We fight over how to achieve peace. We kill in the name of preserving life. We shove and kick each other to reach the last item on a shelf, an item we intend to give with love. We draw farther and farther apart, deeper into darkness. The greatest irony is that, generally, we share the same basic wants. We all want safety, nutrition, love, opportunity. But our perspective on how to achieve those seems to be separating.

Jim and I have a friend whose vision has deteriorated over the last few years. The images he saw fractured and multiplied, making it more difficult to tell what was real. It had gotten to the point that he couldn’t drive safely. Were the red cars ahead of him actually two red cars, or just double vision of one? Our friend needed new glasses to reintegrate the images, so he could see what was real.

We are used to the idea of “shalom” meaning “peace.” Another interpretation of “shalom” is “wholeness.” From wikipedia,

Shalom, in the liturgy and in the transcendent message of the Christian scriptures, means more than a state of mind, of being or of affairs. Derived from the Hebrew root shalam – meaning to be safe or complete, and by implication, to be friendly or to reciprocate. Shalom, as term and message, seems to encapsulate a reality and hope of wholeness for the individual, within societal relations, and for the whole world.

Shalom is peace, wholeness, integration. We need new glasses to see what is real, that we are one whole. When we give in to hate, whether to refugees from another country or to those who oppose them, we give in to darkness. There is no “other.” We are connected. We are one.

Shalom. Peace. Wholeness. Love.

Cuba Visit | Part 6 Final Impressions

by Jim and Melanie

We’re going to wrap up our trip with a few thoughts and favorite photos from each of us.

From Melanie:

Often I suggest going somewhere — “We should go to Portugal!” “We should go to Turkey!” Even imagine much less exotic locales — “we should go to Missouri!” Agreeing we should is easy, but scheduling it into our lives is harder. Imagine my surprise when I came out of the copy shop in February to hear Jim say, “We should go to Cuba!”

He’d been listening to our local jazz station, KCCK, on the car radio. They had a group tour to Cuba scheduled for October. Given all the political changes between the two countries, we knew this would be a prime time to go, so we said “Yes!”

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Cuba Visit | Part 5 Viñales Valley

by Jim and Melanie*

[*Melanie’s note: I was drowsy all that day and slept on the bus a good chunk of the time we were on it. Most of these observations are Jim’s.]

The final full day of our Cuba visit involved a bus trip more than 2.5 hours west of Havana to a national park called Viñales Valley. The highway was similar to other modern four-lane expressways. We stopped part way at a nice rest area complete with palm trees and a coffee-snack bar. As in other locations in Cuba, random dogs seemed to wander around.

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Cuba Visit | Part 4 Daily Life

by Jim and Melanie

If all we showed you were tourist sites, you would miss some of the most interesting parts of our trip. Below we give some impressions of the food and housing, utilities, transportation, and employment we saw. Needless to say, we are not experts and it’s possible we got some things wrong. However, this is our understanding as best we can convey. If you would like to know more, an interesting source of information and data is available from The World Factbook of the CIA.


As tourists, we ate very well in Cuba. Our hotel’s European-style breakfast buffet included a vast array of breads and pastries, fruits, sausages and other meats, potatoes and eggs. Lunches and dinners were at government-owned or privately-owned restaurants. Though we had rice and beans at several meals, meat was always on the menu. Our first dinner in Cuba included roasted chicken, while others featured pork, beef, and seafood.

Typical Cubans, however, have a more constrained diet. The cost of living exceeds official wages. To help offset that, the government issues coupon rationing books to each household, to provide subsidized staple foods. The rations differ depending on the age and health status of the household members, and they vary somewhat depending on supplies available. For example, each month the rationing booklets allow each healthy adult a total of 5 pounds of rice, 5 pounds of sugar, 1 pound of chicken, and 5 eggs, as well as a few other items. The items must be purchased at the citizen’s assigned market, based on their registered address.



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Cuba Visit | Part 3 National Pride

by Jim and Melanie

2015_1022Cuba_19So much imagery we experience of Cuba stems from immigrants washing up on the shores of Florida on rafts or tiny boats. The Mariel boatlifts of 1980 and other stories of refugees can make us think everyone is trying to escape the small island. On the contrary, Cubans are incredibly proud of their country as it is, as well as its past and burgeoning future.

Their literacy rate and education system, and high-quality free healthcare, stem directly from the revolution of the 1950s. But we found some points of pride that cross a longer history. There is a sweet and odd fixation on Ernest Hemingway and the decades of his prominence there. Baseball, the national sport, holds fascination for most. Below we share a few pictures and thoughts on these areas of national pride.
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Cuba Visit | Part 2 Architecture

by Jim and Melanie

As mentioned in our Cuba Visit | Part 1, the architecture of Cuba captured our attention. We were told that about 12% of existing buildings are from the colonial era of Cuba, from 1515 to 1898. Eighty percent is from that point of independence until the revolution, in 1959. And about 8% has been built since then, mostly with Soviet influence and help.

When we left the airport on entering the country we soon saw the effect of the last 8%. On one side of the highway, ugly concrete apartment buildings rose up in groups. Though still used, they looked damaged and abandoned. (The worst of the Soviet buildings, though, is the Russian Embassy. The link is for the googled images of it and in fact, it’s worse in person than in the photos.)

On our second day we went to the Presidential Palace, now used as the Museum of the Revolution. It was built in 1920, though it shows neo-classical styling rather than art deco. Some of the decorations were provided by Tiffany & Co. Much of the building has been renovated, and work is being done now on the back of the building and also on the high front windows. You may be able to see the scaffolding above the front entry.


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Cuba Visit | Part 1

by Jim and Melanie

We were in Cuba for five days of visits with people and for sight-seeing. Each day required up to 8 hours of supervised travel as a group. Some time was free and we could take a taxi and travel around the city freely. Four of the days were in Havana. The fifth day was spent about 2.5 hours west of Havana in a rural area called Vinales Valley. It is a UNESCO heritage site including a broad fertile valley and limestone mountains to the north shown in this map view. (We’ll show you pictures of that visit in another post.)

The evening before departing for Havana, our entire group gathered in a hotel near the Miami airport. The meeting was led by a representative of Chambers Explorations in order to distribute the necessary documents, fill them out properly, and enter the country with no problems or issues. We gathered our passports, visas, and declarations sheet with all the correct check boxes marked. We received instructions about money exchanges. We were told what to expect in the Miami and Havana airports. Above all, we were told to be flexible and expect things to be complicated. That was good advice. The next morning, processing through security went as expected. We boarded the Boeing 737 for our short flight of barely more than an hour to Havana.

Arrival in Havana

Upon arrival, our plane taxied past a terminal that looked relatively modern. We wondered why we didn’t pull up to it. Instead, the plane parked on the tarmac out in the open near an old and small terminal building. A set of stairs was driven to the plane so passengers could exit.


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Our Cuba Visit

by Jim and Melanie

Between 21-26 October 2015, we were in Cuba under the auspices of People-to-People. Our local jazz station organized the trip with the assistance of a travel agency.

Soon we will post our impressions and photographs of the beautiful people and things we experienced. There is so much to think about. It is all a swirl in our heads now. We look forward to sharing the highlights. One thing for sure, Cuba is complicated. Perhaps that complexity is reflected in this photo of a typical pole in a Havana neighborhood.


The Artist

There was a Japanese emperor who hired an artist to paint a rooster for him. The emperor was a patient man, so when the painting was not immediately forthcoming, he was not very concerned. Even so, years went by. How difficult was it to paint a rooster? The artist was benefitting from the patronage of the emperor, living in the palace grounds, eating the food provided, yet he had not produced the painting. After twenty years the emperor’s patience was spent. He went himself to the artist’s rooms to inquire about his painting.

The artist was startled to be visited by the emperor, but he bowed deeply and invited the other man to have a seat. “Please wait here, and I will get your painting.” The artist retreated into his studio. The emperor could hear him, singing softly to himself, puttering around.

After many minutes the emperor could take it no more. He leapt to his feet, as well as a now aging man could, and filled the doorway of the studio with his presence. “Twenty years I’ve waited and still you make me wait! Why should I not execute you now?”

The artist did not react to the threat, but stepped from his easel and said, “I am almost done now. Do you like it?”

The emperor’s temper calmed as he saw before him the perfect rooster. In simple lines it showed the rooster turned to look over its shoulder at him, just as he’d hoped. But then the man noticed dozens, no hundreds of other paintings almost the same, lining every surface of the room. To his eye, they all looked perfect, too.

“Did you just paint the rooster on the easel?” the emperor asked.

“Yes, your Majesty.”

“If you have painted all these other roosters, why do I not have one yet? Why have I waited twenty years for something you could do long ago, something you could do in just a few minutes?”

“Oh, your Majesty, I could not,” said the artist. “It has taken me this long to learn how to paint the perfect rooster. None of those before were good enough to give you.”

Camera Obscura | Then and Now

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

📷 This post was published over two years ago. Broken links prompted a re-post.

obscura Brunelleschi’s Duomo, Florence | 17th Century | Library of Congress

The Camera Obscura technique has been with us for much longer than photography. The principle is that of a pinhole camera.

The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved.
The image can be projected onto paper, and can then be traced to produce a highly accurate representation. The first camera obscura was later built by an Iraqi scientist named Abu Ali Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haytham, born in Basra (965-1039 AD), known in the West as Alhacen or Alhazen, who carried out practical experiments on optics in his Book of Optics

Today’s modern camera equipment adds…

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