Sunday, October 28, 2007

Caribbean: St. Eustatius (Statia), Netherlands Antilles, 2002

This is a view from Fort Oranje, which is in the center of the town Oranjestad on the island of St. Eustatius, or Statia, part of the Dutch Windward Islands which also includes St. Maarten (Dutch side) and Saba. The fort faces the Caribbean side of the island.

Statia used to be a lucrative port in colonial times and as such has some interesting historical buildings (such as a synagogue) aside from the fort. Statia is said to be the first area ever to salute a ship representing the United States of America. The fort has a plaque indicating this event, though it is suspected that history has exaggerated the importance of the signal; it may not have been specifically to recognize the new republic but simply to exchange communication with the vessel.

The British, supposedly in retaliation for the signal to the American ship, sacked this island in 1781 and as its economy never recovered, it became a sleepy place. It certainly is one of the quietest Caribbean islands I've ever been to. Part of the reason for its present-day quietness is that the island is reached by prop plane and the crosswinds are strong when one of these planes goes to land. Statia appeals mainly to divers and the main beach never was rebuilt after Hurricane Lenny washed it away.

The beach on the Caribbean side also has ruins of warehouses that were built during this same colonial era (left). There are beaches on the Atlantic side, but the surf is rough there and swimming is not recommended.

Aside from diving, the island also has an extinct volcano known as The Quill, which has several hiking trails around it (a guide is recommended). Though I didn't stay long enough to hike up the volcano, I drove as far south as I could on Statia and passed the volcano on my left.

I took this photo at the end of the road on the southern part of the island. This area was really quiet as there are no buildings around it and I was the only one in the area. The nearby island of St. Kitts can be seen in the distance.

Visit my webpage on the Caribbean at

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mexico: Jorge Negrete, "El Charro Cantor"

Mexico had a "Golden Age" of cinema that reached its highest expression in the 40s and the 50s. One of the best-known of its stars was Jorge Negrete, who epitomized the image of the "charro cantor," or Mexican singing cowboy, and was the first mariachi star to achieve lasting international fame. He had a voice that could be categorized as a tenor who could sing with depth and power, or a baritone who could reach high notes and still retain a rich vocal quality. His life came to an untimely end in 1953 at the age of 42, when he succumbed to liver disease, which started with a hepatitis C infection in New York years earlier and eventually resurfaced.

There are plenty of blogs and websites that relate information about Negrete, so I won't try to repeat what is shared there, but there are a lot of anecdotes about his life that aren't necessarily written down anywhere, or if they are, they're not in the most obvious places. Of course, a lot of the information is written in Spanish and not translated, so some of what I write will be things that I don't believe are translated anywhere. In between my blogs of travels I'll add some information about Negrete and other actors/singers of that era, and hint at what value they have for those interested in Latin America and its culture.

The photo is from a website in Spanish not only about Negrete, but also about his daughter Diana and grandsons Rafael and Lorenzo, all of whom sing and through their song promote his legacy while at the same time pursue their own creative paths. When they sing together, they are known as "La Dinastia Negrete" (The Negrete Dynasty). The website is and has links to similar sites (a few are inactive), including an excellent site on Mexican cinema,

If you search on Jorge Negrete on YouTube, you can find several posts with his songs and/or interesting footage.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Caribbean: Musicians on St. Martin, 2002

In 2002 I traveled to the island of St. Martin, which is shared by the French and Dutch. My goal was to look for people who were involved in music and dance traditions. One person I was fortunate to meet was Carlson Velasquez, who has spent nearly all of his life there; he was born in Aruba but was taken to St. Martin by his family when he was six months old.

Carlson is one of a generation who learned the guitar and its Cuban cousin, the tres, from other island musicians. Their repertoire includes music from the Caribbean islands, including the Spanish-speaking ones, as well as old-time American country music and religious songs. The style of music reminds people of Cuban musicians such as Compay Segundo and others from the Buena Vista Social Club. The photo shows Carlson with his resonator guitar.

Carlson also makes a bass instrument called the marimba, not the same as the marimba from Guatemala and other Central American countries. The Caribbean-style marimba comes from a smaller African instrument called the kalimba, which consists of a number of metal tongs attached to a resonator box. This instrument is still used in folk bands in different parts of the Caribbean.

See my webpage on the Caribbean at