Candombe Comes to Queens

Candombe drummers in Long Island City, QueensWhen a friend of mine from Uruguay mentioned on social media that he was not only in the country, but performing in my borough, I had to check it out. Little did I know that my friend, candombe drummer and music historian Tatita Marquez, would be just one part of last night’s festivities at Long Island City’s newly-opened Paper Factory Hotel to celebrate the birthday of the hotel’s owner, Gal Sela.

As if to underscore the magnitude of the celebration, the candombe drumming didn’t even begin inside the swanky hotel itself, but on 37th Avenue, right outside the hotel. This was not some provocative maneuver. As I narrated in a piece I wrote for Perceptive Travel a few years back, groups of candombe drum players, or cuerdas, are frequently seen and heard in the streets of Montevideo and other Uruguayan cities. Tatita and crew treated us to a Uruguayan experience, right here in Queens.

Candombe drumming in Long Island City, QueensThe street sign for 37th Avenue is visible above, in case you might be thinking that this happened on Calle Isla de Flores in Montevideo. Also, the cuerdas in Montevideo usually consist of many more than six drummers. Check out A Dialog of Echoes in Uruguay for more background and pictures from Montevideo.

Blue bird fire dancer at the Paper Factory Hotel.And here is a sampling of the other acts, starting with a roof-top fire dancer. By roof, I mean a roof of an old Blue Bird school bus.

Finger painter at the Paper Factory Hotel.A finger painter.

The High and Mighty Brass Band at the Paper Factory Hotel, July 31, 2014.The courtyard was also treated to a set of New Orleans-influenced tunes from a stripped-down lineup of the High and Mighty Brass Band (from Brooklyn).

Bus top hip-hopBus top hip-hop meets A Clockwork Orange. I think.

Tatita Marquez and Darrin DuFord at the Paper Factory Hotel.Tatita and I.

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Belize’s Lionfish: If You Can’t Beat Them, Eat Them

lionfish_tableTargeting invasive species with a dinner fork, especially a species known for its own bottomless appetite, can result in satisfying justice. It’s all the better when the critter in question makes a satisfying meal. Belize, along with the rest of the Caribbean, is currently battling the lionfish invasion with enthusiastic culinary experimentation.

To do my part, I met up with a Belizean diver and several restaurateurs during a recent trip. My story, Man vs. Fish, appears on the award-winning travel journalism site Roads & Kingdoms. Tuck in your napkin and enjoy the ride.





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Martinique’s Street Art

Amid the conch and octopus crepes, the traffic circles, the drum machine-driven zouk songs trickling from passing cars, and the public pay toilets shaped like chic time machines, I found that the island of Martinique displays some of its more intriguing reflections of its personality though its street art.

Murals, paste-ups, and stencils abundantly pop up around this small, cane-blanketed piece of France in the Caribbean, in both the capital of Fort-de-France and many of the island’s small fishing towns. While the bulk of Martinique’s restaurants close for a five-hour siesta starting at 2 pm (in addition to the month-long vacations that many businesses take in the summer, as well as the weekly vacation day known as Sunday), the island’s street art is always ready to be viewed and considered.

Below are some of my favorites. The images are best viewed large. Click on any image to enlarge it.

martinique la savane

martinique la savane 2The above paste-up characters liven up an unused façade facing La Savane, the central park of downtown Fort-de-France. Various layers of the city’s history have partially peeled away from the façade, the paste-ups representing the building’s latest interaction with the bustle of La Savane.


martinique rue blenac
martinique rue blenac 2A mural by the Mada Paint collective spans the door to a private parking space in Fort-de-France. The horror on the subject’s divided face may to refer to Martinique’s monomaniacal dependence on cars chopping up the life of the city.


martinique sainte anneThis gathering, painted by Slane, appears on the side of a t-shirt store in Sainte Anne, the island’s southernmost town.

martinique trois isletsA wall of an elementary school in Trois Ilets has been outfitted with a mural by Oshea & Xän of the Mada Paint collective.


martinique anse mitanHalf-tubes of cane climb up the wall of an apartment building in Anse Mitan.


martinique doorThis recessed area of a stuccoed building in Fort-de-France may have been a doorway at one time, but now it’s an outlet for plumbing pipes and a canvas for an abstract piece.


martinique mash
martinique mash 2Works by Jimmy Sabas, aka Mash, a Guadeloupian now living in Martinique, can be found scattered around Fort-de-France. In May of this year, along a stretch the city’s pedestrianized Rue de la République, Mash painted and stenciled a powerful mural reflecting on the slavery of the island’s past. He accompanied the shackles with the message “Les blessures qu’on oubli, ne peuvent pas être guéri” – injuries that we forget can not be cured.


martinique rue de la republique
martinique rue de la republiqueCement blocks that keep cars out of the pedestrianized Rue de la République watch over the foot traffic.


martinique on route to fort-de-franceA mural made from tiles fills a windowless wall, beautifying an otherwise drab, bumper-to-bumper commute through the blocky, concrete suburbs of the capital.


martinique coiffureAn abandoned building next to a hairdresser’s salon in Fort-de-France has received a facelift. Two of them.


martinique eye, centre ville, fort-de-franceIn downtown Fort-de-France, if you look up past the reaches of the cathedral’s spire, you may lock eyes with this.

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Love, Death, and Protein in Panama

Musuco counterman, Panama City

Perhaps I am a little too passionate about ceviche.

In 2012, I traveled to Panama for a closer look at the artisanal procurement of corvina, a fish popular throughout the country. I ended up meeting with a chilly two-step, a murky aphrodisiac, and a phantom hat. And a man who cheerfully doubles as a boat wife.

The resulting tale, Love, Death and Protein in Panama, appears over at On A Junket, edited by the same folks who brought you Adventures of the Traveling Sex Bunnies.

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Soccer: it’s what unites Astoria

You could say that it is always soccer season in Astoria. So many of Astoria’s ethnic communities go nuts over the sport that seems to play perpetually on the flat screens in Astoria’s restaurants and bars.

But every four years, the World Cup ratchets up Astoria’s game to almost comic proportions. The face paintings; the celebratory horn honks; the girls marching in and out of bars in tight, cut-off soccer jerseys; the flags draping car hoods; the simultaneous roars erupting from seemingly every open window and door onto the streets when a shot barely misses the net—soccer unites this hodge-podge neighborhood of mismatched, ugly houses and several dozen languages.

This year, ten of Astoria’s communities made it to the Cup: Colombia, Greece, Italy, Japan, Chile, Ecuador, Bosnia, Croatia, Mexico, and of course, Brazil. I’m sure there are some folks cheering for the United States too. All this enthusiasm is enough to convince a soccer novice such as myself to get sucked in. Heck, I now understand the rules for advancing to the knockout round in case of a tie in group points. As an added benefit, I find that watching and appreciating soccer helps to draw me closer to the diverse people of my neighborhood. A language of sport.

But I have not yet grasped the subtleties of the offside rule. So does that mean that I am not truly obsessed?

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