Thursday, March 05, 2015

Cuba on a LGBT People-to-People tour and cruise

As we prepared last month to leave for our trip to Cuba, we were surprised how most of our friends had one of two reactions: "Wow, are you among the first to go since Obama made his Dec. 17 announcement about reopening diplomatic channels?" or "Are you sure it is safe to go?"  In fact, starting in 2011, hundreds, then thousands, and now probably soon tens of thousands of Americans are going to Cuba under a special agreement established between the US Treasury Department and the Cuban government.  These "people-to-people" tours are for US citizens only and require travelers to stick to a planned, negotiated schedule of meetings with ordinary Cuban people of all walks of life:  teachers, doctors, artists, farmers, scientists, performers, etc.

Unlike Canadians and Europeans who come to Cuba mostly for the beaches and some bus tours of the city sights, Americans cannot just go plop on the beach.  We are there actually to meet people, to have genuine exchanges, and to take in the culture and history.  (We were told time and again, by the way, that the Cubans love how US people are getting to know them through these tours.  Several Cubans seemed very cynical of especially their other North American neighbors, the Canadians, who are landing in huge cruise ships for one-day visits or are arriving on planes and making a straight-line dash to beach hotels and resorts.)

Before arriving in Cuba, Ed and I read two excellent books about Cuban history, particularly in relation to the United States:  "The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course & Legacy" (Marifeli Perez-Stable) and "Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution " (T.J. English).  We learned a number of things that helped us understand their and our history in ways we did not know:

From the moment Columbus stepped on its shores, the Spanish dominated Cuba for almost 500 years, completely exterminating the native peoples, introducing slaves from Africa, and building beautiful cities/towns that reflected the architecture of the 16th-19th centuries.  When slavery finally was abolished in 1868, the Cuba libre ("Free Cuba") revolution against Spain began but subsided ten years later with Spain still in control.   In 1895, the US-educated Jose Marti (the much-revered "George Washington" of Cuba) launched a second war of independence (in which he soon died), with eventually the US entering the ruckus with Spain in 1898 (i.e., "Remember the Maine") and soon taking over Cuba from the Spanish.  Cuban independence was negotiated in Paris by Spain and the US in 1902 (without Cuban participation).  The US withdrew but not without first declaring the Platt Amendment, which gave the US the right to intervene militarily any time we deemed the independence or stability of Cuba to be in jeopardy (which we in fact did do soon afterwards in 1906 for four more years).

The US continued to hold this Platt Amendment threat over the Cubans until the Roosevelt administration repealed most of its provisions in 1934 (but hanging onto another 100 years hold on Guantanamo Bay naval base).  Our influence was deep the first half of the century in terms of Cuban economy.  Due to pressures from our government, Cuba was and remained largely a one-export country (sugar), and that sugar was sold primarily to the US under world-market prices.  That relationship did help Cuba somewhat during the Great Depression but hampered severely Cuba's diversifying its economy.  When its leaders recognized the need to do so and attempted to do so (e.g., to begin exporting rice), the US would move it and thwart those efforts (so not to impede, e.g., on the growing Californian rice production) with threats of cutting back our import of the all-important sugar.

Only in the late 1940s and especially during the 1950s did a new industry burst on the economic scene of Cuba:  tourism, based largely on huge casinos, hotels, and nightclubs (and sex!).  This explosion was financed and run by American organized crime in full cahoots with the Cuban government (especially dictator Fulgencio Batista).  While most of Cuba suffered in high rates of illiteracy, poor health care, and poverty, the elite of Cuba and the mob rulers of the casinos were racking in the millions each week.  The dream was to create a Monte Carlo island that the mob would own and run with the Cuban leaders getting their full share on the side.

So was the scene that set up the next revolution, led by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and others.  Little surprise that this revolution was conceived and executed 'of the people, by the people, and for the people' -- especially the rural people outside swinging, tourist-heavy Havana.  By the time Batista escaped Cuba on January 1, 1959 (with an estimated $300 million socked away in accounts around the world), Castro had become the savior of a country sick of the decades (even centuries) of foreign and Cuban-elite corruption, graft, and payoffs.  To this day, we found Cubans universally full of high respect of Fidel -- even those who now seem very ready for change to occur away from the Communist government he eventually established in 1965.

One other surprising piece of this history:  Soon after Castro's troops took over Havana and all of Cuba, he did visit the US.  President Eisenhower did not meet with him but sent Vice President Nixon to do so.  The Cold War was well underway, and the US was wary of 'revolutions' occurring at its backdoor.  Historians have hypothesized that had either Castro asked for US help or Nixon had offered US help at the time, then maybe things would have turned out quite different than they did the next 50 years.  Castro was not yet a declared Socialist in 1959, and he certainly did not have much time for the Communists yet.  But desperate for economic help in order to stabilize his economy (now with casinos closing and tourism dipping), Castro came home after no assistance resulted from his US visit and soon turned his eyes toward the Soviets for economic help, and declared Cuba socialist in 1961.

With all that in mind, we arrived in Cuba on Saturday morning, February 14, on an American Eagle direct flight from Miami to Havana (one of at least a dozen per day).  Before I go through some of our daily highlights, let me first list some of the "ah-ha's" we observed and learned in the next few days (not an exhaustive list, just an illustrative one):

There are not guards, soldiers, police, or undercover agents on every corner.  The entire time we were in Cuba, I think I saw a couple of soldiers and many less police than I ever see in any US city.  And, I never heard a police siren.  There are also NO big banners, statues or paintings of Castro.  Nowhere did we see his image except on book covers at sidewalk stands. There are images/statues of the revolutionary hero Che Guevara as well as the Spanish liberation hero Jose Marti in many public squares and buildings, much like we would find in the US of our historic heroes.  Absent too were the Communist-type slogan billboards we expected to see (that were once in USSR, in China, e.g.).  Matter of fact, there are hardly any billboards anywhere in the country of any kind.

The old, American, classic cars are in fact everywhere (and they are beautiful); but in Havana, they are not the only cars seen.  There, they are used mostly as taxis for tourists.  Other cars seen in Havana are often more modern (but not current models). They are also often 'rental' cars of tourists.  There do seem to be 80s Russian cars, a lot of older Hyundais, Eastern European cars, etc. that some Cubans drive for themselves.  But our impression is that most Cubans do not have their own cars for their personal use.

Buses are everywhere -- large, modern buses full of tourists that are all Chinese-made.  The buses Cubans ride are smaller, older, crowded, and dumpy.

Cubans are often taxied in bike taxis in Havana and in those as well as horse-drawn carts and wagons in outlying cities.

Tourists are everywhere in Havana and the other coastal towns we visited.  Cruise ships arrived daily while we were in Havana.  Those ships of course have NO Americans on them.

There is a devastating, double economy in Cuba.  Tourists trade their own currencies for CUCs (which are technically worth $1 each but, after Cuban exchange fees, only $.87).  Any place catering to tourists has all its services, merchandise, food/drink, etc. priced in CUCs.

Cubans, from street cleaners to doctors/scientists/teachers, are all paid by the state in Cuban Pesos (CUP). One Cuban Peso is currently worth about .04 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso).  The average Cuban worker's monthly salary, according to 2014 data, is about 471 Cuban Pesos (about 19-20 CUCs, or $19-20 USD).  Recently, doctors, who until recently only made slightly more, have seen their salaries rise to as much as $67-equivalent/month -- if they have at least two specialties.  Nurses got a raise to $25-equivalent/month.

All Cubans do get a monthly ration card that does afford them some basis things like rice for free.  At government-run stores (bodegas) where prices are often only a few pesos for the additional, basic items available, lines develop; and people naturally get in them, reminiscent of scenes from the old USSR.  Cubans do get all medical services and education for free; basic utilities are highly subsidized (about $2/month for landline phone, electricity & water); most own their own homes/apartments; there are no property or goods/services taxes.

But, more and more products in Cuba are now being priced in CUCs, especially those coming from other countries.  For example, I saw a good-sized, new, Chinese refrigerator that was priced about 738 CUCs, or 19,444 Cuban Pesos.  Making 240 or less CUCs a year, one sees how impossible it can be for Cubans to afford many things that most of the world now considers essential.

So how do they make it on?  Consider this:  The Number One revenue source in current Cuban economy is "Dollars sent by relatives abroad -- mostly US, of course."  (#2 is medical resources and services (56K medical personnel working currently in 66 countries); #3, tourism; #s 4-6 agriculturally based [sugar, rum, tobacco]).  So, those dollars coming in are converted (for a price, of course) to CUCs by Cubans and used to buy the things they need and desire that are not sold (or are in very limited supply) in the official government stores, which only accept Cuban Pesos.

It appears, from what we saw and heard, that EVERYONE operates in the illegal, but pervasive underground market.  Interestingly enough, there does not yet appear to be a 'sharing' economy. Most services and goods are exchanged among Cubans for currency at this point, not for trade.  But everyone is renting rooms, providing car rides, doing extra nighttime jobs, etc. on the sly.  It appears that the officials largely turn to look the other way most of the time.

There are increasingly ways people can apply legally to work for themselves (and not get a government salary).  More and more private restaurants are opening (called paladars), but they mostly only service tourists since their prices are out of ordinary Cubans' reaches.  Owners must still pay a hefty amount to the government in taxes (we were told about 65%), but they do have ways of unofficially adding to the income (like renting rooms above the restaurant).  Artists currently have some of the greatest freedoms to earn and keep their own money.  Galleries, large and small, are springing up everywhere, with tourists flocking to buy the often wonderful, and still mostly very reasonably-priced art.  (We came home with six pieces).  Some artists are now represented in other countries (but still not directly in the US) by legitimate galleries, and those artists are commanding larger and larger fees.

The tragedy of the 50+year American embargo is seen and felt everywhere in Cuba.  Not only can no American company or individual deal directly with Cuba, but any foreign company that chooses to trade with Cuba is then banned from doing business in the USA.  Thus, while hotels are being built, e.g., most are a Spanish hotel chain that made a choice to go to Cuba, knowing it cannot then also expand to the US.  The real tragedy occurs in fields like medicine.  AIDS patients, e.g., cannot get the latest drugs available in the US.  Any they are able to get come via other countries (or smuggled in small amounts by US tourists, which is happening), thus increasing the price.

There are US products seen in Cuba (e.g., iPhones among many of the young).  But all those come either as gifts from US relatives or through countries like Mexico, again meaning having to pay a middle source the jacked-up price for the product.  (Few Cubans seem to have email; and if they do, they rarely check it.  Internet connections are rare.  Broadband, where it does exist, is too expensive for most Cubans and is only accessed for minutes at a time.)

Bottomline, every Cuban we met was excited, delighted, and over-joyed that we were there.  Cubans we met seem to love the American people. They now also love Obama.  December 17, 2014 is fast becoming a day to be celebrated on their future calendars.   But that is because they have HIGH hopes for the changes that are coming.  They probably are much more optimistic than yet warranted.  We felt wary of their optimism and just tried to smile and say, "Yes, we hope so, too."

So now (FINALLY), I will recount what our particular people-to-people tour included.  We were a group of 48 GLBT folks (44 gay men, 4 lesbians).  We stayed and traveled on a large, Greek-owned yacht (the Panorama), We had two extraordinary guides:  Vilim Bugarin from the Panorama staff and Christopher Egas, our official guide from the Cuban government's tourist organization.  Both were amazing in their knowledge of Cuban economy, history, culture, government, etc.  Both, including Christopher, seemed totally open with us, answered any question we asked, and were not afraid to give personal opinions -- even when those were obviously counter to current, Cuban policy or message

--> Saturday, Feb. 14:
- Arrived at Miami Airport at 3:45 a.m. for a 7 a.m. flight.  (Lots of time required to check passports, visas, luggage, etc.)
- Arrived in Havana around 8 a.m. after about a 45-minute flight (following the Florida Keys to the end and then across the water to Havana).  Walked into the
the small, special terminal built JUST for American flights.  Took another couple of hours for more checks of passports/visas, changing dollars into CUCs, etc.  Got our first look at the 1950s cars lined up outside to take tourists into Havana.  Saw our first big billboard of Che.
- Noticed other arriving Americans (from other flights) claiming their luggage that included dozens of big screen TVs, boxes of computer equipment, etc. -- all 'gifts' being brought to relatives, some of which invariably was heading to the underground economy.  (Americans with relatives in Cuba can now travel on their own for visits.)
- Took a bus tour of Havana, with a couple of stops in public squares to begin taking lots of pictures and to hear history from our guides.
- Had a wonderful lunch at the beautiful "La California" Paladar, a celebrated, private, gay-owned restaurant in Havana.  Had our first people-to-people exchanges with the owner and with a woman jewelry artist.  (Found out that most of our lunches would include 2-3 rum drinks and/or excellent Cuban beers ... or local, fresh juices or Cuban sodas.)
- Visited a street, cultural project down one long side street ("Hammel") that reminded us of the murals along 24th Street in San Francisco.  Were entertained about a half hour by some incredible Cuban musicians and dancers.
- Visited the National Museum of Fine Arts, with a guided tour by Christopher who used the all-Cuban art (from the 16th Century to modern times) to walk us through both Cuban art and national history (as illustrated through the art).
- Embarked on the "M/S Panorama" (our 150', 24 cabins, 3-masted yacht) with welcoming rum drinks greeting us.
- Went to the Buena Vista Club (a Las-Vegas-sized restaurant and night club), where we had more rum drinks, a multi-course dinner, a people-to-people exchange with a Cuban musician, and then a night-club-type show of two, hot male singers, a full band, and lots of lights and pizzazz.
- For a few of us, there was a trip to a gay nightclub.  For most of us (including me and Ed) who had traveled all day Friday, had gotten up at 2:30 a.m. that morning, and had done all the above activities (along with rum drinks all along the way), the much-desired gay bar hopping had to be postponed until Sunday night.

--> Sunday, Feb. 15:
- Went to the community-based, cultural project Quisicuba to meet with employees and volunteers who are working with LGBT people, especially those with AIDS and those young, LGBT people who have been shunned by their families (a major problem in Cuba).  We heard that the oppression LGBT people face in Cuba is not from the government, whose national protection laws of LGBT people are sometimes much better than those of the US (e.g., a recent, non-discrimination workplace law).  Rather, the current LGBT oppression stems from the cultural mores and the machismo family biases that often make it very difficult for young and old LGBT folks alike, leading to family alienation and rejection.  (Interestingly enough, Cuba has not seen as of yet the spate of suicides occurring here in the US among LGBT young people.)  We heard a very moving presentation by a group of men and women of all ages and enjoyed a long Q and A between them and us.  (This is also where we heard how much the US embargo is hurting their efforts to get the needed, new medications to AIDS victims as well as the newer preventative measures (like Truvada) to prevent HIV/AIDS.)
- Arrived at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Havana Bay (at Cathedral Square) for another amazing lunch (and of course, welcoming rum drinks).  Had a people-to-people exchange with a renowned, gay film documentarian.
- Did a walking tour of Old Havana (Vieja Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to its four, major plazas (amongst huge throngs of tourists).  Then had a couple of hours to roam around the Old City on our own.  (We sought out and found a near-by Jewish synagogue.  Also visited at the large San Francisco Plaza to see the world-touring "Buddy Bears" -- large, brightly painted, fiberglass bears that each are decorated to represent 144 countries of the world.  (This multi-year exhibit has traveled all the continents and 28 countries -- but no where in the US since it has also come to Cuba.  Thank you, US Embargo!)
- Walked along the Malecón promenade that hugs Havana Harbor.  Famous as a place for lovers of all sorts to meet, day and night.  Covered in masses of tourists the afternoon we ventured there.
- After a lovely happy hour and meal on the boat, headed out with other guys to Cabaret Las Vegas, a state-run gay bar and home to Divino, one of Cuba's most accomplished drag acts.  Problem was, drag (and then strip) show did not begin until 1 a.m.  Again, the long day of touring caught up to me and Ed, and we headed back to the boat in an 'illegal,' local taxi.

--> Monday, Feb. 16
- Began the day at the studios of the incredible women's dance group, "Habana Compas," which presently also has four male dancers, drummers, singers.  This professional troupe creates its own wide array of drums and its beautifully decorated wooden chairs.  The latter are used like drums and props in wildly entertaining dance sets where the women beat the chairs and floor with drum sticks while others in the background play all types of historically authentic bongo-like drums.  The troupe also offers dance lessons to girls of all ages and trains over many years their future replacements.  We also had a chance to interact with them and to ask lots of questions.
- Then visited the National Sex Education Center, Cenesex, which serves as both an educational outreach organization for the entire country as well as an advocacy group on behalf of LGBT rights in Cuba.  Founded by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro.  Heard presentations.  Asked questions.  Saw an incredible photograph exhibit on Cuba transsexuals.
- Prior to lunch, attended on the upper bridge deck of the "Pandora" a Bon Voyage Cocktail party as we sailed out of Havana Bay, past the historic fort (Parque Historica Morro-Cabana) and lighthouse and on the beginning of an 11-hour trip to the western most part of the island.
- Lounged on the sun-drenched deck reading all afternoon.  Enjoyed happy hour and dinner on board.  Watched the Oscar-nominated animated film "Viva Cuba."

--> Tuesday, Feb. 17
- Arrived at Maria la Gorda (Mary the Fat), the western most part of Cuba, home to a tiny beach and dive center.
- Traveled to the tiny, rural community of La Bajada (a community within Guanahacabibes National Park, a UNESCO biosphere region).  Visited a small, 2-room school and its ten or so students.  Watched a couple of short skits.  Interacted with the kids and their professor with lots of two-way questions & answers (and lots of photo-taking on our part of the incredibly cute kids).   Left a large mound of school supplies that everyone brought to donate.
- Visited the Meteorological Center within the Park (a small concrete building with a couple of old computers in it), one of eight on the island that tracks (in conjunction with the US and others) tropical storms.  (The concrete building also serves as a hurricane shelter for local residents.)
- Visited the Park's headquarters for a brief presentation and discussion with Park staff.
- Had a delicious BBQ lunch and lots of local beverages on the beach.  Hung out under the coconut palms for the afternoon (with some of us going swimming) before returning by small, local tenders to our boat.
- Set sail after dinner.

--> Wednesday, Feb. 18
- Arrived at Cayo Largo, anchoring about 3 miles from the island's shore and taking two local tendors (more like small fishing vessels) to the resort, beach area through very shallow, clear waters.  The island had long, white, and fine sand beaches.  Its resort of several, rather-spartan buildings serves only foreign visitors.  (Travel to this national park is out of reach financially but also due to the fact it it open to foreign, visiting yachts -- not something the governments would want to expose Cubans to who might want to leave the island.)
- Visited a local medical clinic to find out what it is like to offer medical services in such a remote part of Cuba and to an area that serves only tourists and the Cuban staff who work there 20 days at a time (and then travel home for 10 days).
- Visited and heard about the Sea Turtle Breeding Center located on the island.
- Met with a warm, friendly, elderly Mr. Pire, who at a young age once served for a time as the official interpreter for Fidel himself and who is now a major naturalist and conservation specialist for this island.
- Had lunch and drinks at the outdoor plaza of the Hotel Cayo Largo.  Entertained by a couple of the local staff with games and comedy.
- As lunch progressed, clouds began to darken the sky.  A planned afternoon of snorkeling at the beautiful Caya Rico coral reef area had to be cancelled as we got on the small tenders to make our way back toward our boat.  Visibility dropped; and rain developed as folks huddled, shivering, in what little protection there was from the rain on the small boats.  The boats struggled in the increasing waves to make the journey back, and on more than one face there were signs of some concern.  Transfer in the tossing waters from the tenders to our boat was very tricky and a little scary for some; but we all made it onboard chilled and wet but also safe.
- A planned Greek BBQ dinner on the outdoor deck was moved to dinner inside due the worsening weather conditions.  Dinner was held a bit earlier than intended, with the captain waiting until we ate before pulling up the anchor to head out into the sea and the storm.
- As the night progressed, winds picked up considerably and waves/rain crashed onto the boat.  The constant rocking back and forth intensified considerably around 2 a.m.  Struggling to remain in our beds, we soon began to hear crashes from above.  As it turned out, dining room furniture was over-turning; dishes and silverware were crashing to the floor with much breakages of glass.  In some staterooms, small refrigerators in the rooms were popping out of their holdings.  Things were falling all around us in many of our rooms.  The boat rocked, went up and down, and twisted at times with a frightful force.  This continued until around 5 a.m.  Needless to say, no one got much sleep that night.  Fortunately we had been warned, and most had taken plenty of seasick-avoiding pills to make it through the night.

--> Thursday, Feb. 19
- Arrived at the very historic town of Trinidad, one of the oldest and finest colonial towns in all the Americas (founded in 1514).  Full of cobblestoned streets and beautifully colored, pastel houses, palaces, and plazas (from the 18th and 19th centuries), Trinidad is like a town frozen in time.  Horse-drawn carts and wagons carry much of the local traffic.  Wrought iron covers all windows, balconies, and doors.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site has escaped modern development by plan and decree and has long been a favorite of all tourists to Cuba (even before the Revolution).
- Began our tour at the small Architecture Museum where a topical rendering of the city and its houses, people, and animals is laid out in a large room and where we received an orientation and history by a member of the Office of the City Historian.
- Guided through the city with various stops for historical explanations, we visited next the Romantic Museum, a palace built in 1812 by the Borrell family, and now furnished with many of the original furniture, dishes, art, and silver of this Spanish aristocracy household.
- Had free time before and after lunch just to wander the twisting, cobbled streets of this amazing and quaint town.  Wandered through many street fairs.  Bought beautifully embroidered tablecloth and napkins as well as three pieces of art from various small galleries along the way.  Climbed the tower of a local church (with also a large plaza on its roof) for fantastic views of the red-tiled roofs and many roof and back yard gardens.
- Ate lunch at a very popular, government-owned buffet spot, the Plaza Major.  It featured lots of interesting salads and local bounty of all sorts.  Both tourists and Cubans were in the large restaurant.
- Returned in late afternoon to the boat, where we remained docked for the evening due to the high winds still raising havoc on the open seas.

--> Friday, Feb. 20
- To avoid another night of no one sleeping, we remained Thursday night in Trinidad and then took our bus (which had now caught up with us) on the 1.75 hour trip overland to our last stop, Cienfuegos.  (Our boat's crew braved the rocky waters during the day for the relatively short trip in order to meet us in Cienfuegos at the day's end.)
- Recently also awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing, this 19th-Century, seaside town is full of charm and beauty, with many former mansions of the rich still intact and in good shape.  The town's main square is surrounded by beautifully restored, brightly colored buildings of Spanish, 19th Century charm.  Branching from one corner is a pedestrian-only avenue where both for-tourist and for-local-resident stores reside.
- Visited the Cienfuegos Farmers' Market where colors and fragrances of every sort mingled for a magical effect.
- Attended a performance of the professional, mixed Chorus of Cienfuegos (one of three full-time, professional choruses in Cuba).  Heard a program of classical, gospel, and Cuban music, all sung a cappella and often with movement and featured soloists.  Spent time in discussion and exchange afterwards with the director of the group.
- Roamed the town and its outdoor/indoor galleries and markets.
- Returned to the boat for final happy hour and dinner.

--> Saturday, Feb. 21
- After departing the boat, had a couple more hours to roam around Cienfuegos.  Ed and I spent a half hour in one gallery in an exchange with the artist and his wife and having our own private 'tour' on line of his massive, interactive art displays that he has done in the past in Havana.  Bought a small piece from him (a self portrait of himself as a Cuban baseball player with a palm tree as his bat).  Also bought a couple more pieces of local art; several Cuban swimsuits and shirts; Cuban baseballs for all the kids; a Cuban cookbook (in English); and a small, Cuban drum.
- Headed to the small, international Cienfuegos airport for our trip back to Miami and then the next day, to SF.  (The next morning, we had the luck of getting to see our dear friend and artist, Zammy Migdal, for breakfast in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami at a Cuban restaurant before heading home to SF!)

Bottom-line, we LOVED Cuba and Cuban people.  We definitely plan to go back.  We want to spend much more time in Havana, visit Santiago, hike/bike the countryside, etc.  We encourage all our friends to go NOW before the inevitable, big development and huge cruise ships arrive.  And encourage your legislators to END THE EMBARGO.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Happy Blogiversary!!

February 15th is the 10-year anniversary of this GuyDads blog. That is a long time for a gay blog. Hard to believe it has been that long.  My goal is to keep on doing it as long as I can.

I looked up 10th-anniversary gifts and found that the official flower for the 10th is the Daffodil. How appropriate.
How gay is a daffodil?

How about a Gay Nineties
Cookie Tin?
Are daffodils gayer then the traditional 10th-anniversry gift of Tin?

When this anniversary comes, we will be off on vacation. We will be in Cuba on a LGBT People-to-People exchange tour and cruise.
Details when we come back.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wine Tasting Weekend

About a year ago we were at a fundraising benefit and my husband bid on a live auction item. After a bit of back and forth bidding, he “won” it. The item was a weekend wine tasting trip for 8 with dinner and lodging at a winery estate home.

The details were:
“Enjoy a day-long, private tasting experience in Sonoma County and finish off with a night stay in our beautiful estate house overlooking the Russian River for up to 8 people.  Start your day of tasting by gazing at one of the best views of the Russian River Valley with food pairings and an owner-guided tour.  Visit Christopher Creek Winery to taste the award winning wines along with some from our sister wineries, Benevolo Wines and Foppoli Wines.  End the day at the tasting lounge and Old Redwood Brewing Company in Windsor, and then come home to a spawning winery estate house to enjoy dinner for 8 prepared in your kitchen by a private chef.”

We asked three other gay couples to join us and had a blast last month up in the wine country of Healdsburg and Windsor, CA. Here’s the evidence:
Beer tasting at Old Redwood Brewing Company in Windsor, CA


Christopher Creek Winery estate home

The Shed in Healdsburg, CA

Ed and Eddie at the outdoor wine tasting.

View from the winery 

Monday, February 02, 2015

Another Blog: TheatreEddys

We are excited to announce that we have started another blog. It is called Theatre Eddys or

Actually, it is more of my husband’s blog has since he is doing all the writing for it. I am just helping with the more technical stuff.

Folks have been encouraging us to write reviews of the 100+ productions we tend to see annually. Eddie’s 2015 resolution was to take the plunge. While we don't usually make it to opening nights of shows, the reviews, even if they come late(r) in a run, will give you a sense of the variety of shows and venues in the San Francisco Bay Area and may lead some of you to see a particular show at the venue where we went or at another venue in the future. There will also be many shows we will miss (e.g., we rarely see the big, traveling shows we have already seen in NYC), but we will try to catch quite a few.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Year Return

My husband posted the following message on Facebook and emailed this notice to family and friends.  He and I have written a number of times on GuyDads about my previous battle with cancer.

There are some new developments in Ed's ongoing health saga.  In December, we were told some of the cancer nodules in his lungs were once again growing after not being seen for 4 months.  Still being relatively small (in the 1.5-2 cm. range), his oncologist advised that he start a new chemotherapy routine, this one being an ongoing, "maintenance" variety for the purpose of thwarting any further growth or movement (but not necessarily 'killing' the cancer already there).  His lingering neuropathy/numbness in his hands and feet from the first six-month regimen did not allow even a short return to that earlier, more powerful, drug combination.

This 'maintenance' chemo (Panitumumab or Vectibix) does not alter “theoretically” his day-to-day life that much:  no diet restrictions, no lowering of white blood cell count and thus no compromise of his immune system, etc.  Since he will be on this once-every-two-week pattern for as long as it works and as long as he can tolerate it, the good news is that he can take occasional 'breaks' so that we can still go on vacations (like our upcoming trip to Cuba in Feb. and hoped-for New York theatre trip & Mediterranean cruise later in the year).

My red and pox-mark head
and shoulders
Unfortunately, after two treatments, the side effects have been much worse than the doctor had thought they might be.  The worst and so-far unresolved effect has been a chicken-pox-like rash that has covered (literally) his face, neck, and torso.  This has been somewhat devastating for Ed, as you can imagine, since his appearance has been greatly altered, literally over night.  (This came on top of 30+ hours of bad intestinal issues from the first treatment.)

For the next month, he will go off the chemo, use some prescribed 'remedies' for the rash, and hopefully allow his body to go back to 'normal.'  In late February, he will begin a 50% dosage of the same, maintenance chemo drug.  If that goes well, the dosage will be increased gradually over the coming months.  Since our oncologist is seeing this as a long-term, continuous treatment, she is not that concerned in backing off a bit and then easing into the full dosage more slowly.

So the journey continues. In the meantime and as always, Ed continues to work, to walk two miles to work (even with his numb and tingling feet), and to attend with me live productions several nights a week (we have seen a dozen stage/symphony productions since the first of the year).

Things could be much worse at this point, and we have friends who have recently had much worse happen to them and/or their loved ones. To every one who faces health challenges, may our collective good wishes, support, and prayers help raise their spirits and keep them strong.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Time Flies

It is hard to believe that more than a month has gone by since we left California for a 2-week vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We have been traveling back to our favorite gay resort, Pineapple Point since 2007.

Besides the excellent facilities and attentive staff, the thing that makes the return visits extra special is seeing friends again. A good 75% of the people there between Christmas and New Years are returning guests. We have all gotten to know each other very well. Here’s a few pictures of our time there.

The "gay beach" Sebastian Beach

Fort Lauderdale intercostal

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Just Because it is Elvis

Today, January 8th, would have been his 80th birthday.

Tomorrow is my birthday.
Last year's shirtless birthday celebration:
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