Posted by Ellen

The Cornish daffodil fields produce 90 percent of England's commercial daffodil crop. In my neck of the woods, almost 5,000 miles from Cornwall, daffodils are blooming noncommercially even as we speak.

Perhaps in your neighborhood they're already fading, or maybe the new tips of their leaves are still hidden in the snow–no matter; spring is trundling on in these days, and if it's early spring, There Will Be Daffodils.

Posted by Ellen

The two small boats in the foreground of this picture harvest floating trash from the water of the Bosphorus in Istanbul. Local birds seem impressed with the delicacies the boats rake or scoop or claw up out of the shipping lane.

Posted by Ellen

The Kuiseb River flows–when it flows–down from the highlands of eastern Namibia and across the Namib Desert toward the Atlantic Ocean.

South of the river, some of the highest sand dunes on earth are blown ever northward by the prevailing winds, but the sand can't cross the river. North of the river is a vast plain of bare rock, much of it billions of years old, Precambrian, predating the emergence of life.

The river itself, like many desert rivers, is ephemeral, flowing briefly after rains. The rains come–if they come–in January, February, or March. By April, the riverbed is dry. Even so, scrubby vegetation has taken hold along its banks.

Sand from the dunes is literally choking off the river. The river water, which often is not much more than a trickle, has to carry heavy loads of sand from upstream, traveling in a riverbed already piled high with sand blown in during the dry season, on top of sand left behind in previous years by the slow, struggling current.

There is so much sand now in the Kuiseb River that most years the water can no longer reach the sea. Only extreme flooding can push river water all the way to the river's mouth at Walvis Bay on Namibia's Atlantic Coast; the last time this happened was in 1963, though the river came within a few kilometers of the sea in 1997 and might have made it all the way but for a hastily bulldozed artifical sand dune blocking its path to protect the salt works at Walvis Bay.

Posted by Ellen

During a slow afternoon at a bar in Havana Vieja, one of the bartenders watches a Cuban national team wrestling match on tv. The Cubans are traditional powers in wrestling, boxing, judo, and other martial arts, often taking home dozens of Olympic medals.

Below are scenes of training and competition at a youth wrestling program in downtown Havana, housed in an old Basque gymnasium. Photos by Alexandre Meneghini for Reuters.

Posted by Ellen

This is the only baseball we saw in Havana, in a dead end cul de sac with boarded-up windows and no cars parked or passing through. Everywhere else we went in this big, densely populated city, airborne baseballs would not have been appreciated.

At least in part for this reason, soccer is more popular than baseball among children playing in city streets and sidewalks, and European and Latin American soccer is widely followed. But baseball has been played professionally in Cuba since the 1870s, long before the United States was ever involved in the country. Even back then, we're told, baseball had an anticolonial significance, played in lieu of sports such as bullfighting imported from Spain.

Castro famously encouraged baseball as a source of revolutionary and nationalistic pride. In recent years, Cuban baseball teams have played exhibition games against U.S. major league teams, and the Cubans win about half the time. 

Posted by Ellen

There are chess players on the streets of Havana, and Cubans have won the World Chess Championship multiple times, notably in 1921 when José Raúl Capablanca beat the longtime German champion Emanuel Lasker.

Ché Guevara was a chess player who started an annual international chess tournament in Havana in 1962, when he was serving as post-revolutionary head of the Cuban National Bank. Here, Ché watches the tournament play of a Yugoslavian revolutionary he had befriended:

In 1965, the U.S. government would not allow Bobby Fischer to travel to Cuba to participate in the tournament, so he played via telex from New York.

Today, Cuban children learn to play chess at school, and last fall they participated in a national tournament commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Ché's death.

Posted by Ellen

Some would say the archetypal Cuban pastime is baseball, and they wouldn't be far wrong. In this space in the days to come, we'll take a look at baseball and other passions, but the everyday-everywhere-everybody hands-down #1 most popular game in Cuba is dominoes.

It might be the most popular outdoor entertainment of any kind, unless it's been nudged out of the lead by the new fun of texting and surfing in the Internet parks. People play dominoes on sidewalks and porches and streetcorners and balconies, in yards and plazas and parks and doorways, all afternoon and long into the night.