I’m back ………

I know, I know ………. I well and truly fell off my blogging wagon.  But after a long hot summer with 3 children under 8, a certain composure has finally re-entered my house this morning (can a house be composed?  not sure).  I am alone at my computer and I have managed to get on line and there is no child screaming up the stairs for me or trying to climb on to my lap.

One thing that I was thinking the other day, as I was trying to come up with my next blog, and thinking that it better be good, because if I did have any readers I am sure they have all forgotten about me by now.  Anyway I was thinking that really I need to write posts every day as Cuba is like one great big telenovela (soap opera) and you just have to learn to roll with the good and the bad like a true Cuban.  Also Rafa’s life at the film school would be worthy of a good drama series and he doesn’t have chance to tell me the half of it.  I know I have not worked as an occupational psychologist now for some years but I feel as though I am.  Also I now manage 10 people in my house which is akin to a small business venture.

Also I had a few moments this summer when I really did not want to be in Cuba anymore which was not a good feeling as I probably have at least another 2 or 3 years to go!  So I had to shake that feeling and get back my Cuba groove.  The Olympic parties also made me feel terribly homesick for everything that I love about my country: great music, sense of humour, fighting spirit, throwing a good party.  I wanted to be there on the back of the Rolls Royce with Jessie J spinning around the Olympic Stadium …….. and no stealing Cubans.

Yes you guessed it, the main reason I have been feeling down is that the stealing has carried on, or at least the discoveries of more missing things in the house has only just stopped.  The thefts really bothered me and I had to work at being philosophical and think ….. its only money and we are all healthy and I have 3 wonderful children and a noble hard working husband who loves me.  But at one point it didn’t seem to matter how much hard cash Rafa was earning it just kept disappearing.  You need to bear in mind that Cuba is a cash culture and we are paid in cash and all our purchases are in cash.  Prior to this, I was a girl who lived on plastic, and the whole thing of stashing money and moving my hiding places was a new game that I did not do so well it appears!

We are now the proud owners of a safe with a roundy roundy twiddly knob with our secret access code like something out of another century.  I have until today been reluctant to learn how to open it which is beginning to slightly irritate Rafa.  I am not quite sure why I feel reluctant, maybe it is because I feel like an idiot that all these thefts have happened under my nose by people that I thought I could trust and I don’t want to be responsible for maybe not closing the safe properly or losing my little piece of paper with our secret code.

Rafa and I spent the summer like two amateur sleuths trying to piece together when we last saw things and who could have possibly been inside the house to have got their hands on our stuff which pretty much all disappeared from upstairs (although the cook did a good job of removing a few things from my kitchen).

It was awful because some of the people in my life who are entirely trustworthy, I had to mentally put them through the process of being under suspicion, especially as I felt that my ability to know what people were capable of in Cuba was evidently poor and I had to get with it and stop trusting people.  This is not my natural state.  You’re talking to the girl who had a baby (and then two more) with a man she hardly knew ……but trusted, and then proceeded to follow him to two quite tricky countries.

Anyway, we had to fire another couple of people and re-organise the house so that the people who I have always trusted are working for me more and have had a big pay rise.  It has taken me a lot of time to find a new nanny as the whole thing of letting another person into my house has been difficult.  Marylin started yesterday so lets see …….

Anyway this week I decided that I had to believe that the people around me are all good and our bad luck has stopped and look to the future.  And stop torturing myself with images of strangers handling and stroking my possessions and cackling to themselves at their good fortune to come across me!

Everybody is back from the summer break.  The party season is upon us once more and I have already met a handful of new friends.  We kicked off with the Brazil party in the Beach Club next to our house (Club Havana).

I still feel frustrated about my inability to get out of the house and do things for myself but I suppose every mother of 3 young children feels like that and not every mother is lucky enough to be living in such a beautiful house in front of the sea where everybody wants to come and chat whilst listening to the waves.

Also our new fairy godfather Santiago is sorting me out better internet connection so I don’t have to spend half and hour getting on line and the rest of the time worrying about the minutes ticking by on my dial up but knowing that to hop on and off line could mean another half an hour ………..  Soon I will have internet access from the film school and I can be on 24/7 and read some newspapers and maybe even download music.

I wanted to say a big thank you to all the people that have sent me and brought me presents ……. clothes, cheese, Vanish, toys, Nutella, tortillas…………   And also a big thanks to all my friends here in Cuba who have listened patiently to my tales of thieving woe.

So I will endeavour to catch you up on the events of the summer over the next few days and fill in the gaps of this log book blog book.

Our first graduation at the Film school and the emotions and all night party.

Juju’s visit.  Our wonderful nanny from Guatemala gets on her first plane to come and holiday with us for 2 weeks.

Our holiday trip to Cayo Santa Maria 5 hours drive away.

This week we have another party in the Mexican embassy (looking forward to the food!), and a party to welcome the new Guatemalan ambassador, and then we are throwing our first party of the season in our house with all the new people who have arrived at the film school ……….. but I shall be writing again I hope!

1950’s wife in Havana

1950s woman

I don’t know what it is about my life right now but I feel like a 1950’s wife.  Is it Cuba or is it being the wife of the director of the film school or a bit of both?

It is true that life in Cuba in many ways has stood still since 1959.  The most obvious icon is of course, the 1950’s car.  There is something Madmen-esque about this world, even down to the Lucky Strikes, a world where men are men, like Don Draper.  Ice cream parlours, art deco hotel bars, trilby hats, cigars, sling back shoes, hourglass figures, no traffic, slow traffic………. And the music.

When my friend asked for some more modern music at a party the other day the DJ responded with the line.  In Cuba we are about memoria.  I disagree; I think Cubans should be shouting from their crumbling rooftops that CUBA IS THE FUTURE and the future’s so bright you gotta wear shades.  Otherwise Cuba will sell its soul to the capitalist devil along with Che memorabilia and black market cigars.  And Cuba I really do hope you find your modern soul and get yourselves a future, I do, I do, I do …..

Another favourite expression I heard before I arrived was that your heels get higher and your dresses tighter in Cuba.  I am not sure what that says about the island but I definitely have acquired a couple of pairs of heels since arriving to get me to the many receptions to which I am invited.  And yes I have dusted down some of my more feminine outfits, which did not see the light of day on the dusty or damp streets of backpacker, American tourist town Antigua.  More opportunities to get glamorous here definitely.

Are Cuban men more chauvinist, more machista than your average Puerto Rican, Mexican or Venezuelan man?  I’m not sure.  For me machismo is rife all over the Latin world, you don’t need to come to Cuba particularly to sample this cultural phenomenon.

However there was a Cuban documentary on the TV the other day just titled Los Machos.  It appeared to be a celebration of all things male.  Lots of images of good looking guys hanging out in the streets chatting, back slapping, playing dominoes, talking baseball……. laughing.  Just generally making that whole thing of being a man in Cuba look pretty damn cool!  There were even some very cute images of Cuban Dads with small beautiful children staring up into their eyes with love and admiration for their father’s tender manliness!

Obviously it wasn’t a serious or realistic documentary as I didn’t see any images of fat men with their T-shirts rolled up to reveal their sweaty large bellies or angry men clouting their young children for crying for a toy, like I saw in the plastic toy shop on quinta the other day.  The shop was full and nobody said a word except me.  I was so shocked and angry I had to tell him…well done, you’re a really strong man ……. Muy muy macho, muy fuerte! As I was watching the tears of confusion and shame fall down the cheeks of his toddler son.

But, truth be told, in general, Cuban men are an attractive bunch and their charm and seduction generally a little more subtle and laid back then many other races I have come across in my years of living abroad and travelling.  But I am getting old, and now a mother of 3, so maybe I am no longer a typical target for any lustful lewdness anyway!

Although apparently according to some of the students at the film school I am La rubia con lo mejor swing ……… which is a very Cuban way of looking at things.  It is not just about what you’ve got but how you move it!  And unlike my husband I like to think that I am the one with the best swing who just happens to be blonde rather than the one with the best swing out of a small subsection of blondes.  Yes, yes I know I am clutching at straws but we all need to clutch at straws sometimes to lift the ego.

But I digress, why do I feel like a 1950’s wife and mother?  Is it an accumulation of many years of devoting myself to my husband and my children partly because I wanted to and partly because I didn’t have much choice if I wanted this family to stay together, and I did.  Most days I see the upside of the story.  I am lucky to have been able to be with them so much, I have always been provided for, I have had many wonderful experiences and adventures with my family, I have enjoyed the added bonus of a husband with an interesting job.  No boring corporate partners dinners for me, just film festivals and parties and interesting film-makers both old and new.  So I should be grateful for this life and happy to be with my children guiding them though their bi-lingual, bi-cultural upbringing.  And I am very proud of them when their bickering and whining has not ground me down.   The global mother of 3.

But on the other hand I have been feeling suffocated.  Suffocated with the never-ending domestic trials and tribulations of living in Cuba and it feels like I have fallen into the last century.  I have 8 people that come and work in my house (I know it is ridiculous, believe me!) and I still feel as though I never have time for anything, or any time to myself.  If it is not my children that want my time it is my employees who need me to solve their problems.  I have still, after nearly a year, failed to turn that dynamic around ……. I want them to resolve all my problems and leave me free for the fun stuff and the stuff that is purely mine.

Oh in the mists of time I did have a career, I was going places, I was meeting interesting psychologists and sociologists.  My ideas about the creative career were bouncing around and taking me into new greenfield areas of research.

I have been wistfully thinking about my last summer in London when the sun shone, I cycled everywhere, did want I wanted, had an intellectual life, a career, people wanted to talk to me or help me, or collaborate with me because of my ideas and my research not because I was the wife of somebody.

Anyway …….. I took photos of the most amazing sunset last night, we have lots of friends flying in for the film school graduation and parties, we will get to have a holiday soon for all the family, I live in a beautiful house on a beach and I have a husband I love and loves me and takes care of me  ……. and I have the best swing  … sometimes.

But rising slowly up from the ashes is that feminist that I had forgotten about, the one that got out there and grabbed every opportunity going for herself, grabbed the moment and her own money ……. and she will be back, and she already has lots of ideas up her sleeve, just got to go downstairs and sort out the drama of the temperamental 1950’s plumbing and the drains in the kitchen which have flooded, but I’ll be back with more gutsy feminist adventures soon ……. I promise 😉


The Cook, the thief, his wife and her lover …….. in Cuba.

As I was thinking about writing this post, the Peter Greenaway film title that I stole for this post title kept playing around in my head all jumbled up and back to front.  I think Peter Greenaway has visited the film school and if not he should be invited.

I have a new cook, there was a thief about, I am a wife but I don’t have a lover, although in Cuba a lot of people do …………. anyway on on ….

The boys have broken up from school and a lot of our more wealthy friends have left for the summer to their properties in Europe along with most of the diplomats and bureaucrats.  Luckily we have enough Cuban friends and enough going on that I don’t feel too lonely and abandoned.  A little bit of breathing space ……… and now with our new air con in the living room, things are looking up!!

I escaped for a few nights to a global city alone, such things have hardly been heard of in our house!  I enjoyed walking the beautiful streets without having to keep my eyes on 3 little naughty heads, lunching in cafe terraces, visiting several galleries, finishing conversations with adults, topping up my fashionista desires ……… bliss …….. but that is another story for another time.

I returned to three happy but slightly resentful children, a husband ready to offload all his problems and trials and tribulations of being a single Dad and director of a film school ……… and yet another robbery in my house.  We let our defenses down for a moment, and of course I wasn’t here to keep my castle safe!

So there was the usual  ……why on earth did you let these people into our house?  Because I wanted to get things done well you were away. ……. conversation.

On the few occasions that I have left my husband alone since we met, he is always intent on improving the house and/or my car for me while I am away, which can often lead to conflict as I like to be heavily involved in the style of said improvements and also who they are done by.  He is then hurt, as he says he does everything to make me happy …… hmmm.

Anyway some workmen came to my house from the film school and were in my bedroom fixing the air con or pretending to fix other things and some cash walked.  Not helped by the fact that we live in a cash world in Cuba and do not have a safe.  Luckily we were approaching the end of the month and we did not have that much cash and they were decent enough to leave us some.

The film school was supposed to find us a safe but failed to do so.  I have now taken all matters into my own hands and decided that the only people who come into my house will be friends, family or people invited by me who have already had my tough character analysis test. I want to be independent from the film school in all matters of administration and maintenance of my home.  Apart from anything else they all like to have a good snoop and gossip is rife in any institution and all over the island.  ‘tonces no mas!

To this end, I now have a new housekeeper and cook who is proving to be a great investment.  Just as well as I had 9 adults and 9 children in my house over this weekend at various stages and I managed to just about feed those who were hungry.  Mercedes lives nearby, is a hardworking, organised women who is transforming my kitchen into a place of homemade cakes and shortbread cookies and cottage pie and it is only week one!

After a few weeks of struggling alone with some help from my young babysitter Claudia, I decided that I needed to get on with finding another nanny before the long summer holiday began, still slightly reluctant to use my children as guinea pigs, but it seems it is the only way.  Take them on a trial basis and see how it goes.

Still not convinced about the latest.  I am trying someone who lives very close by, 5 minutes walk away, but although she seems very sweet and a good person she also gives the impression that she has really suffered a hard life, and that life has worn down her spirit.

I want to say to her …….. hey lady lets laugh and smile and skip with the children, lets make up fun games and holiday adventures.  I am sort of hoping that we might be able to cheer her up a bit but she told me the other day somewhat despondently that Saskia has asked her why she had such a big belly!  I was at the time playing footsies with a giggling Saskia throwing her around the bed.  On the one hand I felt bad, but on the other I was marvelling at my 2 year olds communication skills and astute observational abilities.

Anyway Elena is a black lady, an afrocuban who studied Russian and spent 5 years in Kiev only to return to Cuba just as the Soviet system was getting the hell out and leaving them with the worst economic moment in post-revolution Cuban history, the infamous special period.  Suddenly nobody wanted to learn Russian or bother speaking it too much when she returned.  The Ruskies were gone and it seems that Elena has been sad ever since at her bad luck.  Although she did tell me that she loved living in the Ukraine.  Maybe she fell in love with a Ukranian who stole her heart forever.  I wanted to say to her, well your belly’s not that big and you’ve still got a great pair of legs but in these situations it is best just to keep quiet I find …………..

Anyway a few more parties to organise before the end of the film school term, the graduation party being one of them.  Juju, our beloved nanny of 7 years, who nobody has come close to replacing, is arriving from Guatemala at the end of July for a holiday and by the first week of August Rafa will be free ……… and we have to plan some Cuban adventures.

Where shall we go? Colonial Trinidad?  Maria La Gorda beach?  Cayo Coco?  Exciting, cultural Santiago, the other side of the island, is calling me, but 12 hours in a car in tropical heat with 3 kids means I fear I might have to delay that one.  But I want to dance to more Rhumba, meet a few more Cuban DJs, teach some recipes to my new cook, spend quality time with my children (woops I suppose that should have been first!), try to make my husband forget about the film school for at least a couple of weeks and entertain any pale faces Brits that make it over my Caribbean way.



Mexicans, Scorpions and decapitations

I flew off to Guadalajara film festival for the third time last week.  Leaving my Saskia for the first time with her brothers and her adopted Cuban family.  Two nannies and Rafa’s driver, Mario.  In fact they all had a pretty good time.  70 photos from their jaunt around Habana Vieja.  They went to the park of inflatables, the museum of classic cars, pizza for lunch, Paulo and Nico carried by the men on stilts through the streets, donkey rides in the park…….and more.

When I managed to get a call through on Friday evening from Mexico, Paulo told me calmly that he had been stung by a scorpion at school and was taken to the hospital to have an injection.  Why do these things always happen when you are away?  He was fine and quite proud of how brave he had been.  All told, it had been little Nico who was the most upset for his big brother.  Bless my little emotional one!

We arrived in Guadalajara late on Thursday night as we had missed our connection in Mexico City.  We couldn’t find any of our friends to play with, as they were all staying in different hotels and they thought we were staying in their hotel.  We found out later that there was a welcome committee in the bar of the Hilton Hotel waiting for us until 3am!

Anyway, not realizing there was a party a few metres from where we were standing, we went off to a party for the press in a cool bar, but full of such young people that we began to feel old and the night had got off to a bad start.  We did not have our festival credentials as we had arrived so late, so Rafa who never pulls rank, reluctantly used his name to get us into the party, however the initial reaction of the revoltingly obese head of press for the festival (his stomach moved independently from the rest of his body) was so bad mannered that we could not get into the mood even when we had our free passes etc.

Usually in Guadalajara the Mexicans are so smiley and hospitable so we have got used to always feeling like VIPs.  But once again it was fun at the festival and we met old friends, made new friends and I managed to watch two films.  United Kingdom was the invited country and their had been a homenaje to Mike Leigh who had already been and gone, showing his latest film at the opening party.  The British Council party had passed and although I thought I was going to be bumping into my folk all over the place, it wasn’t like that at all.  I hardly even heard British music!

I was determined to make it to one film from the British contingent and noticed that at 4pm that day there was an interesting documentary on Andrew Logan that sounded just like my cup of tea, and it certainly was.  Who is Andrew Logan?

A wonderful man, in my humble opinion.  For those who are not familiar with the name, you will certainly be familiar with his style and influences. I found this quote about him on Wikipedia and it serves as a good introduction to this wonderful character.

Andrew Logan’s work blends camp pop-art and neo-romanticism to form a quintessentially English ‘eccentricity of vision’.

The documentary The British Art of Showing Off, by Jes Benstock was very well put together and served as a retrospective of the man and his art with a good dose of English humour.  Synopsis from the catalogue read:

British Artist and living legend Andrew Logan, loved the world over by celebrities and misfits alike, takes us under his glittering wing and inside his outrageous, anarchic and spectacular costume pageant: the Alternative Miss World Show.  Using live observational camera, archive and exuberant animation, this documentary charts the mounting of the 2009 Show, interwoven with its history, the rise, fall and rediscovery, of both the event and the artist at its centre.

As I sat in the over air conditioned theatre I chuckled away to myself and felt truly proud to be British watching some very famous eccentrics and admiring, once again, our ability to laugh at ourselves and not take life too seriously.

I hope I would get a chance to meet Andrew after the film but outside the cinema their was a narco battle taking place all over the city.  Two weeks before there had been 8 decapitated bodies found and the police had finally, that day, nailed one of the top guys.  Because of this, his gang was setting fire to buses all over the city (25 I think!).  They were decent enough to get all the passengers off first though, a little touch of humanity in the madness.  For that reason Andrew and Jes had not made it down to talk after the film.  I managed to get a taxi and head back to find my slightly concerned husband waiting for me in the Hilton bar.

However, I was lucky enough to meet Andrew and Jes, the director, later at the Gay party and awards held in a club close to the festival.  The Gay party was good fun and we had a handful of friends to help us along with our plastic pints of Tequila and sprite (yeah really elegant!). There were two dancers who came with their prerequisite 6 pack bodies but were on the podium, dancing badly like a couple of bored toyboy housewives and spent most of their time picking their skimpy underwear out of their bum in a very uncharming fashion.  I am sure that if Andrew had organized the entertainment it would have been much more fun.

The closing night entailed another walk on the red carpet in my new woman shoes (with a heel!) and a great Danish film called Superclassico.  We arrived back in Cuba on Sunday afternoon like true Cubanos with a suitcase full of nappies, cereal, tortillas, shoes, pesto,  ……… and the rest.

I found my 3 children utterly charming and wanted to stay up chatting with them all night about their adventures, thinking maybe it is good to have the odd little break from being a mother ………. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.  Paulo and Nico also had really good school reports from the French School waiting for us that brought proud tears to my eyes.  They are well on their way to being trilingual, the clever little things.

Next trip we are all off to Guatemala for a wedding and a step back in time, but got to organize another party, and looking forward to the French food tasting evening on the roof terrace of the Sevilla, (very posh hotel in Habana Vieja).


School holidays, Viñales ……… and not Bin Laden!

I have just survived 2 weeks of the boy’s school holidays and on top of that, an ailing little sister Saskia.  Who dictates to all of us in her sweet but firm way!  Terrible twos just round the corner.

I feel as though I deserve a medal!  I did recruit a teacher from the French school to do some extra French classes for a couple of hours on three mornings in the first week but as Saskia was at home grumpy and contrary Mary, I did not feel as though there was any let up.  I know I have a nanny and people helping me, but the bottom line is that I am their Mum and only I can do that job.  At times I don’t feel as though I am doing it very well but hey, I do my best …….  They can read this blog when they grow up and tell me where I was going wrong.

On Tuesday and Thursday I took them to the Film school for the day with their bicycles but mealtimes were fraught and public and the constant whining for sweets and icecream every time they saw me, wore me down.  I began to think that if anything they were acting as good condom adverts for the students.  Do you remember that Swedish condom advert of a child having a huge tantrum in a supermarket?

By week 2, I decided to escape with the boys and leave Saskia with the nanny and Rafa.  Not something I could do too easily in Guatemala so I decided to remember that I could be independent.  We headed west to the beautiful valley of Viñales, which I have to say lived up to my expectations.  The name is pronounced a little bit like Bin Laden and in fact would have made a good hide out for him before he was murdered.  Or maybe the real Bin Laden still hides there, chortling under his beard at the opposite end of the island to Guantanamo.

We didn’t actually do that much but this was designed to be a reccy trip.  Check out the lay of the land and find a good place to stay and a swimming pool maybe.  It took us around 2 hours to get there.  The motorway was empty and very straight until we turned off to wind our way up towards the amazing scenery that we had been promised.  For a moment we felt as though we were back in Guatemala ……… but no …. No volcanoes and no guns!  But the patchwork hillsides had some similarities.

Said to be one of Cuba’s greatest natural attractions the Viñales valley is a UNESCO site.  The lay of the land …….. It is the finest example of a karst valley (?) where mogotes (great word!), knolls with rounded tops and steep slopes contrast harmoniously with the flat surface of the valley where they stand.  It has even been described as Cuba’s Yosemite valley.  Tobacco is cultivated along with taro and bananas and the countryside is peppered with the wooden tobacco houses where the leaves are dried (I suppose).

Looking around at all this beauty a little too much, I stopped to check I had taken a correct turn and was persuaded to give a lift to a young man who was headed to Viñales.  He was a smiley chirpy chap and the boys liked the look of him so I broke my rule of only picking up women and let him escort us all the way to Viñales town.  As we approached, he of course, had a recommendation for a Casa Particular (B&B) and we agreed to check it out.

The place was an emporium of bad taste and so kitsch that in the gold lamé  room you really needed to keep your shades on.  This was of course the room that the boys wanted.  I said that we would go for lunch and think about it, not sure if I could last a whole night in that room, even if the boys thought it was the coolest thing ever.

We bought some tourist tat in the plazuela and found somewhere to eat amongst the European tourists and backpackers.  There were trips to caves, horseriding, trekking, bicycle tours, trips to the famous mural …………..  The thought of doing all this with a 6 and 7 year old was enough but Paulo had absolutely no brakes on his bike even if I had managed to get a good deal on a bicycle hire.  The thought of him spinning off down one of those steep hills with me trying to stop him …

They cycled up and down the mainstreet for a while before I decided we should go and check out the hotel with the view, 5 minutes back up the road we had come down.  Los Jasminas did have a knock out view and a fairly decent swimming pool, which was surrounded by ever so slightly too sunburnt tourists.

I started chatting to one of the guests as the boys tore around the premises putting chewing gum in each other’s hair.  Christine was part of a big possy of Danish and Cubans who all spent their time between Cuba and Copenhagen with their beautiful mulatto children and god children like a large extended family of friends.  The sun was going down and we headed back to claim the gold room as ours!

When I produced my resident card at the Casa Particular, they were not impressed at all.  In fact they told me that without my passport I could not stay there (not even in the gold room!).  Surely being a resident meant that I was more legit, I thought.  But no, they wanted my visa number and passport number.  I felt as though they were not being very helpful with their intakes of breath and clucking and headshaking, and decided to try my luck somewhere else.

As we scorched away from the gold room we bumped into hitchhiker friend who told us that he would help us find somewhere and hopped in again.  We tried two more places who told us that they did not dare have me stay as they may get a fine and they may lose their licence to be a Casa Particular.  Just as I was thinking we would have to head back to Havana chirpy chappy sorted us out with his mate down the road.

We still had to spend around 20 minutes hanging around in the street as they whole issue of my status was discussed amongst various people and phonecalls were made to immigration.  In the meantime a little mulatto boy around the same age as Paulo appeared with a very snazzy looking piece of Cars Lego.  Where on earth did he get that from I thought?  His Afro Cuban Mum was not far behind him telling me that his father was English and sitting in the house across the road.

There are only 200 resident Brits here in Cuba so this was quite a coincidence.  Within half an hour I was cleared to stay the night, had met the whole neighbourhood and was sipping a beer on the patio, whilst the boys raced around on their bicycles with half the street.  Tony (the Brit, known as Antonio) was a retired teacher from the North West originally but more recently living in Essex.  He had met his present wife whilst he was recovering from his divorce from his first wife.  Why did he choose to live in the crazy world of Cuba?  One day in Essex his next door neighbours had a birthday party in their back garden just over from where they were sitting in their garden.  There was no attempt to invite them round and Tony remembered what he liked about Cuba.  How long will he stay, he doesn’t know ……….

The main problems for tourists in Viñales are the roosters waking everyone up at the crack of dawn, so I was expecting not to have a very long night.  I woke up at my usual hour but it was so peaceful and the boys were kept quiet watching Garfield 2 on their DVD player so I managed to doze until 9am, quite a result for me.  Aaahhhh sleep, that rare commodity.

We were served up a rather tasty breakfast of omelette, toast, ham, tropical fruits, coffee and fresh guava juice before heading off back to the pool and the knockout view and possibly to chat with our new Danish friends.

The mirador (viewpoint) of the hotel had a few people plying their wares.  I managed to keep the boys happy with a couple of post-it pads and bookmarks of Viñales before heading home after lunch.

So Viñales, we will be back to either sit looking at the view from Los Jasminas or to get active on bikes, horses or feet and maybe bump into Bin Laden hiding in one of those tobacco houses.




Parties, Cadillacs, potatoes, Valentines ……and blogging

Yesterday was Valentines day.  They call it the day of love here for anybody or anything.  You can even say I love my cow.  I actually prefer this to the sloppy fake romantic rubbish that has been marketed to us for years in Europe.  Everybody gave me best wishes of love all day yesterday but my wonderful husband let me stay asleep in bed, made breakfast for all the children, washed up all the dishes, pans, glasses from a hastily put together slightly drunken dinner with friends the night before …….. and then he had to go off to work whilst I stayed at home, even Saskia stayed quietly watching Nemo for another 20 minutes before she came and woke me up.  How romantic is that?

In the last 3 weeks …….. I have had 2 parties in my house, done a Cadillac tour around Havana, celebrated potatoes returning on the scene, watched a few good films, begun to reupholster my living room suite (or the diminutive 79 year old who is in my living room has begun the job), met a new fun group of Wednesday lunchers, visited an eco reserve in las Terrazas, been back to Hemingway’s house, eaten in a real vegetarian restaurant in Cuba, entertained filmmaker friends from London and grandparents from the Cotwolds, had the best steak of my life, bought an amazing photo of the Malecon by a very talented young photographer, juiced a lot of sweet delicious oranges (its the season!), met a new bubbly Thai friend who is a dress designer (my new beautiful material sent from London will soon be designed into something cool, thanks Amanda!), received lots of wonderful presents and goodies from kindles to cameras, strawberry jam to my new favourite chocolate bar from Tescos, swiss, orange and almond (any Brits rush down there now, you won’t regret it, Thanks Nico!), a whole load of great music, got very frustrated with my lack of internet, repeatedly failed to post photos on my blog, met a Cuban working in occupational psychology in the Cuban social research centre and remembered what I used to do, failed to even begin to think about the English translations of the film school website, and today I made a cottage pie to celebrate the return of the potato. But absolutely failed to write any of this down.  Some of this is to do with living life to the full rather than writing about it or living on line.  But blogging for me has been a discipline, something to make me sit down and share.

So I have made some decisions: I have to write at least something once a day even if it is off line.

Invite people to guest write on my blog!  I like this one, it makes it more fun and interesting.  Not sure if they actually will write anything for me but it might stop making me feel so overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that I should be writing.

Give up on trying to post photos on my blog and upload them to a related facebook photo page.  I actual do manage to upload pictures to facebook.

Off to swim in the crystal clear sea ……………..


Family life, my first Havana Birthday and the first US official visit to the Film School

We have been here just over 6 months now and my family is settling into a new rhythm. I have just celebrated my first Birthday in Cuba, and for the first time in years, I didn’t organise anything, as being in Havana for us is just like one long ridiculous party at times.  There is always so much to do and it seems we are always invited!  January was supposed to be a quiet detox month but it has just slipped by as crazy as all the others.  We headed out to Havana Vieja with friends to see the opening of an exhibition by Cuban artist Jose Emilio (JEFF), who, the day after he met me at a very fun dinner before Christmas, painted me!  (I think it was my dancing that inspired his creativity!)  We sat outside in the beautiful Plaza de Cathedral afterwards for a snack and a couple of drinks.

I am always amazed how quickly children adapt to new things, or at least mine do!  I suppose they don’t have much choice – poor little international nippers.  But they haven’t complained too much.  Not even the lack of McDonalds, multiplex cinemas with buckets of coke and popcorn, youtube on tap and bad cable TV.  Maybe it is easier to keep your children children here in Cuba.  I can remember how terrified I felt in those last few days in Guatemala, and the idea of jumping into the unknown again.  But hey, there is never much point in worrying and being in Cuba is all about not worrying.

On top of that we put them into a French school, just to spice things up for all us.  Paulo is now speaking French (with an outrageous accent) to some of his new school friends, and one of my friends reported that he heard Nico speaking French at the school gates the other day.  He denies it vehemently, but I feel quite proud anyway!  Maybe it was just his favourite comme si comme ça shrug.  He is learning to read really well in Spanish, English and French and managing his linguistic chaos with aplomb.  As I am educating them in the world of Sean Connery’s James Bond right now, I tell them if they do well in all their languages they too can be a secret agent! How does James Bond have so many nobias Mummy?  Nico asked me the other day!   And both boys are beginning to sound a little bit Cuban too!  Saskia swings her bum like a native.  Talk about adapting fast!

THe US Interest section finally got their permission to go outside the 25 mile zone so they could visit the film school.  This regulation was originally put in place by the US on the Cubans in Washington, and naturally was reciprocated in Cuba.  Anyway John Caulfield the Chief of Mission and Gloria from Public Affairs were very genial and seemed genuinely interested in the film school and we spent a pleasant afternoon with them chatting and showing them around.  John was remarking that Cuba was a wonderful place to be living with a young family and that the rest of Latin America was blighted by violence and drugs.  There was a micro second of tension in the room when we resisted commenting that maybe, just maybe that violence and drugs could have something to do with their neighbour to the north who consume most of those drugs and are no strangers to violence. Historically, the US supported the rightwing governments of Latin America and really helped teach their people how to kill and torture.    Is it just a coincidence that the most peaceful, crime free country in the Latin World is the one where they kicked the US right out ……. ? Anyway in the name of good relations, it is best just to let these things go sometimes!   😉

Through the boys school I have met a good set of friends, mothers and fathers from very diverse backgrounds and don’t feel quite so lost anymore as I sit through the parent teacher meetings in French and Spanish.  Paulo played in a rugby tournament on Saturday, yes that’s right, rugby in Cuba!  Who would have thought.  I was just a little horrified that I had to get up extra early on the day after my birthday.  I suppose that is all the fun of being a parent and all that joy and pride ……. but Saturday morning at 8.30.  I don’t have much joy!  THe Cuban children (mainly Afro Cubanos) who have just embraced this new sport whipped the pants off the French School).  Undeniably Cubans just excel at sport in general.  I could see a future team giving the All Blacks a run for their money!

I suppose the children have a routine more than I do, as in my life so far here in Cuba, every week is different, but it is always exciting or interesting or challenging.  I am learning to be more patient, learning to be more creative when it comes to food and cooking as nearly everything is seasonal, and supply and demand are not two things that always go together in this crazy world.  There are no rules.  In fact the only rule here is that there are no rules.  I think that is why the Cubans have learnt to let go.  You can’t control life here in Cuba.  It controls you.  But luckily for us, so far, life has been pretty good.

My little Saskia, true to my prediction of being a girl born to live in Cuba is completely content.  She is such a happy little girl that she infects all around her but as a friend commented the other day, she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. I marvel at her ability to do this and I am trying to learn fast.  But apart from this superpower, she is the most cuddly kissy sweet little ball of love.

She is talking more and more and at this stage of my children’s bilingual development, I have always found their ability to acquire two languages so effortlessly, nothing short of miraculous.  How everyone around her says a word in Spanish 50 times and then along comes Mummy and says something different and she accepts it, quite happily repeating a complety different word as though humouring me.  Paulo and Nico are not helping me out as they have decided that Spanish is their language for their sister.  I keep trying to recruit their skills to my side of the linguistic table but ………   Luckily British grandparents are arriving on Sunday to remind her that it is not just her crazy mother who says the weird words!

Cuba Heart & Soul

I was thinking about writing a blog about Christmas (or the lack of it) in Cuba, or an end of year summary.  Trying to round up my first impressions, but it just wasn’t forthcoming and I hate writing in a forced way.

Christmas came and went and the whole thing about the robbery, which I had managed to forget for a couple of weeks during the festival and the party, reared its ugly head again and I could not shake it off …….. that ugly head.  I was resentful with the police for not giving me the respect to talk to me, and the film school for not supporting me more, and Rafa for being defensive about my suggestions and opinions.  I think he was caught between the film school and me and a million other important pressing matters!  But the feminist in me was stamping her feet indignantly.

But luckily so many good things are always happening, and I have managed to finally put it behind me and stop thinking about it.  I do always carry around in my head so many impressions and thoughts about this place and my life that in the end last night I decided to write a few of my ramblings…………

My little life in Cuba

Already I feel as though I have a lot of people around me who care about me, and me for them, friends and helpers.

The international community of ex-pats and diplomats are a fun and varied bunch and there is always something going on.  The most elegant dinner parties to the most bohemian Havana nights.

When I arrived, I did not want to have so many people working for me in the house but now I do, as this is Cuba and if you can give anybody a job you can support a whole family.  But the big difference is that I now have people working for us who we chose and they are very much a part of our lives and the lives of our children.

You get involved with Cubans and their lives very quickly.  When you hear what little people earn in professional jobs working for the state it can be quite shocking, but despite their lack of remuneration, people in Cuba don’t look or seem poor.  Something is different.  There is a pride in appearance that I have not seen in many countries.  Cubans stand tall and proud.  Cuba does not seem like a country suffering poverty (the special period is well and truly over but not forgotten), just some kind of weird limbo of a war or a revolution that has gone on too long.  What is the next step for Cuba?  Who knows?  But there are so many good things here that I really hope do not disappear.  I am sure that it easy for me to say from my beautiful house in Flores and my charming and interesting existence, but still I feel things more than most people, and this country is already under my skin.

I just watched an amazing documentary by an English director, Andrew Laing called Sons of Cuba.  It tells the story of 3 young Afro-Cuban boys training in the Boxing Academy in Habana at a time when there are big changes a foot (2006-2007).  The documentary is fascinating but one of the things that really struck me was the affection the boys had for each other and their coach and their families.  How they wanted to succeed so their parents and Cuba could be proud of them no matter that they will never be earning the huge salaries of a professional.  Tears and hugs and beautiful faces all mixed up in the macho world of boxing.  It could only have been in Cuba.

One thing I can say about the Cubans is that there is plenty of heart and soul on this little island despite the economic challenges of life and the heartache of broken families, people have a lot of love to give and take.  You feel and see a lot of humanity in Cuba.  Many people are complaining about the changes and that Cuba is changing fast, but I have nothing to compare it to, as I live in the present Cuba and can only compare it with the other countries where I have lived.  For me you just can’t beat the unpretencious warmth and spontaneity of these people.  I feel as though in some ways I have found my spiritual home.  I can be myself in Cuba.  I can talk straight, be emotional, be silly, be intellectual, be caring, be strong, be weak …….nothing will phase them.

As I was parking in Habana Vieja the other day I told the parking guys hanging out on the street that I wasn’t a tourist but a resident.  One of the most exuberant of them ran round the car to kiss my hand good-naturedly and tell me that Cuba needed more Cubans like me and my beautiful daughter.  (Silly I know but in 8 years in Guatemala the people seemed more interested in telling me that I wasn’t Guatemalan even though had gave birth to 3 half Guatemalan children there).  In the same week a friend from England was walking alone through a little park in Habana Vieja after a rain shower.  An old man got out his handkerchief and wiped the raindrops off the bench for her so she could sit down, without expecting a thank you or even acknowledgement.  These little fun and selfless acts make a society different.  Don’t you think?

Cubans are very laid back to the extent that at times they don’t appear to give a shit and then just when you are about to lose your rag they come all sweet and mi amol on you and you think, thank goodness I didn’t lose my rag.  Or maybe that is the whole idea and they have it down to a fine art!  And why the Cubans live longer than any other country in Latin America and quite a few in Europe I suppose.  (Women 80, men 77).  In Cuba people have learned to be patient, to resolve, to keep loving life.  No matter what you think about politics you really shouldn’t judge Cuba until you have seen it, smelt it, talked to it, shared its food, watched its films, danced to its music ……………

I was reading Matthew Parris,´ Parting Shots (The ambasadors’ letters you were never meant to see) when I arrived in Cuba.  The section about Cuba was written in 1970 by Richard Slater and includes the following comments …….

An initial impression which I find least reason to change concerns the quality of the Cuban people.  Good-natured, good-humoured, courteous and incorrigibly hospitable, they bear no resemblance to the mental picture I had formed before I came out. ………… The Cubans possess both dignity and charm in a marked degree, and this goes for the government as well as the people. ……….. The fact that the Cubans are a fundamentally decent and likeable people has in a way compensated for the unpleasantness of living in a closed society …………. My emotions have been engaged here in a way in which they were never engaged during my service in Moscow in the mid-fifties by the suffering of the vast amorphous mass of the Russian people, unknown and virtually unknowable.