Monthly Archives: February 2017

Final Uruguay Blog, Maybe



If no beach is available, Uruguayans will gather on rocks to fish or party. However, you’re never too far from a fine coastal beach In Uruguay.

Its main beach town is Punta del Este, which is between Montevideo and the Brazilian border.   Someone told us to take a bus from the center of Montevideo to Carrasco.  For half the journey the bus paralleled this city’s best beaches. This was a scenic urban drive.   Watch for Greeting Man, an enormous bowing sculpture as you near Carrasco.

Because of its European heritage with many immigrants from Italy visitors have basically 2 choices in restaurants, Italian or parrilladas. The later specialize in grilled meats.  Parrillada commonly contains grilled ribs, sausages, blood puddings, cow intestines, etc.  Corned beef was invented in Uruguay.  There’s a museum in the town of Fray Bentos devoted to it. Uruguayans are meat eaters.

A good place to find parrilladas in Montevideo is the Mercado del Puerto, a market building in the old city near the harbor that is more and more for tourists although many locals like it too.  The prices on most things there, like souvenirs, are more than you will pay elsewhere.   As in some European countries, restaurants in Uruguay don’t tend to open until 8 pm.  Although a service charge might be on a restaurant bill an additional 10% is routine.

In 2013 Uruguay became the 1st country in the world to legalize marijuana. That same year same-sex marriages were performed there for the 1st time.

Carrasco, where this country’s main international airport is, is a pleasant place with good restaurants, some upscale shops, and a huge Sofitel with a casino and spa.  I watched across the street from it as young men pointed out parking spots, promised to watch the car, pocketed tips, and walked away.  I hate this practice.

Uruguay’s literacy rate is 98%.

Uruguay is South America’s second smallest country.  Only Suriname is smaller. Only 2 South American countries don’t border Brazil.   Uruguay isn’t one of them, and many people on the border speak a language called Portuñol that mixes Spanish and Portuguese.


Uruguay’s Empire State Building, in other words its most recognizable structure, is Salvo Palace.  Built in 1922, it was the tallest building on this continent for 13 years and is still the 2nd highest in Montevideo. Its 27 floors are becoming much desired condos and apartments.  The 100th anniversary of the invention of the tango will occur on April 19, 2017, in Salvo Palace, which is on Plaza Independencia. If Ruth & I are invited, we will attend.




Thoughts on Uruguay

The museums Ruth & I visited in Uruguay tended to be small, neglected, and have odd hours.  We were there during early summer and some of them were not opened much.  For example, we went to the town museum in Colonia del Saimg_0653cramento in the morning.  It was closed and only opened for a few hours in the afternoon.  We went back and found it not worth the effort.  It had old swords, a colonial parlor, parts of insects, etc.   Two Uruguayans in Montevideo told us that their favorite was the Museo de Artes Decorativas. Although it was far away, we went there at its opening time, 10 am.  It didn’t open until 2 pm. We went back and it wasn’t worth it.   There were only a few decorative pieces out. It was mostly paintings.  Below is one, “La Muerte gorda” by Hugo Longa.


We did see some fine museums.  The best one was Montevideo’s culturally significant Museo Torres Garcia.  I’ve blogged about it and the others that were worthwhile, like the new tango museum.  Dancing is in Uruguayans’ blood.  It wasn’t unusual to see citizens spontaneously start dancing in the street.   Little known fact:  the tango was invented in Montevideo.

The streets of Montevideo often don’t have naming signs so a map is only partially helpful.  Also, some streets have more than one name.  We found ourselves wandering a lot and guessing.  Wandering becomes fun but could be dangerous.  The people of Montevideo tend to be descendants of Europeans, and a lot of their architecture was Italianate, French, Art Deco, etc.  There’s a wealth of really old buildings in varying stages of decay.   I was stopped more than once and told to put my camera away.   This wasn’t suggested.  I was told. There’s a lot of clever graffiti, some of it political.



Wine is becoming a bigger lure.  There are currently 3 or 4 wine regions with tours.  Winemakers specialize in an unusual varietal, tanat.   Both Ruth & I learned to like its unmistakable taste.   I also found Patricia beer excellent. Other tourist attractants are stays on estancias, sunning on super beaches stretching all the way to Brazil, and riding horses.

El Fútbol is incredibly popular.  Like Super Bowl 2017 will still be talked about in 65+ years, so will the 1950 game in which Uruguay won the World Cup in Brazil.  The game was similar to Tom Brady’s team’s triumph but, of course, not American-style football.   That Uruguay finished in 4th place in the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 is still being discussed and written about.

The best way to get around Uruguay is by bus but it’s difficult to book one unless you know a local who is willing to help.  Future opera singer Gonzalo Lodeiro was our mentor.


Below is a carnival mask in Montevideo’s Museo del Carnaval.


Portuguese Tiles and Much More at Bonnet House


dsc08438In my opinion, Frederic Bartlett was a better art collector than artist. He certainly married up.   He and his 3rd wife lived only 3 months each year in Bonnet House.  This residence is now the primo attraction in Fort Lauderdale, a town with few of these.  Compared with, say, Whitehall, Henry Flagler’s Palm Beach mansion, it fades.   But it does have a certain allure since it’s clearly a beloved house created over time by 2 privileged people who thought they were better artists than they were.  The repeated description of them as eclectic collectors is definitely true. They clearly had trouble parting with possessions as you will see if you visit Bonnet House.  I can’t show you their obsessiveness because inside photography is strictly forbidden.  Let me just say that Evelyn doted on monkeys.


Evelyn was Frederic’s 3rd wife.   He studied art in Germany, was somewhat successful, and built Bonnet House after he married Helen Louise Birch.  It was a wedding gift from Helen’s father and what Frederic thought represented a Caribbean-style house.  Construction began in 1920 on what had been a coconut plantation.  Helen, who died after 19 years of marriage, was Frederic’s 2nd wife.  His first was Dora Tripp with whom he had a son named Clay who died in his fifties in a motorcycle accident.  His 3rd wife was Evelyn Fortune Lilly.  He was 58 when they wed and she meant money via Eli Lilly and Company.  Her father was on its board of directors.  Our tour guide Jerry told us that they had about 8 homes.  In each room where I was thinking of clutter or Goodwill Industries, Jerry was saying, “It works!”

In 1926 Frederic gave an art collection now worth billions to the Art Institute of Chicago in memory of Helen.  Among the 24 works was George Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”.   None of the paintings were of his creation.

Frederic and Evelyn apparently had a happy marriage.  They traveled the world collecting seeds for their desert garden, grew orchids, amassed impressive shell and carousel animal collections, etc.  He died from a stroke at the age of 80.   Jerry told us that he managed to finish the floor in Evelyn’s music room just before this happened.   Smoking, talking, and serving Rangpur lime cocktails to guests, Evelyn lived to be 109.



Bonnet House is obviously a 5 Compass attraction to those who work or volunteer there.  It sponsors a lot of community functions like a “Concerts Under the Stars” series featuring what appears to be Clay playing a saxophone on the cover of its performance schedule.  Because I’m not a fan of grand disorder or decorative monkeys, I would give it a 3 or 4.   Bonnet House is named for a lily that grows abundantly in the area. Jerry told us that Evelyn saw an alligator in the Bonnet House Slough with a lily on its head like a bonnet.  If true, it sounds to me like Evelyn had one too many Rangpurs.


Granbury Gets Even Better

dsc0848240 miles southwest of Fort Worth, Granbury is said to have the best town square in Texas.  It’s certainly my favorite.  Ruth and I visited this town last year for the first time and really liked it.  This year we met Sam Houston.


I was taking photos of The Square as Sam was coming out of a white-tiled theater entrance.  He was in an expansive mood and told us that he was involved in a project to schedule this underused theater for live performances. He rattled off a few familiar names as examples of entertainers he and his cohorts were hoping to bring to Granbury.  He took Ruth and me inside to see it and then the venue next door that might be used for meet-and-greets.   The theater was small, intimate, attractive, and ready for live performers.

Sam told us that he was a performer and that his given name really was Sam Houston.  He told us that he travels around Texas in a one-man show becoming the historical Sam Houston, the colorful Lion of Texas.  He told us some stories about his often notorious namesake and said that he enjoyed speaking to school groups and conventioneers while becoming the man responsible for Texas’ statehood and probably the only politician to be the Governor of 2 states.  The other one was Tennessee.

Sam told us that after visitors admired Granbury’s thriving town square with it centerpiece 150-year-old courthouse, attended a performance in the opera house, and saw Jesse James grave that there wasn’t much else to keep them there.  He and others hoped to use the square’s other theater to keep them in Granbury a bit longer to hear a show biz trooper perform and, perhaps, answer questions from the audience.  Sam mentioned Texan Lyle Lovett.  I suggested Lucinda Williams, who was born in Louisiana but has lived in Texas.  We wished Sam success in his new endeavor and crossed the street.


Granbury already has live theater.   Ruth & I entered the Granbury Opera House and met actor Kevin Baum, who let us go upstairs to see it.   Built in 1886, it ceased being a performance venue in 1911.  After being a bowling alley, the folks of Granbury decided to return it to its original function.  A successful, small town theater company began crafting and presenting musicals and plays in the newly renovated opera house.  They attracted audiences from all over Texas.  The current show was Steel Magnolias.  Kevin told us that he was trying out for a role in the upcoming Shrek, The Musical.

dsc08497There might soon be yet another reason besides small-town-charm for Ruth & me to return to Granbury.


Hola Havana


My Cuba…Like a Local Guide says, “Centro Habana is run-down with a mix of tenements and Art Deco and Art Nouveau flourishes….It’s akin to taking a step back in time.”  This is true. A city of more than 2 million, Havana undoubtedly has energy and spirit.  Its future is splendid.   But for now….

Cubans haven’t been able to buy new vehicles that weren’t made in Russia since 1959.  Havana is unlike any other Caribbean city, and its oldest part, which we saw much of, is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  There has been a population center where Havana is since 1519 and its existing mix of building styles is amazing; but a freshly painted, relatively well-maintained building will be next to or among a number of dilapidated ones.  You’ll never be too far from an image of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and José Martí, a wandering, slightly menacing dog, or someone begging.


The grand buildings from before the revolution all seem to be getting do-overs. The imposing capitol building that looks like a somewhat larger version of the United States Capitol in Washington DC is currently empty.  Scaffolding covers its dome.  The city looks like parts of it are getting ready for boatloads of affluent American tourists.  Several of the folks on our cruise were looking forward to a nostalgic evening performance at the Tropicana Cabaret for $169 a person.  In one museum we were entertained by rappin’ Cuban grannies.  We were clearly taken to places like the Gran Teatro de La Habana. We saw, I assumed after a while, what those in charge wanted us to see.   Many old women chewing on unlit cigars approached me for photo ops.

dsc08056 New hotels are being planned.   A large Four Points by Sheraton was announced 8 months ago.  When it opens, it will be the first to operate under a U.S. brand name since 1959.  We had lunch across the street from where the new Hotel Catedral is being built.  Our guide took us through the Hotel Ambos Mundos.   Ernest Hemingway liked to hang out here.  As we walked through a cemetery, our guide pointed to the tomb where Hemingway’s bartender was buried.

When I tell people that I’ve been to Havana, they are immediately interested and curious.  Many ask how they will be treated when they go to Cuba.  For sure they will have opportunities to see many grand old buildings from pre-revolution times, ample chances to buy rum and cigars, and access to hundreds of old Buicks and Fords to cruise around in.  Bring lots of money.