Easter in Cuba, a savage tree murder and a bonfire

Easter arrived in Cuba.  After 8 years of dealing with Semana Santa in Antigua I am rather relieved that Easter like Christmas is not such a big deal, although I am sure my children don’t agree.  Luckily my German friend Katharina always organises a wonderfully tasteful German Easter with an egg hunt in her garden for the children and Easter bread very similar to hot cross buns.

Easter Sunday in Cuba

Anyway, Good Friday had been announced as a holiday here in Cuba but typically no mention of why or for what reason the whole of the country was being given a day off.  The French school, which doesn’t acknowledge religious festivals did a sneaky Monday holiday.  I totally forgot and turned up at the circulo with Saskia on Friday, realising pretty fast when there was no sign of anybody.  After all the chilly weather Good Friday was a typical hot steamy day.

Another happy customer

The night before some militares from our neighbouring beach club had stupidly set fire to some rubbish at the end of our road, for no particular reason other than to piss off everybody in the neighbourhood, as far as I could tell.  It was too far for us to reach with the hosepipe so we tried to chuck buckets of water but by the time we managed to put out the plastic the flames has spread inside the trunk of our beautiful seaside spruce which marks the end of our road.  I had grown very fond of the tree not just because it was tall and beautiful but it was also symbolic.  The boys are not allowed to cycle or venture past it alone.  It marks the limit of the dogs territory and the gang of gangster male dogs don’t often venture past it.  If cars drive past it towards our house we know they are lost or looking for trouble!

Anyway most of Good Friday was spent with a bunch of around 20 guys, sent by the local council hanging around at the end of my road watching one guy hack the tree to bits with a chainsaw on the end of a large crane.  Every time I walked past to get into the car and pick the boys or take them to fencing, with Saskia in tow with her little mantra poor tree Mummy , pobrecito, I had to take the usual chatback you get from workers who are not working.  Enquiries of my nationality, my marital status (rather obvious I thought) amongst the other usual repartee.  They wanted me to bring them all refrescos (soft drinks).  I retorted that there was only one guy working and he was not making a very nice job of hacking my tree to death, so I wasn’t feeling very well disposed to waiting on them all like a 1950’s wife.  Finally around 4pm they had finished their work leaving an ugly hacked stump and branches and debris all over the road.  I managed to just about drive through it later.  We had already planned a bonfire for Saturday night but now we had even more reason.

Friday night we all went to the film school.  A friend was having a Birthday party and we thought it would be fun to hang out and chat with staff and students.  It had been a pretty intense couple of weeks for everybody and thesis time is arriving so nerves are getting frayed.  We took the nanny so we could actually stay up late, not always a good idea with 3 children.

We made it back to Havana for lunch the next day and poor Rafa had to rush off to another film meeting and festival in Havana.  I sat and watched Les Miserables with the boys and Saskia.  What a boring musical, not one good track if you ask me.  I don’t know how it had such a long run in London’s West End.  Paulo with typical endurance was the only one to stay awake or interested.  He watched it to the bitter end, bless him!

We were all ready to sit staring at the bonfire by 7pm and Rafa and the boys helped build it.  We had new fast-burning spruce branches to throw on and I got well into it like a seasoned pyromaniac, at one point hurting my wrist as I over enthusiastically snapped branches but never-the-less carrying on like the crazy fire starter I realise I am.  (secretly I can’t wait for our next one, I don’t care about the children!)  Anyway I didn’t think too much about my injury but ended up in the hospital by Tuesday afternoon having an X ray but luckily no fractures.  We went out to a party on Tuesday night and after a couple of glasses of wine, I thought oh its nothing and began to use it again.  Later that night I could hardly sleep and was almost in tears, wailing …. this is worse than childbirth!  The next day I used all the Cuban remedies for inflammation.  A compress of grated malanga (a root vegetable very common here) and some strange leaf, the name I can’t remember.  Today I am a new woman although my hand still looks suspiciously as though it has had a botox treatment.

This weekend is Saskia’s Birthday and the little Diva has been talking about it for months so we are all getting ready for the big event.  She has many adult admirers so it is growing into quite a big party for all of us!

The Diva preparing for her big day!

New York preparations going really well.  We have 4 nights and it is going to be non-stop.  I am really looking forward to it.  I haven’t been to New York for around 15 years, and have generally got on with New Yorkers.  I like their straight talking attitude, and New York is almost as cosmopolitan as my dearest London.  We have lots of meeting with interesting people and film schools and yes I am going to power shop like a Cubanita!

Guadalajara, chilly Cuba, next stop New York

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.

Ipad mini, NBC and my first ever script.

I have just spent a delicious week locked up in the house with my gorgeous little Babygirl (known as Saskia to everyone else) for lazy mornings snuggled up in bed, she with Charlie and Lola, and me with one of Rupert Everett’s amusing autobiographies, kindly smuggled by a new European contact.  The weather has been unseasonably cold, which means like a good English summer and perfect for skulking around indoors wearing my cosy cashmere cardy over normal Cuba attire.

Although I have been chastising myself for my inactivity and all the things I should have been doing in this beautiful and fascinating island, sometimes we Mums just have to bed down again with the infants.  Another international party in the house tonight so I will re-launch myself like an ageing rock star.

After 3 exciting weeks out of the house I have returned to Havana life slightly jaded, not helped by the disappearance of 2 of the more genuine people in my life, one escaped to New York and the other to Paris.  I suddenly felt as though I was doomed to return to a social life of po-faced mothers and gossiping diplomats.  Which is entirely untrue, as I know plenty of lovely mothers and diplomats and I just need to be reminded of all the wonderful bohemians and down to earth people in my life and get them all together again.

I have also been fretting over what appears to be an in-growing eyebrow hair problem, which does not abate and is disproportionately painful.   I am rather embarrassed that my first visit to the doctor’s here in Havana will be for this slightly ridiculous ailment.

Many weeks have passed by without me clocking in and I have many heady tales to tell so not sure where to begin.  Off the island, Chavez died (big shit for Cuba) and we got a new Argentinian Pope.  On the island the new Cuba battles on trying to grow in a graceful and dignified manner and not always being allowed.  The film school remains an exciting hotbed of passing talent and interesting worldly friends with a background scenery of one of the best soap operas you could wish for ….. eat your heart out Eastenders and new Dallas.

I managed to make it through my workshop, although the odds and gods were against me, way too many things going on around me.  Old friends rocking up, new dear friends disappearing, children on holiday, grumpy nanny not stepping up, my chef gone slightly loopy and dressing like a hooker, my car broke down and we had no parts to fix it.  I got food poisoning at the end of the first week and the film school doctors finally got their hands on me, injecting me in the butt cheek and putting me on a drip for 3 hours with me pathetically saying … I want to go home, and then giving in finally when I remembered I had the first series of Breaking Bad on my laptop.

So somehow, throughout all this, I got to write a script and Paul was a wonderful teacher and mentor.  A laid back Californian scriptwriter, with many other talents and a thoroughly nice guy.  This course was very practical and although I did not have much time for writing my homework in the end, I did finish a script outline and fudged together a first draft for a short film.  I did however, get a really good sense of how to pull one together and still have to get that Final Draft scriptwriting software I was sniffing around for the whole of the second week.  Maybe when I do my rewrite I will share it with you right here on my blog ………  I expect you can’t wait!

My house has now become more technical although we still don’t have broadband, ADSL, wifi or anything else of this century we are now the proud owners of an X-Box (guiltily purchased for neglected nippers in Guadalajara) and an Ipad mini, that I didn’t even know existed.  But there is a story behind that …

We had a visit from our new American buddies from Morgan’s Creek (not Dawson’s!) and NBC and some other production houses.  David, Kim, his wife and Kia arrived 2 and a half hours late to our house.  We were all quite pissed off, Rafa and I and two other friends working at the school who shall be named S & S.   It was Sunday and I was starting my workshop the next day and wanted to get the children and myself to bed early.  When they arrived I shot from the hip along the lines of …… if there is one thing I expect from you Americans it is to be on time (years of living in Latin America have made me appreciate this punctuality).  They apologised and took it all with good grace and proceeded to charm us all evening, and we had a lot of fun.

The previously planned seaside sundowner drinks were reduced to us looking into the black of the Mexican gulf listening to the waves crashing, but we made it out to the local newish Sushi restaurant around the corner and then back home for more drinks and chat.  At one point I could see Rafa’s face looking slightly concerned and the warning bells sounded as I lightly skipped to his side like a gazelle on too much Cava to see what was going on.  He was refusing to accept their very generous gift of the aforementioned Ipad mini.  I did some verbal shin kicking and reluctantly Rafa received this wonderful present that even has his name engraved on it.  I on the other hand was getting on with everybody so well I would have felt justified in receiving a couple of cars from whoever at this stage, and Kim did manage to give me a pair of cool reading glasses which the (grown up) boys later confiscated from me for bad hinatera behaviour.  I got them back the next day and now don’t know how I lived without them, as you do in the material world.

Kim had confessed to me at dinner that his mother’s cousin was Meyer Lansky, shady character numero uno of pre revolution Cuban gangsters.  His mother had been very ashamed of this side of the family and refused to talk about the old mobster, merely spitting under her breath…… He was a killer.  It just all seemed too weird and wonderful that here I was nearly 60 years later sitting not far from Lansky’s old empire and planned Vegas of El Caribe talking to his second cousin.  Gotta be a script in there somewhere.  Maybe I’ll write it for NBC and make them loads of money ……. on my new iPad mini of course!

So the iPad sat on Rafa’s desk snarling at us with its sleek cool new world look until Rafa brought it home and the boys got their hands on it and that was that …. No going back.


Next stop Guadalajara and Mexico City.


Scripts, Saskia and Selfishness

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????


Nearly lost it! and the ridiculous story of internet in Cuba

I spent a few tense days last week, when it appeared that this blog had disappeared into cyberspace.  I couldn’t find my website and I couldn’t get into the website of any of my host or domain suppliers to update information.  In the end in desperation on Friday night I went to a friend’s house where they have satelite and managed to get onto my site only to see that there was nothing there but a page saying that if you want to buy this domain name go to this link. What!  They’ve disolved me and are selling my name to any Tom Dick or Harry.

All that time I spent writing and although I had some copies and could ask faithful readers to email me back the ones I couldn’t find, the task of collating and getting everything back, especially here in Cuba, where being online is about the most expensive and difficult thing you can do, seemed an insurmountable and desperate task.

The film school is being asked to pay a monthly fee of 11,000 cuc ($) for their internet serivce which is much better than the dial up in my house but a long way off what you folk in the rest of the world are used to.  This is a ridiculous amount to pay and we are still struggling to negotiate something more palatable.  In the meantime we are at the mercy of whatever speed they seem to feel like giving us on whatever said day.

This is the reality of Cuba and although I do not like to criticise when I write about Cuba, I really feel that this futile refusal of a basic human right has to stop and I hope one day before we are off this island.  Meanwhile my children are not allowed to go online, I cannot download them kindle books from their grandparents or music for me and I live with the stress of a clock ticking on my online life.  Hence that this blog and facebook are about as much as I can manage.  And the rumours are that the broad band cable is already working ………… so why so afraid to give the people what they want?

If you ask any young person in Cuba what they would like to change here, the first comment is always undoubtedly THE INTERNET, in fact the almost shout it in unison, as if, what a daft question!  Those of you who have been reading me for a while will remember my fear before I came.  Imagine a world where there is little connectivity,no wifi, no connected iphones or ipads.  I began to dream of an ADSL connection but that requires a letter from the Minister of Culture which could take months and will leave us with a monthly bill of $600 which I would feel slightly guilty about.  That’s a flight for god sake!

Here in Cuba the lines of the Stereo MCs (old favourite of mine) often ring in my head.

Gonna get myself connected
I ain’t gonna go blind
For the light which is reflected
I see through you, I see through you
I see through you, I see through you

If you make sure you’re connected,
The writing’s on the wall
But if your mind’s neglected,
Stumble you might fall
Stumble you might fall
Stumble you might fall

Anyway I tucked into the wine in my moment of grief, and had great fun at the first British Embassy pub quiz trying to forget about it, and then woke up the next day feeling even more tragic.  And remembering how my new Pub Quiz friend Kester had told me that he read my blog and thought it was really funny.  Alas no more I thought and I think I am about to lose my sense of humour big time.

The next day a lunch with friends in a beautiful restaurant with botantical gardens, I kept my misery to myself.  By Sunday morning before Nico’s Birthday party I decided to make an international phonecall to see where my blog was and my 2 and a half years of writing ……….

Needless to say I got it back but still a mystery as to what happened, as everybody I spoke to claimed to have not messed with it.  Was I hacked by some malignant force?  I had received a couple of nasty comments lately from some old stalking acquaintance who is somewhat short of a few marbles but with many technical skills.  But maybe that was coincidental?   Not much time to write today so I am celebrating by managing to post some photos although for some reason I don’t seem to be able to chose which ones so here is a very random selection of my nippers ………….

Saskia and Nico big cheek to big cheek


My boys with their Cuban hats in Viñales

The New Regime

There are a few regime changes going on around here and I’m not talking about the capitalists. Apart from the fact that my 8 year old keeps spouting his rights to me, and told me the other day that he was a teenager child, a term he coined. I look like a teenager, I act like a teenager and I talk like a teenager, he announced.

Right now I couldn’t agree with him more, but I can’t say I am enjoying this new development. In addition to this, now all three of them sometimes gang up together against us. It is quite sweet to see their momentary solidarity against parenthood, as opposed to bickering amongst themselves, but it is certainly giving me a taste of things to come and a lot earlier than I was expecting. Last night they all trotted into the room and pulled moonies, giggling hysterically at their own irreverence. (Pulling moonies is the British past time of pulling down your pants and showing your nice white bum to anybody you wish, very childish but undeniably funny).

I have not pulled many moonies lately, but I have let myself fall into the hands of Regina and her new regime of tae bo and pilates, followed by a back massage. It is the first time in my life, and probably the last time I will be able to have my own personal trainer and just about in time. At the age of nearly 44, after giving birth to 3 children and having partied maybe a little bit too much in my youth, I decided the time had come for my first foray into formal exercise.  Previously in London cycling and dancing had been enough. Since arriving on this island a few too many Madmanesque parties had welcomed us, but continued at a relentless pace so something had to be done.

You would have to drag me into a gym kicking and screaming; alien places almost as unpleasant as hospitals to me and full of machines, so this is my healthy alternative. Regina arrives at my house twice a week full of positive energy and with a big smile. An Afro-Cubana, Tae Kwan do champion with a degree, who literally does have buns of steel. So no matter what my mood I usually perk up a bit and prepare myself for some more mild torture.

My first couple of sessions were during the film festival, and I literally thought I was going to vomit. I hope I have slightly improved since then as the waves of pure nausea have passed. Anyway its much nicer doing it on my sea front patio than in a windowless gym with a lot of other sweaty people and my back problems have improved; I am no longer reaching for the Ibuprofen bottle at the end of a busy day. Still got a long way to go though ……… as I realise every Monday and Friday morning. Being able to afford this is definitely one of the perks of life in Cuba. I pay $15 for an hour of 1 to 1 exercise and a half an hour back massage. Worth every centavo!

Anyway, onto the real stuff of changing regimes. A Cuban friend invited us to a concert last Saturday night. It was Carlos Varela celebrating his 30 years in the business and the tickets were hot! Carlos Varela is probably one of the more well-known Nueva Trova singers after Silvio Rodriguez. Silvio discovered him and helped the nomo (Gnome) launch his career taking him on tour to Spain. Nowadays Varela’s music is known for its open criticism of the status quo, though it is still considered Nueva Trova, which itself began as a reaction to the unjust conditions that led to the Revolution. And it seems that he does criticise the Cuban status quo quite a lot. Personally, since I have arrived in Cuba (I can’t talk about before) I have found the Cuban people quite willing to openly criticise whatever is going on. Not the repressed people that I suppose some of the world’s media would like to represent, or at least not anymore.

Anyway, so there I was with a great seat in the Teatro Nacional watching the nomo. And he is undisputedly gnome-like : short with skin tight black jeans and little booties. But in my experience, the less pin up the artist the more likely you are to be in for better quality music, and the music, not my first choice of genre but definitely good. He had a whole bunch of famous guests joining him on stage ……from the US, from the Van Vans and Calle 13. I enjoyed most of the music, accept for the unavoidable slide into the occasional slushy romantic number, but it was fascinating to see all the Cubans hanging off his every word. One friend told me that he is wearing black until the regime changes. Which regime I thought, the US one or the Cuban? Radical stuff! Every age group was represented and there was mucho respeto for the little man. What is going to change? Was does the future hold for Cuba? What do we want?

For Christmas I treated myself to a book I have had my eye on for a year now, in English, and grossly over priced called The Mafia in Havana, A Caribbean Mob Story, by Enrique Cirules, a seasoned Cuban journalist. If not the most well written or well-translated book, it was packed with fascinating juicy facts, and it seems that this writer had had access to a lot of information and researched his topic thoroughly.

There is something always fascinating and incredulous about the world of organised crime and when it comes to Cuba I really wanted to know how bad it was. What went before must have been pretty bad to enable the Revolution to happen and remain so strong all these years. What had encouraged this huge regime change amongst the Cuban people? I wanted to be reminded.

Basically, Cuba was already well on its way to being the paradise island of vice in 1959 serving the US but remaining a sort of Cuba. It had a perfect geographical situation to receive everybody and a lot of Colombian cocaine and Jamaican marijuana too. Hotels shooting up everywhere, millionaires being created every week from corruption, everybody involved including the CIA, the US Ambassador, Frank Sinatra, George Raft, Mafia from Corsica and Sicily ………. You name them everybody wanted a piece of the action and they didn’t care how low their moral depths could sink. Sydney Pollack’s film Havana with Robert Redford does portray a little of the Havana life pre-revolution.

Right here, up the road from me in Marina Hemingway, their were plans to build a huge Vegas type complex, the Monte Carlo Hotel with Casinos, accommodation, entertainment and a beautiful marina to ship in whatever drugs or women or reprobates you wanted. Beats being in the middle of the desert! The people who love that kind of bad taste glamour, they rarely see the downside. The killings, the prostitution ruled by pimps, the drug addiction, the poverty for the masses. Cuba had gained independence from Spain and was now ruled by the US in the worst possible way. Nobody really cared about the island or it’s people but you could certainly come on a holiday and have a lot of fun.

Even plans to build a metro and keep the trams were wrecked as they wanted to sell more cheap American cars. Think about public transport here in Cuba and you should think about how many cars were flooding into Cuba, and now ironically the almedrones (name for the big old American cars that operate like makeshift buses) are the only public transport often to be found in many barrios in Havana.

A vibrant picture of the Mafia’s Carribbean empire, a shockingly glamorous and fantastically seedy world of Sinatra and the showgirls, mambo and marijuana, corrupt cops and politicians, run by shady characters like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky.

We invented Havana, and we can goddamn well move it somewhere else if Batista can’t control it.

Meyer Lansky quoted in the film Havana. I’m not so sure they could move it somewhere else ………. But hey who knows.

Do we want Cuba to return to those days? I suppose not! But things are changing, and changing fast. Maybe as a warning of what could go wrong again, everybody should be reading this book.  Also the longer I am here I understand why the people are so protective of their little island because most people who have come here, have come just to take take take, from the Spanish colonists to the Russians using them for their political games.

My next investigation is into the Soviet era, nobody talks about it very much … I wonder why?

Film Check

Cecilia by Humberto Solas

A Cuban classic starring three great Cuban actresses Daisy Granados, Eslinda Nuñez and Raquel Revuelta. Powerful stuff portraying a pre-Independence Cuba with slaves and mulattos uprising and a lot of racial and class tension. A strange mixture of the old fashioned and the raw, dated and radically shocking at the same time. Not sure I could sit through it again. Watch out for the scene when they hack off a slave’s willy with a machete.  Paulo had snuck downstairs and I almost did myself an injury diving for the control.

Cheerio 2012 …..and why Hello 2013 ;-)

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!  😉

Miscellaneous musings … Union Jacks, Traffic, the Havana film festival.

I know that the Union Jack has a kind of iconic fashion status like the stars and stripes of the US, and the well merchandised Cuban flag along with Che, however the recent appearance of fashion items boasting the Union Jack seems to be a craze here in Cuba.  I count at least 10 or 12 a day and if I head up town I see more.  When I saw a man wearing a huge Union Jack T shirt and matching espadrilles, I had to go and ask him, what is this obsession in Cuba with the British flag?  He said that he just liked it … the colours and the style.  His wife was laughing, saying he wants to be English but without any great conviction.  I am not sure what is going on but I am sure it is not a sudden and bizarre affection for my country, maybe random knock-off Olympic and Jubilee merchandise is pouring in and the Cubans with their love for bright bold colours and labels are snapping them up.  The following day I bumped into a whole family decked out in Union Jack attire, all with matching espadrilles and T-shirts, father, mother and son in pushchair.  I wish I’d had my camera with me!

One of the first things you notice about Cuba is the lack of traffic, but it seems that for various reasons to do with importation and good old-fashioned supply and demand, cars are now pouring into Cuba.  I am not sure who is importing them and re-selling them but things are changing fast.  These last few weeks I have actually been a little irritated by the traffic, which has never happened to me here.  Even when people are driving as though they are the only person on the road, you always have plenty of space to get round them, as they usually are the only other car on the road.  Now, they are still driving as though they are the only cars on the road, but they are NOT.

Like all transitions, I fear that there will be a rise in accidents, as people are now buying new cars, that can go faster, but they have not learnt the etiquette and safety measures of how to drive in a busier, faster world.  In fact yesterday I saw 2 bad accidents on the Malecon, one of them including a bicycle.  It made me reassess where I was going to go cycling on my new shiny bike bought at Marina Hemingway the other day.  The lack of road markings, pot holes in the road and a general inability to drive in lots of traffic are not helping the situation.  After 8 years of driving in Guatemala I am ready for anything and at least nobody is going to pull a gun on me.  Or at least not yet!

What I want to know is who are all these people buying cars and where did they get their money? Cars are changing hands at inflated prices.   Are they all bureaucrats cashing in on preferential deals while they still can?  Are they ordinary people with money wired from Miami or Canada or wherever?  I don’t know, but in the last couple of months the cars seem to have doubled on the roads and it does not appear that these cars are being driven by the most polite of Cubans.  I was commenting the other day that at least Cubans have to pass their driving tests, unlike in Guatemala where corruption is the usual way to acquire your driving licence.  I wouldn’t be so sure of that commented a wise Cuban friend with a knowing smile ……..

After having the UNESCO visit, hosting Cilect (meeting of international film school directors) and various Hollywood types turning up sniffing around Cuba and the film school we went straight into The Havana film festival which is now coming to an end and I shall be writing about it all soon …. as usual I never get to see any films as I have so many receptions and parties to attend with Rafa and juggling the family and all this has not been easy.  The children missed a day of school, Paulo got into trouble for forgetting to do his homework, I missed a parents meeting.  Never mind, only one week of school left and the Festival finishes tomorrow …..phew.  And Paulo came home with a school report that rocked as did Nico a couple of weeks earlier so all is well in their little trilingual world!

Tonight I am off to meet some British directors who made a road movie in Cuba.  I have not seen the film so I am hoping that they give me a copy and I can at least say I have managed to see one film!


UNESCO, Cuba and me.

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…………



Losing control, peaceful Tuesday and approaching 8.

I appear to have lost control of my children.  I don’t know when this happened, but I am trying to remain calm, as after many years I have realised that being a parent means that nothing is a permanent state.  Nothing lasts, neither the good nor the bad.

I remember the days when friends visiting last Christmas were in awe at the ease I put my little girl to bed.  She was even at times known to ask to go to bed!  Pacha, cuna, Lammy!  Pacha being Guatemalan for bottle, cuna Spanish for cot and Lammy, the inventive name of her cuddly lamb from her English godmother. I even allowed myself to be a little smug about it …. a dangerous emotion when it comes to children.

Anyway needless to say that this no longer remains the case.  Now we get woken up all night by her refrains, the most heart-wrenching of which are ……. Mummy I LOVE you (she has this one down to a tee and it comes in various desperate and persuasive versions), Mummy I want to BE with you (as previous), Mummy I don’t want to be solita (her favourite Spanglish one).  And then she does them all for Papa (sometimes she starts with Papa, as she knows he’s a soft touch) and anyone else she thinks could be in the house at the time.  Not sure why this is going on, but we are beginning to lose patience and feel as though we are parents of a small baby with the amount of sleep disturbance and deprivation we are suffering.

She has become such a bossy boots mandonna.  She makes us sit on the chair next to her bed, or lie on the rug.  A couple of times we have fallen asleep on said rug.  We crawl out of her bedroom on hands and knees, only to be rumbled at the last moment as the door creaks.

The boys are also not being so obedient on the whole going to bed thing either and it is noticeable how much happier as a family we all are when we get some sleep.  Sleep has become a commodity that I am obsessed with like in the small baby days.  My threats and negotiations to try and get the boys to at least stay in their beds reading, after the tooth brushing, storytime, quality parent time is wrapped up, do not appear to be having much success.  In fact they just laugh at me.

Yesterday I dusted down the expensive and very US style responsibility chart that I bought years ago in Guatemala.  It has things like Way to Go, Good Job, and baseball gloves and trophys on it and not many velcro stickers saying things like ….. rubbish!  A long way off! Or a thumbs down sign.  On closer examination I decided this thing but have originated in some God-fearing bible bashing state because it appears that the children don’t need it and it is just there to make the parents feel good and holy.  I have images of sweet southern belle, hat doffing children full of yes sirs and yes maams.

Anyway I showed it to the boys and said that this week we would just concentrate on the going to bed one as I placed the bed Velcro sticker firmly on one side of the week.  Paulo quickly retorted with a know it all sabe lo todo comment that the Velcro sticker was for making your bed.  For my purpose it is going to bed, I said.  Ahh but we know what it really is, he said.  I realised that I was already losing my sense of humour and patience and contemplated throwing the responsibility chart at the sniggering pair.  Then I promised them a special secret prize at the weekend if they manage 5 good school nights.  Then I remembered it was Paulo’s 8th birthday at the weekend so the whole idea of getting something special on Saturday was a bit redundant and as Paulo is the main ringleader on the not going to bed and being cheeky racket, with Nico a willing accomplice, my reward angle was already on rocky ground.

So this week I have a huge piñata birthday party to organize in the back garden and as I am just coming down from the success of our biggest party last Friday in the house, my enthusiasm for organising a children’s bash is slightly waining.  I have to admit to an inherent dislike of children’s birthday parties.  I know I have 3 kids and many years to go but I would willingly give someone a fistful of notes and let them do it for me with a small cameo role for present giving and cake cutting expected whilst I hang out with my friends and enjoy an early glass of wine to get me through.  I know I should revel and enjoy their happiness on their special day …….. but yeah well I just don’t.

So here I am enjoying one of my peaceful Tuesdays when I give everyone the day off and the boys are in school until 4pm after theatre and magic classes and I get chance to write and rattle round the house in my pyjamas with my little Lila the dog.  But I know that this is the quiet before the storm of 30 children descending on the house with puppet shows and jugglers to entertain them.

Also the Havana film festival is just around the corner and I have another couple of parties to organize and a very un-Christmassy Havana Christmas with my biggest goal being trying to find somewhere to sing Christmas carols.

Meanwhile the Cuba winter weather is here, rather better than a British summer and I am marveling at how fast my clothes dry on their windy seaside washing line.  Sad I know, but laundry is the only domestic task I quite enjoy, way more than organizing children’s birthday parties anyway.  To me nothing more satisfying than a fast drying by the sun and wind pillowcase smelling lightly of the sea breeze.  Hmmm maybe I am quite sad, but it is peaceful Tuesday when stroking my fast drying laundry is about as good as it gets ………… ,-)