Thursday, 30 June 2011

Round 6 Another boring draw.

Nothing worked well today. I woke up late only to find that my "pain chocolate" was gone. Then the petrol station had no 98 and my game was kind of boring. I refused a draw offer at about move 10 but later could not see a sensible way to avoid a repetition. Looking on the bright side, the waves were great :-)

Round 5

Another draw, not very exciting. I think I should have chosen a more aggressive plan in the opening.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Wine Open Rounds 1-4

Sorry but I have been too lazy to post these before now. Seeing many old friends and drinking inadvisable amounts of red wine have made it difficult to get online. Yesterday was the dreaded double round so today is really the first morning with a few hours free. In the first round I tried what I will call the "Chapman variation" because I don't know any better.  

To play the top seed with black already in the second round was unexpected but due to accelerated pairings. Here in France the new fashion is to accelerate the first 7 (!!) rounds.  

I think I missed a good opportunity to stay on 100% but the young man defended well.This was a funny game, worth a look. Are the knights on d6 and b6 strong or weak?

The afternoon round was a bit less exciting.

I've got a tough game today again but at least there is time to go to the beach for a swim first today. Perhaps I'll even take some pictures :-)

Friday, 24 June 2011

Vendenesse sur Arroux

The Arroux is river in Burgundy and Vendenesse is a tiny little town along it's bank. My daughter Nina lives and goes to school here. Children can start school (maternel) at the age of 2 in France. Apart from reading, writing, maths, art and music they also have an organic vegetable garden.

The children also get to eat the organic vegetables they grow

This is the insect house which is used to teach the kids about nature.

Nina's classroom.

A classroom with a view!

The library bus came today. Nina seems happy with her new booty.

Just outside school

Just behind the school is a nice park the kids can play in.

Of course even a tiny village must have a huge church.

The town hall

On the other side of the river there is a nice little park with a flower and veggie garden in the shape of a cane basket.

And a playground that even big kids like Francoise (Nina's mother) can enjoy

And little kids of course :-)

Little schools like these are being threatened, as this one was recently, by Sarkozy's budget cuts. The parents had to fight to keep it. This little egotistical fascist does not consider the education of French children as important as bombing Libyan children. Priorities.

Returning to more pleasant thoughts, here is a sculpture near another park. I will take you another time.

Finally a few pictures a little up the road where little kids can swim safely

And one more

Training for the Circus :-)

Good night all, see you in Naujac.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The COSMOS CLUB and the Embargo

I met many US citizens in Cuba despite the embargo that was initiated in October 1960. I should mention that this embargo is almost completely unilateral. The United Nations passed many resolutions urging the US to lift it's embargo by overwhelming majorities. In 1994 for example only the US, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau voted against. Check it out here. I'm sure more recent examples are available.
Of course this policy does not reflect the views of US citizens any more than the world wide bank-bailouts or the recent Greek bailout reflect the views of the public in the nations affected. Democracy in our time means you get to choose which puppet pretends to represent you. Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse. You still get Disneyland.

Nevertheless there are idealistic people everywhere who try to make a difference. I had the pleasure of meeting such a group of people. They did not destroy property or wave placards, they did not shout at people or insult those of other opinion. Their efforts involved meeting people, making friends, exchanging ideas and playing Chess! I wrote about them briefly before but now I will allow Robert Lubic to tell you about his Cuban adventure in his own words.

                                            A CUBAN CHESS BREAKTHROUGH

            Forty years and one month after the Ping-Pong Breakthrough between the People’s Republic of China and the U.S.A. in 1971, followed by President Nixon’s momentous trip to Beijing and the eventual establishment of diplomatic relations  between the two nations, the Cosmos Club Chess Group traveled to Havana, Cuba, for another momentous trip. The journey began on Friday, May 13, 2011, when the Cosmos team of eight players and one translator-photographer boarded a charter flight from Miami, Florida, to Havana, followed by chess matches on Saturday, the 14th, and culminating on a May 15, 2011, visit to the grave site of Cuban chess Grandmaster José Raúl Capablanca, one of the greatest chess players in the world and world chess champion from 1921 to 1927. Although Capablanca’s name might not be familiar to non chess playing Americans, his fame is so great that all Cubans, whether involved in chess or not as well as many others throughout the world are well aware of his fame.  
            The idea for a chess match between the Cosmos Club Chess Group and a chess team from Cuba, first came to me in the spring of 2009. I am chairman of the Cosmos Inter-Club Chess matches and, in this capacity, had scheduled tournaments with teams in London, Paris, and Washington, D.C. From past experience, as a director of international legal studies programs abroad in the Soviet Union, Poland, as well as other international sites, during the years that I taught International Trade Law, I knew how important chess was in Marxist societies where there is a limited number of recreational activities. I had been to Cuba twice before and observed the interest in chess by young and old on the street corners in Havana. As a result, I had arranged a meeting with the First Secretary of the Cuban Interests Section (CIS) in Washington. Because of the lack of formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, neither nation has an embassy in the other.
            The First Secretary of the CIS was quite positive and agreed to go to lunch at the Cosmos Club, together with me and the head of the CIS, Ambassador Jorges A. Boleños. The Ambassador was also quite positive, advising me that he would try to obtain an invitation from the Cuban government for the proposed chess match. Unfortunately this is where it stood for approximately the next twelve months, despite continual inquiries from me to the Ambassador and a new CIS First Secretary who was chosen to serve as our new liaison. Finally, out of the blue, I received notice on November 30, 2010, from Ambassador  Boleños that the Cuban National Institute of Sport, Physical Education, and Recreation (INDER) had issued an invitation to the Cosmos Club Chess Group to visit Havana to play in a chess match in January of 2011 or any other date that might prove convenient.
As a result, I assumed incorrectly that practically all of the serious handicaps to the  proposed match had been overcome and began to assemble the Cosmos Club Chess Team according to those who wished to participate. Eventually a team of eight player and one photographer-translator were selected. Among them were the chess team captain, Arnold Leibowitz (a well known constitutional and administrative lawyer), and his wife Sandra who served as the photographer-translator; Professor PC Huang, the chairman of the Cosmos Club Chess Group and a Bio-Physics professor at Johns Hopkins University; Dr. Hugh Hill, an emergency hospital physician and his daughter Andrea; Sophy Burnham, a well known author, Ray Berg, an eminent actuary and probably the best chess player on our team; and finally yours truly, Chairman of the Cosmos Inter-Club Chess Group and my wife (also a chess player), Benita.
The initial application for a license was filed on December 12, 2010, with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Treasury Department, containing the names of the nine members of our team plus three non playing chess wives. As a result of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court many years ago in what is known as the Paul Robeson (a well known African-American singer and Communist) ruling, the U.S. Government is forbidden to refuse anyone a passport if they are not a security risk. In view of that decision, the embargo placed against travel to Cuba precludes the expenditure of U.S. currency in that nation without special permission from OFAC.  I was quite surprised when OFAC refused to issue a license to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to travel to Cuba (despite its most recent triumphant appearance in North Korea), because the Board Members were not part of the orchestra. Shortly thereafter, on January 4, 2011, I received notice from OFAC of its denial of the Cosmos Club application on the ground that three wives accompanying the group were not chess players and that I had accepted an invitation from the CIS of a sightseeing tour for our group in Havana, which constitutes tourism and is therefore in violation of the embargo.
As a shot in the dark, I immediately filed a new application, removing the names of the three wives and providing notice of the groups’ decline of the tour of  Havana. On April 28, 2011, I received notice from OFAC of the issuance of a license to the Cosmos Club Chess Group to engage in a chess tournament in Cuba. Although elated by this information, it soon became apparent that this was not the end of the Group’s troubles.
Upon receiving the license from OFAC, I immediately telephoned our liaison at the CIS, only to find that he had gone back to Cuba without naming a replacement. This left me in a quandary since it was important that we be advised of the chess venue in Havana and that the dates of May 14th and 15th were acceptable for the match. After continually telephoning the CIS, I was finally put in touch with the press attache’, Sr. Juan Jacamino, who would be the group’s new liaison for the Cuban match. Finally, after considerable apprehension, I was given the email address in Cuba of Sr. Jose L. Vilela of INDER. It was then that I was informed, approximately three weeks before our group was scheduled to depart for Havana, that the 46th annual Capablanca in Memoriam Chess Tournament, which is considered one of the most important chess tournaments in the world, would be taking place at the same time as our scheduled visit to Cuba. As a result, I was advised that the Cubans would be unable to host us. at the time we were scheduled to come to Havana for our proposed matches on May 14 and 15, 2011. I immediately sent an email to Ambassador Boleños, requesting his assistance since we had been pursuing this matter for over two years. Within a couple of days I received another email from Sr. Vilela, that due to the assistance of Grandmaster Silvino Garcia, the President of the Cuban Chess Federation, arrangements would be made for us to travel to Havana and engage a team of eight Cuban Chess players on the dates requested. With dates of the match confirmed, the members of our group agreed that we would keep the matter confidential until we returned from Cuba, for fear of one of the anti-Castro members of Congress blocking our trip.
Our group arrived in Havana late Friday afternoon, May 13, 2011, from Miami, Florida, by charter and were greeted by a delegation of Cuban chess luminaries including Srs. Vilela and Garcia. After taking photographs, we went by chartered bus to the Parque Central Hotel, a five stat hotel in the center of Havana, which had been  arranged by us. That evening, the group dined at a Palador, a privately owned restaurant which Castro permitted to be operated by the owners of the residence where located.  The food and service, as differing considerably from the state owned restaurants, was excellent.
The next morning, May 14th, we took taxis to the Havana Riviera Hotel, one of the several operated by the American Mafia in the days before Castro and directly under the management of the infamous gangster, Meyer Lansky. The four women in our group were presented with bouquets when we arrived at the hotel. We then played against a team of eight Cubans according to our skills as determined by Team Captain Leibowitz. The Cuban graciously permitted all of our team members to initiate play with the white pieces, which is usually an advantage among good chess players. Unfortunately, all of our members lost their matches except Roy Berg, our best and oldest player (83 years old) who had a draw. We were then asked if we would play against a group of Cuban youngsters (6 to 12 years old) who were in the lobby of the hotel waiting for the Capablanca in Memoriam Chess Tournament to begin at 3:00 pm.  Once again our team lost the majority of matches but not as badly as duriong the first round. We were then taken to lunch, followed by a lecture on Cuban chess. It was there that we learned that one of our hosts, Grandmaster Garcia, the President of the Cuban Chess Federation, as a young boy was a favorite opponent of Ché Guavera. Sr. Garcia also told us about a game he played against Fidel Castro during which the latter refused to accept a draw. Finally, Roy Berg from our group told about a time in New York City when he visited the Manhattan Chess Club and played a speed chess match with a thirteen year old Bobby Fisher, the U.S. chess phenom. Subsequently, after returning to the U.S., I researched the Internet to learn that  the last time a U.S. chess team had played in Cuba was in 1966 and that during one of the matches, Fidel Castro had defeated Bobby Fisher.
After the chess lecture we went to the ballroom of the hotel to watch the tournament consisting of some of the best chess players in the world.. After observing several matches which were shown on an electronic screen in the main lobby of the hotel, our group was driven to the Capablanca Chess Club which is the main focus of chess in Havana. That evening, we attended a performance by the world famous Cuban National Ballet company where we watched an excellent presentation of Swan Lake. The next morning the group traveled to the Christopher Colon Cemetery to lay a wreath on the grave of Grandmaster Capablanca. That afternoon the group walked around Havana and, in the evening, attended a small cabaret showing of the Buena Vista Social Club. The next morning the group split up with members returning to Miami on various days, the last of which was Thursday, May 19, 2011, when Arnold Leibowitz and his wife, Sandra, and yours truly and my wife, Benita, returned by charter to Miami and then to Reagan National Airport in Washington.
Every member of our group was fascinated with what they saw and the kindness of everyone in Cuba that they met. No one in our group felt intimidated at anytime regarding where they could go or what they could photograph. In other words, none of us observed any security officials. The Cubans who hosted us were considerably accommodating. During our stay in Havana we observed relatively few Americans; almost all of the tourist groups we saw were Canadian or European..
 Whether we continue this chess rivalry between the Cosmos Club Chess Group and Capablanca Chess Club depends upon the circumstances although the Cubans did indicate that they would like to have us return. Regarding a visit by a Cuban chess team to Washington, it depends who will underwrite their costs. It is, however, not inconceivable that our chess match with the Cubans might lead to a chess breakthrough (similar to the Ping-Pong breakthrough in China in 1971), which could lead to President Obama going to Havana the same as President Nixon traveling to Beijing.  (2023 words)
By Professor Robert Bennett Lubic, Professor of Law Emeritus and Chairman of the Cosmos Inter-Club Chess Group.

Thanks Bob for your report and for allowing me to read it and publish it in my Blog.

Best wishes,
                   Alex (aka Doubleroo)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Santiago de Cuba

This was our destination and the final leg of our journey. After seeing the Church in El Cobre we headed back to Santiago to look for our Casa. We had been given the address by our host in Baracoa and directions how to get there but it still took us a while. Not only were there few street signs but our street had two names! Anyway, eventually we found it.  It was only a short walk away from the centre on San Felix (aka Hartmann) no 306. The Casa has the Doubleroo seal of approval.

The central park with it's impressive church is a good place to start. The Casa de la Musica is around the corner as are many Bars like this one.

Everywhere you will find live music, food (average) and in this one, Hatuey beer. 

Music is held in high esteem here.

Another little park. At night lots of cafe's and restaurants beckon but expect to be "friended" by lots of tourist hunters. A nice "no thanks" is usually enough although some can be persistent.

are a must-see attraction of Santiago de Cuba. This is where Fidel Castro made his first attempt to overthrow the Batista dictatorship. It was very short-lived, badly planned and incompetently carried out. Fidel was lucky to escape with his life, even luckier not to be executed and ridiculously lucky to be released after serving just a fraction of his sentence. This debacle has been elevated to a heroic saga just like Gallipoli has been in Australian folklore. Fidel obviously learned some important lessons from this attempt and as we all know his next go was more successful. He did have a chess player (Che) with him when he returned from Mexico.

The holes in the wall were recreated. The Batista regime removed them but after the revolution they were put back.

Only a handful of rebels were killed in the initial assault but many more were executed later. Here they are remembered.

Some of the weapons used.

Art plays a prominent role in Cuban culture. Santiago and the east in general was instrumental in all Cuban resistance movements starting with Hatuey's native uprising a bit north and the first independence from Spain movements early in the 16th century until Jose Marti's battles at the beginning of the 20th century. It was here that the Americans intervened to finally kick the Spaniards out. Finally the Granma  brought Fidel and his troop to the Playa las Colorados. Santiago is proud of it's music, art and revolutionary history.

is the other must see attraction of Santiago. It is the most impressive fortification I have ever seen and was the largest in the southern hemisphere in it's time.

The entrance over a drawbridge

The lobby?

This contraption was used to ferry cannonballs to the cannons and was the cutting edge of technology in it's time.

Weapons again.

Paintings from local artists.

An inside Cannon

And more outside. Like the view?

From this vantage point they hoped to sink pirate vessels trying to plunder Santiago.


Lots of security guards, few tourists. This is a story which repeated itself throughout Cuba. While the bars and beaches were full, the cultural attractions were nearly empty despite being well kept, free or almost free and well staffed. 

We also enjoyed a great view of the city. Lastly, every evening a group of young cadets fires a cannon ceremonially and lowers the Cuban flag. Here they are arriving.

I made a Video of the event but a warning. It is long so unless you can spare 12 minutes watching nothing much.....

This was our last major sightseeing event. The next morning we headed back to Havana via Bayamo and Santa Clara but took few photo's and did little sightseeing. After 6 weeks in Cuba we were quite exhausted
and although we had a great time we were ready to head back to Europe. I personally missed internet, clean bathrooms and a cooler climate. If you are not used to the tropics it can be quite tiring after a while. In Havana we returned the Car and were told that the spare tire was missing! Remember the insurance? Well after some discussion they asked us to sign for it plus a fine for not doing a dubious warranty checkup but finally it seems they were too incompetent to actually charge it. This is the last installment of the road trip but I have one more story about Cuba to tell! Stay tuned for this highlight. Tomorrow morning I am heading to France to play in a chess tournament, the famous wine tournament so soon you will have chess games to follow again. G'nite all <3

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Visiting the Virgin

I was quite sad to have to leave Baracoa but we had more than 1000km to go to get back to Havana and a lot to see. If truth be told I prefer to hang around in a pleasant place, play blitz, go to the beach and get to know a place than to play tourist and photograph landmarks but now I know where to go. The drive from the north east to the south east was very pleasant. Our next target was Guantanamo city. On the way we passed lots of little towns like this one.

No cars and no tourists but an excellent road made of concrete. Apparently made for tanks. What amazed me was how clean the streets were compared to the western part of the country. Our first stop was in San Antonio de Sur. We saw some signs for a Jose Marti monument but all of a sudden they stopped at a beach and we couldn't find it. Oh well. We saw Guantanamo Bay in the distance from the road but taking pictures in this area is not advisable. Next stop Guantanamo city.

There was no hotel anywhere near the centre of town and the Casa's we asked at had no secure parking so we had to stay several km's away at the hotel Guantanamo. After many hours driving we just walked back to town, had some dinner in a restaurant with a wonderful menu but only chicken was available. This was a recurring theme in Cuba btw. Do not bother reading menu's, just ask what they have today. A few beers in a bar later we headed back to the hotel for an early night. 

Before going to our Casa we went to see the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Opposite the Church was a nice horse happily grazing away and not trying to sell trinkets. To reach the Virgin we had to run a gauntlet of vendors but finally we made it.


and inside I saw the light!

and then I saw the Virgin.

a painting depicting the appearance of said Virgin. I apologize to my religious friends for my irreverence but seriously, the stories some of you believe.......

Some of the offerings, including a bottle of soft drink.

"Take my picture" said this friendly old fellow. 

I have a confession to make. I went into the Church with a very cynical attitude partly because of the gauntlet of vendors and the general commercial nature of the area. Having just come from the tourist-free east and being confronted with religion and commercialism in a Socialist-Secular state was too much and so I wrote 
("Religion is the Opium of the masses" Karl Marx) in the visitors book. That was uncalled for and I confess and apologize. I am hopeful the Virgin of Charity will forgive me.
Tomorrow Santiago.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Baracoa, my favourite place in Cuba.

Many moons ago I received an email inviting me to a tournament in Baracoa. It was the first time I had heard of the place and so I Googled it.  This is where Christopher Columbus first landed although this is disputed.

He proclaimed this the most beautiful place on Earth and in that time it is easy to believe. He is said to have planted a Cross here and this is supposedly that Cross.

 In 1511 Baracoa was officially founded and pronounced the first capital of Cuba. Until the revolution there was no road linking this area with the rest of Cuba and it still seems like another country. People here are very friendly but not as intrusive as in other places. The town centre is charming.

The Church in the background is being restored as are many other things because in August the city is celebrating it's 500th birthday.

Our "Casa". 

An unfinished project.

Town hall I think.

And this was the children's playground before it was destroyed by a hurricane. Much of the town was damaged and has as yet not been rebuilt. Despite it's desolate appearance Baracoa was my favourite place in Cuba. The first night we went to see a concert by the famous Reggae-ton artist Chocolate (pronounced Choco-latte). For some reason after one of the greatest live shows I have ever seen, comparable with screaming Jay Hawkins decades ago, the Band came out of the Club and I found myself in a photo op with the band. I hesitate to publish it but...

I did take some Videos but they turned out unusable. One disappointment was the beach. It looks very nice and has fantastic development potential but we were told not to go swimming because the water was filthy.

We had to drive about 15km out of town but it was worth it. Next to the road we saw a lot of these strange looking plants.

Finally we made it to a beach which at first sight looked deserted

 but as soon as we pulled up locals started appearing out of the trees and offered us fresh Coconuts, Pineapples and Banana's. One young lad scurried up a tree and cut come coconuts for us as we watched.

The water was also very inviting.

After a swim and a fruit feast for next to nothing we went back to town and I went to the Barber shop because I was unable to find any disposable razors.

A haircut, shave and face massage costs 5 peso (24peso=1$US). Leaving a whole dollar will leave your Barber smiling. A fellow on the street insisted I photograph his head.

Next I felt like some Chess and headed over to the local club where I played some blitz. My first opponent asked me if I knew how to use the clock but very soon they found out that they were not dealing with just another tourist :-). Some of the youngsters were quite talented and one nearly got a draw. I can now say I played in Baracoa and won every single game. hehe. Anyway, to sum up, Baracoa is a place I could very easily hang around in for weeks, maybe months. It is a very relaxed place and I can imagine spending evenings blitzing and mornings on the beach. I do hope they organize a tournament here one day and if not I'll just have to come for a vacation. Two days was definitely not enough but we had a plane to catch and some other things to see before that.