Category Archives: Cuba

AEIVA – A Gem in Our Community

There is a really unique building across the street from the Alys Stephens Center at UAB.  Have you ever noticed it?  It’s the University of Alabama’s Abroms-Engel Institute for the Virtual Arts or in short the AEIVA!

Andy Warhol exhibit at AEIVA last year.

Andy Warhol exhibit at AEIVA last year.

I first learned about AEIVA when they featured an Andy Warhol exhibit called “Fabricated,” in January last year.  It was the first major show by a renown artist for the Institute since they opened and it definitely got my attention.  I went to the opening night reception with my friend Suzanne and we walked around with quite a crowd looking at all the iconic works of art.  Some we hadn’t seen before.  I realized that night how fortunate we are to have AEIVA in Birmingham and for the art community.

AEIVA is named for lead donors Judy and Hal Abroms and Ruth and the late Marvin Engel and features three galleries along with a 95 seat lecture hall.  The building is also the home of UAB’s art galleries and the Department of Art and Art History classrooms and faculty offices.  AEIVA’s mission is to enhance social, cultural and historical understanding through the visual arts across UAB and the broader community.  I especially love that it’s right across the street from the Alys Stephens Center, another UAB gem!

In September, I went by AEIVA to see another exciting exhibit.  It was the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month and it seemed appropriate to visit and see the works of Cuban born artist Luis Cruz Azaceta.  The topics he covers aren’t the happiest, to say the least.  The title of the exhibit was “War and Other Disasters – Selected Works from 2002-2016.”  You have to admit, the title alone is a curiosity.

As I walked through exploring Azaceta’s works, I discovered these are all based on well-known happenings.  The first work looked like the largest matchbook car exhibit I’ve ever seen.  As you get closer, you realize it’s the evacuation during Hurricane Katrina.  Azaceta had been a native of New Orleans for ten years when Katrina happened so it was only natural for him to want to create and include this in his collection.  It’s incredible and takes up most of the first gallery.

Other featured works include “9/11 WTC” which was really moving.  As you look into the piece there are photographs – for instance an “I Love New York” coffee cup in one.  I felt like I was standing in the dust of the towers as they fell while looking at this piece.  It’s just that powerful.  “The Border” is about the ongoing issues regarding security and control at the Mexican/American border.  As we all know, this debate continues especially in the current political environment.  Everything surrounding the fence reminds me of the craziness of our current immigration system and the need for reform.


Another current topic comes through in “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.”  Azaceta created this in 2015 after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson by a white police officer.  The artist has been vocal about this movement and it comes through in this painting.  “Spill 4” is about the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill in April 2010.  You can see the black oil making its way through the environment on this canvas.  I remember how the beaches looked after this disaster and that 11 people lost their lives on that oil rig.  The amount of oil that took over the beaches and ocean was just unbelievable.

Azaceta was born in Havana, Cuba and lived there until he emigrated to the United States at the age of 18.  As a boy he witnessed many acts of violence on the streets of Cuba during the Batista regime and during Castro’s post-revolution.  This impacted him greatly and created in him a sensitivity towards violence, human cruelty, injustice and alienation.  These became central themes in his work as he showcases the moral and ethical pulse of our country.


The Azaceta exhibit runs through December 17th and I encourage you to go by and have a look for yourself.   You can also follow the AEIVA on Facebook to get the latest on exhibits and other special shows.  As I said, it’s a gem in our community and I’m so thankful to the Abroms and Engel families for their generosity.

Feel Like Getting a Cuban Sandwich?

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

It was 11:15 a.m. and I was sitting at my desk thinking about lunch.  Actually…I was sitting at my desk thinking about Cuban Sandwiches since it was the day after Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia!!!

I’ve been waiting for many months for this to happen – 9 to be exact!  This cute little sandwich shop used to be in the Vestavia Hills City Center but closed in June 2015 after 6 years because the owners Bill and Ildefonso Ramirez, could not agree on a new lease with the shopping center’s owners.  They assured all their regular customers that they were looking for a new location in Vestavia and would be back soon.  Well, the wait is over!  On March 21st, Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia.  This time in the Vestridge Commons retail center on US 31.

The senior Ramirez is 93 years old and immigrated from Cuba in the early 1970s with his wife, Lucia, and young son Bill.  They fled the Castro regime in Cuba where Sr. Ramirez was a very successful chemist.  He and his family first landed in Spain for several years and then arrived in Miami.  Eventually they moved to Atlanta so their son could attend college on a scholarship.  In Atlanta, Sr. and Sra. Ramirez opened a grocery store where they began selling Cuban sandwiches.  Unfortunately, the store burned down but soon after Sr. Ramirez opened Kool Korners in Midtown Atlanta.   He ran his business there for 25 years and received many accolades and quite a fan base for his food.  When the building that housed Kool Korners was sold in 2008, Sr. Ramirez moved to Alabama to be closer to his son, Bill.  On a side note,  I remember Bill Ramirez back in the day when our sons played soccer together in the Hoover Soccer Club.  Bill was always the voice on our answering machine when the Club would have messages for the players and parents!  Small world, huh?!

Kool Korners opened in Alabama in 2009 and Cuban sandwiches were introduced to a whole new fan base in Alabama!  I remember taking my mother there for lunch once and Sr. Ramirez came by to check on us and we started speaking in Spanish – of course, this was after my mother said – “my daughter speaks Spanish!”  He is such a sweet man and so interested in his customers and their enjoyment of his food!  You could tell he loves his work!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

So, on Tuesday, March 22nd, I sent a text to my hubby saying, “Feel like getting a Cuban sandwich?”  He said “Sure!  Where?” We headed over to Vestavia and luckily found a parking space right in front!  The place was packed already and as we looked around, there were no seats available.  We got in line to order and hoped for the best!  Eddie and I both ordered the Cuban sandwich combo which includes a drink and chips of your choice.  I really, REALLY wanted a Guava and Cream Cheese Pastelito, but they were out of them…and this was at11:45 a.m.!!!  I’ll have to save that for another time.  I just love guava!  I could probably write an entire post about guava.  (jot that down, Teresa….)  Let me just say for the record too…those Cuban sandwiches did NOT disappoint!!!

I'm surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

I’m surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a bite…it was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

Some people may wonder what all the fuss is about with Cuban sandwiches.  After all, it’s just pork, ham, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard and dill picked on bread, right?  Well…..not quite.  It’s Cuban style roasted pork and the Cuban bread that make these sandwiches so tasty.  Cuban bread is similar to French bread but during baking includes a small amount of lard or vegetable shortening.   There are also any number of ways you can season the pork roast and I found and bookmarked numerous excellent recipes all over the Food Network on how to do this.  Once all the ingredients are assembled and layered on the bread, you press the sandwich down for about 5 minutes on each side with a bacon press or even a heavy cast-iron pan.  If you have a sandwich press, that works too!  The finishing touch is to slice it diagonally.

I wanted a chance to see Sr. Ramirez when Eddie and I went by that day but the place was so packed that I decided to wait until another time.  Right as we were leaving, I spotted him coming out of the back kitchen area and greeting a few people waiting for “to-go” orders.  I hope I get the chance to speak to him next time I’m in Kool Korners.  I’ve been looking over their menu and  I’m hungry again!  The photo of the empanadas on their website already has my stomach growling!  YUM!


The counter and menu at Kool Korners. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Sr. Ramirez when I ordered. The place was so crowded that I figured he was a little busy back in the kitchen!


Lots of interesting art on the walls at Kool Korners. Eddie and I sat under this painting of an old Chevrolet in Havana as we enjoyed our lunch.



I had to post a photo of my handsome lunch date as he patiently awaited our delicious sandwiches!