Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Next Stop: St. Lucia


This week, I'm off to my beloved St. Lucia. It's been a few years but there's always something new  or requiring another turn on this gorgeous island. I'll be reviewing St. Lucia Jazz Fest,  which I haven't visited since Amy Winehouse performed her last show there in 2009.  That was a sad and unforgettable experience so I hope to create new, more positive memories at the rebooted fest, which actually focuses on jazz music this time. The line up  features  mostly Caribbean jazz artists so I'm excited to hear the shows. I'll also make a necessary stop to Soufriere volcano and sulphur springs as well as my first visit to the legendary St. Kitts Caribelle Batik at their St. Lucia location.  Videos, pix and reviews coming soon so please stay tuned!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

St. Thomas Carnival and African Heritage


Everybody loves Carnival. A lot of people think that it's just a big, colorful excuse to party but there is so much historical significance to the practice. Carnival literally translates to "farewell to meat" in Latin. It represents the Lenten tradition of the Catholic church to sacrifice during the month leading up to the resurrection of Jesus. A big party preceded the month of sacrifice. Spanish and Portuguese colonizers brought the tradition to North and South America. But as I watched St. Thomas Carnival, I was excited to see the Shaka Zulu troupe above, because so much of contemporary Carnival culture incorporates African culture. Enslaved Africans weren't allowed to join the Carnival celebrations so they created there own. All the feathers and masks used for costumes directly relate to African ceremonial style. The masks and feathers were used to invoke spirits.


And the Mocko Jumbies or Stilt walkers?  Most Virgin Islanders recognize them as a direct link to their West African heritage. These costumed figures are an important part of African religious ceremonies and rites of passages, adding spiritual protection to the events. Usually, they wear masks or a face covering but that St. Thomas sun was blazing so I don't blame this Mocko Jumbie for leaving off her mask!


The music, the dancing, the costumes of Carnival all display African traditions.  So the next time you jump up or watch a colorful carnival procession, please don't forget to thank Mama Africa!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Next Stop: St. Thomas


It's been a long while since I visited the lively Rock City, also know as St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. After 2017's Hurricanes Maria and Irma, I covered how the VI was affected and how to help. This week, I'll get the chance to observe the recovery firsthand and see how legendary vistas like Magens Bay, shown above, have fared.


I'm also excited to attend St. Thomas Carnival! I'll be watching the kids parade, sampling goodies at the Soca Village and maybe even participating in the adult's parade, so please keep a look out for posts and videos!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Design Beauty of Guadeloupe's Mourne-a-l-Eau Cemetary


I'm not a fan of wandering through cemeteries and hanging out among the graves but Guadeloupe's Mourne-a-l-Eau cemetery is a beautiful exception. Set atop a hill, most of the crypts are covered in black and white tiles that resemble little checkerboard houses.



The first thing I learned is that you should never enter a Guadeloupe cemetery or church without knocking first. So I knocked on the gate and roamed though the rows of intricately decorated tombs. The black and white design is supposed to represent the black color for mourning in Europe and the white color for mourning in Africa.


Many of the crypts looked like miniature homes, complete with spaces for mourners to sit and commune with their ancestors. Some people even hire architects to create their tombs. I've never seen anything like Mourne-a-l-Eau, although I did spot smaller versions as I traveled through Grande Terre. To me, the beauty of these final resting places reflect Guadeloupe's respect for the cycle of life.  Do you like to visit cemeteries?


Friday, April 6, 2018

Discovering MLK on Guadeloupe


The islands of Guadeloupe presented me with quite a few surprises. I didn't realize that the main island is really made up of the twin islands of Grande Terre and Basse Terre.  And there are also three other islands that make up Guadeloupe to add to the confusion. That was just the first unexpected experience. Spotting a mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a Grande Terre street was another.



I've always been a big fan of graffiti art. It gives a creative glimpse of the local communitiy's focus and concerns. Seeing MLK told me a lot about the locals pride and awareness. I actually watched the artists complete this mural, they had just started it the night before.


Street art is always interesting but witnessing an American icon be painted on a French Caribbean wall was certainly an image I'll always remember.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Next Stop: Guadeloupe


This week, I'm honored to travel to Guadeloupe and explore the island's extensive black history.  This French Caribbean territory boasts a long culture of resistance and I will be documenting it all, including the battles of Louis Delgres, who fought Napoleon's attempt to return slavery to the French Caribbean, Gwo-Ka music and dancing rituals, and the Memorial ACTe, a global initiative to tell the history of slavery and the institution's effect on the world.  Of course, I'll also be capturing Guadeloupe's unspoiled natural beauty so please stay tuned!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Classic Montreal Eats


Montreal is a foodie paradise. Whatever cuisine or dining experience you desire, you will find an excellent version in Montreal. The restaurant scene bubbles with cafes, chic dining spots and casual eateries on every other corner. But there are a few culinary requirements for every visitor. You must try an authentic Montreal bagel and you must sample poutine.



Bagels are a very serious thing in Montreal. They were brought by Eastern European Jews in the early 20th century and they quickly grew into an essential Montreal food. Now I'm not a huge bagel fan but Montreal bagels differ from the more familiar New York bagel. Montreal bagels are smaller, sweeter and less doughy. They are cooked in a honey water solution and then baked in a wood fire oven. They are not meant to be sliced but are munched warm from the oven and dunked in flavored creme cheese if you like. There's a contentious rivalry between Fairmount and St, Viateur Bagel Shops and locals pledge their allegiance the way Chicagoans represent either the White Sox or that other baseball team. I have visited both bagel shops and I'll just say that eating a warm morsel of a St.Viateur bagel sprinkled with sesame seeds and covered in salmon cream cheese made me want to occupy the shop and eat bagels, (which until that point, I thought I didn't like) all day.


Poutine is an acquired taste. This Quebecois dish of fries, cheese curds and gravy has risen from a late-night, hangover-alleviating remedy to a cultural hallmark. You will find poutine at McDonald's, at cafes, diners and delis but whatever you do, don't eat it at any place with poutine in the name. That's a guarantee that it will not be good. There's a lot of discussion on what makes the best poutine--extra fresh and squeaky cheese curds? Crispy fries? Well seasoned gravy?  I personally think that the cut and crisp of the fries is key and the Le Plateau mainstay, Chez Claudette  serves up a very popular menu of poutines with great fries. Bedsides, the classic, you can order poutine with spaghetti sauce and ground beef, hot dogs, mushrooms and peppers or braised pork. I had the veggie version, which was fine but nothing I could eat regularly. Poutine is best enjoyed late at night when your senses are blurred and your taste buds are eager for unhealthy food. Have you ever sampled Montreal bagels or poutine?



Monday, March 12, 2018

More Montreal Street Art


Besides the bohemian spirit and international vibe, what I love about Montreal is the zany street art. Yes, there are historic murals and lovely statues but what really excites me are the unexpected art scenes that pop up on walls and in alleys. I  last chronicled the city's street art in 2014 and four years later, I discovered fresh pieces all around the city with Danny from Spade &  Palacio, which supplies non-touristy tours. Check it out:



This rather creepy paintings stared back from a side street.


I was thrilled to spot this Jackie Robinson tribute for when he played with the Montreal Royals baseball team. I learned that he played with the Royals in 1946, before starting with the U.S. National Leagues and that it was a mutual love affair between Jackie and Montreal. His wife Rachel described his year of playing in Montreal after dealing with the racial hatred in the U.S. as "like coming out of a nightmare, the atmosphere in Montreal was so positive."



This old world figure peeked out of an alley across from the iconic  St. Viateur Bagels shop.


I really loved these anime characters hanging out on the side of a cafe.


And this old lady is quite famous from travel photos but I still enjoyed seeing her up close. If you visit Montreal, the street art should be at the top of your must do list, next to eating poutine and bagels, which I will cover in the next post.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Next Stop: Montreal


I love Montreal. And the proof of that love is reflected in the fact that I am visiting this exciting city in the middle of the winter. I love Montreal in the summer, when the port of Old Montreal is filled with activity and outdoor fests energize every other weekend. I love Montreal in the fall when the ice wineries feature non-stop tastings and restaurants host pop ups and tours. I love Montreal in the spring when locals dance in the parks and Jean Talon market  smells like fresh cannolis. But I don't know Montreal in winter. I've never been brave enough to subject myself to a winter more frigid than Chicago but when I was invited by Tourism Montreal to snow shoe in Mount Royal Park  (shown above) and to try fat biking and kick sledding in the Eastern township of Magog, I couldn't resist. I love snow shoeing , biking and sledding. So stay tuned for my inaugural winter adventures in Montreal. I'll also visit the  Lumiere winter festival of performing arts, gastronomy and outdoor activities so please keep a look out for updates!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Honoring Madam Marie Laveau in NOLA



On Tuesday, New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras with the traditional parades, parties and wild revelry that has made the Crescent City famous. I didn't attend this year's celebration but I always like to honor the tradition in some way, whether with a king's cake, pralines or listening to brass band music.This year, I munched on my last batch of pralines and recalled my visit to Marie Laveau's house on the edge of the French Quarter.



To natives of NOLA, Marie Laveau represents much more than the touristy shops and gimmicky tales associated with her role as a voudou priestess. She was highly regarded for her healing powers and her pride and knowledge of African rituals. She held her famous ceremonies right down the street from her house, in Congo Square. To visit New Orleans without paying homage to Madam Laveau is like going into someone's house without greeting the host. I sat on the stoop of the old building and offered my respects when a man came out of the house next door and set down a beautiful second line umbrella.  The second line tradition sprang from jazz funerals, which are also traced to African rituals. In a jazz funeral, the first line of people are the close relatives of the deceased and the second line are the people who join the procession and help brush away the sadness by dancing to the brass band and waving white handkerchiefs and umbrellas to shade them from the sun.



I stared at the umbrella, intricately decorated with feathers, sequins and golden fleur de lis. "You can have it if you want, we're moving," he said as he went back inside his house to retrieve more stuff. I picked up the umbrella and noted the feathers (a symbol Marie Laveau  often used). Smiling incredulously,  I thanked Marie as I left with my special gift.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My Fave Travel Experiences of 2017


Looking back on the year, 2017 was packed with unforgettable travel experiences that left a permanent mark on me. I'm actually still reflecting and documenting them with articles and posts but here are the standouts. Cuba was literally a dream come true. I've longed to visit the land of some of my most cherished rhythms and traditions but I had no inkling that I'd visit to celebrate the wedding of my friend to a wonderful Cuban man. Nights along the malecon and days in the markets and beaches were perfect but my visit to the Museo Yoruba de Cuba, also called the Orisha Museum, was a once-in-a lifetime experience. I witnessed ritual dances, shown above and saw artifacts and traditions connected with the Santeria religion.




Curacao, with it's gorgeous architecture and landscape, offered up friendly people and a fascinating food scene as well. Little Curacao, with it's pink lighthouse pictured above, was a highlight.


India is famous for it's intense colors, flavors and scenes and my trip to Gujarat did not disappoint. From the temples to the inquisitive locals, I'll never be the same after my India trip.


My love of art and hand-crafted jewelry made Santa Fe a long-time feature on my bucket list. I wasn't quite prepared for the beauty everywhere, from the land to the public art on roofs, doors and gardens.


Returning to my NOLA roots was special on many levels. I traveled with my family and traced my maternal history, visiting the house that my great-grandparents lived in.



Cali, Colombia was a surprise in so many ways, from the quirky cat sculptures to the city wide excitement of the Petronio  Alvarez Afro Colombian Cultural Festival. But the most unexpected treat was meeting Ebony and Nia, on a small Cali Street. Hailing from New Orleans and San Diego, respectively. they came up to me when they saw me take out my camera and realized I was a visitor. Learning about their experiences living in Cali and how they preferred the city's slow pace to the  tumultuous political landscape of the U.S., was the ultimate travel learning experience. What were your 2017 travel highlights?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Why Traveling To Haiti was One of the Highlights of My Life


This was supposed to be a post that examined my year in travel. But in light of the nonsense that has been recently stirred up about Haiti, El Salvador and the 54 countries that make up the African continent, I felt compelled to shine the spotlight on Haiti. I have long been weary of the constant dragging that the "Pearl of the Caribbean" endures. I have yet to see a mention of the island that doesn't describe it as "the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere" or reference the many natural disasters that have challenged this small country. You would think that it was some ravaged hole on the other side of the Dominican Republic, the way the stereotypes portray it. I assure you, it is not. Poverty and earthquakes have not stopped Haiti from being a vibrant country with a rich culture and stunning landscape. The elegant ruins of the Sans Souci palace, shown above, is  just one example. The grand palace was constructed in 1813 for Haiti's King Henri Christophe and included an amphitheater, a hospital, stables, gardens and pools.


And here we get to the real issue. Yes, Haiti had a king, a palace and an iconic mountain top fortress, La Citadelle,constructed to preserve Haiti's status as the world's first Black Republic. The audacity of  an enslaved people to snatch their freedom from France is something that the former colonial power never got over and Haiti has been paying for it ever since. But despite all the stereotypes and struggles thrown at Haiti, the pride and spirit of the Haitian people remain formidable. Stepping into the green hills and art strewn sidewalks of the island is something that I will never forget.



Color and art fill every surface of Port Au Prince, from shops, to tap tap buses, to  artfully painted houses.



The National Museum of Haiti boasts a sculpture garden as well as the tombs of Haiti's freedom fighters, Pre-Colombian artifacts, fine art and even the anchor from Christopher Columbus' Santa
Maria ship.


At the St. Trinity School of Music, over 1,000 students learn classical and Haitian folk music in a rigorous program that allows them to perform all over the world and record CDs. Many of the children are supplied with free music lessons and the melodies from their instruments can be heard through the streets of the trendy Petionville suburb of Port Au Prince. This is just a portion of the Haiti that I experienced. To witness the beauty, the resilience and the grace of the Haitian people and to know their courageous history fills me with pride. Ignorant remarks from a fast-food loving, half wit will never change that. Haiti is magnificent and I am forever changed because I had the opportunity to glimpse it personally.