well not yet …… but just wanted to write a few things here before I get back on my blogging horse. I didn’t realise how many people have been reading this and how some of them were not very nice people. But hey they obviously found my life interesting so that says something.
We lived in a very beautiful house in Cuba, thanks to the film school. WHen I arrived it was a house full of corruption with a pretty good business being run out of it. I kicked them all out. My first mistake maybe ……. the house was then burgled a few weeks later by people who knew exactly what our movements were and how to get in.
We had parties once a month for the teachers of the school to thank them for their love and support over the years. To these parties we would invite a handful of Havana friends, diplomats, musicians, artists and personalities. I did manage to do around 5 official dinners in 2 years but our house was always full of people passing by to say hello and sit by the sea and chat with us, people from all walks of life and many countries. That is my spirit, my door is always open to friends.
Everything I bought online was using my UK credit card. IN Cuba you can’t buy too much. Family would transfer money for my children’s birthdays and we would buy things on trips for them.
We did not have one safe car most of the 2 years to drive my children around. Rafa’s car was worse than anyone’s and had faulty brakes for most of the two years. After a near fatal crash in the rain in my family car, Rafa hired me a car once for the school holidays and this has been jumped on by everyone from the fiscaleria to vicious little students. It was the only time my children all had proper seat belts.
We were transferring money to buy a car as it was clear that the school would never be able to provide us with a safe car for an 8, 7 and 3 year old.
I am a self-confessed fashionista and I like to look good, friends arriving from UK and Guatemala would always bring me clothes ordered online or bought in the packa (second hand clothes market in Guate) and I had a very good taylor. I left most of those clothes behind in Cuba when I had to run like a criminal. But I will always be glamorous when I can manage it. Style is not about money.
We left Cuba poorer than we arrived, which was quite an achievement!
Last summer when everyone was flying out for the summer we stayed in Havana through the heat of August and managed 4 nights in Cayo Santa Maria. Partly as so much money had personally been stolen from us.
I will be back with more truths soon. Children just back from the donkey sanctuary with grandparents!
But just to say that I received so much love and friendship in Cuba and was never really good at protocol, I just liked dancing a lot!
I finally did it! I got on that plane to New York, after so many years of plotting. Our great friend Diana organises the Havana Film Festival in New York HFFNY and for years she has invited us, Rafa has been twice, we nearly made it last year, but this year we were taking no chances. Diana booked our hotel for us, we booked the flight via Toronto, we got Rafa’s transit visa, we arranged meetings with film schools, New York woman in Film and our new best friend in New York, Daniel Minahan was throwing a party for us to introduce us to some New York independent film makers.
We crept off in the early hours of the morning leaving the children in safe hands, good friends sleeping the night and a team of driver, nanny, housekeeper for the day. Air Canada proved to be a good choice, polite staff, good film choice and no delays. We were in our hotel by teatime and marvelling over our ability to get connected with our iPad and iPod. Only people who have lived in Cuba understand this hunger and amazement.
The Maritime hotel was a cool retro 70s kind of place with very helpful staff and a nice lobby full of books with an open fireplace to give it a cosy touch. A mountain of packages from Amazon were waiting in the hotel room for me to unpack. I could see the river from our room and the high line (disused railway line now a walkway and park), right in front of it.
We got ready and headed downstairs to meet up with the festival organisers and other festival folk to be taken to a cocktail at the Cuban Office of Interest (ie the Cuban Embassy in New York). We met up with old friends Eirene from Scotland who is making films in Cuba, Monica a Guatemalan actress living in New York, Luciano from Cuba who was presenting his book, Luis director of the film school in Costa Rica, and other party partners in crime. In fact we were quite a solid group by the end of our 4 nights.
After the reception we all headed to an Irish bar to catch up and talk about Cuba. So many people interested in coming to study in the film school and wanting to know how, or if they could. If you are qualified to come to a workshop we told them, apply and we get you the permission to come. The moveable wall, curtain, shower curtain between the US and Cuba is not so impenetrable when it comes to film. Since the film school began Americans have been coming to learn, to teach, to study, to share and to rise above the politics that have created so much fear and paranoia on both sides.
Everywhere I went in New York I met Latinos, obviously at the festival but also in taxis, in shops, in restaurants, on every street corner. If you are Latin American and want to learn English, New York is probably not a good idea, you can get by on Spanish pretty easily. I almost forgot where I was sometimes slipping between the two languages.
The next day Rafa headed off to Columbia Film school and me to try and get some of the things I had promised the children. The sun was shining and I peeled off my layers one by one and then ended up buying a ridiculous pair of woman shoes, and feeling like Carrie Bradshaw, I popped them on and walked the grid, stumbling (almost) across City Bakery for my lunch and finding all the things the children has asked for. They got their jelly beans and gummy bears and all the other little treats. I found a great bookshop for children called Wonderbooks, and spent way too long window shopping. Marvelling too at the service. I walked into shops and people greeted me enthusiastically and asked me how I was. I felt so special, even if I knew they don’t really care about me like they seem to. After a year or so of living in Cuba, where on entering a shop it is almost guaranteed that you will be ignored, not even a glance in your general direction. Once I entered a shop to find a woman really going for it squeezing a zit with no shame. I pointed out that maybe it wasn’t the time or the place for such personal hygiene, she assured me that she was actually trying to pull a hair out of her chin. Oh so that’s ok? I said!
I digress. Overcome with consumerism and high on fake bonhomie, I staggered back to the hotel to get ready to head out early, as Rafa was presenting EICTV and some student films to New Yorkers and anyone else at the festival. We showed 4 short films, Rafa talked about the school and fielded questions from the audience, all this followed by a homenaje to Fernando Birri, the first director of the EICTV.
We left the theatre and headed for a piano recital in a smart apartment organised by the festival, where we were elegantly fed and watered and met up with Ruth, a teacher and friend who comes to the film school twice a year from New York to give a script workshop with her husband Bill who composes music for film. We decided a relatively early night was in order and headed back to the hotel where we still managed to stay up too late checking emails, just because we could.
Rafa headed to The School of Visual Arts the next day feeling more and more confident about his English. Before then we had a meeting with a wonderful lady, Alexis who is president of NYWIFT (New York Women in Film and TV) and threw around a few ideas for future collaborations followed by a lovely lunch together and talked about life and children and where we should live next, something that is beginning to weigh on my mind.
Those 4 days in New York I felt so happy to be back in the fast lane. It felt like such a can do place, everything felt possible and everybody was so positive. I thought about how in the old days New Yorkers were nipping down to Cuba for their weekends of sin …….drugs, Casinos, women and now it feels like, in some ways it is the other way round. I feel as though I need to escape from Cuba to indulge in the guilty pleasures of capitalism. Even things as superficial as buying a pair of cool shoes and lunching in City Bakery whilst flicking through my emails. But living there, would it all be too much? There are a lot of things I have begun to take for granted here in Cuba …. no violence and people who are truly genuine because they don’t know how to be anything else. In New York and London the meter is always ticking away and the cost of living is at a premium. Can I go back to that? Some of me wants to, and some of me doesn’t, but what is best for my family? All these things spun around in my head, would my teenagers be happy or better off in New York or Havana and what will Havana be like in a few years? I know they have to be in an international, cosmopolitan world but where and how do we get there?
That evening Daniel had invited some really lovely people to meet us in his pied-a-terre with a great view across Manhattan. A few of our friends made it along and we headed off to one party and one bar after the other. Finishing up in a great blues bar with Sweet Georgia Brown singing the blues as they should be sung!
The closing night we saw a Paraguayan film. A first for a lot of people, and an interesting insight into the psyche of Latin America’s most mysterious country! No-one talks about Paraguay. All I know is that they have an absurdly long national anthem. We ended up that night in one of New York’s cool nightspots The Box for a few burlesque performances that kept everyone titilated. We bumped into Cucu Diamantes and the guys from Yerba Buena who had a documentary in the festival, and they shared their table and some Vodka Crans with us, whilst we talked about what we can do together in Cuba and at the film school.
We made our flight the next day and like Cinderella who had gone to her New York Ball, I hurried back to my children and dear Cuba with my suitcase packed full of fast city goodies. If I could go to NYC or London every couple of months it would make all the slightly more challenging things about living in Cuba easier to handle. In my case those things are mainly lack of internet, getting hold of things from toothpaste to children’s bicycles, and I’m sorry to say as I was soon to find out, more relentless stealing in my house.
I came home to the typical Cuban problems. My car was off the road as we don’t have any parts, a custodio stole my favourite cashmere sweater that I had clung on to through every crazy night in New York, and we had to fire him. He’s a plonker as nobody will pay the price for a cashmere sweater here in Cuba, even if they needed one! Half of Havana seems to be trying to tear down our fence to get to the beach the other side of ours. 3 times in one day we had to engage in verbal shenanigans and threats of the police to stop them trekking through our back garden after they had cut a huge whole in the fence.
So now I need to get my Cuba groove back …………….. which I will, no doubt very soon. You can’t stay down for long on the La Bella Isla, especially with so many friends and good people around us.
Well last week, the whole of Havana was wetting their pants about Beyonce and Jay-Z gracing Cuba with their presence and causing a bit of a rumpus down Havana Cafe Thursday night, including a lot of grown ups who really should have known better, diving over chairs and tables to get their photo taken with her. I admire them both for their ability to make shed loads of money out of very mediocre music, you gotta hand it to them on that count, and also the fact that they seem to remain basically well-mannered all things considered. But anyway I had more important things to worry about than star hugging …
Paulo had been complaining that he doesn’t have enough time with his Mum by himself, so I decided to take him out alone, for an early dinner to one of the new places in town El Cocinero. From Cuba Absolutely …..
El Cocinero opened in February 2013 and has instantly become a smash hit. Located underneath the imposing brick chimney of the same name (which used to be a vegetable oil factory), this bar/restaurant is reached via 3 flights of circular stairs, which go up vertiginously lighthouse style. It is worth the effort to reach the sunken roof, which has ample space for drinks and food. This place has a renovated industrial space look, good music, nice décor and has attracted a mixed crowd of affluent young Cubans, expatriates as well as families for dinner which is also (for now) served on the roof terrace.
So off I went with my first born on date night. We didn’t have much problem finding the place thanks to the large chimney reminiscent of the Truman Brewery on my own dear Brick Lane ….. and this place reminded me of being in London’s East End. Cool and urban. Paulo was impressed immediately as we climbed the stairs. The main restaurant isn’t open yet but will be on the second floor, with I imagine not a bad view. Upstairs on the terrace there was also a mirador (viewing terrace) where you could see right across the Puente Hierro to the Malecon and the other way across the rooftops of Vedado. Paulo had a Coca-Cola, the real thing of course and me, not a bad glass of Chilean Merlot. We ordered Fish and sweet potato chips to share, and desserts of course.
Paulo’s main interest was reporting to me how much underwear and bare flesh he had managed to see. Unashamedly, without a touch of lechery. And as the Cuban summer has well and truly arrived he got quite lucky with the ladies. One pair of knickers flashed by the young lady opposite, a butt cheek cleavage with more knickers (quite a common sight), and whilst coming down the spiral stairs a good surreptitious view of a pair of Cuban tits. In between these reports, when I was thinking, crikey he’s only 8, we discussed school and sport and friends and what he wants to do this summer in London and Paris.
As we left, he took the car keys from me and opened the car door, while insisting that he wanted to ride in the front of the car which is illegal in Cuba. We put the seat belt on and took the risk as we headed home down quinta avenida with the sun going down.
Next big event in the social diary, Saskia’s MUCH awaited Birthday party. Yes the real Diva in Havana was finally getting her own party action. The day began windy and cloudy but ended up sunny and beautiful. Lots of friends came from the circulo and the French school and the film school, and she actually was the perfect little hostess. No tiaras or tears! We got out the piscina, a few toys, some tasty nibbles from the film school (a new chicken one that went down a storm amusingly titled Pollo chicken pickin!) ………… and everyone had a good time. Even me, who was slightly relieved that that is my last piñata of the school year……..phew!
The possy from the circulo kept their distance but seemed to have a good time and I hovered between the two groups of people. It kicked off around 3, we had a magician and the last guests left around 9 while we tried and failed to get the children to bed for another hour or so.
So the sun went down on another party and the little Diva was happy!
I have been back just over a week from the UK and feeling as though I am just getting back into my routine, but also at the same time realising that there is no routine. That is the best thing about my life here. People are still spontaneous and open to suggestions. People are busy but not booked up! Every week is different even when you think you know what is in store …….
It was fun to spend that time with Saskia and family and friends. But as usual when I hit the shores of their motherland, Saskia caught a terrible head cold. In fact one particular night when we were staying in a very smart bedroom I was catching vomit in my hand so as not to Kalpol stain the beautiful white bedspread. The joys of motherhood!!
It was the latest time I have visited London in years, and I did hit Autumn rather that the beautiful Indian summers that I have usually the pleasure. I managed to kit us out with a few layers in second hand shops and Uniqlo …….. I filled my suitcase with childrens shoes, England football kits, atlas, various cooking items and a whole load of food and toiletries. Bisto now comes in squeezy tubes I was pleased to see! I picked up a couple of cool frocks in Spitalfields market and a pair of ankle boots to get me though. My second suitcase was way over the limit but the nice Spanish lady at Virgin took pity on me and waved it through …. yippy. Twilight checkin is the best!
In England nobody seemed to have much time, everybody rushing, lots of people. Can I still live somewhere so full of people I thought to myself ……….
I was glad to get back to sunshine and all my men and we partied late on a school night, so happy to all be back together again despite the long flight and jetlag. Next year wherever we go it will be all together! I promised the boys. I think this was the longest I had left my family and it is easier said than done!
Cuba life is just as fun and I arrived home for the annual party at the Spanish embassy where I caught up with a few people. The night after we had a dinner in the house with some friends and got dragged out to another party where Wichy de Vedado (one of the better DJs in Havana) was playing on a rooftop. Trying to have a quiet week afterwards I was invited by a photographer friend to hear a band called Deja Vu, who had been recording in a house in Jamainitas on the beach close to our house and were having a party and a little concert to wrap up. Luckily the concert was at sunset so I managed to get home by 9. I enjoyed the music and the atmosphere around the band and their families and had to stop myself jumping in the sea with the other guests fully dressed ………. could be a bit of a soggy drive home I thought.
Now bracing myself for 2 weeks holiday with the boys and Rafa away in Magarita at a film festival. What adventures can we have? This weekend we have the new head of the British Council coming over for lunch and we promised the children that we would do lots of fun things ……… the musicians of Bremen is in the theatre in Vedado, as well as a French season of children’s films.
As I was thinking about writing this post, the Peter Greenaway film title that I stole for this post title kept playing around in my head all jumbled up and back to front. I think Peter Greenaway has visited the film school and if not he should be invited.
I have a new cook, there was a thief about, I am a wife but I don’t have a lover, although in Cuba a lot of people do …………. anyway on on ….
The boys have broken up from school and a lot of our more wealthy friends have left for the summer to their properties in Europe along with most of the diplomats and bureaucrats. Luckily we have enough Cuban friends and enough going on that I don’t feel too lonely and abandoned. A little bit of breathing space ……… and now with our new air con in the living room, things are looking up!!
I escaped for a few nights to a global city alone, such things have hardly been heard of in our house! I enjoyed walking the beautiful streets without having to keep my eyes on 3 little naughty heads, lunching in cafe terraces, visiting several galleries, finishing conversations with adults, topping up my fashionista desires ……… bliss …….. but that is another story for another time.
I returned to three happy but slightly resentful children, a husband ready to offload all his problems and trials and tribulations of being a single Dad and director of a film school ……… and yet another robbery in my house. We let our defenses down for a moment, and of course I wasn’t here to keep my castle safe!
So there was the usual ……why on earth did you let these people into our house? Because I wanted to get things done well you were away. ……. conversation.
On the few occasions that I have left my husband alone since we met, he is always intent on improving the house and/or my car for me while I am away, which can often lead to conflict as I like to be heavily involved in the style of said improvements and also who they are done by. He is then hurt, as he says he does everything to make me happy …… hmmm.
Anyway some workmen came to my house from the film school and were in my bedroom fixing the air con or pretending to fix other things and some cash walked. Not helped by the fact that we live in a cash world in Cuba and do not have a safe. Luckily we were approaching the end of the month and we did not have that much cash and they were decent enough to leave us some.
The film school was supposed to find us a safe but failed to do so. I have now taken all matters into my own hands and decided that the only people who come into my house will be friends, family or people invited by me who have already had my tough character analysis test. I want to be independent from the film school in all matters of administration and maintenance of my home. Apart from anything else they all like to have a good snoop and gossip is rife in any institution and all over the island. ‘tonces no mas!
To this end, I now have a new housekeeper and cook who is proving to be a great investment. Just as well as I had 9 adults and 9 children in my house over this weekend at various stages and I managed to just about feed those who were hungry. Mercedes lives nearby, is a hardworking, organised women who is transforming my kitchen into a place of homemade cakes and shortbread cookies and cottage pie and it is only week one!
After a few weeks of struggling alone with some help from my young babysitter Claudia, I decided that I needed to get on with finding another nanny before the long summer holiday began, still slightly reluctant to use my children as guinea pigs, but it seems it is the only way. Take them on a trial basis and see how it goes.
Still not convinced about the latest. I am trying someone who lives very close by, 5 minutes walk away, but although she seems very sweet and a good person she also gives the impression that she has really suffered a hard life, and that life has worn down her spirit.
I want to say to her …….. hey lady lets laugh and smile and skip with the children, lets make up fun games and holiday adventures. I am sort of hoping that we might be able to cheer her up a bit but she told me the other day somewhat despondently that Saskia has asked her why she had such a big belly! I was at the time playing footsies with a giggling Saskia throwing her around the bed. On the one hand I felt bad, but on the other I was marvelling at my 2 year olds communication skills and astute observational abilities.
Anyway Elena is a black lady, an afrocuban who studied Russian and spent 5 years in Kiev only to return to Cuba just as the Soviet system was getting the hell out and leaving them with the worst economic moment in post-revolution Cuban history, the infamous special period. Suddenly nobody wanted to learn Russian or bother speaking it too much when she returned. The Ruskies were gone and it seems that Elena has been sad ever since at her bad luck. Although she did tell me that she loved living in the Ukraine. Maybe she fell in love with a Ukranian who stole her heart forever. I wanted to say to her, well your belly’s not that big and you’ve still got a great pair of legs but in these situations it is best just to keep quiet I find …………..
Anyway a few more parties to organise before the end of the film school term, the graduation party being one of them. Juju, our beloved nanny of 7 years, who nobody has come close to replacing, is arriving from Guatemala at the end of July for a holiday and by the first week of August Rafa will be free ……… and we have to plan some Cuban adventures.
Where shall we go? Colonial Trinidad? Maria La Gorda beach? Cayo Coco? Exciting, cultural Santiago, the other side of the island, is calling me, but 12 hours in a car in tropical heat with 3 kids means I fear I might have to delay that one. But I want to dance to more Rhumba, meet a few more Cuban DJs, teach some recipes to my new cook, spend quality time with my children (woops I suppose that should have been first!), try to make my husband forget about the film school for at least a couple of weeks and entertain any pale faces Brits that make it over my Caribbean way.
I flew off to Guadalajara film festival for the third time last week. Leaving my Saskia for the first time with her brothers and her adopted Cuban family. Two nannies and Rafa’s driver, Mario. In fact they all had a pretty good time. 70 photos from their jaunt around Habana Vieja. They went to the park of inflatables, the museum of classic cars, pizza for lunch, Paulo and Nico carried by the men on stilts through the streets, donkey rides in the park…….and more.
When I managed to get a call through on Friday evening from Mexico, Paulo told me calmly that he had been stung by a scorpion at school and was taken to the hospital to have an injection. Why do these things always happen when you are away? He was fine and quite proud of how brave he had been. All told, it had been little Nico who was the most upset for his big brother. Bless my little emotional one!
We arrived in Guadalajara late on Thursday night as we had missed our connection in Mexico City. We couldn’t find any of our friends to play with, as they were all staying in different hotels and they thought we were staying in their hotel. We found out later that there was a welcome committee in the bar of the Hilton Hotel waiting for us until 3am!
Anyway, not realizing there was a party a few metres from where we were standing, we went off to a party for the press in a cool bar, but full of such young people that we began to feel old and the night had got off to a bad start. We did not have our festival credentials as we had arrived so late, so Rafa who never pulls rank, reluctantly used his name to get us into the party, however the initial reaction of the revoltingly obese head of press for the festival (his stomach moved independently from the rest of his body) was so bad mannered that we could not get into the mood even when we had our free passes etc.
Usually in Guadalajara the Mexicans are so smiley and hospitable so we have got used to always feeling like VIPs. But once again it was fun at the festival and we met old friends, made new friends and I managed to watch two films. United Kingdom was the invited country and their had been a homenaje to Mike Leigh who had already been and gone, showing his latest film at the opening party. The British Council party had passed and although I thought I was going to be bumping into my folk all over the place, it wasn’t like that at all. I hardly even heard British music!
I was determined to make it to one film from the British contingent and noticed that at 4pm that day there was an interesting documentary on Andrew Logan that sounded just like my cup of tea, and it certainly was. Who is Andrew Logan?
A wonderful man, in my humble opinion. For those who are not familiar with the name, you will certainly be familiar with his style and influences. I found this quote about him on Wikipedia and it serves as a good introduction to this wonderful character.
Andrew Logan’s work blends camp pop-art and neo-romanticism to form a quintessentially English ‘eccentricity of vision’.
The documentary The British Art of Showing Off, by Jes Benstock was very well put together and served as a retrospective of the man and his art with a good dose of English humour. Synopsis from the catalogue read:
British Artist and living legend Andrew Logan, loved the world over by celebrities and misfits alike, takes us under his glittering wing and inside his outrageous, anarchic and spectacular costume pageant: the Alternative Miss World Show. Using live observational camera, archive and exuberant animation, this documentary charts the mounting of the 2009 Show, interwoven with its history, the rise, fall and rediscovery, of both the event and the artist at its centre.
As I sat in the over air conditioned theatre I chuckled away to myself and felt truly proud to be British watching some very famous eccentrics and admiring, once again, our ability to laugh at ourselves and not take life too seriously.
I hope I would get a chance to meet Andrew after the film but outside the cinema their was a narco battle taking place all over the city. Two weeks before there had been 8 decapitated bodies found and the police had finally, that day, nailed one of the top guys. Because of this, his gang was setting fire to buses all over the city (25 I think!). They were decent enough to get all the passengers off first though, a little touch of humanity in the madness. For that reason Andrew and Jes had not made it down to talk after the film. I managed to get a taxi and head back to find my slightly concerned husband waiting for me in the Hilton bar.
However, I was lucky enough to meet Andrew and Jes, the director, later at the Gay party and awards held in a club close to the festival. The Gay party was good fun and we had a handful of friends to help us along with our plastic pints of Tequila and sprite (yeah really elegant!). There were two dancers who came with their prerequisite 6 pack bodies but were on the podium, dancing badly like a couple of bored toyboy housewives and spent most of their time picking their skimpy underwear out of their bum in a very uncharming fashion. I am sure that if Andrew had organized the entertainment it would have been much more fun.
The closing night entailed another walk on the red carpet in my new woman shoes (with a heel!) and a great Danish film called Superclassico. We arrived back in Cuba on Sunday afternoon like true Cubanos with a suitcase full of nappies, cereal, tortillas, shoes, pesto, ……… and the rest.
I found my 3 children utterly charming and wanted to stay up chatting with them all night about their adventures, thinking maybe it is good to have the odd little break from being a mother ………. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. Paulo and Nico also had really good school reports from the French School waiting for us that brought proud tears to my eyes. They are well on their way to being trilingual, the clever little things.
Next trip we are all off to Guatemala for a wedding and a step back in time, but got to organize another party, and looking forward to the French food tasting evening on the roof terrace of the Sevilla, (very posh hotel in Habana Vieja).
The dust is settling on yet another Latin American Film Festival. I am becoming a veteran of these events, which is rather strange for a person who has never made a film in her life, Latin or otherwise. I am a self-confessed interloper in this world but I do love it! I used to escape home life of two baby boys, once a year to the Icaro Festival in Guatemala. My first visit to Guadalajara festival a few years ago is about the nearest thing Rafa and I have had to a honeymoon!
And quite frankly these days I don’t even get to watch many films during festivals or otherwise. Although I am introducing my boys to some classic James Bond to give them a little bit of British culture along with the Beatles and the Stones! I am well up on the latest Narnia, Harry Potter or other such delights of children’s cinema. Yesterday I had a discussion with Paulo and Nico on the reasons why Kung Fu Panda 2 was actually better than the first one! So you see the depths of film criticism that I am plundering.
So I have never made a film, but I do have 3 beautiful British Guatemalan Co-Productions to my name Paulo, Nico and Saskia.
This was my first Havana Film Festival, and I know it won’t be the last. The festival takes place in The National Hotel and several cinemas and locations around Havana. This year it also coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Film school (EICTV). And as usual, the annual meeting of the Fundacion del Nuevo Cine Latin Americano, of which Rafa is a long standing committee member. And of course there was the most beautiful full moon too.
So very busy we were. The films I wanted to see but did not get to see include: all the Cuban films, all the films made by friends, all the Guatemalan films I haven’t seen and a few Brazilian and Norwegian ones too!
At least now I know I have access to the film school film library and can console myself with the fact that over the next few years I can work my way through some of the marvels of Latin Cinema at my own, mother of 3, pace. I am just so glad I got to see a lot of films and read a lot of novels in my not always misspent, and quite extended youth.
With 3 children, it is the usual juggling act of childcare whilst I escape to the many receptions and parties to which I am always invited, to see the huge gang of film makers that make up this wonderful community that revolves around the energy of EICTV and the Fundacion.
But what is New Latin American Cine exactly? I am told that the term grew out of the dark days when most of Latin America was under right wing dictatorships. When writers, artists and filmmakers trod a delicate line with the authorities. Also the filmmakers wanted to break away from the avalanche of Hollywood cinema hitting the region and defend the right to express themselves through their own images and stories during a time of great artistic repression. And from what I can see the movement has not stopped growing since those days.
When I met my husband (whilst interviewing filmmakers in Guatemala) and we began our family (the two events pretty much coincided) I did not realise that I too was entering into another family. A family of amazingly talented and passionate, independent filmmakers, good friends, warm and wonderful people, who never once made me feel like the interloper I so obviously am. Who knows maybe one day I will make a film ……… all about them!
The Party at the Film School was almost rained off, not something that happens too much in Cuba. The Van Vans, could not play and Rafa could hardly wrap up the ceremony as the heavens opened, but it did not stop most of us having a crazy night of dancing, reminiscing and drinking. Workers and their families mixed with diplomats, students and former students, musicians, film stars, directors, film festival Jury and of course little old me. Also a handful of my favourite Guatemalans to help me feel at home in my new life!
I had bought a new red dress for the event so I was rather too easily identifiable and I managed to stay up until 5am. I have to admit that it has taken me a few days to recover. I managed to keep going for the party in our house in Havana, which took place the following night but just could not make it to the closing party of the festival. Sorry to those friends I did not get to say goodbye to, but it was a school night!! I would like to take you up on your invitations some day to visit Brazil, Berlin, Costa Rica ………etc, etc. But I’ll see you all in Guadalajara in a couple of months, I hope. Guest Country Reino Unido ………. Oh yes that is my little country! I have not forgotten you.
Another Semana Santa, Holy Week or Easter has just passed me by in Antigua. For those who don´t know, the Semana Santa processions here are one of the highlights of the Catholic Church calendar in this part of the world. It is a spectacle of flower carpets, incense, purple robed cucurucho (people that carry the anda, the procession float I suppose we would call it). The purple is worn until Good Friday and then apparently they change to black. I have to admit I hadn´t even noticed this important dress change. Antigua is invaded by thousands of pilgrims and tourists and you have to forget about driving anywhere for a few days. People take to their bicycles, motorbikes or walk. So far as to say, it really is a big deal and Guatemalans fly home from all over the world to take part in this event.
Semana Santa for me (oh so spiritual that I am) has begun to mean lots of hassle and no nanny for 4 days but this being my last one for the foreseeable future, I did plan to get out and about and see some processions with the tribe but was struck down with food poisoning for 2 days which destroyed my will to fight my way into town through the crowds. I was planning to make it to one of the processions at dusk when the lights, the incense smoke and the beauty of the whole thing even makes this confirmed atheist feel a little spiritual!
Although I am not religious I have to admit to liking the Catholics more after my 7 years here in Guatemala. I am not sure why, but it may be something to do with their history and their discretion. My friends who are catholics here never try to justify themselves, their faith is something private and they are not interested in preaching to others. It is something that most of them feel is so culturally embedded in them that they would never question it. I even have to admit to being a little bit jealous of their faith and the peace and composure that comes with it. Also you have to admire the beautiful churches and cathedrals that fill Antigua, if nothing else.
On the other hand the evangelicals who are down here taking over, scare the living daylights out of me! This fundamental, fervent, self righteous bunch never miss a moment to tell you all about their faith and why they are better than anyone else. Missionaries with T shirts that proclaim to the world that they love God and he loves them more than anyone else. I´ve seen it all! Huge grotesque churches with multi-storey car parks shooting up where money could be better spent on education and food for the poor.
The evangelicals were the ones who were killing in the name of God as far as I can work out.
Anyway enough about that and on to another Antigua subject. The NGO industry! Antigua is full of people who have come here to get a do-gooder star on their CV. If you want to skip around in your own moral high ground for a few months this really is the place to do it. There are no end of people here hanging out in bars talking up all the good work they are doing. The longer I have been here the more I have realised that the people who really are doing good work are the ones with the lowest profiles and the most humility and to those people I take off my hat! You know who you are my friends 😉 However for every one of those there seems to be about 100 self righteous dullards propping up the bar night after night telling everyone about all their good work and their hearts bleeding fake blood all the way home to their moralising little beds.
I tend to steer clear of these kind of people especially as my connection to Guatemala is profoundly deeper ………. my man and my three gorgeous hybrids. I sometimes feel that I know more about Gautemala and it´s psyche than these zealots as I married it and gave birth to it. But hey who am I to get on my high horse?
So it was with this jaded attitude that I discovered Dita and her skirts and fell in love with her project. This project reached out to me as a mother of Guatemalans and a discerning fashionista. I would not be seen dead in most of the hippy, traveller rubbish that gets peddled everywhere. But these skirts are BEAUTIFUL and look good on everybody. So here I am plugging them big style:
1000 Faces is a community-based initiative that is designed to help provide economic support and stability to local Mayan communities around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Each of the unique skirts, made partially with recycled materials, are sewn and hand-embellished by “Single Mayan Mothers” from villages around the lake. The 1000 Faces project is as complex and interdependent as the threads we weave together day by day to make a Skirt That Makes Sense. When you purchase a Skirt That Makes Sense, you help weave together the threads of nutrition, economic support and stability, and environmental protection.
Check out the website above and click on links to see her collection of very cool designs ……..skirts (my favourites), T shirts, bags , scarves and dresses.
One of the things that got me off my sick bed this semana santa was hooking Dita up with a new friend in town and starting to sell her skirts, brainstorm ways that we can help her wonderful project and share and show them to as many stylish discerning women we could. It is very much a work in progress and if anybody is interested in a skirt let me know!
I would like to dedicate this post to three women …….my oldest and dearest Guatemalan friend Fatima, who has always shown me the love and compassion of a good catholic woman and my new friends Lissette and Dita who have the energy and passion to help other women in this country by giving them the respect they deserve.
I did not expect to be writing a post about my own country quite so soon especially not one about the Royal Family but when I got up this morning and put on the TV to catch up on the news, I had totally forgotten that Prince William was marrying the beautiful Kate the commoner (I love that expression, only used in relation to royalty, just like gentil only used in relation to Jews). I have to admit I felt rather tearful watching it all and I had to stop and try to think why.
I do not consider myself a royalist or a republican in fact INDIFFERENT in capital letters would be the category that I would put myself in. I realised that the fascination for our Royal Family that was all over the world was good for our tourist coffers if not for our image as a modern democracy!
I think I just felt homesick and sad that my children and I were not there to enjoy and remember what is essentially a great big party with a truly British sense of irony whether you spend most of it slagging off the Royals and making fun of them or watching on adoringly …….. that is our prerogative. Yes we are a modern democracy that still has a House of Lords and a Monarchy and that is ridiculous, but I like the fact that we are ridiculous.
In this time of celebrity culture I think I would prefer to watch this wedding more than J-Lo´s or Tom Cruise´s. A New York friend was surprised that I was watching it and said ¨ohh that is so tacky¨. A British Royal Wedding can be many things to many people but tacky no, we leave that to the Hollywood stars they do it so well.
SO what would I be doing if I was home. I noticed that there was the usual alternative Royal Wedding Party in Shoreditch my old stamping ground in the Bohemian multi-cultural Eastend but I have to say the party in Hyde Park looked pretty good! Lots of great British picnics and lots of bottles of champagne being passed around. And even though I am a socialist I am a champagne socialist! The weather was good, London looked beautiful and so did Kate and her dress and for a moment I felt as though I was watching Shrek with my kids and the sadness of the real world melted away.
The Syrian Ambassador was disinvited. Tony Blair didn´t receive an invitation (cool, slimy little toerag) but Margaret Thatcher did (very uncool). Victoria Beckham managed to get in there hanging on the arm of her husband (very uncool as she is TACKY).
Nico asked me. Is that what you did when you married Papa? I didn´t like to tell him that we had never had the time or the inclination as I sat there staring at the screen wondering if I could wear that dress like a pathetic teenage girl!
I wonder how many people watched the Royal Wedding in Cuba? Not many I suppose! I wonder who watched it here in Guatemala? My nanny Juju just arrived full of questions. She liked the dress too!