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).


New Latin American Cinema ……… and me.

The dust is settling on yet another Latin American Film Festival.  I am becoming a veteran of these events, which is rather strange for a person who has never made a film in her life, Latin or otherwise.  I am a self-confessed interloper in this world but I do love it! I used to escape home life of two baby boys, once a year to the Icaro Festival in Guatemala.  My first visit to Guadalajara festival a few years ago is about the nearest thing Rafa and I have had to a honeymoon!

And quite frankly these days I don’t even get to watch many films during festivals or otherwise.  Although I am introducing my boys to some classic James Bond to give them a little bit of British culture along with the Beatles and the Stones! I am well up on the latest Narnia, Harry Potter or other such delights of children’s cinema.  Yesterday I had a discussion with Paulo and Nico on the reasons why Kung Fu Panda 2 was actually better than the first one!  So you see the depths of film criticism that I am plundering.

So I have never made a film, but I do have 3 beautiful British Guatemalan Co-Productions to my name Paulo, Nico and Saskia.

This was my first Havana Film Festival, and I know it won’t be the last.  The festival takes place in The National Hotel and several cinemas and locations around Havana.  This year it also coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Film school (EICTV).  And as usual, the annual meeting of the Fundacion del Nuevo Cine Latin Americano, of which Rafa is a long standing committee member.  And of course there was the most beautiful full moon too.

So very busy we were.  The films I wanted to see but did not get to see include: all the Cuban films, all the films made by friends, all the Guatemalan films I haven’t seen and a few Brazilian and Norwegian ones too!

At least now I know I have access to the film school film library and can console myself with the fact that over the next few years I can work my way through some of the marvels of Latin Cinema at my own, mother of 3, pace.  I am just so glad I got to see a lot of films and read a lot of novels in my not always misspent, and quite extended youth.

With 3 children, it is the usual juggling act of childcare whilst I escape to the many receptions and parties to which I am always invited, to see the huge gang of film makers that make up this wonderful community that revolves around the energy of EICTV and the Fundacion.

But what is New Latin American Cine exactly?  I am told that the term grew out of the dark days when most of Latin America was under right wing dictatorships. When writers, artists and filmmakers trod a delicate line with the authorities.  Also the filmmakers wanted to break away from the avalanche of Hollywood cinema hitting the region and defend the right to express themselves through their own images and stories during a time of great artistic repression.  And from what I can see the movement has not stopped growing since those days.

When I met my husband (whilst interviewing filmmakers in Guatemala) and we began our family (the two events pretty much coincided) I did not realise that I too was entering into another family.  A family of amazingly talented and passionate, independent filmmakers, good friends, warm and wonderful people, who never once made me feel like the interloper I so obviously am.  Who knows maybe one day I will make a film ……… all about them!

The Party at the Film School was almost rained off, not something that happens too much in Cuba.  The Van Vans, could not play and Rafa could hardly wrap up the ceremony as the heavens opened, but it did not stop most of us having a crazy night of dancing, reminiscing and drinking.  Workers and their families mixed with diplomats, students and former students, musicians, film stars, directors, film festival Jury and of course little old me.  Also a handful of my favourite Guatemalans to help me feel at home in my new life!

I had bought a new red dress for the event so I was rather too easily identifiable and I managed to stay up until 5am.  I have to admit that it has taken me a few days to recover.  I managed to keep going for the party in our house in Havana, which took place the following night but just could not make it to the closing party of the festival.  Sorry to those friends I did not get to say goodbye to, but it was a school night!!  I would like to take you up on your invitations some day to visit Brazil, Berlin, Costa Rica ………etc, etc.  But I’ll see you all in Guadalajara in a couple of months, I hope.  Guest Country Reino Unido ………. Oh yes that is my little country!  I have not forgotten you.


Home is where the heart is.

Home is where the heart is, that´s what they say.  But what exactly does that mean?

For Sale. The Chair Rafa has rocked for the last 7 years ......



A few days before my present home will be torn apart and broken up I have this weird nesting feeling.  I want to enjoy these last few weeks in my little home before I have the task of making a home somewhere else.  When I look at the larger items I think, well yes I know that some big strong men are going to come and take them away or we will sell them ……. but it is the endless amount of little things that are stressing me out.

I do not see myself as any kind of domestic goddess or material girl obsessed with possessions but I do know how to put my stamp on a home and make it cosy and personal.  Now that I am looking around my present home and imagining that in a matter of days all this will be gone: sold, given away or heading on a truck to Puerto Barrios to cross the Caribbean and meet with the famous Cuban customs, it moved me to reflect on the many moves and homes of my life.

So here is the list of my many homes:

North Yorkshire England 11 Years, Co Durham England 7 years, Newcastle-upon-Tyne England 6 months, Dormagen West Germany 6 months, Nottingham England 3 years, South London 6 months, Rambouillet France 6 months, Paris France 2 years, Wissant France 1 year, West London 3 years, The Peak Hong Kong 1 year, East London 5 years, Antigua Guatemala 4 months, Buenos Aires 1 month (short but it felt like home!), San Lucas Guatemala 1 year, Antigua Guatemala 1 year, San Pedro El Alto Guatemala 5 years …………and now La Habana Cuba 4 years and then who knows ……. because we don´t.

So I have been in my present home 5 years, quite a chunk of my life and lasting early memories for my boys.  Two out of my three children learned to walk here.  All 3 of them learned to talk here.  One of our cats was born here.  I went to 5 Icaro film festivals whilst living here and twice to Guadalajara festival.  We had visitors from all over the world sleeping in our little guest room.  We had a few good parties in the garden, some planned some not!  I grew a lot of flowers and herbs.  We had too many piñatas!!  I painted walls and tables.  Threw together quite a few meals in my tiny kitchen.  Designed my own furniture and had some made.  We lit fires and sat by the fireplace many nights.  Paulo lost 3 of his teeth here.  Saskia was conceived here.  We all survived Agatha the storm and a whole load of other stuff ……..

A favourite corner of our garden

So what does it really mean to be a homemaker?  For a lot of us women it sounds like a nasty 50s concept of being a wife but to me it means something more.  For me it is how you make your home feel, as though it has a heart and soul.  A place people want to come round to see you.  Primarily, a place where your family can be safe and happy and together.

We had a message last week that Cuba will not let us move our things to Cuba.  I spent 24 hours horrified that I would have to sell all my precious and personal things and arrive in Cuba with a couple of suitcases and 3 kids.  Was I a material girl or a sentimental nomad clinging on to my possessions like an orphan?

If Cuba possessed Ikea, ToyRUs, Ebay and the packa it could be possible to tell the children wave goodbye to your bicycles, your strange items of artwork, your favourite toys but alas Cuba is not a place you go to buy stuff and whatever stuff you do find it does not come cheap.  Right now this family does not own a property anywhere in the world and soon, for a few weeks, we truly will be homeless all 5 of us.  but we don´t have much!  Which means that what we do have means a lot to us.

Was I being a material girl?  I felt like a princess insisting on moving my caravan of possessions!  What about the Lego, the wooden train set brought down from New York in the suitcase of a noble friend, all my pictures and photos?  The second hand books bought and trafficked back to Guate in my suitcase.  My sofa from San Juan that I designed with all my love, imagining the hours I would spend on it with my children.  The salvaged old cupboard in the living room that Rafa rescued.  Our old door coffee table that has seen many spillages and naughty boys climbing all over it.  Our incredibly comfortable bed that we love to come home to.  Saskia´s cot that has been in Rafa´s family for decades used by all my children.  The boys matching blue wooden beds given to them by their abuelos and Tia Maria Luisa, lovingly restored and painted ………….

Maybe I am a bit of material girl but my beautiful things are not worth a great deal of money to anyone else but us,  and they all have their stories.   As the song goes ……… these are a few of my favourite things.  I am not willing to lose or leave them in a warehouse to rot or be forgotten in a country where we do not live anymore.

Does this sofa and table look flashy??!


Rafa is not a man who enjoys consuming, he prides himself on his lack of possessions.  I was a little nervous that he would make me feel un-buddhist but now the father and the husband knows his family needs their things to feel at home.

So we have decided to take our stuff, the things we need or love and see what trials and tribulations we will have to go through to get them into Cuba.  One option we have been told is to file much of the children´s toys and clothes as future donations – fantastic I said.  This I am more than happy to do, its what I do anyway.  When we leave Cuba in 4 years the children will be older and we can shed quite happily all the stuff they have grown out of.

Anyway, we are still waiting to see if we will get permission to enter Cuba with our things if not we are stuck with the lottery of customs and keeping our fingers crossed that we get a nice one on a good day.  Otherwise we may end of very out of pocket.

But please Cuba, we are not flash or ostentatious capitalists just a very normal (??) family of 5.  And Cubans,  I would love to invite you round to sit on my beloved sofa and have a cup of my English tea in one of my English china mugs given to me by my Aunt.  I will even bake you a Victoria sponge with jam and cream in my cake tin bought in Guate.  I promise …..

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