Tag Archives: Cuba

Cuba Si, See Cuba

31 Oct

Revered Cuban crooner Beny More held a Frank Sinatra-like stature in  mid-century Cuban pop culture.

In the mid-Fifties, as an adolescent refugee growing up in Chicago, I  developed what has turned out to be a life long interest in Cuba—which has been amplified by an inchoate fascination manifest with the gem of the Caribbean in the USA at large. Since the recent detente (the Cuba Thaw) interest has grown exponentially. And as such there are always additions being made to a huge Cuba data base.


Lee Lockwood: Castro’s Cuba, An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Cuba, 1959-1969 

Young photographerLee Lockwood arrived in Cuba on December 31, 1958, one day before Fidel Castro ousted US puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista. Since then Lockwood has had unimpeded access to the island nation. In 1965 ,Lockwood conducted an in-depth interview over a seven days which stands as one of the more useful snapshots of the mind of Castro. This tome was originally published in 1967 and in its current 400 page iteration we have photographs  from the extensive period Lockwood traveled with Fidel,and  from  the special access to the Maximum Leader’s inner circle and a broad array of images from  Sierra Maestra military camps to life on Havana’s streets and  the endless political rallies and celebrations. Many of these images have never been published before. Historian/filmmaker Saul Landau ,whose films include the 1968 documentary, Fidel! provides elucidating commentary.


Eschewing the role of a Castro apologist, Lockwood  explains his purpose for the book project.:


“If he is really our enemy, as dangerous to us as we are told he is, then we ought to know as much about him as possible…I was amazed at the apparent discrepancies that existed between what was popularly being said and believed about Cuba in the United States and what I actually saw … After three weeks of traveling, including an eight-day, cross-country trip taken in Castro’s company, I could find little evidence of the standard image of Cuba so luridly painted by American newspapers and magazines — that of a crumbling economy, a populace in tatters and near starvation, and a political regime that had lost its popular support and was maintaining itself in power through oppression and terror. Instead, I found that, in spite of rationing, people were well-clothed and adequately fed, nearly everyone was working and had money and — contrary to all pronouncements by our State Department — Castro still enjoyed the support, even the affection, of the great majority of Cubans.

There is ample evidence that US attitudes and perceptions of Cuba are as suspended in the mid-century as the cars that transverse Cuban roadways…

Below some images from Castro’s Cuba…




Esteemed translator Esther Allen (who is reportedly readying a biography of hemispheric iconic figure Jose Marti) offers a smart and useful  perspective on Lockwood’s work and the resonant role of Fidel. She concludes:

Classic twentieth-century dictators of all ideological stripes left statues of themselves in the central squares, to be gilded, pulled down, or both, by those who came after. Through more than half a century as the nation’s leader, Fidel never did. Lockwood’s photos now remind us of this: though he never learned to relinquish power, Fidel did somehow learn to disappear.*


If anyone is going to unpack the features of USA’s byzantine relationship  with Cuba and the dance steps of The Cuban Thaw Tango, Jon Lee Anderson is that person. A well-traveled journalist and no stranger to this planet’s sites of extreme belligerence, Anderson has penned the definitive biography of Che Guevera**  having established residence in Havana with his family  to research and write. His recent wide-ranging report*** includes this insight

In the Oval Office, Obama told me he believed that Americans needed to make a greater effort to acknowledge perceptions that exist outside the United States. “We are a superpower, and we do not fully appreciate the degree to which, when we move, the world shakes,” he said. “Our circumstances have allowed us to be ahistorical. But one of the striking things when you get outside the United States is—Faulkner’s old saying, ‘The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.’ . . . People remember things that happened six hundred years ago. And they are alive and active in their politics.

“And so the intention here is not, as the Republicans like to call it, engaging in apology tours. It is dignifying these countries’ memories and their culture, and saying to them, ‘We understand your experience and your culture, and that is valid.’ And, once you do that, if people think, he sees me, even if they disagree with you, there is an openness to having a conversation.”


END notes

    *Esther Allen elucidates Lee Lockwood’s Castro ‘s Cuba

** Talking Cuba and Che with Jon Lee Anderson

***Jon Lee Anderson’s   “A New Cuba: President Obama’s plan normalized relations. It may also transform the nation”


Arff, Arff: Dogging It

23 Aug
My Boys- Cuba & Beny [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

My Boys- Cuba & Beny [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

I have often heard people opine that they like canines more than humans— which on the face of it makes a lot of sense (especially if you have a pooch companion or family member). While I am not prepared to make such a overblown claim, though I am enamored of the canine species I will say (was it it Will Rogers who said this?) I have never met a hound I didn’t like.

Books on dogs (and other species humans ‘petify’)are usually either informative studies of their history and behavior* or collections of cute/clever photos (such as the apparently William Wegman photos of his Weimerheiners). You can guess what follows.

I have written about Enchanted Lion Books (publishers of books for children of all ages) before and given the splendid tomes they regularly published I probably should write about them more often. At any rate, here’s one — Americanine: A Haute Dog in New York by French illustrator Yann Kebbi— for which I am compelled to give it notice. From the publisher:

Here, a French dog, upon his return to Paris, recounts his amazing trip to New York City to his dog pals. Sharing his visit so they can really, truly see it through his eyes, so, too, does the reader, in page after glorious page of free, vibrant, kinetically sketched images! Whether it’s the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, the Guggenheim Museum, Grand Central Station, or a pug looking in a doughnut shop window, Americanine pulsates with aliveness and charm. Marked by energy and humor, and rendered from a haute dog perspective through fresh, as well as French, eyes, Americanine doesn’t give us the elegant, platinum New York of Stieglitz, but rather a bold, contemporary, colorfully diverse city that feels bright, nonstop, and like no other. In these pages you will find real people in a real city, perceived with the romance of a young French artist.

Americanine: A Haute Dog in New York  by Yann Kebbi

Americanine: A Haute
Dog in New York by Yann Kebbi

The ever original Brain Pickings and Maria Popova takes a novel view of

A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry.” So wrote E.B. White wrote in his timeless love letter to New York — a city that has, in fact, has inspired a great deal of poetry itself: visual poetry, like Berenice Abbott’s stunning photographs of its changing face and Julia Rothman’s illustrated tour of the five boroughs; poetic prose, like Zadie Smith’s love-hate letter to Gotham and the private writings of notable authors who lived in and visited the city; and poetry-poetry, like Frank O’Hara’s “Song (Is it dirty)” and Walt Whitman’s “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun.”

 Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and Their Stories  by Traer Scott

Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and Their Stories by Traer Scott

Photographer Traer Scott’s Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and Their Stories is not only comprised of beautiful black and white photographs but compelling life stories of his subjects. From the publisher:

…Scott began photographing these dogs in 2005 as a volunteer at animal shelters. Her first book was Shelter Dogs…and in this follow-up, Scott introduces a new collection of canine subjects, each with indomitable character and spirit: Morrissey, a pit bull, who suffered from anxiety-related behaviors brought on by shelter life until adopted by a family with four children; Chloe, a young chocolate Lab mix, surrendered to a shelter by a family with allergies; Gabriel and Cody, retired racing greyhounds; and Bingley, a dog who lost his hearing during a drug bust but was brought home by a loving family that has risen to the challenge of living with a deaf dog. Through extended features we become better acquainted with the personalities and life stories of selected dogs and watch as they experience the sometimes rocky and always emotional transition to new homes. The portraits in Finding Home form an eloquent plea for the urgent need for more adoptive families, as well as a tribute to dogs everywhere

I suppose this NYT effort starring fashion designer Marc Jacobs dog is cute but I am left with a So What? feeling.

And in case you missed this one >The Silence of Dogs in Cars by Martin Usborne

Martin Usborne’s photo series, which was funded by a kickstarter campaign, consists of over forty-five images of dogs gazing silently through car windows, often in the dead of night. The images, which are staged and highly cinematic, evoke a mood of loneliness and longing. They are not so much portraits of dogs as studies in separation: on one level referring to the separation between humans and (other) animals but on another the separation within ourselves, between our everyday selves and the rawer (more animal) parts that we keep locked away. The photographs draw on the work of Edward Hopper and Gregory Crewdson.


Rosie (1997-2008 [photo:Robert  Birnbaum]

Rosie (1997-2008 [photo:Robert Birnbaum]

*Some recent dog books

No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII by Robert Weintraub

How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain by Gregory Berns

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz

What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World by Cat Warren

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods

How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends by Mark Derr

Autobiography/Memoir in 365 Parts 17.0

19 Jun
Me  and Beny [photo: Cuba Birnbaum]

Me and Beny [photo: Cuba Birnbaum]

Literary journalist Robert Birnbaum has been kicking the stone down the road in Boston journalism/media since the waning days of the 20th century and further afield in the brave new world of the Third Millennium. Currently he is contributing to the literary way station, OUR MAN in BOSTON and others, shepherding his student-athlete son, Cuba, umpiring Little League baseball and dog-whispering his pooch Beny. You could ask him about his long rumored memoir, Just Talking: How To do Things With Words.

My son Cuba [photo Robert Birnbaum]

My son Cuba [photo Robert Birnbaum]

Autobiography/Memoir in 365 Parts

12 Mar

12 March 2015

Cuba & Beny [photo: RB]

Cuba & Beny [photo: RB]

Rober Birnbaum grew up in Chicago and attended Chicago Public Schools and a number of mediocre universities. His weekly visits to the library encouraged by his mother has lead to a life long attachment to reading. Among his favorite and influential writers are Nelson Algren, Herman Hesse, John Barth, Howard Zinn and Hannah Arendt.He lives with his hound Beny, in a suburb west of Boston where his son Cuba is a captain of the high school football team.