Book Tour: Pope Francis in His Own Words

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Yes, yes, I know: Pope Francis in His Own Words was published two years ago.

So why am I starting a book tour of sorts right now?

Well, as you’re probably aware, Pope Francis will be visiting Cuba and the United States next month, and it seems like a prime time to reintroduce the book to English- and Spanish-speaking audiences (did you know the book has been translated into about 15 languages?). Plus, I received a few lovely invitations to do so, and I couldn’t turn them down.

If you’re in one of the cities below, I hope you’ll spread the word and join me at one (or more!) of these events:

Decatur Book Festival: Decatur, Georgia, USA
I’m grateful to my alma mater, Emory University, for inviting me to participate in this beloved book festival. I’ll be signing books in the Emory tent from 3-4 pm on Saturday, September 5. I’ll have a very limited number of foreign language editions of the book as well.

Brooklyn Book Festival, Bookend Event Series: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Before I head out of the country to cover Pope Francis’s visit in Cuba, I’ll be talking about the book and signing copies as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival. My generous host is the delightful Hullabaloo Books, and I couldn’t think of a better bookstore to have a conversation about Pope Francis. This is an Official Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event. I’ll have a very limited number of foreign language editions of the book as well.

This event will take place at 8 pm on Tuesday, September 15.

Cuba Libro Bookstore: Havana, Cuba
I’m so excited that I’ll have the chance to talk about the book the day before Pope Francis will be giving his mass at Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

This event will take place at 5 pm on Saturday, September 19.

NEW: Our US publisher, New World Library, is offering a 50% discount off online orders of Pope Francis in His Own Words throughout September. Buy the book through their site using the discount code “pope” (no quotes, not case-sensitive) and you’ll get the book at half-price. Buy the book here.

Would you like to add Pope Francis in His Own Words to your bookshelf or inventory? Need a speaker or expert to interview about the Pope? Get in touch by emailing me: writingjulie[at]gmail[dot]com!

Now Open in Cuba: English-Language Bookstore, Cuba Libro

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Image: Courtesy of Cuba Libro
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Cuba Libro is the island's only bookstore specializing in English-language books.
Cuba Libro is the island’s only bookstore specializing in English-language books.
Because my husband is Cuban and because I’ve visited Cuba nearly a dozen times over the past decade, I get lots of travel questions about the island. I can’t answer most of these questions, as I tend to stay with my mother-in-law and I’ve never experienced Cuba as a tourist; I end up directing inquiries to my friend Conner Gorry, who has lived on the island for longer than I’ve been visiting. Her blog and her travel app are as much intel as you’re going to get without moving there yourself.

Conner just sent word about Cuba Libro, an English-language bookstore and cafe in Havana… the island’s only English-language bookstore and cafe. It just opened this week. Here’s everything you need to know about it, straight from Conner:

This island is unique in so many ways (both good and not so) and one thing that has always struck me is that Havana must be one of the only – if not the only – capital city where you can’t get an English-language newspaper or novel. The reasons are complex (what isn’t in Cuba?!) but it means literature lovers have to beg, borrow or steal books in English or bring their Kindle well-loaded.

Located on a terminally shady corner in the desirable Vedado district, this ‘café literario’ is bringing the bookstore/coffeehouse concept to the island. All books and magazines pass through the ‘Conner filter’ (if you find a Harlequin Romance on the shelves, you get a free espresso!): I guarantee if you’re in need of quality reading material or conversation with interesting, creative Cubans, you’ll find it here.

In addition to featuring monthly shows by talented local artists – August showcases over a dozen captivating images by photographer Alain Gutiérrez – Cuba Libro offers many services travelers are after: water bottle refills; postcards, stamps, and mailing; a cultural calendar (so you won’t miss that hot concert or polemic play); and expert travel tips. This is an ethically-responsible business that offers a lending library for those who can’t afford books, a collective employment model where the entire team benefits, and an environmentally-friendly approach. Like Cuba itself, Cuba Libro strives for equity and a healthy, culturally-rich atmosphere.

This is also a regguetón free zone – we listen to real music at Cuba Libro! Come early to snag a coveted hammock or hanging chair in the garden.

Open Monday-Saturday, 10am-8pm.

Notes from 5 Days in Cuba

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
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Barrio Chino, Havana's Chinatown.
Barrio Chino, Havana’s Chinatown.
1. The people who say Cuba is trapped in time just parrot.

In the two years since I’ve been here, the following things have changed: (a) There is an epidemic of really bad haircuts, a style called “el yonki,” among young Cuban men. In nearly 10 years’ worth of visits to Cuba, I have never seen so many bad haircuts in Havana.

(b) Numerous houses on my mother-in-law’s street have been painted. We’re talking intense, tropical pastels: purples, blues, pinks, and yellows. In fact, I didn’t recognize her building, as the downstairs neighbor painted her part of the fachada a robust violet. My mother-in-law says the rash of fixer-upping is due to the recent change of policies that allow property sales, as well as a certain neighborhood entrepreneur who’s caught on to the concept of “flipping” houses. My mother-in-law grouses about what she assumes is the woman’s deep pockets and tidy profits. Whether her theory is right, I don’t know. But there’s a rebuilding and renovation boom throughout Havana; I noticed major works projects in La Vibora and Barrio Chino, too.

(c) There is red meat again. The garlic and onions aren’t shriveled imitations of themselves. I saw a lot more variety among the goods being sold by fruit and vegetable vendors.

(d) Like “el yonki,” an obsession with the British flag has taken hold in Havana (and outside the capital, too, according to my friend Conner). From Toms-like flats to the unfortunate trend of the man purse, British flags are everywhere, and have replaced Chinese and Venezuelan flags.

(e) My favorite Chinese restaurant. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll go back. My meal there was a “never as good as the first time” moment.

(f) Wireless networks. Now that’s something I never thought I’d see in Havana.

2. There are the things that haven’t changed, too. The view of the Monument of the Revolution from my mother-in-law’s balcony. The sound of hooves and bells as a horse and carriage full of neighborhood kids round the block every afternoon. My mother-in-law picking through the rice to sort the good grains from the bad ones. Terrible Internet connections.

Mariel's souvenir: a chest x-ray from a Havana hospital.
Mariel’s souvenir: a chest x-ray from a Havana hospital.
3. Mariel gets sick as soon as we land and stays sick for our entire visit. Each family member feels compelled to take her temperature at least twice a day and to offer her thoughts about the course of treatment and how it should be carried out. Finally, my sister-in-law decides that my “Let’s wait it out” approach is a form of unacceptable maternal negligence, and she obliges us all to visit a retired pediatrician who lives two doors down. The pediatrician listens to Mariel’s lungs and advises we should take her to the hospital for a placa. Only I can’t go because if they know Mariel is a US citizen, they’ll charge us. And Mariel can’t talk at all– her looks won’t give her away (“She looks so cubana!” everyone says), but her English will. An hour later, Mariel has had her X-ray and I am delivered 5 glass bottles of powdered Amoxicilin to mix and administer every 8 hours.

4. 363 emails. That’s how many messages I have when I log into my account on Friday afternoon to send Francisco a message. Only three are important. It’s a compelling argument that I need to spend more time offline.

5. As I board the plane to return to Miami, I am surprised by the tears in my eyes. My feelings about Cuba are ambivalent at best, but I do have history here. My own Cuba story has been created during periodic visits over the course of a decade; while short, every visit has been incredibly intense. And in my visits I have been able to step into Francisco’s past in a way that few partners can, I think. I’ve been wracked by secondary nostalgia all week, and as I’m walking up the stairs to the plane, I feel saddened by the not entirely rational thought: “I may never come back here.”

How to Travel to Cuba: Licensed Organizations Update

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Brayan Collazo
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Me, peeking into a door in Cuba.
Me, peeking into a door in Cuba.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for FOX News Latino about how to travel to Cuba legally with one of the people-to-people programs authorized by the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Right around the same time the piece was published, the news broke that many of the 100+ organizations licensed by OFAC to lead these trips were not receiving renewals of their licenses; their renewal requests seemed to be suspended in bureaucratic, pre-elections political limbo.

Though most of those organizations still seem to be in limbo, I received notice earlier today that Friendly Planet is one of the few tour operators that has successfully had its people-to-people license renewed; in fact, they were granted a two-year renewal, and can continue running their Cuba tours through September 2014.

Curious about traveling to Cuba? Feel free to email us questions: collazoprojects[at]gmail[dot]com.

We also recommend Conner Gorry’s blog, Here is Havana, and her travel app, Havana Good Time (best app name ever!); she’s an American expat who has lived in Cuba for nearly a decade.

Walking Among the Dead at Woodlawn

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo and Julie Schwietert Collazo
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We’ve visited many cemeteries while traveling: the Petit Family Cemetery on the land where I grew up in South Carolina, where the graves of slaves are indicated with simple rocks.

Cementerio Colon in Havana, Cuba, where the sister of Francisco’s son is buried.

The local cemetery in Mompox, Colombia, at night, during a ceremony honoring the dead, candles flickering on tombstones and families holding hands, some crying, some talking quietly, some entirely silent and meditative.

The municipal cemetery in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where ostentatious monuments marking the final resting place of former governors and famous families draw attention from the old crypts, cracked open by decay, displaying bones on the back retaining wall of the cemetery.


New Orleans’ St. Louis Cemetery


a cemetery in southern Chile

It’s not that we have a fetish for the dead. But there’s something illustrative about a place, a culture, and its people that can be narrated without words when you visit a cemetery.
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Perhaps you’ve visited cemeteries on your travels, too, or stopped at the graves of the famous dead to honor them or simply say you’d been there.

But like us, you probably haven’t spent much time at the cemetery in your hometown.

Woodlawn Cemetery, one of New York City’s cemeteries, is located in the north Bronx in an area that was considered rural back in 1863, when the cemetery was founded. More than 300,000 people have been buried at Woodlawn since then, and many of them constitute a Who’s Who list of American public life.

We visited recently:


The tomb of Miles Davis


The mausoleum of Augustus Juilliard, founder of The Juilliard School


The tomb of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights, famous for writing The Declaration of Sentiments


The tomb of Joseph Pulitzer, the so-called father of journalism. Founded Columbia University’s School of Journalism and the Pulitzer Prize.


The modest tomb of Ralph Bunche, who, among many other accomplishments, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, the first African American to receive the honor.

What cemeteries have you visited on your travels and what have they taught you?