I was cleaning up my old blog site and dusting it down and I found the last unposted blog I wrote before we were publicly attacked and hounded out of the country. We were stressed and with the feeling that the state and the corrupt people were closing in on us. Rafa was hardly sleeping and we did not know who to trust with our fears but as usual we were surrounded by a lot of love, just as well when we discovered what was about to happen.
so here is the last blog I didn’t publish, as by then I realised how interested everybody was in me!
I have no air con in my car, but at least my car is back on the road so I should be thankful for small mercies. However most of my journeys are short so I never get to build up enough speed for effective ventilation, and I seem to arrive everywhere red faced and sweaty with my hair looking like a bad 1980s blow dry. I have also stopped kissing people since I got quite badly splashed with sweat they other day by two overweight and over cooked diplomats, and I fear I could be giving people the same delightful treat.
We have been very busy in the last few weeks. Our good friend Stephen against all the odds managed to direct and stage a great British play Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall, translated by a friend of ours and performed by some great Cuban actors. We went to the opening night and I made it to another night with a different caste. The theatre was full every night. I felt as though Cuban actors had met with the great tradition of British theatre, all under Stephen’s directing expertise as a Meisner coach. The money for the play was raised the old fashioned way with a lot of hard work and determination from Stephen and the caste with some help from the film school.
We organised a fundraiser auction of donated art in our house and friends generously donated through the 100 club (100 cucs each), and also got to buy some great art. A lot of our good friends here in Cuba helped with promotion and their personal generosity was amazing. Paulo and Nico were outside offering to park and clean cars. They made 9 and 7 cucs each and I had to admire their resourcefulness although I am not sure how well they cleaned the cars, especially as it was raining!
The play was a headlining event in British Cultural week. The British Council had helped a lot and brought over a couple of good films but the rest of the British week was a bit of a let down and seemed to be made up of a bunch of Cuban musicians and DJs getting dressed up in comedy Union Jack garb. Not one British DJ or band or any music from what I could see in the programme that under duress was sent to me by email. My requests for posters and flyers for the film school was ignored and Rafa never received an invitation to the inauguration of the film week, making the British embassy the only one that fails to invite us. How uncool! I live in hope that things may change next year but the British Diplomats always seem a bit out of touch and haughty in that very old fashioned way.
The film school has been going through some hard times and the last few weeks have been very tough for Rafa and the whole family. Not much sleep and a lot of stress. The school has lost a large portion of money that was coming from the Cuban state (long story that anybody unfamiliar with the creativity of Cuban funding would never understand) and like the whole of Cuba it has to learn to grow up, and grow up fast. Becoming more sustainable and self sufficient by looking for international money when the world is still gripped by a global crisis, is not easy and in the meantime sacrifices will have to be made.
When the axe will come down it looks as though salaries may have to be cut a long with some of the great projects the school is involved with. Production and post production services need to be sold internationally if the Cuban state will allow it. In the area of international workshops there are many plans to expand and grow. The film school has always been the island on the island, and its chemistry of international and Cuban culture means that it is worth fighting to help the project to survive and keep its philosophy, and not be allowed to fall into mediocrity or be institutionalised rather than reaching out to the tres mundos.
In the meantime the boys are nearly out of school for the summer and both did fantastically in their yearly reports and evaluations. We may be a bit poorer but our children are at least a bit smarter! I am planning our trip to UK and France. Now we are 5 in the family there are not too many places we can stay. A good friend is lending us her boat in London and we will head down to Devon to stay in my mother’s new holiday pad and then to France to stay with friends in the Dordogne and take in a bit of Paris on the way back. Looking forward to getting away with the family for the first proper holiday in a long time, we certainly need it!
I was supposed to go and see a Cuban band on Saturday night, but in the end did not make it, my heart wasn’t in it. Rafa flew to New York the next day for the Icaro film festival that he founded in Guatemala many years ago, and I found myself with the children in a beautiful park in Nottingham, where by chance I got to hear a great local band reminding me of how much I love our cool urban edgy multi-cultural music. As I looked over to my 3 little ones contentedly devouring their mister Whippee icecreams, I felt strangely contented too. As I swayed to the music, Paulo gave me a nervous glance. Mummy please don’t start dancing, he said.
Just as I didn’t expect to be leaving my country pregnant 10 years ago, I didn’t expect to be arriving back here unplanned with my husband and three children a couple of months back, but here I am living in middle England …… literally!
We had planned a holiday back to the UK and France for a month but ended up with 5 huge suitcases and 2 small ones like shell-shocked refugees on our friend’s boat on the Thames in London. But just as we had left Cuba surrounded by love and support we arrived to the same in the UK! Thanks to all our wonderful family and friends who were absolutely there for us, listening to our crazy tales of another world that was beginning to sound more and more like something so weird and wrong that it was fading fast.
Then we headed down to Devon, finding it difficult to enjoy our stay on the beautiful Jurassic coast with grandparents, as we were still being bombarded with lies and libel online from people who should have known better. But when Rafa finally got chance to write his document telling the truth, they all shut up and really should be totally ashamed of themselves. But as I have realised in the last few weeks, some people have no shame. But we splashed on the beaches, ate ice cream, cream teas and fish and chips, found fossils, visited donkey sanctuaries and really did our best to salvage some kind of holiday. The children were unsettled and anxious, and I still felt angry about how their lives had been turned upside down by a few deeply vain and selfish people. But as the days passed I stopped waking up with a knot in my stomach that had been put there by so much injustice.
Next we moved on to Nottingham, my old university city and where I had spent many happy family Christmases in my aunt and uncle’s beautiful house. We decided to stay, as my wonderful aunt and kindred spirit had a little house for us to live in and we had to start looking in earnest for schools to bring some normality back to my children’s lives. We bought a car, spent a lot of time in the school admissions department of the council, met some new friends, had lots of fun and lovely dinners with my aunt as we waited for our house to be fixed up for us. The children were still anxious and naughty and would not sleep ……….. but bit by bit everything fell together. But it was weird to be the one in charge, the Brit back in her own country and language.
Now we are in a lovely little house, Saskia has a free nursery place at the end of the road, we are registered with a doctor round the corner, have found a dentist for the first time in 2 years and finally at the last moment the boys got a place in a school less than 10 minutes drive away. We found some old carpet tiles in a rubbish skip, Rafa cleared out the cellar, carpeted it and we have installed the boys a Lego den downstairs. Second hand Lego from Ebay helping the healing! The children are amazingly happy in their school and have friends from Afghanistan, Somalia, Jamaica and a few from England. We enrolled in a beautiful little public library 2 minutes away, so they are forgetting about all the books they left behind too! I still have the odd pang when I see something in someone’s kitchen that I used to have or the children ask me where something is and I have to say, Mummy couldn’t fit everything in the suitcases …..
At times during my ten years away I worried that my children would never know what it was like to be British, so I say thank you to serendipity for this unexpected but strangely welcome opportunity and I intend to make the most of it. Not long to go until Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night (a truly British event) and maybe my children will get to see snow this Christmas, something I’ve been promising them for many years.
So now I feel like a middle England Mum, enjoying the wonders of British supermarkets, (Aldi we love you), pootling around in my little car listening to Radio 2 (how ucool is that!). Everyone has been very gentle and friendly to us in Nottingham and we have discovered the delights of the alternative cinema and the new Contemporary arts centre, bumped into Latinos in parks and Ikea, and the boys are already playing football in the street with their Indian neighbours. How long we will be here, or where we go next we do not know yet, but for the time being we are safe and happy in Nottingham. Nobody can keep the Rosal Wilkie family down for long and we are having a well-earned breather until the next adventure begins.
Just off to browse on line for my first winter coat in 10 years …….. hmmm.
I wish I had more time to spend with you Danay, one day we will meet again and have that cup of tea you promised me. Like all the wonderful Cubans I connected with you rapidly, and will never forget that interview in your mother’s house in Santa Fe. But we didn’t get to hang out as we wanted ….. but you are going places and so are we, so I think our paths will cross. In the meantime all my friends in the UK are going to know about you and your music!
We arrived in Cuba with so much love and TRUST. We were so glad to have got out of Guatemala, away from the violence and corruption, and so happy to be in Cuba with Rafa working somewhere as wonderful as EICTV, the school he loved so much. We were safe, we would be looked after.
Or that is what I thought, how wrong I was. We had been left a 15 year time bomb by the last director and it was ticking ….. Even after she left she had her spies in the school informing her of everything Rafa was doing and was writing public emails to criticise and damage him. Recently she wrote waving the white flag …… way too late for that! Maybe she too was a little unstable after 4 years in the school …. anything is possible.
My husband was a student at the film school in the second generation, to him in those days it was a utopia, and it was the school of 3 mundos (3 worlds). They were pioneers creating a new world of cinema as many of the students that followed were. I have met a lot of his friends, they are all still great friends and wonderful inspiring people. Now in 2013, nearly 30 years on, what has it become? Just another film school? But a film school in Cuba with a great heritage, and one lucky enough to have exceptionally good teachers ………. I met a lot of great people at that school but also an awful lot of fake people holding on to their lies, some more clever than others. They were the ones that disappeared from the scene when the going got tough.
One woman spent the whole of the first year showering us with presents, the children too, acting as though she was a good friend, I never trusted her and I was right. I felt sorry for her boyfriend who always seemed to be following one step behind her like a loyal dog. Another character, who Rafa invited for over a decade to Guatemala for the film festival, paying her flights, was nowhere to be seen. Did not even call us to say goodbye. Is this the way decent people react?
My love affair with Cuba was intense and dramatic, of course, how else could it be? I will always remember MY Cuba. The sweet kind people that came into my life and they were the ones that were there for us at the end to help and support us, when all the bureaucrats in the government, the foundation and the film school, had done their work at ruining a family life in a few days and possibly psychologically damaging my children. I still haven’t found them a school place in their new home, we arrived too late. But who gave a shit about my family in the end?
A few weeks ago my husband told the children over a Saturday breakfast that he was no longer director of the film school. Nico, my 7 year old just shrugged his shoulders and sighed and said that at least we wouldn’t have to worry about saving the film school anymore. But things got tough when they realised they were leaving their beloved French school and all their friends and Cuba ……..
A cowardly, total lack of humanity is the only way I can describe what has just happened to me, and my family. Ironic that with film school money, a previous director had co-produced a documentary series called Ser un Ser Humano. Not much humanity came my way from the people with power at the school. The anger and indignation, and also the horror of what we have just been put through, is lessening day by day, but writing this blog, I hope will be some kind of catharsis, and help me turn the page and leave all this soap opera behind, and move on to better things.
Also ‘me and my blog’ have become one of the characters in this ridiculous story, which should be a film script or a myth. The British wife is now, like Miss Scarlett in Cluedo one of the characters of this tale, where we became victims of corruption, deception and betrayal. I remember in the last tough days, receiving a phonecall from a woman (who thinks she is a lady) from the fundacion, telling me that she was a friend and a professional. I had to laugh, there was nothing friendly or professional about this woman. She behaved like the worst kind of bureaucrat from the beginning to the end.
My husband has had to take a lot of personal punches in the face and plenty of bullshit over the last few weeks, but everybody who knows him knows that he is an honourable man, who loves and protects his family, and loves Cuba and that film school. He is also Guatemalan and has been through a war in a country where you are taught to keep your mouth shut, and not share your worries, and at times in Cuba, there seemed no other option. We always thought we were going to be safe though.
We have received accusations of being counter revolutionaries and having private meetings with the American office of interest. So ridiculous. We met the poor guy 3 times. Twice when they threw their huge annual party for all the people involved in culture in Havana and the usual Havana personalities, journalists and other diplomats, and once when he came to visit the film school. We invited a lot of ambassadors to visit the school in the 2 years we were there, and when we invited the Head of Mission we really did not think he would make it, as it was outside their 25 mile zone. To his credit he applied 3 times and finally got permission. We admired his tenacity and received him once in the film school, I wrote about it in this blog. This was our only time meeting him.
Thieves, thieves everywhere ………
When I arrived in Cuba, our house, although beautiful, was a crumbling den of corruption by the sea, the tip of the iceberg of what we were about to discover. The woman in charge was running a food, beer and coffee business from the house, selling through the rubbish collectors and whoever else. When I arrived it didn’t take me long to get to the bottom of everything. All this stuff in the house and there was nobody living there. Food for hundreds of people, including many luxury items had entered in the last 6 months, we could do nothing as everything had been signed off. The woman still works in the kitchen at the film school and I dare say she is still stealing.
We could not ignore what was happening, as it was right under our nose in our own house. As I said, we threw them all out and then our house was burgled. Nobody at the film school who could help, seemed to want to, in fact the opposite, the head of administration was openly hostile towards me when I wanted help with the police and the investigation after the robbery. Other ¨friends¨ in docencia (the faculty) told me just to forget about it and it was all conveniently swept under the carpet. It took us a year to get the guys to pick up the rubbish again, they were really pissed off at losing their business, the British wife had made a stand and she would have to pay. We certainly did when thousands of dollars worth of money and property disappeared one night from our house. Rafa was about to travel and only a few people in the school knew that he had cash in the house for a few hours. Too much of a coincidence.
I tried not to let all this dark stuff get me down, and we were happy to be away from military fascists, narcos and violence in Guatemala. I loved Cuba but I was wisening up fast. The people who I had found to work in my house either refused to work with the film school as they described it is a nido de ratas (a rat’s nest) and pushed everything back onto me, or they ended up stealing from me too! After a year I had almost cleaned it all up and had my great right hand woman in charge. Without her I could never have got through the last year, she was my rock and one of the most wonderful and honest and hardworking people you could want to have at your side. Rafa on the other hand had more than a house to deal with …..
I was already falling in love with my Cuba, a world of good and interesting, decent people. But at times I felt more comfortable on the terrasa of my friend’s apartment in Buena Vista than playing the role of director’s wife in my beautiful beach house. Many aspects of the film school for me had begun to represent all that was going wrong with Cuba, and I had to keep it to myself. There were good people in the school, and I tried to focus on them and not the fake ones. In the second year some great women arrived bringing with them an international vision and experience, there seemed some hope that the school could move forward into the real world.
I loved meeting all the people who came to visit and the wonderful teachers who brought their energy. When there were a lot of workshops happening the place could be buzzing with healthy energy from outside the madness.
The wise grey haired academics*, always treated me kindly, the good team in production and photography, Luciano and the ladies in the library, the sweet people in the dining room, the humble workers, tired of working amongst a mafia. But I had become tired of dealing with so many doble caras (two faced people) full of their own self importance. My Havana life was much more fun and genuine.
* Especially Daniel Diaz Torres who directed one of my all time favourite Cuban films: La Pelicula de Ana.
Every month we had parties in the house to thank the teachers who travel for little money to give classes at the school. I threw some great parties, we all had fun and danced a lot. I love music much more than film, and like to push people out of their comfort zone. My days of working in record companies in London meant that I had a huge appreciation of diverse music. I will always remember how much people danced in front of the sea and how my favourites became theirs. In Cuba, I got into my rumba, always loved cumbia, rediscovered Blaxploitation, and fell in love with Danay and her gang.
I always wanted to invite the students more so they could escape from the pressure cooker, but the first time I did invite a group and took some time and had fun chatting with them and made sure they had some special cocktails that we did not normally serve but in the end, someone stole 26 electric candles from me! I had just bought some new ones on Amazon half price and a German friend had brought them over for me from London. I felt like a little girl who had just had her birthday present stolen, I loved my cheap but cool candles and everyone knew it. Another stealing mystery, but we couldn’t touch the students, some of them were just too full of entitlement and hostility. It seemed I deserved to have my candles stolen ……… In the end some students even stole the words from my blog but that’s another story.
I met many lovely students on an individual basis, especially in my first year, but as we entered our second year, they seemed increasingly more interested in complaining about petty issues rather than looking at the big picture, and their way of dealing with everything seemed to be with hatred and violence and lynching amongst themselves most of the time, but the Rapidito Mafia (as they had become known) were always happy to lynch anyone available from what I could see. A Shakespearean mob manipulated and misinformed and sometimes unstable. One week they would be saying one thing and the next ……
As a psychologist I began to find their behaviour erratic and often disturbing. I felt a bit sorry for them, maybe this so called utopia had turned into something more akin to Lord of the Flies or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest then anything more poetic or wistful. The isolation of the school and the intensity of the community did not seem healthy anymore. Havana was so close but so far. It seemed cruel to isolate these young people from life and Cuba. If you ask me the school should move to Havana and maybe things could be a little bit more normal rather then some over-rated psychological experiment that has passed its sell by date.
I just wish I had had more time to dance with my friends, instead of listening to the problems Rafa was dealing with, night after night after night. It drained me. This organisation was on its last legs and we were realising that even people we had considered friends could not be trusted ….. and the time bomb was ticking louder and louder ….
The Cuban State is what it is and it seems they have been looking for scapegoats everywhere in these last few years. Two Brits just got out of prison, there are now 20 Canadians in prison, all for minor allegations. They threatened my husband with prison 3 times, mainly for irregularities which had been going on at the school for over 15 years. He took it like a man as they told him to do so! Then they took him to the school and did it in front of the whole school like a crucifixion, with no chance for the truth to come out. The people who should have been up there, those that had been sucking the cow all those years, were nowhere to be seen. Cowards!
When we were thrown out of our home and the whole family left the country in just 2 weeks. I had to give away most of my possessions from a family life of 10 years and 3 children, everything in my kitchen, most of my clothes, my books. I was scared of what could happen to us. Can you imagine going through that? I wept as I tried to decide which books to keep from the children’s collection, which memories. Hiding their Lego in boxes to be taken away.
They were unable to say goodbye to their school and half of their friends, they had to see their books, bicycles and toys being sold and given away,………or disappearing, and their mother working like crazy under enormous pressure to organize everything in record time. We could not have done it without the help of all our wonderful friends. We shipped a few precious personal things to Guatemala where we were not going, and ran with 5 suitcases to England leaving so many things in the house to be given away. The school paid nothing towards the move. Everybody warned us, don’t leave Rafa behind, you all have to get on that plane together. At the airport security they went through everything in my hand luggage touching my underwear with much interest and studying my magazines. It was pathetic, I had to bite my lip as I snatched a pair of my favourite knickers from his hands.
But in those last 2 weeks, our house was full of Cubans looking after us and keeping us safe in more ways than one, some people who had been friends since the beginning, others who appeared like knights in shining armour to help us with everything and anything. Filmmakers and their families, artists, students, actors, writers, dancers, and our wonderful team in the house making us eat, and helping by taking the children out to have fun and keeping things as normal as possible for them. Thank you everybody we couldn’t have managed without you. Maybe you were the counter revolutionaries we were supposed to be meeting with? I think you were all just decent people and wonderful kind friends!!! To be a counter revolutionary in modern Cuba is I believe verging on an oxymoron, if that makes any sense.
Also everyone in the diplomatic and international business community who reached out to us, my great friends in the international press, UNESCO, NGOs and human rights organisations and of course the wonderful Mums in the French school, an eclectic bunch. I will never forget all those people, friends for life who came to sit with us and give us hugs and love in our stunned bewilderment.
It seemed that some Cubans were grateful for the truth, but horrified about how we were being treated, they were truly ashamed, therefore they couldn’t do enough for us. Nothing seemed real, but we just had to keep our mouths shut and get out, but we thanked them for their solidarity. One thing I can truly say is that we came to Cuba with a lot of love and left with even more.
I miss my Cuba and my friends and my Latin world of good and genuine people some of whom I never got chance to say goodbye to ……. but as we would say in English ………. We were always between a rock and a hard place. Or that is how it felt like to me, and maybe to those Cubans crying in my house …… so much emotion. As Danay sings ……….. lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas…….. (tears)
Does utopia exist? I don’t know but what happened to my family is a reality. That everyone involved in this ridiculous fiasco has to live with their shame and they all know who they are.
And still some people kept telling us, stay calm, stay quiet ……. Think about the school. Phew …………. Think about the school? What about my 3 children and half of my possessions, and how they were trying to dirty my husband’s spotless reputation????
But on the upside I have never received so many messages of love and support ever in my life from all over the world, messages that touched me and got me through the toughest times.
The Cuban way to turn a blind eye is not what Raul is spouting in his doctrine of anti-corruption. But change is tough, and Cuba, or at least the film school, was not ready to change, now it has to ……… as all the truth came tumbling out …. THAT’S WHAT THEY WANTED.
Te quiero MUCHO Cuba ……you are survivors, just like Rafa and I, and my family and I wish you all the best!
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!
Well Guadalajara seems a distant memory of sitting in the bar of the Hilton Hotel catching friends as they flew past from one film or party to another. We did a press conference, we met some of the recent graduates, we saw old friends from Mexico, Guatemala and everywhere. I ate too much spicy food as usual, probably even more as now I live in Cuba where there ain’t much spice!
I forgot how the dry desert climate and the pollution of the big city irritates my eyes and makes them water for 3 days. They usually get used to it just before I leave. I was also horrified by the amount of shops and the fact that everyone seemed to have big huge monstrous new cars. Have I been Cubanised or is Mexico getting even more Americanised? Obscenely huge four wheel drive vehicles with darkened sinister windows and huge growling wheels. I was persuaded by the reception of the Hilton against my better judgement, that we should go to the new bigger and better shopping mall. We waded through spaghetti junction streets packed with traffic and spotted in the distance the biggest Office Depot of my life and a huge Walmart and a Zara that looked as though it could disconnect itself from the Mall and conquer the world. I want to do some shopping, but I don’t want this I wailed pathetically to Rafa, who hates shopping at the best of times. We did a U turn and fled back to the hotel.
But hey I still love Guadalajara and Mexico. The Mexicans full of smiles and good service and great food. After my aborted attempt to check out the new shopping centre, I did my usual run to Grand Plaza to power shop, get a much needed new wardrobe for Rafa, taking the plunge into kiddy technology and buying an XBox for the boys late Christmas and Birthday presents from us and Grandma. Also a quick trip to Walmart to do the usual supermarket basics that only us Cubans have to do. We even bought new smart luggage to use one day when we can travel like normal people. Now I still have to take my big old suitcases everywhere to fill them up, even on the shortest trips.
We got home to a Cuba decidedly chilly, and cold front after cold front blowing down from the north and through the windows of my beach house. I tried to see if I could turn my aircon into a heater last night but with no success, so back on with the cashmere cardy and Rafa’s socks. I know I shouldn’t be complaining as most of the UK is still suffering snow, sub-zero temperatures and winds blowing in from Siberia, but this is not normal for March in Cuba. But maybe just as well as I have no air con in my car, and we are not sure when we can get hold of the parts to fix it. Also recently butter, lemons and bacon have been tricky to get hold of. The ebb and flow of products here in Cuba always keeps you on your toes but I am missing my bacon and tomato sandwiches.
I have also been enjoying time with my children and trying to get them back on track. Saskia is hitting tantrum time and I am learning how different little girls are, especially this little princess manipuladora who rules the roost but in such a charming fashion. The boys tantrums revolved mainly around fights over toys and were resolved by time outs. Like two wild puppies they would fight and scream and yap and I would be constantly breaking them up and separating them. Things have improved but still the same model applies: Paulo is a total wind up merchant and knows how to press all his brother’s buttons, especially as he is verbally adept in 3 languages. Nico is reduced to an emotional mess of injustice but his shouts and tears drive us all crazy.
Saskia on the other hand knows how to play all of us and Mummy has to be the one to stand up to her, although her brothers too are beginning to loose patience and have been caught swiping or pushing their dearly beloved little sis. When I am dealing with her tantrums and trying to be consistent (the hardest parenting conundrum) her favourite thing right now is to wail for her Papa or anybody else she can think of, which I have to admit is sometimes hard to ignore and rise above. Anyway a list was drawn up for Paulo and Nico 2 nights ago and there have been some slight improvements. Also I have been strict with the nanny that she has to make them clear up toys and wash up their plates otherwise she is not helping me.
Drama at the film school never abates and Rafa has been having a tough time trying to resolve everyone’s problems with little help from the Cuban authorities, and students at their tense emotional time of pre shooting their thesis have been creating dramas of their own which inevitably have to involve us. The injustice of one particular drama has upset me so much that I haven’t wanted to go to the school this week, I don’t trust myself, I may just have to give a few people my opinion and that is probably not my place.
We had promises of donations of cameras in Guadalajara but it all came to nothing in the end, and we are having to leap through burning hoops whilst playing bagpipes to get cameras here in time for the students to shoot.
The French school visited the Film school and for one morning my two worlds came together. The children had a great time and asked lots of questions like ….How do you make blood? How do you make it look as though someone’s head has been chopped off? How did they do the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park?
Anyway all is going well for our preparations for our trip to New York which is not easy as we have to fly through Mexico or Canada depending on which flight we get. We will be there for the Havana New York Film Festival organised by our dear Colombian friend Diana and I am looking forward to it so much. We already have meetings with 3 Film schools and a lot of interesting people who support and love the school. I feel very positive about the people in New York and the good connections we will make but frantically organising things so that the children won’t miss us too much the 4 nights we are escaping. I can’t believe I am doing it again but feeling happy in the knowledge that we are all going to the UK and France for our summer this year. The boys can’t wait, they love going to the land of their mother and it has been a couple of years since they last went. They also want to try out their new language in situ and go up the Eiffel Tower and through the tunnel ……… and up the Elephant and round the Castle.
Lots of important decisions to make this weekend and I am feeling as though I have two voices in my head …….. One says you deserve time to yourself to do your own thing, and the world is full of working Mums who happily leave their children in other’s care. And the other one which is saying, oh my little baby girl is only 2 and needs her mummy. Also she is the only one of my children who tries to speak Spanish to me. The only way is to spend more time with her reading books and chatting, and also get her brothers to speak more English to her as her day to day world is completely Cuban. On top of everything she is rather a joy to be with right now, talking talking talking and very affectionate. Lots of cuddles and kisses and I love you Mummy.
I have been trying to do script workshops at the film school and it is not always easy to find ones that fit into my schedule and that I feel able to do. Right now I am getting ready to start a course on “Short film theory and practice: creating characters, scenes and sequences” with Paul Duran from LA. But I am in a bit of turmoil. I am very lucky to have a nanny, who is both honest and a very nice person, but she is still not taking charge of my 3 children with enough energy or commitment. She doesn’t work too many hours as most of the time I am here except the 2 days a week when I go to the film school. Anyway, the idea being that she will learn from me and I will be more free to work in the future when she can step up. I know I am probably just being neurotic about leaving them.
So our yearly trip to Guadalajara is looming and I am thinking how can I do a 2 week workshop and then hop on a plane to Guadalajara for 4 nights, am I crazy? I know that the guilt is not helped by the fact that I do not feel convinced by the nanny. I must have faith. When I am not around I think she will step up!
Teachers´party in the house tonight for 80. Leaving party for our good friend Miguel who is sadly off to New York and a possy from the US (Morgan’s Creek etc.) arriving for drinks on Sunday night and I should be calmly preparing everything for my 2 weeks of going back to school. Like what the hell am I going to write a script about????
Another year flies by, the end of an era for the Mayas and approaching my 10 year anniversary of living outside my country. I will be 44 quite soon, wooh! I’m not scared of getting old, I just can’t quite believe that I am supposed to be so mature. Nico will be 7 this month. Saskia will start school in September. I will get fit, honestly ……
I realise now that the end of the year for us in Cuba will always be defined by the end of the Havana film festival and the end of the first term of the film school. And me scrabbling around trying to find Christmas presents in this town. Not easy.
I have invented a whole ridiculous story that although Santa is truly international, his helpers, the elves, are locally based and do all the shopping. Hence the reason why their Santa stockings are undeniably Cuban in style and content. And crikey, I just don’t know what the elves will be getting next year as I have just about exhausted supplies of little things to go in stockings in Cuba. Boys still grumbling about a white Christmas and wanting to go to England, where I assured them that they were more likely to get a grey cold wet Christmas than anything else, and to get a white Christmas we would have to go and visit friends in Norway or Switzerland, and we don’t have clothes for snow, being scantily clad tropical types these days.
I always enjoy the film festival, a whirlwind of familiar faces and gossip and intrigue and the film school did particularly well when it came to the awards – students, teachers and graduates. There were rumours that Sharon Stone was coming, and then even Jennifer Aniston, the most American of girl next door heroines, and this was causing a little excitement in certain Havana circles. Not for me, I was still spinning from meeting Irina Bokova who is certainly not a household name but a superstar in my eyes.
Yes it was fun to meet Benicio del Toro last year, partly because a couple of my friends back home fancy the pants off him, but also to compare the big screen image with the real man, and he is a big man, I can vouch for that. But generally I am not a star gazer or have ever been as impressed by celebrity as others, not even in the days when I was doing anything to get a job in a record company. I do remember a very cool A&R guy at Sony was pursuing me momentarily and rocked up at my house in Hammersmith at 10pm to whisk me off in his red vintage convertible to meet Cypress Hill. I’ve just been to the cinema and I’m drinking a cup of tea and I’m quite tired, I said (very rock n’ roll!) and on top of that I’m more of a house girl than a gangster rapper, I added with a shrug. He looked at me with utter disbelief. You don’t know how many girls would beg me for this kind of opportunity and with that comment he scorched off down Fulham Palace Road and his flirtation with me was officially over. I wasn’t sure if the opportunity he was referring to was a night out with him, or a night out with famous gangster rappers. Anyway I digress …….
I was quite intrigued however when Rafa told me that Hawk Koch (Yes that really is his name) the President of the Academy (that’s the Oscars to the likes of you and me) was in town with Annette Bening and Lisa Cholodenko, the director of The Kids are All Right, which was screening at the festival. They wanted to come to visit the film school and all the protocol had been set up accordingly for us to pick them up at the National Hotel and they would follow us there. I was quite intrigued to meet Annette Bening as not only is she one of the better, more heavy-weight Hollywood actresses, she managed to tame Warren Beatty, which was no mean feat I imagine, he, the famous womaniser of Carly Simon You’re so vain fame.
So we met the group in the lobby of the National, all easy going chatty Hollywood people. I met Annette when I opened the mini bus door outside but was told in no uncertain terms by the Cuban protocol lady that there was no way that I could travel in the bus with them to the school. Fine with me I thought, but don’t get your knickers in a twist. I felt like sticking my tongue out but opted for a slightly more mature fake smile with half moon eyes. Maybe I’m already a marked lady in certain Cuban circles, this straight talking British wife can’t be allowed too close to these Hollywood people you know, they speak the same language …. or that’s what they think!
Anyway the visit all went well and they even delayed their next appointment to stay longer. Grafitti was scrawled by Hawk, Annette and Lisa on the walls, that incidently, are getting rather full these days. We had a question and answer session with the students and a quick tour of the facilities. We ended up at the Ranchon Paladar eating a late lunch with the whole group.
The food took a while to come and in the meantime we were chatting politely, when I noticed with horror that Annette and Lisa were penning a letter to Fidel at the table and dictating comments to each other. What on earth was someone as cool and elegant as Annette doing acting like some kind of slightly precocious teenager. And why on earth should Fidel Castro be interested in them, as nice as they are? And if they had to do it, why do it publically in front of us? Did they think that we would think it was cool? Now, as far as I was concerned, they suddenly lived on another planet ……… LA LA Land, where everybody is blown up by their own importance, even if they are nice democrats.
A few days later Rafa and Santiago met with the nice lady who was representing the Academy. They were offering to send teachers from Hollywood, but alas we couldn’t help them out as the film school has an impressive rostra of visiting teachers and a queue of others offering their services.
When it comes to human capital the film school is rich, and we respect and thank all those people that come to teach at the school year after year for very little money but with a lot of love, and they come from everywhere, including the US. The Academy had not done its homework! They wanted to know how they could help the school and in the end the answer was that we didn’t need the help they were offering, but an institutional Oscar would be accepted graciously, if offered! 😉
Last week the Director General of UNESCO Irina Bokova visited Cuba and the Film School. I was lucky enough to meet her and was not disappointed. She was actually one of those terribly accomplished important people, who seems totally accessible. I wanted to take her and her husband home for dinner and chat over a good bottle of wine and put the world to rights …. But no time for that.
Her visit to the Film school was a very exciting and important first step towards the school becoming a UNESCO project, and it all felt so right. Helped enormously by her words and her warmth. She even got to spray some graffiti on the wall, as is the convention at the school when VIPs are visiting. So not far from Steven Spielberg´s comments now sits a line from Irina reassuring the school that UNESCO is with them. Soñar con el cine … imaginar UNESCO esta con ustedes. Ir. Bokova.
The irony did not pass me by that Spielberg is a great supporter of the State of Israel and particularly the infamous wall, and Irina had been the first UNESCO chief to recognise Palestine, which in turn, led the way to the vote of acceptance of the State of Palestine by the UN, which happened last week. Irina’s visit coincided with this historic vote and all week I felt as though I was a part of history in my small way.
UNESCO is already very involved in Cuba for all the right reasons and presently the only UN countries that vote for keeping the blockade are the US and Israel. I do not profess to be an expert on the Israeli Palestinian situation but I think there are areas of great human rights violations and the figures speak for themselves no matter how you analyse them. Lets face it, who would chose to be born in Palestine, it seems a bum deal. Lets hope that their new status gives the Palestinian people a little dignity and identity, if nothing else.
Anyway, back to Cuba. Everyone was very excited at the school and it was a positive day. Later Rafa and I were invited to the reception in the garden of the beautiful house in Vedado where UNESCO is based. There were lots of UNESCO and UN people, a few diplomats and important Cubans and it was here I got to meet Irina´s husband and chat. He lives in Kingston, Surrey and works in London and his daughter is at Kingston University. I imagine Irina lives most of her time on planes and in hotels. Her short speech was inspiring and I felt a bit tearful by the end, realising that I am well and truly entrenched in this world of internationalism. A British Guatemalan family growing up in Cuba studying at the French school, exiled from one country and not sure where we are heading next …………..
The rest of the week was spent cruising on this high of collaboration. We enjoyed a relaxed dinner on the beautiful rooftop of a friend’s house in Miramar apparently very close to the vaults of Cuba! Not something you think about too much in a socialist state, but I suppose everyone has their gold bullion. Diago, a well known Cuban artist was there with some very interesting views on the future of Cuba that we are still absorbing. Then on Saturday we had the big pre Christmas bash at the Norwegians. The Norwegian Ambassador is openly gay so has the best parties in town, helped enormously by his very lovely Mexican husband Paco. Paco had called me the week before to make sure I had my invite and I mentioned to him how I was looking for some Christmas Carol singing. That’s a good idea, he said. I arrived at the party alone on Saturday night, Rafa was meeting me there from another reception in the film school. As I walked in, the ambassador and Paco were talking to a group of Cubans (from the music department of ISA) who turned round and settled themselves before launching into Hark the Herald Angel Sings. I felt as though my little Christmas wish had been granted and had to stop myself from singing along loudly like a drunken carol singer!
Now are preparing for the Havana Film Festival…………