Showtime in Charleston

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Cunningham piano used by George Gershwin © Charles and Mary Love

This is a big year for Charleston’s internationally renowned Spoleto Festival, a showpiece for the performing arts. If possible, try to visit in late spring and join the excitement!

The Festival marks its 40th anniversary with a new staging  of George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess, starring baritone Lester Lynch and soprano Alyson Cambridge. Sets have been designed by internationally acclaimed visual artist Jonathan Green, who is from the Gullah community that inspired Gershwin’s opera.  Charleston’s beautiful new  Gaillard Center, which reopened last fall after a multi-million dollar, three-year renovation, will be the venue.

Various related museum shows and walking tours will be offered around the city. For example, the Charleston History Museum will feature black and white images of Charleston during the 1920s and ’30s, period clothing and the upright Cunningham piano Gershwin used to compose Porgy and Bess. Six performances of the iconic folk opera will take place from May 27 – June 12.

The 3-week festival features more than 150 other performances in various venues, including dance, theatre, opera, pop and jazz music. Some of the highlights include Dublin’s Gate Theatre production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest; shows by dance troupes such as Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the L.A. Dance Project and Sadler’s Wells London (showcasing a Cuban-themed work Havana Rakatan); and concerts by bluegrass luminaries Old Crow Medicine Show as well as various chamber music and jazz groups.

Tickets and Information: 843-579-3100, spoletousa.org

Note on the photograph above: Cunningham pianos, like the one used by Gershwin (pictured above) to compose Porgy and Bess, were hand-made in Philadelphia by the Cunningham Piano Co., founded in 1891.  The founder, Patrick Cunningham, was an Irish immigrant and a well-trained craftsman and woodworker. His company thrived for many years and won awards for quality and design. After World War II, his successor, Louis Cohen, determined that building a small number of hand-made pianos was no longer a viable business model and transformed the company to focus on restoration and rebuilding of the top piano brands. He also relocated the company to Germantown, Pennsylvania.

 

Read more.. Sunday, January 31st, 2016

On the Prowl: Paris to Prague

View from Notre Dame Cathedral. @ 2015 Charles & Mary Love

View of Paris from Notre Dame Cathedral © 2015 Charles and Mary Love

Our recent European river cruise on the Mosel, Rhine and Main rivers began with three days in Paris. A road trip from Paris through Luxembourg to Trier, Germany, took us to the Idun, one of Viking River Cruises’ award-winning longships. An eight-day cruise from Trier ended in Bamberg, Germany. Then it was on to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, by road.

Once aboard Viking’s Longship Idun, 135 meters in length, we felt at home. The ship was immaculate, the staff gracious and the amenities—including comfortable staterooms with balconies, excellent cuisine and educational shore excursions—were excellent. One of a fleet of over 60 river vessels (with more to come), the ship is a state-of-the-art nautical marvel. It can be navigated in good and bad weather around river bends and through locks with a small joystick and the help of a professional crew and excellent radar system.

Viking is the world’s largest river cruise company, claiming over 40 percent of the North American market for European river cruises, and has won numerous awards in the travel industry. It takes guests on journeys in Europe, Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt. Viking has also introduced ocean cruises in the Baltic, Mediterranean, Caribbean and North America. For more information, go to vikingcruises.com

Stay tuned for our magazine feature story and video, coming in early January.

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View from Alexandre III Bridge, Paris © 2015 Charles and Mary Love

The views from the Alexandre III Bridge in Paris are phenomenal, particularly at night. In addition to appreciating the elegant statuary on the bridge, pedestrians can visit the nearby Grand Palais museum or board a boat just under the bridge to cruise  the Seine River.

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Stolzenfels Castle © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

Medieval Stolzenfels Castel on the Rhine near Koblenz, Germany, fell to ruin but was restored in the 19th century for Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV.

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A Viking Longship. Courtesy Viking River Cruises

Viking’s Longships are ideal for cruising Europe’s rivers with their shallow drafts and state-of-the-art maneuverability.

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Prague, Czech Republic © 2015 Charles and Mary Love

The view of Prague—the City of a Hundred Spires—from Petrin Hill is one of our favorite panoramas in Europe. From here, travelers have a bird’s-eye-view of the Old Town.

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Jazz Musicians on Prague’s Charles Bridge © 2015 Charles and Mary Love

The activity on Prague’s 14th-century Charles Bridge goes on day and night.

Read more.. Friday, December 18th, 2015

On The Prowl: Bimini

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Mural along Queen’s Highway, Bimini ©2015 Charles & Mary Love

 

“It’s wonderful to see you again and be reminded that you once lived among us!”

This was how Ashley Saunders greeted me, a man who some 50 years ago was my student in Bimini’s ramshackle, one-room schoolhouse. At the time, I was just 16 years old.

Since then, I have returned periodically to this unforgettable island, the “gateway to the Bahamas” and one of the world’s top big game fishing and diving destinations. On my last trip here in 1976, I brought along my soon-to-be wife to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Now, 40 years later, we returned to Bimini  to see how the island had changed.

As it turned out, Ashley, one of the school’s best students, had gone on to become a teacher himself, as well as Bimini’s historian and poet. He’d also built a small museum, the Dolphin House, that’s full of historic Bimini artifacts and memorabilia.

We learned that Ashley and his brother Thomas had hosted Dr. Martin Luther King on Bimini just three days before he was assassinated in 1968. (Allegedly, his last speech was written on the island.) King was on a visit to recruit former U.S. Congressman from Harlem, Adam Clayton Powell, to the civil rights movement after he’d retired to Bimini. I, myself, had enjoyed lunch with Powell on Bimini’s waterfront in the early 1960s. (When Powell died in 1974, his ashes were spread over the island.) King had visited Bimini just once before. Today, his bust overlooking the island’s tiny straw market serves as a permanent tribute.

The old school house where I once taught is still in use—but it’s a high school instead of a combined elementary and junior high. And the adjacent house, where I had lived with the school’s Irish principal and his wife, houses the school’s office.

Just down the street, we saw the ruins of the Compleat Angler, a small, historic inn with a convivial bar where we enjoyed drinks on our aforementioned New Year’s Eve visit. (Two of my earliest photographs of Bimini once hung on its walls.) The inn, a former haunt of Ernest Hemingway (going back to the 1930s) and other notables had burned to the ground in 2006.

As we walked along Queen’s Highway, the island’s “main street”— a walkway that barely accommodates the few vehicles on the island—I encountered former students who remembered me. We also met Solomon “Sol” Frazier. Decades ago, he was the island’s best guitarist, a trophy-winning weightlifter and a role model who had helped me adapt to the island’s culture. Now 77 years old and struggling with serious health problems, he graciously welcomed us into his home and talked about the changes on Bimini.

The northern area of Bimini’s North Island has been taken over by the Malaysian multi-national company, Genting, under the name Resorts World Bimini. The developer has introduced a fast Miami-to-Bimini ship (called Bimini Superfast) to shuttle guests to a new Hilton-franchised hotel and the resort (complete with a rooftop infinity pool, condos, a casino, and fine dining restaurants)—all now in the final stages of completion. Genting has also built a marine terminal that’s allegedly one of the largest in the Bahamas.

Sol and other locals have concluded the changes are “bittersweet.” While the new projects have brought some jobs, more money-spending tourists and island infrastructure improvements, Genting has destroyed many of the Bimini’s eco-rich mangroves (with massive landfills on which to expand development) and introduced more cars and people. Relatedly, some offshore reefs that have long attracted divers and fishermen have been threatened, if not destroyed. And it’s not yet clear yet if Bimini has the capacity to handle the hordes of visitors the developer predicts.

Fortunately, the island’s authentic, laid-back ambience remains unchanged in and around the main settlement of Alice Town, about a mile south of the resort. But one gets the sense that Bimini now has two distinct cultures that are struggling to co-exist. (Locals humorously refer to resort workers brought to Bimini by Genting Corporation from Nassau, Grand Bahama and other islands as “seaweed.”)

There’s something very poignant about visiting a place that once was my “home away from home. ” I sensed the relentless passing of time and the impermanence of people and places that were once important in my life. Now there’s a conflict over the soul of Bimini— a gem of a place once so relaxing and unspoiled that Hemingway described it in his novel, Islands in the Stream, as “the end of the world.”

All things considered, taking the Miami-to Bimini ship for a 2-night stay at the new Hilton is both convenient and cost-effective. After the 3- hour, 60-mile cruise, you can relax in the Bahamas’ languid atmosphere and easily explore authentic Bimini on foot or with a bicycle or electric cart.

We can only hope that a constructive balance will be achieved between the interests of the developer and those of Bimini’s people to preserve their traditional lifestyle as well as the island’s fragile ecosystem.

 For more information about the resort, visit: rwbimini.com. For information about the controversy surrounding the island’s development, go to: savebimini.org

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Charles with Symone Robins, employee at Bimini’s public school ©2015 Charles & Mary Love

The original schoolhouse hasn’t changed except for the addition of a few interior walls.

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Radio Beach near Alice Town, Bimini ©2015 Charles & Mary Love

The powdery white sands and shades of blue in the sea around Bimini are as alluring as ever.

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Queen’s Highway, Bimini ©2015 Charles & Mary Love

The main walkway on North Bimini has been re-paved to accommodate more electric carts and cars.

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Bimini’s legendary bakery in Alice Town ©2015 Charles & Mary Love

Bimini’s home-made bread has always been known for its wonderful aroma and taste.

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The Bimini Superfast docks at the island’s new resort ©2015 Charles & Mary Love

The 1,500-person cruise ship of Resorts World Bimini that ferries visitors between Miami and Bimini docks 3 days a week at the resort’s property.

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Shell collectors on Bimini’s North Island ©2015 Charles & Mary Love

The beaches of Bimini are known for their beautiful shells including large conchs.

Read more.. Monday, October 5th, 2015

Reflections on Reaching Pluto

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Infinity © 2015 Charles and Mary Love

 

The successful fly-by of Pluto in July 2015 by the spacecraft New Horizons captured our imaginations like nothing else in recent memory. Just think of it. NASA had a very narrow window to launch the spacecraft— a moment when Pluto was closest to the sun, making its atmosphere easier to study (an event that would not recur for two more centuries)— and when the planet Jupiter was in the right position for its gravitational field to give the craft just enough boost to reach Pluto, reduce travel time by four years and save hundreds of millions of dollars.
Then consider that reaching Pluto required a 3-billion-mile, 9-year journey! It was the most distant place ever reached by a U.S. spacecraft. Astrobiologist David Grinspoon said, “The trip was, in a way, the last ‘first’. Never again will we approach a major destination in our solar system for the first time.”
Stunning photographs and data from Pluto have already been shared publicly, but it will take another 16 months to receive the last bits of information from space. Scientists hope the New Horizons mission will provide clues to better understanding the formation and composition our solar system—and the origin of the human species. Caltech physicist Sean Carroll said, ”In cosmic terms, the age of exploration has just begun. Ten thousand years from now, we’ll look back and laugh at how impressed humans used to be at crossing an ocean—and how intimidating it seemed to cross the space between the stars.”

Flinging a spacecraft to a successful rendezvous at the edge of the solar system was indisputably a stunning achievement. How far we’ve come since 1968 when Neil Armstrong and his crew landed on the moon using computer technology that’s now routinely installed on consumer laptops! The pace of technological innovation is unprecedented—and doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon.

But as one woman’s poignant letter to the editor of the New York Times reminds us, “The successful mission into space was remarkable, yet, on Planet Earth, we still haven’t figured out how to respect and live with one another.” Sad but true.

If all of us could travel to Pluto, we might view earth from afar and have a better perspective on our miniscule and vulnerable place in the universe. Perhaps, then, we’d be shocked into realizing that survival as a species depends on becoming better companions on our mysterious, earth-bound journey through space—a journey over which, ultimately, we have little control.

Read more.. Sunday, August 30th, 2015

Ready for Cuba?

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The paladar Doña Eutemia in Old Havana © 2013 Charles & Mary Love

 

Now that President Obama has restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, more Americans than ever are interested in visiting the island, which is just 90 miles from Miami, Florida.

We visited Cuba on a People-to-People cultural exchange trip in 2013 and found the culture—a mix of indigenous, European and African influences—fascinating. The better hotels provided comfortable rooms and plenty of amenities. The island’s atmospheric, privately-owned restaurants (paladares) and exciting nightlife kept us busy every evening. For more on this trip, seach here for our blog post titled On the Prowl: Cuba. Also visit the Features, Portfolios and Films pages on our website (imagyn.com) to find our illustrated Cuba magazine story, photo essay and short documentary film.

The bottom line: Not much has changed as of 2015. American tourists still cannot legally travel to Cuba by themselves. They must travel with non-profits (such as universities and museums), travel companies and individual travel professionals licensed by our government to offer People-to-People trips. Although the “cultural immersion” activities on these trips are planned in advance, guides usually allow time for visitors to explore on their own—and have fun.

Because of the permissions required, flights to Havana are handled by charter companies. (Jet Blue’s new weekly flights out of New York, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, for example, are booked by an affiliated charter company.)

Travelers may bring back $400 in Cuban goods for personal use, including not more than $100 in tobacco products and alcohol. (Tobacco and alcohol used to be forbidden.) Although there are efforts underway to enable Americans to use U.S. credit cards in Cuba, this is not possible yet. So take only cash.

Travel to Cuba remains expensive compared to other destinations, partially a result of U.S. red tape. Keep in mind that the U.S. Congress bears ultimate responsibility for reducing or, better yet, eliminating current travel restrictions and entirely lifting the current trade embargo.

Tip: Since Cuba weather is generally pretty good all year, look for the best deals outside the December to April high season.

Listed below are a few travel companies that offer, in our opinion, some interesting Cuba itineraries:

Friendly Planet

Friendly Planet is a very well managed company that has excellent itineraries in Cuba. This is the tour operator we used on our 2013 trip. 800-555-5165, friendlyplanet.com

InsightCuba

InsightCuba has been offering a variety of Cuba trips since 2000. Of possible interest to those who’ve already been to Cuba is a new 5-day itinerary that focuses exclusively on the city of Santiago de Cuba, located on the island’s southeastern coast. The city is important as the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution and the center of Cuba’s sizzling Afro-Cuban culture. 800-450-2822, insightcuba.com

 Fathom

Fathom, a new Carnival Cruise Line brand, has announced plans to begin 7-day cruises to Cuba in May, 2016. The cruises will be aboard Fathom’s deluxe small ship, the MV Adonia (capacity: 710 passengers). The company will offer what it calls “impact travel” that involves guests in social programs such as cultural immersion and volunteer work. Instead of featuring casinos and Broadway-type shows aboard, the emphasis will be on learning about the destination’s culture. Details and pricing is still being worked out as of August, 2015. Stay tuned if this kind of travel is of interest! 855-932-8466, fathom.org

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Celestial Cruises, a Greek cruise line (marketed under the name CubaCruise), also offers a Cuba cruise. In fact, the company has been offering round-trip, 7-day Cuba cruises for three years, departing from Havana or Montego Bay, Jamaica. The company’s luxury ship, Celestial Cristal (capacity: 1,200 passengers), includes all meals aboard, a drinks package, four excursions ashore and onboard entertainment. The itinerary covers several major Cuban cities, including Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Passengers can arrange for their U.S. government-required People-to-People tour documentation through the cruise line. 855-364-4999, yourcubacruise.com

AdventureSmith Explorations

This company plans to offer 8-day small-ship cruises departing from Havana and Cienfuegos on two luxury motor sailboats, Panorama I and Panorama II (capacity 49 passengers each). Cruises will begin in December, 2015. These cruises are more expensive than many other travel options but offer the advantage of being on a small ship with the ambience of a private yacht. Itineraries include the two departure ports plus visits to Trinidad, Cayo Largo and other interesting places around the island. U.S. government-required People-to-People tour arrangements are handled by AdventureSmith Explorations. 800-728-2875, adventuresmithexplorations.com

 Aside from the above travel companies you might do well, for comparison, to look for trips organized by universities, museums and tour operators like Apple Vacations (800-517-2000, applevacations.com) and Road Scholar (800-454-5786, roadscholar.org).

Best wishes for a great Cuba adventure!

Read more.. Monday, August 10th, 2015

Island Joie de Vivre

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Harbor of Gustavia, St. Barthélemy’s capital © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

 

France in the Caribbean. This phrase captures the essence and appeal of St. Barthélemy (commonly called St. Barth). All those things Americans love about France—exclusive accommodations, exceptional hospitality and cuisine, exciting nightlife and  joie de vivre—come together on this one small island.

Located in the French West Indies, St. Barth is just 2 1/2 hours from Miami by plane. During the winter season, it’s a magnet for some of the world’s most affluent, discriminating travelers who come to soak up the sun—either on beaches or aboard private yachts that fan out from the small harbor of Gustavia, the capital. But the good times don’t end in April. Late spring and early summer can be just as nice and less busy.

We had the pleasure of staying at the luxurious Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France, an exclusive hotel located along Flamands Beach on the northwest corner of the island. Recently acquired and renovated by the luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), it’s one of three Cheval Blanc properties (the other two are in Courcheval, France, and the Maldive Islands). The hotel appeals to all ages, including honeymooners, couples seeking a place to chill out and families with young children.

The renovated hotel reflects LVMH’s commitment to offer the best in comfort, privacy and hospitality in a way that combines elegance with simplicity. Guests can choose from among 40 spacious rooms, suites and villas with ocean or tropical garden views. They are supplied with every amenity one could imagine. French chef Yann Vinsot offers cuisine that’s both creative and healthy. Best of all, the hotel’s young and energetic French staff are exceptionally gracous.

If you’re lucky enough to stay here, don’t miss a signature treatment at the spa—the only Guerlain spa in the Caribbean—and the weekly Tuesday evening fashion show! Stay tuned for our upcoming magazine feature and film.

For more information:  800-810-4691, info.stbarth@chevalblanc.com, stbarthisledefrance.chevalblanc.com

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Entrance to Cheval Blanc. Photo courtesy of Cheval Blanc

The entranceway to the Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France, located on Flamands Beach, leads to the beach and a dining area with views of the Atlantic Ocean. 

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Model in Pucci swimwear © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

A poolside fashion show and cocktail reception occur every Tuesday night at Cheval Blanc.

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The spa pavilion © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

The hotel has the only Guerlain Spa in the Caribbean. In addition to indoor treatment rooms, a spa pavilion, located in Cheval Blanc’s tropical garden, provides a restful place for a signature treatment.

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Shell Beach © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

Shell Beach, located within walking distance of the boutiques of Gustavia, provides an inviting place for sun worshippers to stretch out on the sand and frolic in the surf.

Read more.. Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

A Force of Nature

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Pianoforte Fireworks © 2015 Charles Love

 

Don’t miss exhilarating Japanese jazz pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara (known professionally as Hiromi)! Her stage presence exudes spontaneous joy, and her incendiary playing excites audiences around the world.

We’ve heard many fine pianists over the years—both classical artists and jazz greats—and Hiromi ranks right up there with the best. She studied classical piano from the age of five. Her music transcends genres and is best identified as fusion—a blend of classical, jazz, pop and progressive rock. In fact, she has said, “I don’t believe in music genres, just music.”

In a recent interview at the Gărâna Jazz Festival in Rumania, she said: “I feel so alive on stage … there I feel the beauty of life. The magic of music is that I can connect with people in a second, without words, and make them as happy as they make me!”

The testimonials have been phenomenal:

“Extravagantly dynamic … A forceful presence on any stage!” —The New York Times

“Dazzling…”  —The New Yorker

“One of jazz piano’s most brazenly virtuosic players.”  — Jazz Times

“She’s to the piano what Hendrix and Van Halen are to the guitar … Yeah, she’s that good.”  —All About Jazz

“She’s a genius that has it all … technical perfection, an interpretative sense, original concepts with musical phrasing, and an effortless ability to improvise. I think she’s one of the greatest artists to ever sit in front of a piano.”  —Bassist Anthony Jackson

“Solo after solo, she’s relentless. … She has so much reserve and so many ideas. … She’s amazing.” —Drummer Simon Phillips

You can view Hiromi in performance and in interviews on YouTube. Her discography includes the albums Alive, Move, Voice, and Place to Be—available through iTunes and other venues. We particularly like the first three albums which include music from her trio project with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips. Her DVDs include: Solo Live at Blue Note New York and Hiromi: Live in Marciac.

U.S. music enthusiasts on the East Coast can catch her performance this summer at the Newport Jazz Festival on August 1.

Be prepared for a thrill ride!

For more information: www.hiromimusic.com

Read more.. Friday, July 3rd, 2015

RED Digital Cinema in Miami

We attended the grand opening in Miami of RED Digital Cinema’s newest retail store—an exciting party that attracted many filmmakers.

The event occurred in Wynwood — Miami’s high-energy arts district that’s chock full of galleries as well as new restaurants, eclectic bars, antique shops and one of the largest open-air street installations in the world. Many colorful murals decorate public facades, adding visual drama and color to an area that, not long ago, was an industrial wasteland of old factories, warehouses and derelict buildings.

RED president Jarred Land has said: “The Wynwood Art District is the ideal location for our newest RED store. The vibe and art within the area gets the creative juices flowing for everyone, including local, current and future RED shooters.”

RED has been an innovator in technology. The company developed ultra-high resolution cameras that are modular and can be customized to shooters’ needs. Currently stirring much excitement is the new RED WEAPON—a 6K-resolution marvel that incorporates the award-winning RED DRAGON sensor. Besides having ultra-high, unprecedented image resolution, the camera is small and lightweight. Other advantages: It offers improved digital workflow and records in Apple ProRes, among other formats.

For more information, visit red.com.

Read more.. Saturday, June 20th, 2015