestion here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfuRYBsX9F0&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR3cyfU45kSKp1g8J5jhtymOyQF7-Q6pnw7tqWodvDRgp8eBiey0feP62nk

I have been in Zoom meetings where at the end participants all reached their open palms toward their computer/phone cameras as if they could touch those in the meeting, no matter how far they were scattered. There are ways to connect, emotionally and mentally, even without physical hugs. We benefit from little votes of confidence, nods of our worth, and respect for our efforts in life, the little hugs regardless of the way they arrive. But without a genuine physical squeeze, we may need more than 12 to prosper.

The note inside the cover of Julie Stielstra’s new release, Opulence, Kansas listed a few simple steps for “How to Hug an Author.”

  • Read a book
  • If you like a book, tell everyone—friends, family, people you meet in passing
  • Write a review of a book you enjoy and share it on social media, an online bookstore, or with your local independent bookseller!

We all need hugs. I resolve to give more bear hugs to my family, and more virtual hugs to those I encounter online, more encouragement to my distant friends with acknowledgement of their accomplishments, musically, rhetorically, physically, intellectually, and in the publishing world.

Hope to get some back!

Here’s a hug for Julie.

Opulence, Kansas This story follows a high school student as she harbors with distant relatives to heal from a family trauma. It is labeled YA (for young adults) but long past my teen years, I found it enticing. I loved that Kate was a photographer. I loved the scenes set in the underground tunnels of a town in central Kansas, much like Ellinwood. I loved that she discovered the secret that we Kansans guard so well: that there is mystical, magical beauty in our rolling hills and heavenly vistas. Kate faced lots of life’s social challenges in one short summer, almost too many to be adequately explored in the 37 chapters of the book. It left questions that made me wonder if a sequel is planned. What will Travis decide to do? Will the friendship between Kate and Travis grow? What, exactly, did Kate’s dad do that triggered his suicide? How did she come up with the book’s title? I hope there will be further stories to answer these and other questions.

Only in a Leap Year

Well, here we are. Through yet another quirk produced by Leap Day, we are six months to the day past the invigorating launch of Sonata of Elsie Lenore on February 9, 2020.

Today is another Sunday afternoon on the prairie. Only in Leap Years would you find this to be so. Six months to the day, same day of the week.

I know. Who would think of something like that?

I do. It’s a quirky attribute of my mind, looking consciously (or subconsciously) for patterns. Now this doesn’t happen to all months, due to differing lengths of various months. But February to August?

Check.

Dates match days of the week up until August 29. Only in a Leap Year.

And only in this particular Leap Year did the intervening months dissolve into obscurity. The pace of our ratrace life slowed and we sheltered at home, away from all but our most intimate contacts. It’s almost like we collectively took a long nap.

It’s time to wake up.

We’re still mired in the consternation of a deadly pandemic. The sun rises and the sun sets. We get aggravated at each other. The ills of our culture are scrutinized under a microscope. We’ve re-evaluated priorities, taken stock of where we’ve been and where we want to be. And we have little clue how to get there.

Take a deep breath.

After watching a time-leap movie last evening, I started wondering, “What if?” What if I could wrinkle up the last six-months in the space-time continuum (thank you, Madeleine L’Engle) and return to February 9?

 

What a day that was! Busy from dawn to dark with “The Last County-Wide Duet Festival,” hosting guest artists, several writer friends, Elsie’s illustrator,

Cover artist, Onalee Nicklin

concert attendees—and then performing.

At the close of the concert, Sonata of Elsie Lenore was available for the first time and I signed copies for forty minutes straight.

That was an exciting launch. But then, after catching my breath, and recuperating from the madness, before I could even consider my next project, COVID hit.

And we slammed into a wall. The world stopped spinning. And we’ve been in limbo since.

Now jump that wrinkle to today. We’re in no better place with COVID than before, and there’s no end in sight. Yet given the auspicious parallels between February 9 and August 9, I decided to revitalize Elsie with a promotion. Perhaps some of you could use a diversion to get your mind off other things. If that’s the case, I invite you to consider taking a break to read Sonata of Elsie Lenore or even Sundrop Sonata if you have yet to do that.

Toward that end, I have taken some difficult steps for someone with my distress for public scrutiny. Just so you know, I set up a brand new author page on Goodreads, (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8596325.Ann_Christine_Fell),  revised my Amazon author page, (https://www.amazon.com/author/annchristinefell) and started a Facebook page (Ann Christine Fell, author) devoted to posts about books and the writing process.

I invite you to check each of these. If you find it to your liking, follow one or more of these pages. Those of you who are so inclined can post a review, especially if you think somebody else might enjoy reading the tales.

May each of you stay healthy and evade the notorious virus. I’ll see you when we emerge from this cloud of uncertainty and face our new and improved futures.

Re-Writing Life

What do you do when your first novel receives great reviews, and people urge you to write more? That’s the real test. Last week I listened in on a live interview with Edwin Hill, author of Little Comfort and The Missing Ones. He mentioned how there is a delicious freedom with the first novel—no expectations, no deadline, nobody waiting anxiously for the arrival of the book. The second book presents the real challenge.

For subsequent works, you must write under pressure of expectations. Can I fulfill the requests of readers and maintain integrity with mywriting? Do I have more stories inside, worthy of being shared? How long will it take? And how long will the readers wait patiently for an attempt?

It was definitely a challenge to write a second novel. You’d think, now that I’d done it once, the second novel would be easier. But that was not so. It was hard, writing Sonata of Elsie Lenore.  I wanted to satisfy my readers. I needed another suspenseful tale, utilizing pianos and piano technicians as characters. I wanted to provide readers with another Izzy story.  After all, that was what several readers specifcally asked for.

But Izzy was all storied out. I tried mightily to write Elsie Lenore with Isabel Woods as the protagonist, but it just didn’t work. Maybe she could be the narrator then? That didn’t work either.

The seed of the Elsie story germinated 20 years ago, and was nourished by events since, but there was nothing quite as concrete as the events that wrote themselves in the Sundrop story. I had to introduce new characters, as well as keep the older ones, and it was HARD. It seemed that Elsie Lenore just didn’t want to sprout. Or she did, but the seedling was all twisted and wrong. The story didn’t flow. Even after I had a complete draft, and was re-working the three parts, it wasn’t coming together. I  finally realized it was because this was no longer Izzy’s story. I was trying to make it another Izzy adventure, but this story belonged to someone else. It belonged to Stefano.

And I re-wrote the entire book. Several times.

Elsie Lenore has been through so many re-writes and revisions, I have lost count, but there are 6 different outlines in my computer files. Six major revisions later, Sonata of Elsie Lenore was released–shortly before the world screeched to a halt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and that added a new layer of complication. Everything looks different through a coronavirus lens, but I hope the final product is one that readers will enjoy, as they follow Stefano Valdez from Izzy’s piano shop in Kansas to Cuba and back again. I hope they cheer him on as he grapples with major failures and shortcomings in his personal life.

It’s true that the biggest part of the writing job, is, in fact, revising and re-writing. Polish the prose. Edit for clarity and flow. Do it again and yet again. And when you realize that the story just isn’t working the way you envisioned, you have the prerogative and the privilege to start again. Indeed, more than a prerogative and a privilege, it may be more of an obligation to re-write.

This makes me think of our global situation today. Right now, our society, our culture, and our species own the same prerogative. The same obligation. The pause in life gifted to us by COVID-19 has allowed us to step back and take a look. Things just weren’t working out too well for most people–not to mention most of the living things on this planet. Were they? This is the perfect time to re-write our future. We may not receive such a chance again.

As we move from isolation cautiously back into the social realm, let’s tread carefully, step out in a different direction, and when the path forks, flip a coin and try something different. Only one thing is certain. We can’t go backwards. Forward is the only way to go.

Let’s re-write our future together.

Having Nothing is Living Free, 5

And we come to the end.

It’s hard to come to the end of a magical journey, almost as much in this review a year later as the actual trip. On this date a year ago, I returned home from my voyage to Cuba and my life has never been the same. What did I learn from those few days abroad?

Cuba is a beautiful place. The countryside, the beaches, and the centuries-old architecture possess stunning allure. Indeed, some of the sights are unique to this small island nation.

But most memorable are the people. The histories of both our countries, the US and Cuba, run parallel and continue to tantalize and twist around each other, like sensuous dancers that move synchronously across a dance floor, matching minute moves, but never touching, so close it’s impossible at times to tell which is leading and which is following.

Our local guide pointed out the common traits of the Cuban people—pragmatism, survival skills, resilience, rebelliousness, creativity, passion, motivation and compassion. These characteristics arrived in Cuba with the African slaves and by necessity through 500 years of history were infused into the entire population.

The music and art of Cuba are recognized worldwide. Cubans excel as well in medicine and medical research. This small country is highly educated with an admirable literacy rate. Talented people devote their lives to advancements in their various fields.

When I was young, five decades ago, almost everywhere I traveled with my parents we found trinkets and cheap souvenirs stamped with the words “Made in Japan.” It was common knowledge that anything manufactured in Japan was cheap, substandard, and not durable.

That is not the case today! Products in the world market today which originate in Japan are highly regarded as top quality items. What brought about this change? A system which relied on input from the Japanese people. Ideas were prized and when they worked together, the people pulled their image to the top of a pyramid of quality.

It was the people who mattered.

Though a beautiful place, Cuba has many problems. My biggest impression from the tour was that her people are her richest resource. Working together, they will find answers to their many problems.

Given the talent, education, resilience and determination evident in the people I met, I have confidence they possess what it takes to solve the problems that plague Cuba.

If only we would allow them to do that.

There is a deep chasm that separates the way Cuban people relate to visitors—even visitors from the US—and the way our respective governments relate to each other. Sadly People-to-People relate much differently than Government-to-Government. Traveling can teach a traveler much, like the fact that there are multiple sides to every historical event. No country, people, or system of government is totally good, or totally bad. We should accept what works for the good, embrace change, encourage each other, and move forward together. After all, in light of the current global coronavirus pandemic, it may well be that Cuba’s medical community will discover the answer. We need their friendship as much as they need ours.

May our future together as neighbors and friends be bright.

 

 

Having Nothing is Living Free, 4

Havana!

The next few days we immersed ourselves in the life and times of Havana, Cuba. Our first stop as we entered the city was the fortress of La Cabana. From there, we got our first views of the Havana skyline, and the harbor that various nationalities have lusted over for 500 years.

It was a surprise to realize that we parked above and walked over the entrance to a tunnel that ran beneath the entire harbor, taking traffic from one side to the other. I saw cars entering, but had no idea what I was looking at until the bus turned onto this road and we drove The Tunnel. From the other side, we caught a glimpse of the opposite shore, one we’d see often in the next few days. There were fortresses on both sides of the harbor entrance to protect early Havana from pirates.

We revisited places along the harbor several times on our driving tours. It was fascinating to see the variety of warehouses, ships, and people involved in the daily life of the harbor. One particularly interesting visit was to a cigar factory which took harvested tobacco shipped in on trains and produced some of the renowned Cuban cigars. Not that I’m a smoker, but I had several requests to bring back samples, so it was interesting to learn about this part of Cuban life, history, and trade.

 

Our accomodations in Havana were at Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This hotel is renowned for attracting world famous visitors, and for good reason. Its opulence is evident in every detail.

Exploration of four historic plazas in Havana, (Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, and Plaza de Armas) filled a whole day, as well as visits to art shops and museums and excellent cuisine at some local paladar restaurants.

Of course we had to see Ernest Hemingway’s famous house.

Spread over several acres, the grounds included his boat in dry dock, a dry swimming pool, landscaped gardens, and an observatory tower. Climb the stairs and view his room at the top, more books and a telescope. Turn around and look out over Havana.

We visited Colon Cemetery, at least a small portion of it, since it is the 4th largest cemetery in the world. The architecture and sculpted tombs inside present a picture into ages past. Interestingly, the name Colon refers to Christopher Colombus who actually anchored on a coastline of Cuba in 1492, not North America.

And we couldn’t leave Cuba without a ride in a Classic Automobile caravan. (I know this is what you’ve been waiting for. . .) We were able to view much of Havana that our bus would not have been able to get through, from fancy housing districts, to beautiful parks. And we ended up driving along the Malecon Boulevard back to Hotel Nacional.

A walk along the Malecon that evening was in order, to experience the special aura that calls to Cubans everywhere.

As the sun sets over the Havana skyline, it’s a challenge to distill all the impressions into something meaningful to take home, but the journey is drawing to a close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having Nothing is Living Free, 3

(The third part of a series recapping my 2019 tour of Cuba which helped refine scenes in the new Sonata of Elsie Lenore, another piano novel-of-suspense featuring Cuban--and Kansas--pianos and musicians.)

From Cienfuegos we took a day trip cross-country to Trinidad, a historic colonial city, ca 1514. On the UNESCO world heritage list, downtown Trinidad offers a walking experience much as the residents in the 16th century would have found.

Very rough cobblestone streets paved with rounded fist-sized stones set into the hillside and multi-storied buildings with tile roofs were typical in Trinidad.

My favorite excursion was ascending the bell tower of an old monastery, no longer used as such.

The views across the surrounding terrain were extraordinary.

Adding to our complementary cocktail list, in Trinidad we twice enjoyed drinks that we were told were peculiar to that city—the canchanchara (Fizzy with lime, honey, and rum over ice. Served in a special goblet.)

On the return trip to Cienfuegos, I saw things I’d missed before.

Many fields and yards were fenced by prickly cactus—the kind my father had that grew fast with very sharp and prolific needles.

I suspect it was trimmed with machetes. Densely grown it would make an effective barrier to keep in livestock like piglets or chickens. It would also keep out unwanted intruders.

The following morning we packed up again for our last cross-country journey. We headed east from Cienfuegos along the Caribbean coast.

We stopped at the Playa Giron (“Bay of Pigs”) museum and learned about that effort from the Cuban perspective. The US planned invasion failed due to the fact that the plan was leaked and printed in the New York Times; the expected assistance from the locals did not materialize because life for the rural folks had already become much better than it was before the revolution; and the expected assistance from the US Air Force never came. The invasion failed and the Cuban revolution stood.

We drove along the coast of the bay to a cluster of cabins and businesses. During our lunch there, a park ranger told us about the Zapata Park Conservation efforts, and afterward we enjoyed a walk on the beach or a dip in the bay.

Twenty-three percent of Cuba is protected from development and Zapata National Park is the biggest and oldest of Cuba’s natural sanctuaries, founded in 1937. The ranger explained its mission: Conservation, Preservation, and Protection. There are over 5000 square km in this preserve, including swamp, coastline, bay area, and coral reefs. Cuban and American crocodiles interbreed here and have developed a new intermediary species. Five hundred green and red Cuban parrots were released to the wild. A thriving coral reef is preserved in the bay itself.

There are 52 animal species unique to Cuba, including three species of tree rats.

Zapata is the surname of the owner of the land with Spanish ancestry, from the 16th century. It does not refer to the shoe shape of the area, or the translation of the word, “shoe.”

From there we traveled on to Havana. Closer to the city, the cactus fences changed to stone fences.

The narrow road became a 6-lane highway, though traffic was still light. Solitary people walked at random places along the road, tended grazing livestock in the roadside ditches, or rested in the shade.

A modern and bustling city, Havana presented a marked contrast to the easy-going countryside we had experienced to this point.

Having Nothing is Living Free, 2

(The second part of a series recapping my tour of Cuba which helped refine scenes in the new Sonata of Elsie Lenore, another piano novel of suspense featuring Cuban--and Kansas--pianos and musicians.)

Los Caneyes hotel was unique in my experience. Named for some of the aboriginal inhabitants of Cuba, the Caney people, the lodgings spread across several acres. Footpaths connected buildings that housed about four suites each, as well as smaller cabins that were single rooms. My room was one of these small cabins with twin beds, an air conditioner with Celcius degrees, remotely operated, a shower (no tub), and an ironing board with an umbrella hanging on it. The cabin stood beside a solar water heater set between two other cabins. I noticed my water was hot even early in the morning. Each structure in the facility was topped with palm-thatched roofs.

We dined in style with a buffet dinner. At dinner, a young man played clarinet continually, quite well, good old familiar show tunes. Later in the evening, there was a fashion show around the outdoor pool.

Tall, long-legged, black Cuban girls in 7-inch stiletto heels paraded around the pool area in swim and beach wear, as well as one young man for men’s beach fashions.

At the far end of the pool, a band struck up tunes—fully live tonight with guitar players, singer, uke, banjo, maybe a keyboard, drums. They performed long after I retired for the night.

The next morning I woke early—before 4:00, and rested until the alarm went off on my phone. Though it was still dark out, birds chirped and roosters crowed. It sounded like small bantams. I packed my bags and set off on an early morning walk. The lodgings at Los Caneyes were fascinating with all the thatched roofs. Most of the group buildings had a central courtyard around a statue of some figure significant in aboriginal stories, or perhaps Santeria saints.

There were several dead tree trunks with faces carved in them.

Ornamental plants, including a variety that I have enjoyed in my own home since I was in grade school, provided attractive landscaping. Blooming bushes, mimosa trees, song birds, plants growing out of tree stumps, palm trees, begonias, bougainvillea, and ficus trees with massive exposed roots lined the paths.

After breakfast, we loaded the bus and headed into Santa Clara. Our first stop was the Che Guevara monument. It was a lovely place, very tidy, free of charge, and our guide filled us in on Che’s story, which ended badly at the hands of a US CIA sting operation in Bolivia several years after the revolution.

Che (Ernesto) was born in Argentina and educated as a medical doctor. As a young man he traveled through much of Latin American, which changed his perspective on life. He met Fidel Castro in Mexico and joined the Cuban revolution to free the people from tyranny. A guerilla commander as well as a physician, he orchestrated the conquest of an armored train, derailing it in Santa Clara and acquiring the arms inside. That was a turning point in the revolution.

He laid siege to a hotel in downtown Santa Clara, and bullet strikes are preserved on that building where many of Batista’s officers sought refuge. Two days later they surrendered, having run out of ammunition. This was a significant victory for the rebels, the beginning of the end for Batista.

Around the square below the historic hotel, a goat pulled a cart for children’s rides. At a nearby club for Abuelos (grandparents) they danced and played games, told us the story of fan language, used by young women to signal young men at dances, under the watchful eyes of chaperones.

We drove to the airport to fetch one lady’s luggage that had been lost and on to Cienfuegos over rough pavement, swaying back and forth.

In Cienfuegos, we attended a string orchestral concert by Concerto Sur Cienfuegos that was delightful with a variety of classical, popular, and Cuban compositions. Before it was done, they had us all up and dancing with their dance leader.

We headed back along the coast to our hotel in downtown Cienfuegos where dinner was served in the rooftop restaurant with windows and balcony door open.

Another ensemble provided music from the indoor balcony in the dining room.