Since its founding on January 1, 2002, Shop Wine and Dine has been known for offering the most exclusive and exceptional food and wine focused travel experiences.
However, equally important, Shop Wine and Dine, has also garnered a reputation for similarly exceptional tours focusing on world-renowned jazz festivals which over the years have taken us to Italy, Brazil, France and upcoming in July, to Spain’s Basque Region to attend the San Sebastian Jazzaldia Festival.
Shop Wine and Dine is grateful for its many loyal, repeat clients be it wine or jazz focused and in fact, at their behest on December 14, we embarked on our latest adventure and headed to La Habana to attend the 31st. Havana Jazz Festival! As posted on Shop Wine and Dine’s Facebook page, Cuba is a land of contrasts and contradictions… this was my first impression on the very first day which held true throughout our entire, glorious stay. La Habana is characterized by strikingly diverse
architecture as displayed by the many buildings in obvious disrepair and yet, like old, dispossessed and worn-out royalty, maintain a sense of elegance, dignity and grace. Crumbling walls adorned with exquisite modern art, seemingly casting an hopeful eye toward the future, yearning to be brought back to their original splendor and coexist side by side with the new occupants. As evidenced by the many construction sites visible
throughout the city, there is indeed a spirit of renewal and vibrancy which will surely bring back to life the extraordinarily beautiful architectural jewels, reflective of Spanish colonial times as well as art nouveau and art deco. The same vibrancy and sense of renewal permeates Cuban life at all levels, from the incredibly well-informed and impeccably trained local guides, to shopkeepers, budding entrepreneurs and street-vendors alike.
Also working toward a better future, the local baseball leagues as written about in the New York Times on December 15 article-indeed we were on the same flight to Havana with many of the journalists dispatched there, some of which we ran into during our daily excursions and exchanged high-fives! Like the locals, they too, not to mention the Cuban players, were filled with excitement and eagerness about what the future might hold.
My purpose with this posting is not to comment on the politics of the country as that is not my area of purview nor my place to do so, but rather to share my observations and amazement at the resiliency of the Cuban people, full of admiration for the way in which they have, against huge odds and deprivation, managed nonetheless to conduct their daily lives with pride and dignity. I know that there are people that hold the view that travel to Cuba should not be encouraged until the political situation is more reflective of our own interpretation of democracy, however in my view, doing so would further delay Cuba’s progress and deprive their citizens of much needed support.
Indeed what I can attest to, is that the Cuban people are extremely grateful for the many US visitors that have traveled in droves to Cuba particularly this year and in doing so, have in fact by way of tips, gifts and in the case of musicians by purchasing their CDs, helped them financially.
Of course the major focus of our trip was the jazz festival for which everyone in the group was in possession of the much prized “full jazz festival credentials” which “theoretically” guaranteed access to all concerts as well as seating at the main venue, the Mella Theatre.
However, as we had been previously warned “this is Cuba” thus we needed to be flexible and expect the unexpected, a prophecy which indeed came to pass, when on the first day of the festival I was advised that the festival organizers had heavily oversold the concerts thus, no guarantee of seating at the Mella! As a very experience travel professional, with Lowell’s help and that of our Cuban partners, we made the necessary adjustments to our daily schedules and nonetheless managed to secure seats for all our participants! This feat was certainly worth the effort as all performers featured lived up to Cuba’s reputation as the young and talented pianist Roberto Fonseca declared “Cuba is a music factory” with an output of the highest caliber. Indeed we were enthralled by the opening performances by the amazing Ernan Lopez-Nussa Trio and for the first time ever in Cuba, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band who joined together in an amazing and rousing finale. Other notables on subsequent evenings included, Cesar Lopez & Habana Ensemble; Pancho & Danial Amat;
The incomparable Orlando Valle Maraca joined by the remarkable Steve Turre with his prized conch shells; the trumpeter Bobby Carcasses joined on stage by the indefatigable Omara Portuondo, the Diva from the Buena Vista Social Club!, not to mention Arturo O’Farrill and so many others at the other twelve venues. With an eye toward future “rising stars”, we enjoyed a private performance during one of our dinners, by the very talented Jorge Luis Pacheco whose credits include performances with Winton Marsalis and JLC Orchestra as well as appearing at JLC Dizzy’s and the Blue Note Jazz Festival in NY-to be sure a name to be remembered! Lucky for us, Jorge was accompanied by the gifted drummer Ruy Lopez-Nussa, member of the Lopez-Nussa musical dynasty which includes Ernan as well as Harold! Needless to say, Cuba lived up to and exceeded all our expectations, affording our group an unforgettable experience which I am certain, Shop Wine and Dine will repeat in 2016.
Best wishes for a Healthy, Happy, Prosperous and Peaceful 2016!
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