Monday, May 22, 2017

36 Hours In Havana, Cuba

Screen shot from the New York Times video

Another in the New York Times series 36 Hours In… This time we’re visiting Havana, Cuba. Damien Cave writes:
Havana is no longer frozen in time, at least not completely. With Cuba’s guarded openness to private enterprise grabbing hold, classic American cars and salsa singers now share the cityscape with new and inventive offerings in food, culture, night life and hospitality. No other city in Latin America, or perhaps the world, can claim to be having just the kind of moment that Havana is experiencing now after so many decades gasping for change.
For visitors, the capital is a mash-up of past and present, freedom and restriction. It’s a city of architectural decay, but also creativity, where artists have turned a defunct cooking-oil factory into a performance space, bar and music venue that on any given night makes Brooklyn look as cool as a suburban Ikea. It’s a city where finding ingredients for a stellar menu requires feats of Promethean ingenuity; where opera is subversive, and kitschy too; where the Internet is just arriving, fully formed and censored; and where young Cubans without money are fleeing, while those with connections and ideas await great success.
Officially, some limits for Americans remain in place. Despite restored relations with Cuba, tourism is still banned by the embargo. But for those who reach Havana under the 12 categories of legal travel, or without permission, and for the rest of the world, the city is ready to entertain and confound.


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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Open Day at Government House, Adelaide

General view of Government House grounds

Today was one of those rare days on Adelaide's social calendar, for today the hoi polloi, that is the masses or common folk, were allowed to visit the residence of the Queens representative in South Australia, His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC. 

According to the official website, two Open Days are held each year at Government House, and today was one of those. I have of course, been aware of these rare events, but have never made the time to visit the grounds or tour the residence. Today, the perfect autumnal weather provided the ideal environment for that long delayed visit, and some of the many photographs I took during my visit are featured here. 

The First Government House

Government House, Adelaide is the oldest Government House in Australia. The first Government House, was constructed of timber slabs, wattle and daub, a thatched roof, calico ceiling, and external stone chimneys. It is believed to have been on a site between the present railway station and the River Torrens, and was destroyed by fire in 1841. 

When Lieutenant Colonel George Gawler replaced Governor Hindmarsh in 1838, he abandoned plans for a permanent house of timber and gave directions for the erection of a new building of masonry to cost £4,000 - if possible, but not to exceed £5,000*.

The total area of the grounds is 5.6 hectares. The emphasis is on the provision of a permanently attractive environment, always ready for inspection by visitors, with large areas for social and formal functions such as garden parties.


View of the Hindmarsh Dining Room

The Hindmarsh Dining Room 
The Hindmarsh Dining Room serves as the Governor’s private dining room, as well as for official luncheons and smaller, more intimate dinners. When ambassadors come to visit South Australia from Canberra, it is customary for the Governor to invite the ambassador and his or her party and selected guests to lunch at Government House.

Her Majesty Queen Alexandra

Above: Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia (Dec 1, 1844 - Nov 20, 1925), was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 1852, her father, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderbug-Gl├╝cksburg, was chosen to succeed his distant cousin, Frederick VII to the Danish throne.

At the age of sixteen, and in the manner of inter-marrying royals everywhere, Alexandra was chosen as the future wife of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and thus was destined to eventually became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India.

What? Too much information?

Still life by the renowned Adelaide artist, Hans Heysen

Above: A still life from renowned artist Sir Hans Heysen. Hans Heysen (Oct 8, 1877 - July 2, 1968) was a German-born Australian artist who became a household name for his paintings of monumental Australian gum trees. Heysen also produced images of men and animals toiling in the Australian bush, as well as groundbreaking depictions of arid landscapes in the Flinders Ranges. He won the Wynne Prize for landscape painting a record nine times.

His Majesty King George V, 1910 - 1936

The Entrance 
The Entrance and Porte Cochere to Government House were built in 1855 as part of the second stage of construction. The area is used for receiving official guests and for arrivals and departures of the Governor on official business. Portraits in this area are of King George V (above) and Queen Mary (seen below).


Her Majesty Queen Mary

Above: Her Majesty Queen Mary. Hers may not have been 'the face that launched a thousand ships', but her name has graced some of the biggest, and most famous ocean-going passenger liners in the modern world.

Landscape Painting

Numerous paintings can be seen decorating most of the public rooms in Government House. There is a strong preference for works by Australian artists, with an even stronger preference for traditional works of art such as still lifes and landscapes, or bucolic country scenes. I did not see any work that could be regarded as modern or contemporary (although that is not to say that these styles are not present in the non-public areas of the building).

Antique settee at Government House, Adelaide

Furniture at Government House leans very heavily towards the antique and traditional. Like the lack of contemporary and modern art, I saw no pieces of furniture that could be regarded as modern.

Detail of the stained glass Federation Windows in the Ballroom.

The Federation Windows 
The "Federation Windows" are a particular feature of the Ballroom. The alcove, dais, and the stained and painted glass windows at the north end of the room were installed by Governor Tennyson on the occasion of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York in 1901 following the opening of the first Australian Parliament in Melbourne. The windows were designed and made by the Adelaide firm of E.F. Troy.

Details for the window on left:
  • The Royal Coat of Arms (motto DIEU ET MON DROIT - God and my right - signifying the Monarch’s right to rule).
  • "E" stands for King Edward VII; "A" for Queen Alexandra.

Details for window on right:
  • Coat of Arms of the Duke of York.
  • "G" stands for George, Duke of York; "V" for Victoria Mary, Duchess of York (who later became known as King George V and Queen Mary).

A still life, one of many paintings on loan from the Art Gallery of S.A.

Above, another of the many traditional works of art on display at Government House. This work, like many others is on loan from the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria

Above: A portrait of Queen Victoria (May 24, 1819 - January 22, 1901). Not many people can lay claim to having a historical period named after them, but Queen Victoria is certainly one of them. Victoria inherited the throne at the age of 18, after her father's three elder brothers had died, leaving no surviving legitimate children. Her reign of 63 years and seven months was longer than that of any of her predecessors and is known today as the Victorian Era.

Scrapbook with press clippings about Australia's first Aboriginal State Governor

Above: Sir Douglas "Doug" Nicholls was the first Australian Aboriginal person to be knighted, and also the first to be appointed to vice-regal office, serving as Governor of South Australia from December 1, 1976 until his resignation on 30 April 1977, due to poor health. To my knowledge he is still the only Aboriginal to have been appointed Governor of an Australian state.

State Dining Room

The State Dining Room
The Large Dining Room was added during the second stage of construction. Up to twenty eight people may be seated for dinner at the mahogany dining table which is dated 1850-1900. “Russian” service is traditionally used in Royal and Vice Regal households - where guests serve themselves from silver platters held by the service staff.

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Acknowledgements: Much of the information on this page is sourced directly from the Official Government House, Adelaide, website. Other information is sourced from Wikipedia. All photographs by Jim Lesses. Note: Click on images to view at full size.

*£5,000 in today’s figures would be around £515,000 (adjusted for inflation), or approximately AUD$899,370.

More Information

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Telling The Story of Slavery in America

The magnificent oaks of Oak Alley. Image: Jim Lesses

During my 2012 American trip, I spent five nights in New Orleans and among the numerous activities I engaged in during my stay in the Crescent City, were tours that included the Laura, and Oak Alley plantations. Being the political animal that I am, I was very much aware of what seemed to be the ‘whitewashing’ of history associated with both these beautifully preserved sites, and the part they must have played in supporting one of the worst stains in human history—the institution and maintenance of organised slavery on a massive scale.

It is not as if the history of slavery was completely ignored at these former plantations, and others like them, but more that the legacy of slavery was left to the imagination of the visitor rather than bringing it front and centre. The beautifully maintained plantation homes, and the well manicured lawns and gardens, might leave visitors with the impression that life on a pre-American Civil War plantation wasn’t all that unpleasant. In fact, the Oak Alley Plantation can be hired for weddings, corporate events, and overnight stays—“A tranquil retreat in the heart of Plantation Country”—proclaims one caption to a series of images on the site. While life may have been very pleasant for the plantation owners, it was far from pleasant for the slaves.

John J. Cummings III; Screen shot from the New Yorker video.

Since my 2012 trip, I am delighted to see that at least one former property—the Whitney Plantation—has now been set up as the first memorial of its type in America. The New Yorker magazine, under the byline of Kalim Armstrong ran an item and video in February 2016, Telling The Story of Slavery from which the following quote is taken:
John Cummings, a lawyer who founded the [Whitney Plantation] museum, spent sixteen years planning and over eight million dollars of his own money to restore this site, which honors the memory of those who were enslaved on plantations and whose labor helped build this country. The Whitney Plantation is not a place designed to make people feel guilt, or to make people feel shame. It is a site of memory, a place that that exists to further the necessary dialogue about race in America.
The Whitney Plantation was founded in 1752, and is located in Louisiana along the historic River Road, which winds down the Mississippi toward New Orleans. Here is the New Yorker video:


It wasn’t hard to find other videos detailing various aspects of slavery and the plantation system online, and the following 28-minute video is from what appears to be a made-for-television series called Weekends With Whitney. Independently produced by Whitney Vann, the program focuses on the story behind the Whitney Plantation and supplements the New Yorker video very nicely. Note: This show has three advertising breaks built into the video, but thankfully they are short and almost unobtrusive.


If You Go
The Whitney Plantation
5099, Highway 18, Wallace, Louisiana.
Open 9:30am to 4:30pm every day except Tuesday
(The museum is also closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Years Day, Mardi Gras, Easter Sunday, and July 4th.)
Note: the website states that, “There are no self guided tours at The Whitney Plantation.” And further that, “The only way to visit The Whitney Plantation is through a guided tour.” Tours are given every hour between 10:00am and 3:00pm.
Prices range from $10.00 to $22.00 (see website for full schedule)

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