Are you eligible for new Medicare benefits? Find out today.

— Your health needs change from year to year. And, your health plan may change its benefits and costs each year too. That’s why it’s important to review your Medicare choices each fall. Compare your current plan to new options and see if you can lower your costs or find a plan better suited to your needs. Open Enrollment is the one time of year when Medicare beneficiaries can see what new benefits options Medicare has to offer and make changes to their coverage.

Whether you have Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll still have many of the same benefits and security you have now, including:

• Preventive benefits – including certain cancer screenings – available at no cost to you when provided by qualified and participating health professionals. The annual wellness visit lets you sit down with your doctor to discuss your health care needs and the best ways to stay healthy.

• Medicare will notify you about plan performance and the ability to use its online Plan Finder to compare and enroll in quality plans.

• In 2017, if you reach the “donut hole” in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, you’ll save 60 percent on covered brand-name drugs and see increased savings on generic drugs while in the donut hole.

It’s worth it to take the time to review and compare your Medicare coverage options, but you don’t have to do it alone. Medicare is available to help.

• Visit to compare your current coverage with all of the options that are available in your area, and enroll in a new plan if you decide to make a change.

• Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) 24-hours a day/7 days a week to find out more about your coverage options. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.

• Review the Medicare & You 2017 handbook. It’s mailed to people with Medicare in September and is also available online at

• If you have limited income and resources, you may be able to get Extra Help paying your prescription drug coverage costs. For more information, visit or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. TTY users should call 1-800-325-0778.

• Get one-on-one help from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Visit or call 1-800-MEDICARE to get the phone number for your local SHIP.

This message is brought to you by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Film Review: Almost Christmas

— Watching this humorous film is like getting a funny greeting card that makes you laugh as it warms your heart. This ode to the joy and angst people feel as their family reconvenes for the certain chaos, gluttony and joy during Christmas, is a nice way to start the holiday season. It’s a very entertaining stocking stuffer. It’s comic relief.

Under writer/director David E. Talbert’s (“First Sunday”) guidance you know there will be equal doses of merriment and inspirational message. Toss in producer Will Packer’s (“Think Like a Man”) sensibility and you can pile on the silliness and bawdy humor. What’s on view is a raucous comedy that feels almost TV sit-com-ish. It’s seasoned with enough soap opera-ish drama to make you laugh at the characters and be astonished by their mischievous schemes.

Walter Meyers (Danny Glover, “The Color Purple”), the successful owner of several auto repair shops, eagerly awaits the arrival of his four adult offspring and their extended families back to the Atlanta home they grew up in. He looks forward to their smiling faces, is somewhat saddened that his deceased wife Grace won’t be there and is frankly wondering if his kids can set aside their differences for five days so they can enjoy the holidays. Fat chance.

His youngest daughter Rachel (Gabrielle Union, “The Birth of a Nation”), a perpetual law student who is low on funds, brings her young daughter and the grudge she bears for her older, far more successful sister Cheryl (Kimberly Elise, “For Colored Girls”), who is a dental surgeon. Big sis is coming with her flaky, conceited, retired basketball player husband with wandering eyes, Lonnie (JB Smooth, “Top Five”).

Christian (Romany Malco, “Think Like a Man”), the oldest son is running for Congress and no one knows if he can forget campaigning long enough to focus on the family. His wife Sonya (Nicole Ari Parker, “Murder in the First”) is skeptical. Evan (Jessie T. Usher, “Independence Day: Resurgence”), the baby of the family and a popular football player, is just getting off the disabled list (DL) and has a jones for painkillers, unbeknownst to the rest of the clan.

And if that isn’t enough spice in the house, Malachi (Omar Epps, “Love and Basketball”), Rachel’s old high school fling and neighbor, is hot on her tail. Alan, (John Michael Higgins, “Pitch Perfect”), Christian’s campaign manager is working on a gentrification scheme that’s in conflict with the downtown area that’s home to a shelter where Walter’s wife worked. Evan’s old friend Eric (DC Young Fly, “Hollywood Hearts”) is supplying him with drugs. And he’s also hitting on Evan’s saucy Aunt May (Mo’Nique, “Precious”), an aging backup singer. She claims: “I got vibrators older than that child!”

Surprisingly, African-American Christmas movies are quite prevalent: “A Madea Christmas” (Tyler Perry, Tika Sumpter), “The Best Man Holiday” (Monica Calhoun, Morris Chestnut), “This Christmas” (Loretta Devine and Chris Brown), “The Perfect Holiday” (Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut) and “Last Holiday” (Queen Latifah and LL Cool J). So, what sets this one apart? It’s refreshing that the central character is a wise, silver-haired patriarch.

And to add a bit of hot pepper to the mix, Aunt May, played with verve by scene-stealer Mo’Nique, adds just enough naughty humor to please adults and warrant an MPAA PG-13 rating. As she walks into Walter’s house, May says to her brother-in-law: “Where’s the liquor? I hope it ain’t that dark liquor, because that dark liquor will make a bitch want to fight.”

Playwright-turned-filmmaker David E. Talbert has a very assured style that involves “comedy in the midst of chaos.” One minute there’s a verbal brawl and the next moment everyone is laughing. This rhythm serves his plays and screenplays well, keeping audiences engaged through his explorations into the sometimes awkward dynamics of friendships, marriages and relationships. Comparisons to Talbert and Tyler Perry are inevitable. The difference is that Talbert is far more consistent as a writer and director.

Gabrielle Union and Kimberly Elise rattle off catty one-liners like they were schooled on Edward Albee’s vicious “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.” For female viewers, Epps is the romantic ex-boyfriend who got away. Usher and Young Fly will keep the younger audiences engaged. JB Smooth is hysterical as the out-of-touch playboy who is courting disaster.

Perhaps the smartest bit of casting was giving Danny Glover the role as the dad and referee. His strong acting brings more to the role of Walter than most performers could summon. Strong, humbled, determined and embittered are just some of the emotions he shows over the course of 1 hour and 52 minutes. When he screams to his out-of-control family “It’s my house,” there is no question; he is the lord of the manor.

The second coup is having Mo’Nique spice up Aunt May to the point that you’re belly laughing even before she opens her mouth. And for those who wonder if she really deserved her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the film “Precious,” wait until you see final scenes when it is just her and Danny Glover at the dining room table talking about the sweet potato pie her sister used to make. It’s a treasured moment.

John Paesano’s impassioned musical score is supplemented with appropriate soul, pop and jazz tunes like Etta James singing the sultry “The Very Thought of You.” Wynn Thomas’ production design and Marthe Pineau’s set decoration make Walter’s house an enviable abode and the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly a perfect place for extramarital flirtations. Larry Blanford’s photography and lighting give the footage a warm glow. The editing by Troy Takaki adds a solid beat.

If you’re looking for Shakespeare, try another theater. If you want a good stick-to-your-ribs family comedy that will make you chuckle and forget your troubles, pull up a chair and sit down.

The spirit of the holiday season is in the house.

Dwight Brown is a film critic and travel writer. As a film critic, he regularly attends international film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and the American Black Film Festival. Read more movie reviews by Dwight Brown here and at

Cicely Tyson Fast Facts

— Here’s a look at the life of Emmy Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson.

Personal: Birth date: December 19, 1924 (some sources say 1933)

Birth place: New York, New York

Birth name: Cicely Tyson

Father: William Tyson, carpenter and painter

Mother: Theodosia Tyson

Marriage: Miles Davis (1981-1988, divorced)

Education: Attended New York University

Other Facts: On the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s national advisory board.

Nominated for 11 Emmy Awards and has won three.

Nominated for one Academy Award.

Nominated for one Tony Award and has won one.

Worked as a typist after high school.

Timeline: 1950s – Is discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine.

1956 – Appears on the cover of both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

1963 – Appears as “Jane Foster” in the TV series “East Side/West Side.”

1972 – Stars in “Sounder,” winning a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination.

1974 – Wins Emmys for Actress of the Year – Special and Best Lead Actress in a Drama for the film, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”

January 1977 – Portrays Binta, the mother of Kunta Kinte, in the miniseries, “Roots.”

1977 – Inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

1981 – Marries jazz legend Miles Davis in comedian Bill Cosby’s home.

1983 – Heads to Broadway, briefly starring in “The Corn is Green.”

1994 – Wins the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries for “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.”

1995 – The Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing & Fine Arts, an elementary school in East Orange, New Jersey, is named in her honor.

August 21, 1997 – Receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

2010 – Is awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal.

2011 – Appears in the movie “The Help.”

March 2011 – Appears in Willow Smith’s video for the song, “21st Century Girl.”

2013 – Returns to Broadway after 30 years, winning a Tony for Best Actress in “The Trip to Bountiful.”

2015 – Receives the Kennedy Center Honors.

November 22, 2016 – In a ceremony honoring 21 Americans, Tyson is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Flying to Cuba: What you need to know

— Hoping to fly to Cuba? It’s complicated.

The death of Fidel Castro will likely spark more interest in American travel to the island nation, but the U.S. government has significantly cracked the door. In July 2015, President Obama reestablished formal diplomatic relations with Cuba after a decades-long split between the nations that dates back to the Cold War and the communist government’s alignment with the Soviet Union.

Scheduled U.S. air links to Cuba have been growing rapidly. On Tuesday, United Airlines starts flying to the island and on Thursday, Delta Air Lines will begin commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuba for the first time in 55 years.

Jetblue Airways, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and smaller carrier Silver Airways began regular flights to Cuba earlier this year and plan to expand their offerings in the coming weeks.

Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines will take off in December and Alaska Airlines in January. The U.S. Transportation Department has also approved Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines for flights.

While major airlines have praised the restored flights, you’ll still face restrictions getting there.

U.S. tourism to Cuba is still illegal, so Americans need to fit one of 12 “authorized travel” categories to go. Those categories include travel for athletic competitions, educational research and family visits.

The regulations are very specific. For example, travelers from the U.S. are allowed to visit a “close relative.” Rules define a close relative as someone connected to you “by blood, marriage, or adoption” no more than three generations removed from you or a common ancestor, according to the Treasury Department.

Once you’ve signed an affidavit swearing your trip falls under an approved category, you’ll need to obtain a visa and travel insurance. All of those steps can be completed through your airline.

On Saturday morning, a roundtrip Delta ticket from New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to Havana’s José Martí International Airport cost as little as $204 for travel in mid-January. That same trip in mid-May will set you back around $300. Ticket prices, of course, can vary widely depending on the airline, travel dates, airports and travel agency.

Delta spokesperson Anthony Black said many Americans are seizing the opportunity to visit Cuba.

“There’s definitely interest,” he told CNNMoney Saturday.

Delta hopes ticket sales will grow as more people become aware of ticket availability. Direct flights on Delta to Havana will be available from New York, Atlanta and Miami, with one flight from each city per day.

— CNNMoney’s Jon Ostrower contributed to this report.

Mortgage rates climb above 4% for first time this year

— Mortgage rates have pushed past 4% for the first time this year.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased to 4.03%, from 3.94% last week. A year ago, the rate was 3.95%.

Rates have been moving higher since Donald Trump was elected president.

The interest rate on the U.S. government’s 10-year Treasury note has climbed to 2.38% on Wednesday from 1.85% on Election Day. Treasury notes serve as a benchmark for various types of credit, including mortgages.

Higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow money.

“People are anticipating some economic stimulus in the first few months of Trump’s presidency on infrastructure and military spending and tax cuts that could lead to faster inflation,” explained Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. “Mortgage rates are responding to the potential of higher inflation in 2017.”

The Federal Reserve is scheduled to meet in December and is expected to increase the federal funds rate, which is the short-term interest rate it uses to lend money to financial institutions.

“People are anticipating [the Fed] will be raising rates very soon,” Yun said. “The mortgage rate is running ahead of that decision.”

Mortgage rates have not been above the 4% since December 2015, but they are still relatively low compared with historic levels.

But because a rise in rates increases the cost of borrowing money, it can reduce a buyer’s budget and soften sales.

“In the short run, there may be a final burst of home sales and refinances as ‘fence sitters’ try to beat further rate increases,” Sean Becketti, chief economist at Freddie Mac, told CNNMoney by email. “Next year, however, higher mortgage rates will drive down affordability, dampening demand and weakening home sales, softening house price growth, and slowing the growth in new home construction.”

Yun pointed out that when rates made a similar move in 2013, home sales dropped 5% to 8% a month for a time.

“What could be a potential neutralizing factor is whether we will continue to see job creation or a faster rate of job creation,” Yun said.

Tight inventory has propped up home prices, which has hurt affordability in many markets across the country.

Yun said he expects rates to continue to rise for the rest of the year.

“I would say the era of extremely super-low interest rates are over, now we are beginning to see steadily higher mortgage rates,” he said.

From Obama to Trump, D.C. and the arts could shift toward a big chill

— President Obama handed out Presidential Medals of Freedom on Tuesday, to a glittering class of recipients that included actors and athletes, rock stars and business pioneers.

While the mood was celebratory and festive, it was hard not to think that such events are likely to take a significant turn as the nation prepares to shift into a new phase of the culture wars amid a Donald Trump presidency — from the warm feelings on display toward a big chill.

Hollywood and the arts are well known for their liberal leanings, and entertainment heavyweights came out in force for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Bruce Springsteen, one of Tuesday’s honorees, was among the many who performed to support her. Robert De Niro, another recipient, labeled Trump “an embarrassment to this country” before the election.

Trump has traveled in celebrity circles, including his interactions with a wide assortment of the famous — or in some cases, notorious — hosting “Celebrity Apprentice.” But the tone and content of his campaign was especially hostile toward — and elicited commensurate condemnation from — so-called media elites, many of which were angered and alarmed by perceived appeals to racism and xenophobia.

Moreover, Trump added fuel to that fire over the weekend via Twitter, demanding an apology from the cast of the musical “Hamilton” for its public appeal to Vice President-elect Mike Pence and directing additional criticism at “Saturday Night Live” for satirizing him.

Those in the arts and other high-profile endeavors, by contrast, have warmly embraced Obama, due both to his policies and the historic nature of his election. His ease in these settings was evident during his remarks Tuesday, which included teasing basketball great Michael Jordan for having become an internet meme, gushing about actress Cicely Tyson and lauding Ellen DeGeneres for having the courage to so publicly come out as a lesbian almost 20 years ago.

It’s worth noting, too, that Obama was born near the end of the baby-boom generation, and his entertainment tastes and sports idols have reflected those values. Like most people in their 50s, he didn’t need cue cards or prompting to croon Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” as he did a few years ago at the Apollo Theater.

These occasions are largely ceremonial, and one more is scheduled before the year’s over: the annual Kennedy Center Honors. That star-studded program will again be televised by CBS and hosted by Stephen Colbert, who, along with most of the late-night landscape, has turned political comedy into hostile territory for the President-elect.

While it’s normally difficult to reject the siren song of Washington, given the polarized political climate, many of the luminaries recognized at these events won’t readily line up to have their pictures taken with the President during a Trump administration. And one suspects there will be similar reticence within the ranks of NFL and NBA stars, whose teams traditionally celebrate championships with, among other things, a trip to the White House.

Those feeling wistful about the end of Obama’s presidency will likely find weightier matters to contemplate than whether celebrities are comfortable visiting the White House. Still, watching him interact with the honorees Tuesday felt like a tangible demonstration, on that front, of the end of an era.

Amazon unveils Cyber Monday deals

— Black Friday sales are still going on, but Amazon has unveiled some of its deals for Cyber Monday.

The online retailer will roll out more than 75,000 sales starting Monday and throughout the week on a variety of products, including toys, electronics, video games and books.

While electronics tend to be big sellers on Cyber Monday, Amazon said that so far this holiday season, the “most-watched deal” has been the Mermaid Tail Blanket.

Related: America shops: Black Friday 2016 is here

Amazon’s own products will also be on sale on Monday: The voice-controlled Echo speaker will be priced at $139.99 and the Tap Bluetooth speaker will be $89.99. Both sale prices match what the company offered as part of its Black Friday sales.

Cyber Monday is a big sales day for Amazon. Last year, shoppers ordered more than 54 million items — 629 per second — on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Amazon Prime members, who pay $99 a year, will get early access to Lightning Deals. There will also be specific deals for shoppers using Alexa, the voice assistant in Echo.

Here’s a look on what will be on sale Monday:

–50-inch 1080p LED TV for $145

–50-inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV for $249.99

–Amazon Voyage for $169.99

–Amazon Fire TV for $74.99

–Sonos PLAY: 1 compact wireless speaker for $149

–Nest Cam indoor security camera for $163.98

–Up to 50% off select Nerf, Playskool and Play-Doh toys

–Blendtec Total blender for $239.99

–Up to 50% off select Callaway Golf sets

Eli Lilly’s promising Alzheimer’s drug fails in clinical trials

— A large trial of a drug to treat dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease has ended in failure after people receiving the treatment showed no significant improvements to those taking a placebo.

The failure of the much anticipated drug, which showed promise in earlier results, is being seen as a disappointing setback, but not the end of hopes to fight the disease.

On Wednesday, US drugmaker Eli Lilly announced that the Phase 3 clinical trial of its drug solanezumab did not progress as planned.

“Patients treated with solanezumab did not experience a statistically significant slowing in cognitive decline compared to patients treated with placebo,” the company said in a statement.

Almost 47 million people live with dementia worldwide and that number is expected to double every 20 years to reach 131 million people in 2050, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. Dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to account for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.

The trial

More than 2,100 patients diagnosed with mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s participated in the multi-national trial, called EXPEDITION3, which began in 2013.

In a statement, Lilly’s chairman, president and CEO John C. Lechleiter said the company was “disappointed for the millions of people waiting for a potential disease-modifying treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.”

He added that the results would be evaluated to determine the impact on its other potential Alzheimer’s drugs in the pipeline.

The company’s share price dropped more than 10% on the New York Stock Exchange after the announcement. More details are expected to be announced on Thursday.

Attacking amyloid plaques

Like other anti-amyloid drugs, solanezumab was designed to reduce the build up of amyloid plaques on the brain, which are thought to contribute to the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The results now bring that underlying biology into question.

“The failure of this trial is something that could be another step back for the amyloid theory,” said Professor Bryce Vissel, Roth Fellow and Director of the Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

However, while disappointing, the results will spur the scientific community to examine other potential cures for the disease, he said.

“One could call it the beginning of a next generation of efforts for treatment for Alzheimer’s,” he said. “We’re getting a much deeper understanding of the disease and a more robust approach to curing it. Ultimately, this will bring about approaches to solve the disease within our lifetime.”

Dr Mark Dallas, Lecturer in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Reading agreed. “While this is disappointing news, we will have to wait for the full data set to see if there are any nuggets of information that provide insight into the lack of effect of solanezumab,” he said. “It’s another setback for the Alzheimer’s community, however the information we obtain from these setbacks is vital in our common goal of generating a novel treatment to tackle Alzheimer’s disease.”

Vissel said attention had now turned to the next big trial of a drug called aducanumab by Biogen, which works by attacking plaques from another angle. The drug showed promise from preliminary results announced in September, though final results are still a while away.

For many, the failure of Lilly’s solanezumab trials wasn’t surprising.

“There is still no convincing evidence that shows a clear relationship between amyloid deposition and deficits in cognition in humans,” said Professor Peter Roberts from the University of Bristol.

“All we really know is that evidence of amyloid deposition begins up to maybe 20 years before the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This might be a good indicator, but does not prove causality.”

“This is disappointing but not a great surprise,” added Robert Howard, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at UCL who believes the decades of failed drug trials highlight the challenge that still lies ahead. “What we have learned from several decades of research and hundreds of failed Alzheimer’s disease trials is that no matter how promising the basic and early phase data, all that really matters is the results of these late phase effectiveness trials.”

The US Alzheimer’s Association said it hoped ongoing tests for solanezumab and other anti-amyloid agents would continue.

“These other programs have different ways of acting on the amyloid pathway and some are also addressing the disease at a much earlier stage when these drugs may still prove to be effective,” it said.

As populations increasingly live into their older years, the need to tackle the problem remains.

“Dementia is society’s biggest health challenge and we’ve seen time and again that developing effective treatments is incredibly difficult,” said Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society. “This is only one drug of several in the pipeline and they aim to tackle dementia in different ways, so we should not lose hope. Dementia can and will be beaten.”

These Christmas lights don’t need to be wrapped around the tree

— Let’s admit it. Hanging Christmas tree lights is annoying.

The end result is, of course, joyous and festive. But the process of laboriously stringing lights while being poked by pine needles doesn’t do much for the holiday spirit.

Tree Dazzler, a curtain of lights that hangs vertically over your Christmas tree, could be an easier alternative this year.

While the product certainly appeals to the laziest among us, it could also strike a chord with consumers who just don’t want to spend time decorating.

The full set up takes about three minutes — no untangling required.

TeleBrands, the company behind the product, said retail chains nationwide have stocked up on Tree Dazzler in time for the holiday decorating rush.

“We think we’re going to be sold out of these well before Christmas,” said A.J. Khubani, founder and CEO of TeleBrands, citing feedback from retailers.

Tree Dazzler ($40) features a large circular plastic ring with eight hanging strands of round lightbulbs. The ring sits at the top of the tree and the strands, which each have 64 blubs, fall onto the tree.

If you need more bulbs, stack another Tree Dazzler ring on top of the first to cover more surface area. It comes with a switch that controls six lighting combinations — the lights can change colors, flicker and make scrolling patterns.

TeleBrands, whose products are often featured in As Seen on TV infomercials, gained traction last year for its Star Shower gizmo — a small laser device that projects thousands of tiny stars onto the front of your house.

“We sold 4 million of those,” Khubani said. “We’ll probably double [the sales of that product] this year.” (Telebrands is selling a newer version this year that features moving lights.)

The runaway success of Star Shower inspired the company to focus on making holiday decorating easy. “People are so busy … they want a fast way to decorate,” he said.

As with Star Shower, Khubani is betting harried holiday households will embrace the gimmicky convenience of Tree Dazzler.

His one warning: “Once we sell out of it, that’s it. We’ve only been able to produce 1 million of them for the holidays.”

Tree Dazzlers are sold at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Walgreens and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Where Brazil’s best cooks come from

— Someone said “gun!” while we were shooting a scene in a crowded cafe in Minas Gerais, Brazil, and the next thing I knew my director, Mo Fallon, had dropped his camera, dragged me to the floor and covered me with his body.

A split second later, assistant cameraman Josh Flannigan piled on. Mo had his back to the potential shooter, shielding me.

The danger passed quickly. Two car thieves had allowed their stolen vehicle to drift into the curb in front of the cafe. When witnesses tried to drag them out of the car, one of them produced a weapon. After a tense moment, the two were allowed to flee the scene.

As I got up from the ground, I think my first words to Mo were, “If your wife finds out about this, she is going to kill you.”

My crew are not the Secret Service, and I sure as hell ain’t the president. This kind of behavior, while flattering — and, well, frankly heroic — was above and beyond the call of duty. I can — let’s face it — be replaced.

As I returned to the table where we were filming to continue talking about the cuisine of Minas Gerais, a beautiful and mountainous agricultural area of Brazil, I was thinking, “Damn! Now I gotta be nice to them.” What does one do for people who risk their lives for you? I was thinking a fruit basket wasn’t enough.

I don’t want you to think Minas Gerais is a dangerous place. Brazil, a country where the divide between the rich and poor is striking and severe, can be dangerous for sure. But things happen. This could have happened in New York or Dubuque. That it happened with us right there, cameras rolling, was one of the many flukes of the road. One rule of travel, long ago learned, is that everything is fine … until it isn’t.

So don’t let this brief moment dissuade you from visiting. Minas Gerais is beautiful; it is soulful, with a cuisine and a style all its own. It is unlike Rio or Sao Paulo or Salvador or Belem, or anywhere else we’ve been in the country.

It’s also where so many of the cooks from Brazil’s top restaurants come from, and when you spend time there you discover exactly why the best chefs in Sao Paulo brag that their cooks “come from Minas.”

It’s truly a “part unknown” in that it is relatively undiscovered by tourists — and the crazy amazing art gallery, Inhotim, spread throughout acres of jungle, is reason alone to visit.

The food is hearty and comforting and delicious, reflecting the demanding appetites of hard-working farming communities. The people are lovely, and the mix of blood and culture inspiring. Go there.