Beyonce hysteria, date night with my son and the real Diva finally gets her party!

BIrthday Girl ....Card from Grandma and photo and frame from Mummy

Well last week, the whole of Havana was wetting their pants about Beyonce and Jay-Z gracing Cuba with their presence and causing a bit of a rumpus down Havana Cafe Thursday night, including a lot of grown ups who really should have known better, diving over chairs and tables to get their photo taken with her.  I admire them both for their ability to make shed loads of money out of very mediocre music, you gotta hand it to them on that count, and also the fact that they seem to remain basically well-mannered all things considered.  But anyway I had more important things to worry about than star hugging …

Paulo had been complaining that he doesn’t have enough time with his Mum by himself, so I decided to take him out alone, for an early dinner to one of the new places in town El Cocinero.  From Cuba Absolutely …..

El Cocinero opened in February 2013 and has instantly become a smash hit. Located underneath the imposing brick chimney of the same name (which used to be a vegetable oil factory), this bar/restaurant is reached via 3 flights of circular stairs, which go up vertiginously lighthouse style. It is worth the effort to reach the sunken roof, which has ample space for drinks and food. This place has a renovated industrial space look, good music, nice décor and has attracted a mixed crowd of affluent young Cubans, expatriates as well as families for dinner which is also (for now) served on the roof terrace.

So off I went with my first born on date night.  We didn’t have much problem finding the place thanks to the large chimney reminiscent of the Truman Brewery on my own dear Brick Lane ….. and this place reminded me of being in London’s East End.  Cool and urban.  Paulo was impressed immediately as we climbed the stairs.  The main restaurant isn’t open yet but will be on the second floor, with I imagine not a bad view.  Upstairs on the terrace there was also a mirador (viewing terrace) where you could see right across the Puente Hierro to the Malecon and the other way across the rooftops of Vedado.  Paulo had a Coca-Cola, the real thing of course and me, not a bad glass of Chilean Merlot.  We ordered Fish and sweet potato chips to share, and desserts of course.

first glass of the piñata!

Paulo’s main interest was reporting to me how much underwear and bare flesh he had managed to see.  Unashamedly, without a touch of lechery.  And as the Cuban summer has well and truly arrived he got quite lucky with the ladies. One pair of knickers flashed by the young lady opposite, a butt cheek cleavage with more knickers (quite a common sight), and whilst coming down the spiral stairs a good surreptitious view of a pair of Cuban tits.  In between these reports, when I was thinking, crikey he’s only 8, we discussed school and sport and friends and what he wants to do this summer in London and Paris.

As we left, he took the car keys from me and opened the car door, while insisting that he wanted to ride in the front of the car which is illegal in Cuba.  We put the seat belt on and took the risk as we headed home down quinta avenida with the sun going down.

Birthday girl In the hammock with Havana friends

Next big event in the social diary, Saskia’s MUCH awaited Birthday party.  Yes the real Diva in Havana was finally getting her own party action.  The day began windy and cloudy but ended up sunny and beautiful.  Lots of friends came from the circulo and the French school and the film school, and she actually was the perfect little hostess. No tiaras or tears!  We got out the piscina, a few toys, some tasty nibbles from the film school (a new chicken one that went down a storm amusingly titled Pollo chicken pickin!) ………… and everyone had a good time.  Even me, who was slightly relieved that that is my last piñata of the school year……..phew!

Birthday Girl!

The possy from the circulo kept their distance but seemed to have a good time and I hovered between the two groups of people.  It kicked off around 3, we had a magician and the last guests left around 9 while we tried and failed to get the children to bed for another hour or so.

So the sun went down on another party and the little Diva was happy!

Sun goes down on another party

A life less ordinary …..

I have been back just over a week from the UK and feeling as though I am just getting back into my routine, but also at the same time realising that there is no routine.  That is the best thing about my life here.  People are still spontaneous and open to suggestions.  People are busy but not booked up!  Every week is different even when you think you know what is in store …….

It was fun to spend that time with Saskia and family and friends.  But as usual when I hit the shores of their motherland, Saskia caught a terrible head cold.  In fact one particular night when we were staying in a very smart bedroom I was catching vomit in my hand so as not to Kalpol stain the beautiful white bedspread.  The joys of motherhood!!

It was the latest time I have visited London in years, and I did hit Autumn rather that the beautiful Indian summers that I have usually the pleasure.  I managed to kit us out with a few layers in second hand shops and Uniqlo ……..  I filled my suitcase with childrens shoes, England football kits, atlas, various cooking items and a whole load of food and toiletries.  Bisto now comes in squeezy tubes I was pleased to see!   I picked up a couple of cool frocks in Spitalfields market and a pair of ankle boots to get me though.  My second suitcase was way over the limit but the nice Spanish lady at Virgin took pity on me and waved it through …. yippy.  Twilight checkin is the best!

In England nobody seemed to have much time, everybody rushing, lots of people.  Can I still live somewhere so full of people I thought to myself ……….

I was glad to get back to sunshine and all my men and we partied late on a school night, so happy to all be back together again despite the long flight and jetlag.  Next year wherever we go it will be all together!  I promised the boys.  I think this was the longest I had left my family and it is easier said than done!

Cuba life is just as fun and I arrived home for the annual party at the Spanish embassy where I caught up with a few people.  The night after we had a dinner in the house with some friends and got dragged out to another party where Wichy de Vedado (one of the better DJs in Havana) was playing on a rooftop.  Trying to have a quiet week afterwards I was invited by a photographer friend to hear a band called Deja Vu, who had been recording in a house in Jamainitas on the beach close to our house and were having a party and a little concert to wrap up.  Luckily the concert was at sunset so I managed to get home by 9.  I enjoyed the music and the atmosphere around the band and their families and had to stop myself jumping in the sea with the other guests fully dressed ……….  could be a bit of a soggy drive home I thought.

Now bracing myself for 2 weeks holiday with the boys and Rafa away in Magarita at a film festival.  What adventures can we have?  This weekend we have the new head of the British Council coming over for lunch and we promised the children that we would do lots of fun things ……… the musicians of Bremen is in the theatre in Vedado, as well as a French season of children’s films.


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 ……………..


Our house, the party and the French lover who fled the country

Our first party in our wonderful house all went very well.  Everyone from the film school helped me to make it a success.  Maeda arrived with flowers to fill the house from San Antonio and then a team of caterers from the school arrived not long after with food for 70 people and a chirpy barman who set up the bar.  Havana friends all made it along and mixed really well so that I felt as though I wasn’t just the wife of the director and this was my house too!

This house is designed for parties, being right in front of the sea and having a bar in the garden.  Up until now the bar has been used to house the paddling pool and various toys and inflatables but that night a barman was whipping up cocktails served in Coco shells (Coco Locos!) a few mojitos and whisky, beer and wine, as well serving me up something cold and bubbly brought by my Habana girlfriends.

I have begun to realise that our house, which has been the Protocol house in Havana for the film school for 25 years, is quite a little gem.  It stands alone between a beach club used by the Cuban military and a huge ruin which most recently used to be the Institute of Oceanology (is that a word??).  Apparently there are not many houses so slap bang on the sea in Havana.  Many people don’t even know there is a house here even though they have lived in the area for years.  It is very close to the leafy suburban streets and diplomat houses of Flores and Cubanacan but seems to be from another world.  However, other people seem to know all about it and give me a knowing secretive look.

We are right at the end of Primer Avenida, el final, and as you drive the last block which looks forgotten and run down, it really does seem as though you have come to a dead end until you notice our unassuming house right in the corner.  I love opening the front door to people as they are immediately transfixed by the Caribbean sea sparkling behind me and Cubans being Cubans, they almost knock me out of the way to have a closer look.

I began to wonder in the first few weeks ……. who built this house?  Who did it used to belong to before the revolution or before the Film school?  As Cubans love to talk and tell a good story it didn’t take me long to find out that this house does have a history …….

I intend to find out more but this is the story so far.

For those of you who don’t know who Batista is ……. here is a little description from a JFK speech on the run up to his election in 1960 whilst criticising Eisenhower´s government.

Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years … and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state – destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror. Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista – hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend – at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections.

The house which has no number, is said to have been built in the early 50s for the French lover of someone pretty high up in Batistas pre-revolution government.  Whoever she was she must have been a real character as the beach next door to our little one (now the military club) was known as the Francesita (the little French one).  Bloody big house for one French flousy lady, but I thank her for my large walk in closet.  Evidently she fled before the revolution as she was part of a more corrupt and dangerous time in Cuban history depending upon which side your bread was buttered.  In the words of Arthur M Schlesinger when asked by the US government to analyse Batista’s Cuba.

The corruption of the Government, the brutality of the police, the regime’s indifference to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice and economic justice … is an open invitation to revolution.

But the architectural evidence of La Habana harks back to another time when dirty money was everywhere.  The beautiful ruin next door was also owned by one of Batista’s honchos who was enjoying regular meetings with Al Capone in his amazing palace with its huge private beach to discuss the blossoming future of the Mafia and more Casinos to be put into Club Habana, the beach club 5 minutes away which is where, somewhat ironically my children now have all their extra curricula activities!

I enjoy hearing about these pre-revolutionary days with the security of history and intend to find out more but I am glad that Fidel got rid of them all as after 8 years in Guatemala I know there is nothing remotely glamorous about gangsters or their girlfriends.  And my family now lives in a paradise of tranquility despite the undeniable economic problems.  I am not sure that even the Cubans realise what they have.

It could make a good film script though …….. somewhere down the line.  And gives me something else to think about as I sit in front of the sea looking at the beautiful trees which line the beach next door as the sun goes down.  Every night and most days people jump over the tumbling wall of this old mansion and get to the edge of the sea next door to us to fish and chat and watch the sea or whatever else they get up to.  (Rafa was rather horrified how many condoms got washed up on the beach the other day when the currents were not in our favour).

I wonder what parties have taken place in this house?  I need to investigate more ……….. just not sure how to yet.  I will leave you with the words of JFK, an American icon (Oct. 1963).

I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.

Unfortunately, I think Guatemala is still paying for those sins.



My friend Tony says I can come round and use his zippy satelite internet connection whenever I want ……… so I may be able to post some photos soon!

Leaving school and cats …..

The boys are leaving their little school here in Guatemala.  They have only been there half a year but have been very happy.  Academically they have both excelled which really helped their confidence, especially Nico who learnt to read and also discovered that he is pretty good at maths, better than his smarty pants sabe lo todo big brother who excels in all the communication departments.

It is their last half day tomorrow but today they had a party.  Unfortunately, the teachers in prepa, neglected to do a party for Nico so the pile of doughnuts we sent all got eaten by first grade and he was so upset that I had to give him 4 fairy cakes when he got home.  Paulo´s class had all made him cards and given him little presents.  A lot of them were quite religious giving him blessings and the virgin etc etc.

The most heart wrenching letter was from his little nobia Emilia who has been incredibly loyal these last few months!  She printed it on the computer and had even put a photo, her email address and telephone number and a little cuddly present.  This girl is not giving up on her man.  And this is what she wrote translated from Spanish.

Feliz Viaje Paulo

You were the best friend I have ever had and I will never forget you.  I am so happy that we got to spend this time together.  Your friend Maria Emilia

Sweet Emilia ........ bless her cotton socks


I don´t really believe in moving cats from home to home too much, but definitely not from country to country.  So although I am feeling guilty as hell, we are leaving our two cats behind, and so far I am not quite sure where!  Every time I look at them I feel a huge pang of guilt.  On top of all that, they seem to be making a huge play on the fact that they are happy and smug right now, like only cats can!

Chloe was from Aware, an animal rescue centre run by an eccentric Brit (you find these British animal lovers all over the world) and his Guatemalan wife in a place a few miles away from Antigua.  Our dog had died leaving our first male cat Smudge a bit lonely.  He had run away a couple of times looking for love but we always managed to find him.  I remember once noticing his weighing up as he thought freedom and insecurity versus food and tough love from toddler Nico.

We took him up to Aware for the snip and by chance a kitten had been left at the end of the road a few days before.  Anyway along came the noble and dignified Chloe, who was allowed one litter of kittens, one of which was such a beautiful Siamese generation throwback that we just had to keep her.  Smudge disappeared and then there were two.

Mother and daughter have not always got on and I am not that surprised.  Sophie is a naughty, cheeky, fish stealing youth who pushes in front of her mother at every opportunity.  The children love her though as she deals with them with the same cocky cheek she uses on her mother.  Chloe on the other hand has always been my cat.  She waits for the children to go to bed and sneaks inside for a bit of sofa time with me.

Suddenly starting to snuggle up close .....they know you know ..........

Bizarrely, lately they have been being really affectionate towards each other which makes me think even more that I want them to stay together.  I fear that everyone wants to adopt the pretty, cheeky Sophie and noble Chloe will be left to her fate like a poor Guatemalan campesina widow.  Oh the guilt ………. I am just hoping that perfect home will appear and my cats can maintain the safe and easy life they have had with us because I ain’t getting on a plane to Cuba with 3 kids and 2 cats.