Nordic Ski Banquet

It seemed fitting that we should have a winter storm on the evening of Maya’s nordic ski team end-of-the-season banquet. Maya was co-captain of the women’s team which placed 4th in the state this year. Her coach had wonderful things to say about her and she was just as eloquent in her praise of him on behalf of the team.

Sudbury Lake?

We have experienced an inordinate amount of rain over the past few days. Given last years drought and water use ban, we are happy to have it. The Sudbury River looked more like a lake this morning and I am looking forward to getting out for some kayaking when the temperatures ease upwards a bit.

Fruitlands Museums

The Fruitlands Museum, founded in 1914 by Clara Endicott Sears, takes its name from an experimental utopian community led by Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane which took place on this site in 1843. The campus is home to five collections on 210 acres of meadows and woods including:

  • The Fruitlands Farmhouse, the site of the experiment in communal living led by Alcott and Lane in 1843
  • The Shaker Museum, the first Shaker museum in the country and home to the largest archive of Harvard Shaker documents in the world, housed in an historic building moved here from the Harvard Shaker community.
  • The Native American Museum, which houses a significant collection of artifacts that honor the spiritual presence and cultural history of the first Americans.
  • The Art Museum, including a collection of over 100 Hudson River School landscape paintings and over 230 nineteenth century vernacular portraits.
  • The Wayside Visitor Center, exhibiting information on Fruitlands’ landscape and environment.

I happened upon it today while scouting locations for our next home. It is situated on high ground with a great view of Mount Wachusett.

Healthy Heart

After my brother’s recent sudden cardiac arrest, I have invested in a full cardiac work up to identify possible risks I might be facing.  I have had one treadmill EKG, one static echocardiogram, one treadmill echocardiogram, and one treadmill nuclear imaging test. I wore a loop recorder for 24 hours, have been measuring my blood pressure every day for two months (charted above) and have had my blood work done twice. Today I met with my cardiologist for the results. Drum roll please….. I have a healthy heart with no detected anomalies in structure or electrical function and good blood profusion to the heart muscles.  My average blood pressure is in an acceptable range (136/82) and my ejection fraction is 65%.  I do have high cholesterol which I will attempt to regulate with more exercise and better diet before considering other alternatives.

Mellon Header

More good news on the college front as Maya learned she is in at Carnegie Mellon University which has a 13% acceptance rate for the School of Engineering.  We are expecting to hear from the remaining schools to which she applied by the end of the week.  Fingers crossed.

On a totally unrelated subject, I thought I would document a goal I scored yesterday during pre-season soccer practice. There are no photos or video to memorialize the event so I am writing about it as a future reminder to myself. We were playing 8v8 on a short field. My team earned a corner kick. The kick was an in-swinger which was dead flush with the end line by the time I reached it as it sailed past the far post. From this position it is geometrically impossible to score without “bending” the ball (hitting it with spin thus causing it to travel in an arc). Good soccer players can do this easily when striking the ball with their foot.  I managed to score from this position with a header. I do not claim to have made any plans to bend the ball in the fraction of a second I had to reach it, but I will tell you that the ball wound up in the net and I have 15 witnesses who were just as stunned as I was when it did. It is highly unlikely I will ever score a more seemingly impossible goal in my life and I hope to hold this memory for that duration.

Cuban Extras

I spent the bulk of the day processing photos I took while in Cuba last week. Today I am posting a random collection which did not find there way into prior posts.

Proud peacock on the grounds of the Hotel Nacional
Gran Teatro de La HabanaAlicia Alonso
Garlic and Onion Cart in Centro Habana
Sidewalk passing lane
Yellow corner and cannon
Castillo de La Punta
Castillo de Los Tre Reyes del Morro
Lighthouse over fort plans
Romantic cruise
Hotel Nacional waterfalls
Camilo Cienfuegos
Serene balcony
La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana (Havana Cathedral)
Military trench and tunnel entrance on the grounds of the Hotel Nacional
Cafe Tabern
Beauty parlor window-in-window
Tunnel on the grounds of Hotel Nacional
Seating arrangements
Street conference
Elegant dining room at the Hotel Nacional
Conga stilt dancers
Vintage delivery truck
Main cemetery chapel of the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón
Pelican cruising the Malecon
Street quilt
Gated mausoleum
Life size mural depicting Colonial period
Palacio de La Artesania
Amelia the miracle virgin, at Cementerio Cristobal Colon
Open air cafe, Habana Viejo
View of Habana Viejo from the top of Monumento Jose Marti
The US embassy while cruising the Malecon
Lobby of the Hotel Los Frailes
Avenida Paseo
Entrance to Havana Bay
Study in yellow
Embellished arches
Reservation for two
Return from Vineales through the bus window
Escheresque
Hotel Nacional
Cute birdie on a perch
Monumento Jose Marti
Che Guevara
Parque Almendares

Option Olin

Jeanine and I returned to the US last night after a week of being 100% off the grid to the best possible news. Maya has been offered one of only 81 spots at Olin College. She is pictured above at last month’s Candidate’s Weekend where she was evaluated by staff and students during a team project and in a final interview.  Her acceptance letter included a $100,000, 4-year scholarship.  We could not be more proud of or happier for her.

Cámara Oscura

Located on the top floor of the eclectic early 20th-century Gómez Vila Building, 115 feet off the ground, the Cámara Oscura provides a 360-degree real time panoramic view of much of Old Havana and was our final destination on our last day in Cuba. It is the only one of its kind in Latin America. Camera obscura (from the Latin “camera”: (vaulted) chamber or room, and “obscura”: darkened) is the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when the image of a scene is projected through a pinhole (the first ever “lens”) onto the opposite wall of a darkened chamber. The camera obscura concept was eventually developed into the modern photographic camera in the first half of the 19th century when camera obscura boxes were used to expose light-sensitive materials. The word camera thus originated from the word chamber.

Cuba’s Cámara Oscura uses two lenses and a mirror located on a periscope. The image that is captured by the periscope is projected on a concave platform 6 foot in diameter, located inside a dark room. On a bright day this room sized camera is able to project panoramas or zoom in on people miles away in any direction.

After the demonstration we ventured out onto the rooftop to inspect the periscope and enjoy the spectacular views of the city.  A more perfect way to cap our visit to Cuba we could not have hoped for.  Our ride to the airport in another vintage car was the frosting on the cake.

 

American Classics

Cuba is literally a rolling car museum. Everywhere you look is an old-school American brand vehicle, ranging from Oldsmobile to Chevrolet, Buick to Ford and Chrysler’s old Plymouth brand. This stuck-in-time feeling Cuba has generated is the result of a four-decade-long ban on foreign vehicle imports, making it nearly impossible to buy a brand-new, foreign-made vehicle. The highlight of our day was a one hour tour we took in this 1952 Chevrolet, my first ride in a car older than I am.

It remains to be seen how the recent lifting of the ban will affect the classic car scene in Cuba. I sincerely hope it will not. Here is a sampling of some American classics.

Viñales

Viñales is a town in western Cuba and we made the two hour journey there as part of an organized bus tour. Its main street is lined with colorful colonial-era wooden houses and it serves as a gateway to the Sierra de los Organos mountains and the Viñales Valley pictured above (please click on the image and then click on it again; it is the only way to appreciate the full splendor of the valley). The tall, steep-sided limestone hills, known as mogotes, are extremely photogenic and some contain caves and underground rivers. We stopped at one such cave where we explored the subterranean waterway by small boat.

Our agenda also included stops at a tobacco plantation and drying house, a rum factory, and, in the valley of Dos Hermanas, the Mural de la Prehistoria, an enormous (120 x 160 meters) al fresco painting on the side of a mogote. Created by Leovigildo González Morillo, it depicts the evolution of life in Cuba and was painted by brush over a period of five years.

 

Rated as one of the top restaurants in Havana, we dined at the Sociedad Asturiana Castropol after returning from Viñales. It is located right on the Malecon and as was to be expected, we enjoyed great live music.  The food was very good, but nothing to write home about.  A bargain by US standards, our meal cost what a policeman in Cuba makes in 2 months, just to put things in perspective. There are many compelling reasons to travel to Cuba but I would not place the culinary experience near the top of that list.

Given our time on the tour bus we got much less exercise today than the last two. Still we slept very well having walked to Old Havana well before dawn and finished the day with a late night stroll along the Malecon.

Los Cubanos

The most wonderful thing about Cuba is its people. They are very warm and loving, friendly and generous, living in harmony and welcoming to all who visit their island. Many have to struggle in an economy that has failed to deliver on the promises of socialism but this in turn has bred a nation of entrepreneurs and hard workers. Despite the poverty, we never felt unsafe at any time during our stay.

In the afternoon we joined an organized and informative tour of Havana but I could have just as easily spent the entire day shooting portraits. After the people, the thing we admired most about Cuba was the music. In the evening we enjoyed a dinner/concert presented by the Buenavista Social Club featuring  legendary performers and music from the ’50s. Arriving early, we managed to obtain front row seats at the edge of an intimate stage which was simultaneously shared by singers, waiters, and dancers from the audience.

Havana

Jeanine and I arrived in Havana slightly before noon to warm if not sunny weather. Our first priority was exchanging US currency for CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos) as credit cards are not accepted and ATMs are unreliable and hard to locate. Next we hired a taxi to take us to our homestay at Casa la Familia in Centro Habana where we quickly settled in.  Our host family speaks no English and our Spanish is not much better making for challenging communication. Eager to get some exercise, we set out on foot for Habana Vieja (Old Havana) by way of the Malecon, a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for 5 miles along the coast. The sea was extremely rough and waves were constantly crashing over the wall so we elected to walk on the other side of the road.

One is immediately struck by the contrasts which exist in Cuba. For every beautifully restored colonial era building you can find one on the verge of collapse.  For every shop lined, well maintained street you can find one that is literally strewn with rubble and abandoned buildings.

Two thing are consistent, however.  Everywhere you go you will see wonderful vintage automobiles and hear musicians playing infectious latin music in the streets, bars, cafes and restaurants.

We rested our weary feet during a late lunch in a nice cafe before continuing our tour. By the time we reached our homestay, rain was threatening so we decided to have dinner nearby. As luck would have it we were one block away from a very fine Swedish-Cuban fusion restaurant. After dinner we were so tired that neither the street noise or sorry condition of our mattress kept us from sleeping like babies.

Northeastern University

Maya spent last night on campus at Northeastern University where I joined her this morning for Admitted Students Welcome Day.  Maya has been accepted into the College of Engineering Honors Program, a distinction offered to  only 15% of the admitted class. Construction of the school’s new state-of-the-art engineering building was just completed and it is quite beautiful.

A reception for the College of Engineering Honors students was held on the 17th floor of the Egan Research Center offering spectacular views of the Boston skyline.  Hard to tell with Maya but I believe Northeastern will be on her short list.

Meandering Home

Growing up in Schenectady I would have never imagined it would one day have a casino. Walking distance from Union College, the Rivers Casino with a 7,000 person capacity opened last month.  I decided to pay it a visit as I began my journey back to Concord early this morning.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover a decidedly understated building overlooking the Mohawk River replacing an ugly industrial site.  An adjacent resort hotel and riverside condominiums are nearing completion and will transform the entire area into something infinitely more attractive than what stood there before.  I view gambling as a tax on the statistically impaired but think the casino and adjacent properties may help to revitalize the city which now appears to be on the rebound after years of decline.

I decided to follow the Mohawk River and then the Hudson before heading for Massachusetts, pausing anytime I spotted something of photographic interest. The Rexford Bridge, above, is in the process of being replaced. If you zoom in you can see that the new piers are already in place.  I suspect this scene will look significantly different the next time I visit. Below are the Cohoes Falls which I did not even know existed despite growing up less than 30 minutes from them.

The bridges below carry Interstate-87 traffic over the Mohawk. I have traversed them many times but never enjoyed this view.

 

420 Miles

For the second time in as many years (March 6, 2015) I visited the New Croton Dam. This time as a waypoint on a 420 mile one-day road trip from Concord to Little Neck, NY and then on to Schenectady, NY.  Technically, it was more of a bus/delivery service than a road trip.  My mother asked if I could drive her back to her home from NYC. Her last trip on the bus did not go very well and she also wanted me to transport a few pieces of furniture back to her home. Croton-on-Hudson was not too far out of the way and I needed something to break up all the driving. During the second leg of the journey I used the time to quiz my mother about our family history.  I learned that my maternal grandfather remarried after divorcing from my grandmother and had 5 children with his second wife.  I only knew about one of them so this trip netted me several new step aunts and uncles.

My First Camera

By my estimation, I have bought and sold more than 30 cameras since I took up a serious interest in photography while studying at Stanford.  I currently own six (2 Canon, 3 Sony, and 1 Nikon), each serving a different application.  Today I had occasion to think back on the first camera I ever purchased. It was the film-based Konica FS1, distinguished as the first SLR to incorporate a built-in motor drive. It remained my only camera for almost 20 years until I switched to digital in 1999.