Cuba- An Intercultural Journey, Days 4 and 5

We began our fourth day in Havana with a visit to a local secondary school where we observed Udi conducting a master class with the students. We did not stay for all of Udi’s master class—he generously taught for four hours!—but it is clear from the students we observed that there are immensely talented, young musicians in Cuba. The young cellist, Alexander, who performed “Dos Gardenias” with Udi at the church the night before, was also in attendance and is a student at the school (pictures 2 through 7).

After departing the master class, our group rode on to the University of Havana to speak with a local professor about Cuba’s higher-education system.  We walked through the busy campus and stood on the steps where thousands of students marched during the Cuban Revolution. In Cuba, a college education is free (including graduate education), but students must pass rigorous exams in order to be accepted to the universities. The University of Havana is the oldest university in Cuba, founded in 1728 (pictures 8 through 11).

Following our tour of the University, we set off to a small, local farm called La Yoandra. They called the farm a finca to denote that it is a sustainable community-operated farm. At La Yoandra the arborists and farmers maintain over 100 types of flora, much of which is cultivated to sustain the restaurant located on the property, Il Divino. We ate lunch at Il Divino and attended an interesting cooking demonstration featuring garbanzos, garbanzo beans, which are hugely popular in Cuban cooking. Following lunch we had a lovely tour of the farm. Aside from the 100 types of flora present, La Yoandra is also home to numerous animals including geese, wild turkeys, chickens, and oxen (picture 12).

We departed to a local museum in Guanabacoa, a small town just outside of Havana. The museum we went to specializes in the Afro-Cuban religion, Santeria. Following our tour of the museum, we watched and participated in a music and dance performance by local practitioners of Santeria (picture 13)

After dinner that evening, many group members walked from the Hotel Nacional to a great jazz club called, Zorra y El Cuervo (picture 14) just a few blocks from the hotel’s front steps. We knew we were at a great place when we looked around and noticed that there was quite the crowd of locals in attendance!

Day 6, and our last day in Havana, began with a visit to a local primary school, Escuela Elemental de Música y Danza- Paulita Concepción, specializing in music education. We were treated to wonderful performances by the youth, including a fabulous student choir. As luck would have it, Udi had his cello on hand for an impromptu performance. It was especially fortuitous that we were at a music school because they had a double bass on hand for fellow traveler and former bassists with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Emilio Gravagno. Together, Udi and Emilio joined one of the professors at the school for a special concert for benefit of the students and our group. I know our group loved their performance, but you could barely hear our applause over the thunderous roar of the children's clapping and screams! (pictures 15-18)

After our group lunched, we traveled to the El Patronato Synagogue Bet Shalom and local Jewish community center, where we met with the President of the center. She provided the exact amount of knowledge and comic relief our group needed after a heavy lunch! She told us that there were 7 synagogues and approximately 1500 Jewish people in Cuba. El Patronato benefits greatly from donations from Jewish community members in the United States. There was a picture on the walls in the community center commemorating a visit made by Steven Spielberg in the 1990s. We also had the chance to tour the newly renovated synagogue and visited the farmacia (pharmacy) on the second floor. The representative we spoke to told us that the pharmacy was open to all members of the community, not just the members of El Patronato. The pharmacy was filled with all kinds of prescription and non-prescription drugs and vitamins, many of them donations from the United States (pictures 20 through 22).

Tonight we had free time at the hotel and dined independently, which resulted in many of the group members eating cacahuates (peanuts), drinking mojitos, and sharing some laughs on our last night in the Hotel Nacional's beautiful back porch sitting area. One of the best parts about a group trip is the incredible bonding experience!

Cuba: An Intercultural Journey, Days 1 through 3

On February 17th, Intercultural Journeys patrons returned from an amazing educational and cultural diplomacy trip, “Cuba: An Intercultural Journey.” Planned in conjunction with TunisUSA, a travel agency specializing in people-to-people, cultural, and educational trips, eighteen Intercultural Journeys friends and patrons traveled to the largest island in the Caribbean, just 90 miles south of southern-most tip of Florida.

The trip to Cuba was planned for the purpose of understanding and connecting to Cuban culture. Intercultural Journeys co-founder and cellist Udi Bar-David also joined the trip, which afforded our group the opportunity to hear some great music as well. Yours truly took over 1,000 photos of the trip to Cuba! Below are photos from Days 1 through 3 of the trip. We hope to post many more photos in the coming days, so check back here to see more of our wonderful and enlightening intercultural journey.  

On Day 1 we arrived to Havana (La Habana), Cuba after departing from Miami International Airport. Right now, Miami is one of the only locations in the United States from which charter planes can make the flight to various cities in Cuba. After 45 minutes in the air, we landed and our group passed through Cuban immigration services to collect our luggage and venture out into Havana. We were met by our guide, Marta, and our bus driver, Jesús, who were with us for the duration of the trip. Since we arrived mid-day, we immediately went to lunch at a paladar, a local restaurant that is privately owned, in Old Havana (Habana Vieja). In recent years, the Cuban government has begun to grant more licenses for individuals to operate their own businesses. After lunching, our group was introduced to an architect named Daniel who works primarily in Old Havana and he walked us through the massive restoration efforts that the neighborhood has undertaken in recent years. In Havana, the government identifies buildings for restoration and then the tenants of a particular building decide amongst themselves who will go and who will stay while the building is being restored. Until the tenants decide, the government is unable to proceed with any building restorations.

Day 2 started with a visit to a health clinic (policlinico) in Havana. At the clinic we were treated to a lecture by the main doctor of the clinic. In Cuba, the entire health care system is government run and free of charge to citizens. Doctors are not allowed to work privately and thus, a doctor is not allowed to accept money for private visits or exams. The clinics in Cuba service a particular area or portion of the city and all citizens within that area must report to that clinic for their health concerns, unless they have received approval to visit a specialist elsewhere.

Following the visit to the clinic, our group met with an attorney named Doris who began our first discussions on U.S.-Cuban relations. During the course of our visit, we had the opportunity to engage in respectful discussions regarding U.S.-Cuban relations with a variety of people. Given the history between our two countries, we took our role as American ambassadors quite seriously; listening intently to our Cuban contacts and engaging in productive, enlightening, and most importantly, peaceful talks and relations.

In the afternoon, we visited the home of a Cuban visual artist and photographer named Lorenzo, who graciously opened his home to us (picture 3). His home also functions as his gallery and work space.  In Cuba, artists are not permitted to open their own private galleries, but may sell their work from their work space, which in this case also doubled as his home.  He pays a tax to the government on any works he sells.  The visit was made even more special as Udi played an impromptu piece in Lorenzo’s living room based on a large sculpture that the artist created.

Day 3 began with a visit to Muraleando, a community-based art project in Havana (pictures 6 and 7). Muraleando has been a driving force in revitalizing the community and provides a safe and productive atmosphere for local youth to engage in art projects. Muraleando, which largely reminded us of Philadelphia’s own Mural Arts Project, is funded by artists who not only work with the neighborhood children, but who also donate half of the proceeds that come from the sales of their own work.

Following our visit to Muraleando, we traveled back to our hotel, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, for a visit with a local scholar and former Cuban emissary to the United States. We engaged in a two-hour dialogue on U.S.-Cuban relations and policy. In the evening, as we were preparing to drive to the Antigua Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula  to see Udi perform a special concert, our guide surprised us with a special trip in fully-restored, old-fashioned cars. Yours truly rode with fellow travelers Shel Thompson and Lou Oschmann in a pink 1955 Chevrolet (picture 15). Our driver gave us an even bigger surprise by playing Elvis Presley records during the entire trip. At the church, a packed crowd listened intently as Udi played a one-hour set, including a premiere of a work from a prominent Cuban composer, Guido López-Gavilán who was in the crowd that night! The finale was a great duet featuring Udi and a local student, a cellist named Alexander, playing “Dos Gardenias,” a Buena Vista Social Club favorite (picture 16).

Introducing IJ's newest team members!

Intercultural Journeys recently welcomed two new staff members, ready and excited to join the IJ Family!

Mary Javian joins IJ as its new Curator, working on artistic and educational programming. Mary has jumped full-steam ahead into the artistic planning process for IJ's 2014-2015 season and we can't wait to share it with everyone!

Lindsey Crane joins IJ as its new Managing Director, and will be focused on IJ's day-to-day operations. Read more about Mary and Lindsey here.

Catch the IJ co-sponsored chamber concert Music for One World

We asked Music for One World artist and South African percussionist, C. Sipho Mabingani to tell us how he thinks music can promote peace and create understanding between diverse cultures and people: "Music continues to play a major role in all cultures and when musicians from these cultures come together for a collaboration such as this, it illustrates that the notion of hope for peace amongst different peoples is alive and well. Having been born and raised under apartheid, I have witnessed such cooperation between different people and I am certain that this concert will exude a positive message...and that is an effort that makes it worthwhile for me and I hope for others as well."

Tune in on Monday, February 10th at 8:30pm ET to watch C. Sipho Mabingani and many other talented artists in the IJ co-sponsored chamber concert Music for One World live from the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. To watch the broadcast or view an archived copy of the performance at a later date, please visit:

Feb 10 concert marketing photo.JPG