Thursday, October 13, 2011

Goombay 2011: October 21 & 22

Goombay, the annual kick-off for Fantasy Fest, is a locals’ favorite event, celebrating Key West’s Caribbean culture as brought to America through the Bahamas. This is the heritage of many of Key West's Bahama Village residents, and it is their indigenous customs and traditions that we celebrate annually.
Tracing its roots back to Africa, the term, “goombay”, references the beating of drums – particularly the deep-bodied type with goatskin head, held between the legs when played -- and the music and dance that grew out of the rhythm.
Goombay music is similar the calypso from Trinidad.  Simple in chord progression, lyrics rich in historical content tell stories of everyday island life.
A related type of music known as “Junkanoo” is one of the most celebrated art forms of the Bahamas and is closely associated with Goombay.  Junkanoo’s foundation is the strong tradition of goombay goatskin drums, embellished with bugles, cowbells, conch shell and bicycle horns, and whistles. Similar to goombay in its rhythmical variety, junkanoo music has been passed down through generations, training being gained by taking part in groups that participate in festival parades. 
In keeping with tradition, Key West’s own local junkanoo bands, the Thunder From Down Under and the Key West Island Junkanoos, will open the Goombay celebration, leading costumed revelers in a parade down Duval Street.  Petronia Street, the gateway to Bahama Village, will be transformed for the weekend into a festive street fair running from Duval Street to the Gulf waterfront, offering two high-energy days and nights of multi-cultural food, crafts, and performances by popular Bahamian and local musicians.
Goombay’s high energy level is a fitting kick-off to Key West’s 32nd annual Fantasy Fest, the Southernmost City’s peak event.  The 10-day masking and costuming gala, this year themed “Aquatic Afrolics”, runs from Goombay through the end of October.
Check accommodations availability at the Tropical Inn, on the parade route and only a half-block from the Petronia Street corridor, the site of the annual Goombay celebration.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Key West to Cuba flights OK'd!

Almost 84 years ago, in October of 1927, Pan American Airlines made history, initiating the first commercial 90-mile flight between Key West and Cuba.  Originally a mail route, by the following January, Pan Am’s first passenger flight to Havana ushered in a new era in international aviation transportation, providing regularly scheduled flights in a ten-passenger Fokker aircraft.

Throughout the ensuing decades, Havana became a vacation playground for US citizens.  In 1960, the halcyon days came to an end, with a US-imposed embargo in response to Cuba’s nationalization of properties held by US citizens and corporations.  Since then, the prohibition against commercial, economic, and financial commerce and trade has proven to be the most enduring trade embargo in modern history.

While a decidedly controversial “hot potato”, demand to lift travel and trade restrictions with Cuba is forcing reconsideration of the embargo.  And Key West is poised to benefit.  After an arduous campaign that began in July of 2009, official notification arrived last Tuesday, via a letter to the Monroe County Airports Director, Peter Horton, from the US Custom and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operation, that the federal government has once again authorized direct Key West-Cuba flights.  

Because the Key West International Airport is currently classified as a general aviation facility, flights will be limited, at first, to no more than 10 passengers.  Expansion plans are in the works to qualify it as a federal inspection station, the $2.25-million upgrade projected to take two years.  Upon completion, aircraft carrying more passengers will be permitted.

Horton has been busy laying the groundwork that will facilitate rapid implementation of flight service. He has approached four carriers, one of which -- Miami-based C&T Charters -- already possesses licenses from both the U.S. and Cuban governments to fly the route.

Travelers through the new point of entry are still bound to longstanding regulations imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in that they must hold either a general or specific license to make the trip.   A general license gives "blanket authorization" for such purposes as visiting relatives who are either Cuban nationals or US government-employed Americans working in Cuba; journalistic, educational or religious activities; professional research; and commercial exchange for the benefit of the Cuban populace, such as medical supplies.

For purposes not covered under a general license, a specific license is required.  This covers such purposes as freelance journalism, academic exchanges, athletic and cultural performance events supporting the Cuban people, and humanitarian initiatives.

Just last month, the current administration extended the embargo through September 14, 2012.  That’s just another year.  One can only speculate on the portent of that action.  Meanwhile, Key West will be busy, grooming its airport facility to capture whatever opportunities come its way.