My bounty from Afrolatinofest NYC

AfrolatinofestNYC, which this year paid tribute to women in the diaspora, with symposiums, film screenings, performances and more in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, was a lovely event.

The performances by a bevy of powHERful AfroLatinx artists were beautiful and it was something to see so many happy little AfroLatino children there, looking up at stage, seeing amazing artists do their thing.

I had a very “take all my money” moment on Saturday at BedStuy’s Restoration Plaza, as I felt the vendors the organizers brought in were FANTASTIC. Simply unique & beautiful goods were on display, and all seemed very reasonably priced, too.

I wanted to give them a boost here, as sharing is caring!

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Just some of the items I purchased from vendors at NYC’s AfroLatinoFest.

Ile La Serrana, run by NYC’s Natalia Serrano, sells stationary and other goodies “for magical folks.” More info on her Facebook page.

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Notebooks by Ile La Serrana

Brooklyn Brujeria, run by Brooklyn’s Chelsea Smith (aka Chiquita Brujita), sells power prayer candles for the modern bruja!

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Candles by Chiquita Brujita

Las Ofrendas, out of San Antonio/Austin, Texas, by tk tunchez, sells “unique, organic based artisan pieces to adorn your mind, body and soul.”

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Floral crowns by Las Ofrendas.

Purple Swan by Leticia Duran of Puerto Rico, is where I got those adorable earrings featuring La Lupe. This shop aims to “challenge the normal patterns and standards of fashion designs, while guaranteeing uniqueness in design and product quality at an affordable price.”

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Wallets by Puerto Rico’s Purple Swan.

Afrolunatika, also from Puerto Rico, sells jewelry that is so empowering for women, with phrases like “Amazona,” “Guerrera,” and “Bendicida.” Their website will be ready for online orders at the end of July 2017.

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Earrings by Afrolunatika

2 X 10 are a pair who make everything by hand, hence the 10 for the number of fingers. I got a pair of beautiful tropical-colored earrings at this outfit.

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2 x 10 is still setting up their ETSY shop but check them out on IG for now!

 

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A beautiful moment at a Brooklyn club…

I’m sure there are some folks who have never been to New York City who imagine that, on any given night, one can find a nightclub to hit where one can hear all kinds of global music and an inclusive environment for anyone—gay or straight, dancing along to it. But that’s not really true.

This is precisely why I became a huge fan of a monthly party called Que Bajo?! a number of years ago (2011) and attended it as much as possible. It was the one party where I could hear music from Colombia, Africa, Puerto Rico, hell, even funky beats coming out of Austin, Texas. Purely danceable stuff with guest DJs from across the United States, Europe or Latin America making a pretty diverse crowd dance all night long.

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Geko Jones and Uproot Andy, founders of Que Bajo?!

That party is now defunct but, luckily for us, its DJs are still out there working at a variety of parties. (Que Bajo?! co-founder Uproot Andy is back from touring in Brazil and will be playing in Brooklyn on Friday, July 7!)

The other founding DJ, Geko Jones, is now throwing a party called Ministerio de la Parranda. Thankfully, this party is continuing the work of providing a cool space for a diverse crowd to hear a “sancocho” of flavors from Latin America and beyond.

Here’s just 29 seconds of video from the party on June 24. In it, you’ll hear the BEAUTIFUL chords of an African guitar so often heard in Congolese soukous and Colombian champeta music. I had to stop dancing and hit record because, again, this music isn’t easily found in New York City, and I needed to share the moment, which came on New York City’s Pride weekend.

It was a beautiful moment and although I’m very sad to see Que Bajo?! go, I’m happy there are other spaces where one can enjoy such an atmosphere.

(Read my story about the new party in Sounds and Colours.)

 

‘To be happy is not to have a sky without a storm…’

The following has been attributed to Pope Francis, but as reported in La Stampa, it was not said by him at all. I’m researching the web, trying to figure out where this great advice comes from. I’ll update here if I find it. Pope Francis DID issue ten commandments for happiness, however. Here they are via Irish Central

-G

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Pope Francis wants you to be happy, but he didn’t issue the statement below.

“You can have flaws, be anxious, and ever angry, but do not forget that your life is the
greatest enterprise in the world. Only you can stop it from going bust. Many appreciate you, admire you and love you.

Remember that to be happy is not to have a sky without a storm, a road without
accidents, work without fatigue, and relationships without disappointments.

To be happy is to find strength in forgiveness, hope in battles, and security in the stage of fear, love in discord. It is not only to enjoy the smile, but also to reflect on the sadness. It is not only to celebrate the successes, but to learn lessons from the failures. It is not only to feel happy with the applause, but to be happy in anonymity.

Being happy is not a fatality of destiny, but an achievement for those who can travel within themselves.

To be happy is to stop feeling like a victim and become your destiny’s author. It is to cross deserts, yet to be able to find an oasis in the depths of our soul. It is to thank God for every morning, for the miracle of life.

Being happy is not being afraid of your own feelings. It’s to be able to talk about you. It is having the courage to hear a “No”. It is confidence in the face of criticism, even when unjustified. It is to kiss your children, pamper your parents, to live poetic moments with friends, even when they hurt us.

To be happy is to let live the creature that lives in each of us, free, joyful and simple. It is to have maturity to be able to say: “I made mistakes”. It is to have the courage to say “I am sorry”. It is to have the sensitivity to say, “I need you”. It is to have the ability to say “I love you”.

May your life become a garden of opportunities for happiness. That in spring, may it be a lover of joy. In winter, a lover of wisdom.

And when you make a mistake, start all over again. For only then will you be in love with life.

You will find that to be happy is not to have a perfect life. But use the tears to irrigate tolerance.

Use your losses to train patience. Use your mistakes to sculpt serenity. Use pain to plaster pleasure. Use obstacles to open windows of intelligence.

Never give up. Never give up on people who love you. Never give up on happiness, for life is an incredible show.”

-NOT by Pope Francis

Our travel tips for Cuba

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Varadero Beach, Cuba.

(Shout out to my good friend Doris Alcivar for being an awesome editor on this post!)

I just got back from Cuba. It was the second time I’ve been in five years. Everyone is asking for tips and I figured this was the easiest way to share them!

First of all, GO! It’s a beautiful place with SWEET people who are HAPPY to see Americans. So how did I get there? Easy! Jet Blue. They have direct flights from JFK airport in NYC. You pay the travel visa on site. It cost me $50.

** Many have asked: Do I need to have an official “reason” for traveling there? No. Just pick “person to person” support/travel in the drop-down menu on Jet Blue’s website when purchasing your ticket. (More Cuba travel FAQs answered here.)

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Attitudes have changed. The young people we spoke to at length (20s through mid 40s) are ready for change and most spoke about wanting to visit the United States. (Some even bashed their former longtime dictator!)

LANGUAGE BARRIER?

Don’t worry if you’re not 100% fluent in Spanish. Many who work in the hotels or in tourism-related posts (snorkeling guides) speak some kind of English, so one can get by. Some of the cab drivers don’t know English, but they know ALL of the places tourists want to go, so you’ll be fine.

A note: Cubans say “Dale!” (sort of in the way Spaniards say vale) a lot (it means yes, got it, go ahead, sure). It isn’t just a Pitbull thing.

In 2013, I went to Cuba through a travel agent and stayed at Spanish-run hotel and resort. They were beautiful and clean and included breakfast (and, at the beach resort, all-inclusive food and drinks). If you’re a resort/concierge person, stay here:

In Old Havana, right by their Central Park: Hotel Parque Central

In Varadero (beautiful beach town, about two-hours away from Havana): Iberostar Varadero

Interested in booking through a travel agent so he can do all the legwork? Here’s his info:

Derek Snow

3174 Dwight St

San Diego, CA 92104

619-228-9714 (phone)

derek@cubatravelusa.com

For this trip, our travel agent included all transfers, so I couldn’t recommend a tour bus company for the ride between Havana and Varadero. (It was probably Transtur, which you see a lot of throughout the tourist areas) Find some bus transport tips here.

This time around, we took an official taxi. It should run about CUC$115 (115 Cuban Convertible Pesos, which is the currency tourists can change money into). The currency symbol is CUC$.

SPEAKING OF MONEY: Go to your bank or money exchange agency and buy EUROs to change into . Dollars from the United States get hit with a 10 to 15 percent tax. Go with the Euro. Last week, the exchange rate was about $1.07 CUCs per Euro. (You can also go with Canadian dollars, though I’m hearing it’s weak at this time.)

DIFFERENCES

My 2017 trip was very different than my 2013 experience. In Varadero, we stayed at a “casa particular,” which is a rental within someone’s house. We had our own separate entrance. The tiny apartment within the house slept four. It’s nothing fancy, but it did the job for our beach-all-day and restaurants at night agenda.

It’s called Casa Bertha & Alberto, and the email address is here. The well-kept home is air-conditioned, located just steps from the beach, and Alfredo is a great cook (breakfast is $5!). We booked everything for this trip directly with the owners via email (in Spanish, as they didn’t really speak English).

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Entrance to Bertha & Alberto’s house.

In Havana, we used good, old AirBNB. The apartment we rented is in the lovely neighborhood called Miramar. (Think beautiful pastel-colored mansions.) This apartment slept four (though we stretched it to five with an additional twin bed), and has a television in each room. There is internet access, though it can be spotty at times, and you must buy a $2 card for a password for about an hour’s worth of access. I highly recommend it.

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A home in Miramar.

However, on my last day in Havana, I met a nice Cuban lady who rents out her apartment within Old Havana (near Aguacate street – yes, avocado street!) for just CUC$35 per night! Her name is Nancy, and you can call her at: 54-293205.

Places to go

I can’t take credit for most of this wonderful list. A great friend (Elkin Cabas) of someone in our group typed it up for us (I added my input with an asterisk). We hit most everything he recommended.

So, go! Have fun!

Restaurants

1. La Foresta Restaurante
a. Calle 17, between 174 y 176, Rpto. Siboney, Playa
b. Fancier restaurant but pretty affordable!
c. Our Airbnb host recommended and actually took us there for dinner

2. Starbien Restaurante
a. Calle 29 #205, between B y C, Havana, Cuba
b. I think this was my favorite dining experience in Cuba. Great food, ambience, and the restaurant is set inside a colonial-style home. It’s pretty awesome. We had the paella and ropa vieja which was great!

3. Bodeguita del Medio (*** If you like your mojitos light, as in low in sugar, this is the place to drink them! They’re fantastic!)
a. Empedrado, La Habana, Cuba
b. Must see place, would recommend to do this for lunch
c. You’ll see plenty of writing on the walls from visitors all over the world and framed photographs of celebrities
d. Delicious food and live music in the front bar

+ If you can get reservations at Doña Eutimia I would recommend it! It’s one of my regrets not having eaten there. It was highly recommended by my friends.

+ La Guarida, which is amaaazing and apparently lots of celebrities go here when they visit Havana. Definitely on the expensive side if you feel like splurging one night! *** ed. note: Ok, we ate here, and loved it! It’s in a gorgeous historic building that is being renovated and the restaurant is on the rooftop. You’ll see all the celeb pics on the wall. The food was great, as was the service (and wine!)

*** A word about the food in Cuba: they do not typically serve fruits and vegetables that are not in season. For instance, we kept wondering why there wasn’t any avocado. We asked and that was that. Makes sense for their farmers (so they don’t have to get the produce from OUTSIDE the country), but it’s a lesson learned for Americans who are used to getting nearly anything they want WHEN they want it. So, bring snacks! Especially because convenience stores are low on snacks (but never on rum or beer!)

**** Or don’t bring snacks and walk 15,000 steps a day average like we did and lose weight! I lost three pounds. 😉 But, seriously, I never felt ravenous. Their portion sizes, while not ENORMOUS, were filling enough with real food (chicken, beef, or pork, rice and beans, etc.)

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So many old cars, so little time! PS: Havanatur is a great place to ask about beach & city excursions!

Clubs/Lounges

1. El Floridita
a. Famous cocktail bar in the older part of Havana
b. Famous for its daiquiris and for having been one of Hemingway’s favorite hangouts in Havana

2. Don Cangrejo
a. Friday nights are pretty fun here. They have a cover I think though of like 10 CUCs, but it’s pretty cool cause it’s open air and on the water and they have some live concerts on occasion

3. Mio & Tuyo
a. We went there one night and actually had fun! Lol We wound up buying a bottle and getting a “table” (smaller than we expected)
b. Good music, drinks, it gets pretty packed but it’s fun

ed. note: *** In Havana, have drinks at Sia Kara. The Times included them in their “36 Hours in Havana” write-up and I fully agree!

**** In Varadero, hit Calle 62. It’s an outdoor bar/restaurant with live music and dancing on the streets! (See video shot by my friend Giancarlo Ganoza below!)

Tourist Spots

· Old Havana
· Do the Hop-On/Hop-Off! (*** so worth it if you want to see all of the city in one day)
· Gran Teatro de la Habana – gorgeous by day and night!
· Central Park
· El Capitolio
· Plaza de la Revolucion
· El Malecon
· Hemingway’s House
· Varadero beach (**** must go!)

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