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Friday, February 13, 2015

Key West - Cuba, The Potential part 1

Key West - Cuba - The Potential part 1

(listen to the Afro Cuban All Stars while you read the blog!)

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On December 17th, 2014, President Obama announced that the United States and Cuba would be restoring diplomatic relations. On January 19th 2015, the U.S. announced that they will be holding talks with Cuba ending travel curbs for U.S. diplomats. As it stands at the moment, both Cuban diplomats in the U.S. and American diplomats in Cuba are restricted in where they can travel. What this is however is a first step in the right direction.

The interesting thing here is, as far as U.S. politicians go, it’s a non-party issue. Some Republicans are for normalization of relations, while some are not. Likewise with the Democrats.

As far as citizens go, Gallup polls in December showed American citizens favored restoring diplomatic relations by 60%. Other polls went as high as 63%.

Just going by what I’ve seen on Facebook was remarkable. Bear in mind that I don’t take political sides on issues in public forums, such as Facebook, for the most part. In addition, I side with both parties on different issues. Because of this, my friends on Facebook are pretty evenly divided 50/50 as far as being Republicans and Democrats.

While the Gallup polls showed 60%, what I found from my Facebook friends posts, as well as reaction to my post on the announcement, was well over 90% in favor. It was to the point that one had to actually search out those against it. Those in favor came from both political parties.

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As I said earlier, the meeting in January was to improve diplomatic travel. They will also be establishing American credit card use in Cuba, which currently is not allowed and consequently, not in place. In addition, the talks in January were including agricultural subjects. In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Havana will re-open.

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On February 9th, 2015, the American company Netflix announced that they will be servicing Cuba. Expect to see more and more companies starting to do likewise as time goes on.

What will come of all of this should be normalization for travel for everyone. I say should, because Congress will have to approve ending the fifty something year old embargo first. Politicians often put their personal agenda ahead of that of their voters, so there’s the possibility it could be rejected.

It’s clear what the people of the United States want however. Hello, Washington D.C.! Please be sure you are listening! Right now, I can fly to Beijing, Communist China, invest millions of dollars in investments, even live there, if I choose. However, at this moment I can't go to Cuba and spend a dime. Congress, please take note. The majority of your constituents are NOT in favor of this. Make your decisions accordingly. 

While there are many hoops of fire to clear, the end result should be for Americans being able to travel freely to Cuba.

Assuming Congress does what the American people are in favor of, lets jump ahead a bit to the point that, say I, a U.S. citizen, can get on a plane and fly to Cuba on a whim.

That’s how it used to be! I recall when I first moved to Miami well over thirty years ago (I’ve been in Key West for almost seven), I recall hearing stories from all sorts of people. They would tell me how they would head to Havana for a weekend, prior to the restrictions being put into place. It seemed that clubs and bars were the normal attractions at the time. Of course they were talking about the 1950’s, and of course, things have changed there since then. However, albeit a bit behind the other communist countries in Europe, Cubans are discovering that making money isn’t such an evil thing after all.

The bottom line here is: How will opening up Cuba effect Key West?

It takes some thought and for myself, it’s such a stimulating thought that when I think about it, ideas flow like cocktails out of a shaker. More often than not, as one idea springs up, three more replace it, in the refining process. So where do we start? The question can be overwhelming. There is so much to talk about and options are literally endless. Additionally, the thought of all of the legal snaggles, obstacles, and headaches that have been created in the political porcupine over the last fifty four years, is mind boggling. For what I’m doing here, that would only be a quagmire for creativity, so I’m going to omit those thoughts for the time being. Repeating the aforementioned question, where do we begin?

There’s only one place to begin logically and that’s at the beginning.

The start of this is imperative to begin now, not run around like headless chickens once the embargo and travel restrictions are lifted. This way, when they are lifted, Key West is hopping into the drivers seat in the fast lane, while everywhere else is scrambling.

 Lets face it, Key West is the closest point in the U.S. to Cuba. From the Southernmost Point at the end of Whitehead Street states that it is 90 miles to Cuba. Key West is closer to Cuba than the closest Walmart. It’s also closer to Cuba than it is to Miami, both by a good deal at that. Both anchor points of local tour guides, here in Key West. So, from a geographical point, Key West is an ideal location for a Cuban connection of any sort. Additionally, the Cuban population here is not the radical Cuban population that one finds in Miami. Key West has always been more open to friendly relations with Cuba.

The Key West International Airport currently isn’t hosting any regular international flights. However, it is a registered international airport. Additionally, in 2011 Key West was authorized by the U.S. government to send and receive flights from Cuba. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Cuba also has to authorize the flights and if I’m not mistaken, this has been in progress for several years. Hopefully, now with the resumption of diplomatic ties, this will be expedited.

The Key West airport director, Peter Horton, the mayor, Craig Cates, and the city commissioners must all be commended on getting Key West International Airport authorized as an airport for service to Cuba. The foresight they had by getting it completed as far back as 2011, gives a lot of confidence in the overall Key West’s overall outlook for Cuba. Lets call ace’s, aces. They had the foresight in getting it done well before any of the current developments announced in December 2014. That’s beyond a good move in anybody’s book.

Strictly thinking on my own behalf, the next move would be giving an attachment between Key West and Cuba. My preference would be:

“Key West - The Gateway To Cuba”

To begin with, this is an accurate statement once flights can be re-established. Key West’s first name was Cayo Hueso. The nickname for Key West in Cuba was “Habana Norte” (Havana north). Cultural ties with Cuba run deep and well established. The cigar industry was huge here in the 1800’s. All of the tobacco came from Cuba and was rolled here.

On the 600 block of Duval sits the San Carlos Institute. The San Carlos was originally a school for Cuban children whose parents came to Key West. It’s a beautiful facility, the current structure having been built in the 1870’s. It was owned by the Cuban government up until the Cuban revolution.

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The classrooms have ceilings that are 20ft high! It’s the type of structure you would find in Old Havana.

The underlying point here, of course is that Key West and Cuba are very closely connected.

Years ago, I had heard that Key West and Havana were “Sister Cities”. In doing this piece I researched that and found nothing unfortunately. Perhaps I was mis-informed? I’m not certain. However, as at one point the citizens of Cuba referred to Key West as “Habana Norte”, what could they be other than sister cities? Perhaps this can be a quest to be achieved?

Most of my professional life was in sales. In my time in Miami, I worked for a man named “Joe D”, or “Mr. D.” who owned a large firm and not only owned it, but was also the general manager and took a very active role in the sales department.

Mr. D. would hold weekly sales meetings and one of the things he instilled on the sales staff was “selling the sizzle” that our product offered. Sure, someone may come in and say they were looking at a Corvette, but wanted to look at a Porsche as well. Of course the Porsche was a better car, but we had to show the potential customer why it was better. Such as Porsche won thirteen victories at Le Mans, plus two victories in cars that used their engines. Things like that. Nothing B/S, just highlights that make a Porsche a thoroughbred and not a run of the mill car. The Porsche costs significantly more than the Corvette, a cost that must be justified.

The exact same thing is true with Key West being the ideal point of disembarkation to Cuba, in the very near future. Sure, anyone can take a flight out of Miami to Havana, or Tampa, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, San Juan, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles, for that matter. All are already authorized to fly to Cuba. Plus, lets face facts. When the time comes and Cuba frees up for the average person to fly to Cuba, on a whim, at that, the vast majority will fly out of those aforementioned cities.

Key West is a small, quaint little town that is an island less than two miles wide and four miles long sitting on the very outer fringes of the United States, only ninety miles from Cuba. It’s “Habana Norte”, perhaps by then, a sister city. Perhaps one can fly to Key West for a week and take a day or two excursion to Havana? The Hemingway connection alone, between Key West and Havana, is unparalleled.

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 There are all kinds of ideas people can have use Key West as the Gateway to Cuba. Like the aforementioned Porsche, one sometimes needs to show the attributes, the panache, and the romance as the reason to go to Cuba from the Key West. Another very wise sales manager and friend I worked with, Rick Asci, often said “Often the best deal is not always the best price”. If that’s not the truth, I don’t know what is!

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As Time goes on, I’ll visit the subject of Key West and Cuba as things develop. We’re only at the embryonic stage at this point.

However, there’s no reason at all that Key West can’t be considered “The Gateway To Cuba”.

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Cafe Cubano/Cuban Coffee

Cafe Cubano/Cuban Coffee

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Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano is a staple throughout south Florida. Key West, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, you name it!

My friend from Louisiana, a Cajun, Gus Gravot, who moved to Virginia in the last year (I bet he gets a lot of comments on that Cajun accent there! HA HA! Go Gus!) sent me this piece in the New York Times from February 6, 2015 entitled “In Key West, a Taste of Cuban Coffee Culture”, written by  Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.

This set the stage and was the incentive for me to write this piece. I'd thought about it before, but put it aside. However, when I saw this in print, with the New York Times no less, I knew it was time to set the record straight as to what is Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano, and what is coffee from Cuba. While it is a fantastic subject and I thank Ms. Tan for writing it, Ms.Tan no doubt got her information from people in Key West who are not that well educated in Cafe Cubano. Here I'll try to make things clear regarding the coffees from Cuba that we throughout south Florida imbibe.

First, to set the stage from where I'm basing what I'm saying, I lived in Miami, the largest Cuban enclave outside of Cuba, for over twenty five years. While there, I was also married to my first wife, a wonderful Cuban girl named Mercy (formal - Mercedes), who brought me into her wonderful family long before we were married. I've been living in Key West seven years this May.So, thirty two years total.

In Miami, as well as being part of the Eguizabal family, I was immersed into Cuban culture. When I moved to Key West, almost seven years ago, I found the Cuban culture to be interesting. Some things were different here than in Miami culturally.

One thing that's different is that Key West has a constant flow of people moving in and out of town, from all over the globe, the majority from the U.S., however many from eastern Europe as well.  Miami has a constant flow of people moving in from Latin America, and also the English and Creole speaking Caribbean. In Key West, population flows like the tides. People come and go. In Miami it's a lake that continues filling up. People come and they stay. Key West is much more of a transient town.

With the scenario set, lets move on to Cuban coffee, or Cafe Cubano.

What is Cafe Cubano, or Cuban Coffee? For starters, Cafe Cubano and Cuban Coffee are correct terms for the brew, just in different languages. Either can be used.

Professional establishments that serve all types of coffees from Cuba, use Italian espresso makers virtually exclusively.  After all, Cafe Cubano, of course, is a style, or type of espresso.

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In the home, often you will often find these little "Cafetera" brewers, as they are called in Spanish, also from Italy. For less than $10, they do surprisingly well, though they are not set up for scalding milk, obviously. Cuban homes with these usually scald their milk, when needed, via stove top.

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Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano


Cuban Coffee is one thing and one thing only. Cuban Coffee is espresso made with a good sized helping of sugar. Done the proper way, three or four tbs of sugar are placed in the brewing carafe prior to brewing, in a proper espresso machine. As the espresso brews and flows into the carafe, the brewer  stops the brew and stirs the mix into a paste, then returns and finishes the brewing process into the carafe, creating a medium-brown head on the coffee called "espumita".

This is Cuban coffee.

Here in Key West when someone orders Cuban coffee, often the person taking the order will ask "With or without sugar?". The only reason they do this is because a lot of visitors don't want it with sugar. The key word here, of course, is "visitors". The question would never arise in a place such as Little Havana, Miami.

The reality of it is, those people ordering "Cuban Coffee" without sugar, are not ordering Cuban Coffee at all. They are ordering espresso. Cafe Cubano is full of body. Espresso is much thinner.

The aforementioned formula of making Cafe Cubano/Cuban Coffee with the sugar, is what makes it Cuban Coffee!

When one takes into consideration that sugar is the number one crop in Cuba, it's easy to see how Cafe Cubano came into existence!

                                      Types of Cuban Coffee
Cuban Coffee is all the exact same thing, the differences is the quantity in how it's dispensed.

A) Colada - The colada is the largest serving. It's purpose is to be shared with others. It's served in a small Styrofoam cup and it contains several ounces of coffee, around 4 or so. It is also served with several thimble cups for sharing.

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B) Cafecito/Buchi - This is an individual serving the size of one of the thimble cups that the colada is served with, a slight bit larger when served in a restaurant in a demitasse cup. Depending on where you are, determines the name. In Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/Tampa/St. Petersburg it's called a Cafecito. Translated it means "little coffee". In Key West it's called a Buchi, which is short for Buchito, or "a small sip".

* = For reasons unknown, many people spell buchi in what they think is Italian, bucci. You'll see this in the article that Gus sent me in one of the pictures. Fact is, there is no Italian word bucci. The Ch sound, as in the English word "Crunch", in Spanish is spelled "ch". There is no such spelling in Spanish that has "cc". The word is spelled "Buchi"

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Cafecito, or a buchi


Now that we have established what a Cuban Coffee/Cafe Cubano is, lets look at two other coffees that originate from Cuba.

A) Cafe Con Leche - Cafe Con Leche is the Cuban variation of what in Italy is a "Latte" and in France, "Cafe Au Lait" or, "Creme". The coffee and scalded milk parts are exactly the same. With the Cafe Con Leche, often called "Con Leche", Cafe Cubano is mixed on around a 2 to 1 mix with scalded milk holding the 2 side of things.

Cafe Con Leche is not Cuban Coffee!

Many who come to Key West from parts where Cuban culture doesn't exist, just toss cafe con leche into the whole Cuban Coffee mix. They developed this idea that there is Cuban Coffee with milk and without. This is incorrect. Cafe Con Leche is from Cuba, however it is not Cuban Coffee, though it uses Cuban Coffee in the process of making it. Cafe Con Leche, is Cafe Con Leche. Period.

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B) Cortadito - The Cortadito is quite similar to the Cafe Con Leche, with the exception that the Cortadito is 1/2 coffee and one half scalded milk. It's often referred  to as a "Half and Half" or a "media y media"

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So there's a brief explanation of the coffees of Cuba that contributes to the whole Florida coffee culture.

Big thanks to Mercy Irene Eguizabal and Gloria Nunez Turkel for helping with some of the translations!!!! Gracias damas!!!

Here's a video:

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Key West Open Mic Closes

The Key West Open Mic Has Ended

We had a good run overall, however every gig, with the exception of the Card Sound Machine playing at Alabama Jack’s in Key Largo for 27 years and counting, comes to an end.

The Key West Open Mic was no exception. I was notified by manager Paul Murphy  that music on Wednesday nights would cease as of February 4th 2015 and no music would be brought back on Wednesdays for “at least a month”. It was kind of funny because there was a different band’s poster in the window when they told me this  and that band was playing there on February 4th. Odd indeed. I shoot straight with everyone I deal with and perhaps I’m expecting too much in return if I expect the same?

Why did they decide to end the open mic? Good question. We stuck with them through thick and thin. in 2013 when we hit the slow season, everything remained the same. This year, they asked me to take a pay cut. For the sake of McConnell’s and the folks who attended it, I agreed. I also went to court in support of the bar on some legal issues they had, in addition to giving the court written statements in support of the bar, it’s owner on said legal issues. I did this several times.

McConnell’s reason for stopping the event was because we were not generating the sales needed to continue. I understand this. However, we’re right on the cusp of tourist season starting. Another week or two and all would be rocking for everyone.

A very big thank you to those who have supported the open mic between August of 2013 and February 2015!!!!

I will say that they were correct in the overall numbers we had in the fall. In 2013, the place was packed every open mic. In 2014 we just never had the local support we had the previous year.

A lot of people have suggested new venues, or asked where I’ll go next. An open mic is culturally something very important for any city. It cultivates upcoming musicians and helps refine those who are pros. You get everyone in an open mic!  And lets not forget the comradery it cultivates as well! This town deserves a great open mic! However honestly, I’m not convinced I want to go with anything myself. McConnell’s was correct in saying we weren’t generating the numbers last fall.

If the local musicians and music supporters in Key West are not supporting an open mic, I’d be beating a dead horse if I tried to set up another at a different venue. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone without the support and interest.

Thanks to all who supported the open mic and to McConnell’s for giving us the venue. We also had so many come in from all over the United States and Canada to play at the open mic! Where do I start? New Hampshire, North Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Alberta, Ontario, Oregon, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Virginia, Georgia, Washington, Washington DC, Ohio,Michigan, Wisconsin, Japan, Italy, Great Britain, ... the list goes on and on. and all of these people found out about the Key West Open Mic through here... The Blog! 

Thank you!