Our first party in our wonderful house all went very well. Everyone from the film school helped me to make it a success. Maeda arrived with flowers to fill the house from San Antonio and then a team of caterers from the school arrived not long after with food for 70 people and a chirpy barman who set up the bar. Havana friends all made it along and mixed really well so that I felt as though I wasn’t just the wife of the director and this was my house too!
This house is designed for parties, being right in front of the sea and having a bar in the garden. Up until now the bar has been used to house the paddling pool and various toys and inflatables but that night a barman was whipping up cocktails served in Coco shells (Coco Locos!) a few mojitos and whisky, beer and wine, as well serving me up something cold and bubbly brought by my Habana girlfriends.
I have begun to realise that our house, which has been the Protocol house in Havana for the film school for 25 years, is quite a little gem. It stands alone between a beach club used by the Cuban military and a huge ruin which most recently used to be the Institute of Oceanology (is that a word??). Apparently there are not many houses so slap bang on the sea in Havana. Many people don’t even know there is a house here even though they have lived in the area for years. It is very close to the leafy suburban streets and diplomat houses of Flores and Cubanacan but seems to be from another world. However, other people seem to know all about it and give me a knowing secretive look.
We are right at the end of Primer Avenida, el final, and as you drive the last block which looks forgotten and run down, it really does seem as though you have come to a dead end until you notice our unassuming house right in the corner. I love opening the front door to people as they are immediately transfixed by the Caribbean sea sparkling behind me and Cubans being Cubans, they almost knock me out of the way to have a closer look.
I began to wonder in the first few weeks ……. who built this house? Who did it used to belong to before the revolution or before the Film school? As Cubans love to talk and tell a good story it didn’t take me long to find out that this house does have a history …….
I intend to find out more but this is the story so far.
For those of you who don’t know who Batista is ……. here is a little description from a JFK speech on the run up to his election in 1960 whilst criticising Eisenhower´s government.
Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years … and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state – destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror. Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista – hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend – at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections.
The house which has no number, is said to have been built in the early 50s for the French lover of someone pretty high up in Batistas pre-revolution government. Whoever she was she must have been a real character as the beach next door to our little one (now the military club) was known as the Francesita (the little French one). Bloody big house for one French
flousy lady, but I thank her for my large walk in closet. Evidently she fled before the revolution as she was part of a more corrupt and dangerous time in Cuban history depending upon which side your bread was buttered. In the words of Arthur M Schlesinger when asked by the US government to analyse Batista’s Cuba.
|The corruption of the Government, the brutality of the police, the regime’s indifference to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice and economic justice … is an open invitation to revolution.|
But the architectural evidence of La Habana harks back to another time when dirty money was everywhere. The beautiful ruin next door was also owned by one of Batista’s honchos who was enjoying regular meetings with Al Capone in his amazing palace with its huge private beach to discuss the blossoming future of the Mafia and more Casinos to be put into Club Habana, the beach club 5 minutes away which is where, somewhat ironically my children now have all their extra curricula activities!
I enjoy hearing about these pre-revolutionary days with the security of history and intend to find out more but I am glad that Fidel got rid of them all as after 8 years in Guatemala I know there is nothing remotely glamorous about gangsters or their girlfriends. And my family now lives in a paradise of tranquility despite the undeniable economic problems. I am not sure that even the Cubans realise what they have.
It could make a good film script though …….. somewhere down the line. And gives me something else to think about as I sit in front of the sea looking at the beautiful trees which line the beach next door as the sun goes down. Every night and most days people jump over the tumbling wall of this old mansion and get to the edge of the sea next door to us to fish and chat and watch the sea or whatever else they get up to. (Rafa was rather horrified how many condoms got washed up on the beach the other day when the currents were not in our favour).
I wonder what parties have taken place in this house? I need to investigate more ……….. just not sure how to yet. I will leave you with the words of JFK, an American icon (Oct. 1963).
Unfortunately, I think Guatemala is still paying for those sins.
My friend Tony says I can come round and use his zippy satelite internet connection whenever I want ……… so I may be able to post some photos soon!