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The Washington Diplomat

Dominican Republic Hosts Cigar Night

Whether you smoke cigars (I don’t) or not, the Dominican Republic’s Cigar Night (used to be Rum & Cigar) to promote this Caribbean nation’s well-known international export is great fun and a party not to be missed!

In fact, ever since Cigar Night was started by former ambassador Flavio Espinal and his wife Minerva, a whiz at marketing, it’s been the fun fall “go to” event for all ages. This year, the brand new ambassador, Aníbal de Castro and the President of the Dominican Association of Cigar Producers (Procigar) Hendrik Kelner hosted.

The ambassador, newly arrived from his London posting, was happy to welcome embassy regulars to this colorful nation and make new friends with important Washington people. 

The Dominican Republic is the largest exporter of premium cigars to the United States.

“The premium cigar - an artisan work of art - has resisted the probe of time,” said Ambassador De Castro, “keeping its natural character, devoid of artificial components. It is part of Dominican history, tradition and culture, and an excellent channel for our hospitable spirit.”

The only problem this annual event has created is that everyone forgets their diplomatic manners while they are puffing away, and the guests don’t leave! The party started early (5 p.m.) but the guests were still mingling in their clouds of smoke at 11 p.m.

The crowd had thinned out a bit, the buffet was being dismantled, and one bar had closed (still great Brugal Rum), but the die-hards looked like they were there for the night.

What’s a new and gracious ambassador to do?

This veteran of diplomatic functions showed more grace than many. He quietly ordered up his best French champagne and the waiters arrived with some pomp and circumstance — passing through the room with the golden bubbly on gorgeous trays.

A waiter approached the ambassador, then dramatically deferred to me with a glass of water (I was standing by his side). The ambassador, in turn, took a glass and asked others to join him. Then, his genius of controlling the situation in a most stylish fashion took over.

As he raised his glass to toast his remaining guests, he said with a delighted smile, “Thank you for coming tonight. It has been my pleasure to entertain you for this Cigar Night.”

He held his glass up high, everyone nodded and we drank — thus officially ending the “reception” that had gone on for almost six hours. The last bar closed, the lights went up, and the waiters opened the front door. The party was over!  

And, this new ambassador showed his great grace and style!

Front photo: Ambassador of Dominican Republic Aníbal de Castro hosts guests at Cigar Night, held at his embassy in September.

Top photo: Gail Scott enjoys Cigar Night with Ambassador de Castro.

Photos: Gail Scott

Contemporary Aruban Art Meets Classic Dutch

I have never seen anything quite like this exhibit: avant-garde art alongside some of the most cherished art in history.

At first it’s shocking and almost seems mocking, but that’s the unexpected charm of the fascinating new "Microcosm" exhibition of contemporary Aruban art that is now on display at the elegant Kalorama residence of the Dutch ambassador.

Throughout the first two floors of the 1929 mansion, visitors will encounter eclectic and thought-provoking works by 10 Aruban artists — including site specific installations, sculptures, mixed-media assemblage, video art, paintings, collage, photography, and drawings — interacting with the classical Dutch art and antiques that form the permanent collection of the ambassadorial residence.

"Microcosm," which opened on Sept. 16, is part of Aruba’s celebrations of 25 years of self-rule within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

“The 'Microcosm' exhibition illustrates that the Kingdom of The Netherlands is a macrocosm that stretches over two continents offering a rich diversity of people and cultures,” said Dutch Ambassador Renée Jones-Bos at the press preview, where she was joined by the Aruban artists and Aruban Minister of Economic Affairs, Social Affairs and Culture Michelle Hooyboer-Winklaar.

“The exhibition celebrates the unique relationship between Aruba and the Netherlands and reveals how an autonomous entity thrives within the Kingdom."

Renwick Heronimo, one of the three co-curators, said the residence was chosen because it was “very stimulating for the artists to dialogue with a loaded environment.”

“At first, when they started installing, I was quite surprised,” Jones-Bos told me in an interview. “But then I sort of discovered the jokes and have truly enjoyed living amongst this art.”

Her husband, former BBC journalist Dr. Richard Huw Jones, who works from the residence as a consultant and is home more of the time says, “It makes me smile. I especially appreciate the juxtaposition and the dialogue that the artists are trying to start for you.”

It is that juxtaposition of contemporary Aruban art with classical 17th century Dutch masters that is the magic of the exhibition.

You too may smile and get “the joke” here and there as you walk through this highly unusual exhibit that seems to be poking fun at the grand old masters.

For example, near a vintage religious piece, an Aruban artist placed several gilded cherubs. You might wonder what’s wrong with that? Nothing, until you notice that a couple of the cupids are packing machine guns under their wings!

In Osaira Muyale's “Silhouette Series” several “re-arranged” nude silhouettes add a sexy note to the show.

Ciro Abath's installation, "Toys of the Conquistador" stands next to a neo-classical sculpture in the garden of the Residence, once again providing an “art dialogue” between contemporary and classical art.

Found objects are displayed in an 18th century Dutch mahogany dressing cupboard.

In the front hall, an unusual bronze bust and a photographic self-portrait of Telka Van Dodewaard is placed next to a vanitas-influenced drawing of a woman, reflecting on the impermanence of life and beauty.

Curated by Laura Roulet, Gijs Stork and Renwick Heronimo, a team of American, Dutch and Aruban contemporary art experts, 'Microcosm' is the first phase of an international multicultural and policy focused initiative to create a platform where contemporary art serves as a medium to create awareness and dialogue among these participating regions.

Several of the Aruban artists featured have exhibited internationally and won awards. Alida Martinez won the 2010 residency prize at the Triennial International of the Caribbean in the Dominican Republic with her installation "Mega-Bite Candy." Ryan Oduber received the Caribbean spotlight award for his cinematography of the short film "Muhe Frida" on the life of Frida Kahlo during the 2011 Aruba International Film Festival.

After recently meeting the Dutch ambassador here, the Aruban artists visited relevant American art institutions in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York to forge new ties with American contemporary artists, curators and museum executives.

To prove the depth and seriousness of this art-is-substance concept, a policy seminar co-organized with the Organization of American States explored how Aruba is transforming itself from an economy based on tourism to a more diversified economy and a reliable investment partner.

It is often said, even by Dutch ambassadors, that Americans are less likely to know or understand the Dutch and The Netherlands than they are to understand many other foreign countries. I agree and that’s the special value of a sophisticated program like this one. Hurry up and catch it before it's too late!

"Microcosm" is open to the public weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (except Columbus day) and ends October 12 . It is by appointment only. (Email: with the date and time requested).

Top and front page photo: In Osaira Muyale's “Silhouette Series” several “re-arranged” nude silhouettes add a sexy note to the "Microcosm" exhibition.

Second photo: The murals "Micro Macro" by Elisa Lejuez Peters invite visitors to come upstairs to the second floor of the Dutch ambassador's residence.

Third photo: Artwork by Ciro Abath from the series "Toys of The Conquistador" is on display outdoors at the residence.

Fourth photo: The installation "purse of souls" by Elvis Lopez from the "She devil series" becomes part of a living area at the residence.

Bottom photo: Telka Van Dodewaard contributed this self portrait and Bronze bust that is mixed in with artwork and objects from the permanent collection of the residence.

Photos: All photos are from the "Microcosm" exhibition at the Dutch ambassador's residence. Courtesy of Royal Netherlands Embassy


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