A year ago I was invited to attend LE Miami, the luxury travel show. The event has a partnership with American Excursionist who organise bespoke tours designed by experts and led by local personalities. I went on their Little Havana Cultural Immersion tour, led by a cultural anthropologist, which took me to Calle Ocho to experience el calor Latino.
Our first stop was La casona de la sagüesera, the home of the identical twin Cuban artists, Ronald and Nelson Curras, who work in ceramics and have transformed their house into a living piece of art. La sagüesera, I was told, is Spanglish for “southwest.”
Throughout the home–which may be turned into a museum one day–are images of O’ Shun, the most popular of the orishas (spirits) in santería, the religion that developed in the African slave communities of the Cuba’s sugar plantations by adopting elements of Spanish-imposed Catholicism while maintaining beliefs from Africa, primarily those of Nigeria’s Yoruba tribe.
Incorporated into the murals and mosaics throughout the house are frequent images of sunflowers–the presence of which in Cuban art invoke O’ Shun.
I just loved the energy and colour of La casona de la sagüesera and feel very lucky to have been invited inside.
Leith never used to be so cool; in fact it was a pretty bad neighbourhood when I lived in Edinburgh, just a few years after Trainspotting, which was set there, was made into a movie.
Now, the area is filled with hip bars (like Boda Bar above) and shops and is home to some really interesting festivals, particularly the arts festival LeithLate. One of LeithLate’s initiatives is the Shutter Project and Mural Project, which brings street artists to the area to paint shop shutters and other vacant spaces. This mural below was one of my favourites. Painted by Guido van Helten, it depicts one of the last surviving members of the 1915 Quintinshill rail disaster in his old age. 200 men lost their lives in the disaster — the worst rail crash in the United Kingdom. Most of them were soldiers from the Leith Battalion heading to Gallipoli.
There are murals throughout the neighbourhood, including this one by Skint Richie on the shutter of Origano. But to see them, you need to get there early, before the shops open for business and the shutters go up.
When I look back on the summer I spent working in Reykjavík I always feel foolish that I spent so little time outside of the capital. I was busy and consumed by my own little life, but it is ridiculous that I lived in Reykjavík from June to August 2006 without seeing very much of the country.
I attempt to redress this by taking advantage of Icelandair’s free stopover on my once/twice yearly trips home to Scotland from my current home of New York City. Like taking small sips of fresh Icelandic air, I rent a car in Reykjavík and try to gulp down as much as I can with the few days I allow myself before heading back to the real world — and the filthy air and grime of New York City.
My most recent trip, in early May, took me onto Route 1 and to the black sand beach of Vík in the southwest of the country. A late learner and always a nervous driver, I feel strangely calm driving on the Icelandic roads. Once out of the city, as the otherworldly landscape begins to reveal itself, I perhaps find myself a little too relaxed, frequently slamming on the brakes to to a photo of some jagged mountain, shimmering waterfall or cute horse. It’s usually OK, once out of the city I am often along on the road for as far as I can see.
I went (back) to Puerto Rico last month and saw some amazing street art, primarily around the Santurce area. As well as beautiful art works, these pieces were really striking for their thought-provoking takes on such themes as imperialism, capitalism. Continue reading “The Street Art of San Juan, Puerto Rico”→
In May 1975, Kjartan Ragnarsson and Guðrún Ásmundsdóttir shot a slightly schlocky love scene for Iceland’s first ever feature film, Morðsaga (Murder Story). As Guðrún, playing a bored housewife, fantasises about ripping off the shirt from Kjartan’s, playing a plumber, chest, she cries out: “Take me here, by the dishwasher!” Legend has it that the day after the scene was filmed, the performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson was conceived. Continue reading “Ragnar Kjartansson at the New Museum: Me, My Mother, My Father, and I”→
I’m sitting in what I’m told is a “locals’ bar” in the Middle Keys while a musician sings “Wouldn’t want to be president, that’s too much stress. I just wanna be on an island, maybe just off Key West.” Around me more than one smiling, sunkissed older man is wearing a t-shirt that says “Sell Your Stuff, Keep the Dog, Move to an Island.”Continue reading “Paradise Found in the Florida Keys”→
Scandinavia House, on Park Avenue near Grand Central, is one of my favorite under-the-radar places in New York City. It’s almost always quiet, never busy, has a great (but pricey) Nordic café named Smörgås Chef; and shows excellent films and free art exhibitions. Continue reading “Sami Stories at Scandinavia House”→