New Brits ….. rabbits, quails eggs and aubergine gratin

Last night we were invited to a party at the beautiful Vedado residence of the new British Ambassador.

It was my first official invitation to an embassy actually in my name  …..   The party was essentially an excuse to meet the new ambassador and his family, who I had already met briefly outside the French school gates and at the reception of the Guatemalan embassy a few weeks before.

Tim Cole and his family appear to be exceptionally down to earth and normal, and the party was fun, the excuse being an Olympic handover to the Brazilians.  So a bunch of miscellaneous Brits and Brazilians were hanging out in the gardens with a smattering of Cuban Olympic stars.  I already knew most of the Brits but met a very nice teacher from Wolverhampton and the head of Virgin holidays who lives in Varadero (all inclusive beach holiday central).  There was a very large Cuban wrestler with an impressive neck measurement, a female Asturian bag pipe player (I was informed), a few friendly journalists and us.    After a short speech the Union Jack Umbrella baton was handed over to the Brazilian Ambassador as the Scotch Eggs and mini Roast Beef and Yorkshire puddings were whisked past my nose.

This afternoon, my wonderful chef will arrive to concoct my randomly acquired food into delicious dishes for the rest of the week.  So this morning, I had the pleasure of planning menus knowing that I shall not be the one that cooks it.  How fantastic is that domestic arrangement?  And the fun is that in Cuba you just never know what we will get our hands on.  It is a bit like Ready Steady Cook in your kitchen once a week.  This week we have a very large rabbit so I have two rabbit recipes one with white wine, thyme, cream and garlic (Jamie) and the other with olives and tomatoes (Delia).  I bought some quite expensive baby aubergines a couple of days ago and intend to have them deep fried in olive oil with a yoghurt dip and then make the rest into a parmesan bread crumb gratin.

Recently I have also had an abundant supply of quails eggs, which hard boiled and chopped up on a lettuce based salad … rather delicious, or just dipped into mustard mayonnaise.  Saskia eats them likes sweets some days when she gets back from the nursery.  And then a few shortbread biscuits that we can eat with Vanilla icecream and a strawberry coulis.  The good frozen strawberries appeared again in 70 supermarket last week.

Later I am meeting with Amado my diminutive 80 year old upholsterer as I have finally found some material in Havana Vieja so he can do my art deco chairs and sofa.

Rafa is off to Margerita Film festival tomorrow with strict instructions to find a Zara and buy himself some clothes.  I shall be filling the house with friends to keep my children amused and eating lots of rabbit and aubergine ……………….. happy that life is slow and easy in Havana. 🙂

Next week will I get to do a one week workshop on script writing ……………….?  Or is that just pushing my proverbial luck!?

Varadero Vulgarity

I had never been to an all inclusive resort and I have the feeling that this was the first and last time.  I imagined all the tourists who come to Varadero and think they know Cuba after a 2 week break in a plastic resort.  VARADERO IS NOT CUBA!!!  Do not think for a minute you know anything about Cuba if your experience is a few days in Varadero with a quick trip to Havana to go to the Floridita bar (Hemingway’s haunt and a favourite with the tourists).

I had been told that this was low season and that I would find more Cubans grabbing offers but my Barcelo hotel was 90% blue collar or student Canadians with a surprising lack of families.  Not the school holidays in Canada I suppose unless your children are in the International French school.  Generally, I like Canadians so I apologise for this satirical post and want to stress that it is more about the kind of people who go to all-inclusive resorts rather than a nation.  In Cuba it just happens to be the Canadians that pack these places out.

So, there were a lot of Canadians in my hotel, generally quite amiable ….. just fat, tattooed, red and white striped and getting drunk wielding their huge super size me thermos jugs with straws.  They told me proudly with not one iota of irony, that they purchased them online especially for all inclusive holidays and could fit 10 drinks in them!  I hid behind bushes by the pool that had the bar, like a wildlife photographer getting photos of my beasts, or a daring anthropologist approaching a difficult and unpredictable subject.  One of them spotted me and good-naturedly got together his mates for a group picture.  I happily obliged and snapped away.  $800 for a week all inclusive flights, drinks and sunshine who can blame them??

When we first arrived we headed to our room, the boys scootering ahead of me somewhat recklessly but with no one admonishing them, so I let them go.   And in fact those scooters became very useful to get around the huge smalltown-sized complex.  We had a map and we needed it!   They boys were loving it, only a little disappointed at the lack of children and only one tiny water slide.

After checking out the first pool of drunks, I grabbed the attention of one of the gardeners and asked him if there was a more appropriate pool for children.  He directed us towards the other end of the complex so we had chance to check out the various eateries, the rather exciting (for us Cuban residents!) hotel shop, the large lobby with piano, and of course the undeniably beautiful beach.  We discovered that the Cuban Michael Jackson was playing in the theatre that night.  I promised the boys that they could stay up late enough.  Thinking to myself that I really had to check out the house red to throw myself into the evening ahead.

The boys bought some ‘message in a bottles’, back packs and other assorted pieces of tourist tat. I managed to find a nice pair of Havaianas for 10 cuc then we hit the buffet to find everything to keep us all happy.  In fact, the food was good, as was the service, for the price that we paid I was not complaining.  It was more my fellow guests who were making my jaw drop.  The boys decided to start counting fat people and large thermos cups to see which would score higher.  They then wanted to start taking photos of both things so I managed to negotiate that they could just take pictures of the super size me Thermos jugs.

I was amazed watching how these people ate.  The volumes and the choices.  One man I observed doing 4 or 5 trips back to the buffet with plates piled up with food and that was before he had started on his pudding!  As the boys ran around taking photos, I started talking to some young fresh faced students from Ottawa and found them so innocent that I couldn’t help but shock them with my progressive views on the world!

We installed ourselves in the theatre for the big show and got a decent table next to the sweet innocent students and a British couple who resembled Alf Garnett and his wife.  Paulo insisted on getting his own seat away from us, right at the front, reluctantly followed by Nico.  In fact they spent half an hour sneaking back stage and reporting on the dancers they had seen in various stages of undress.  At this point I was knocking back the Spanish table wine with urgency!  Trying not to upset Alf and his wife along the way, who were trying to engage me in conversation about British politics and how David Cameron should be in the Labour party.

Finally Michael burst onto the stage with a great troupe of dancers.  Needless to say, my two were on the stage at the end of the night singing along to We are the World, getting their photo taken with Michael and trying to master the moonwalk and later asking me lots of questions about why Michael Jackson was always touching his willy.  (I couldn’t find a good answer for that one!)

We went to the lobby bar with the masses after the show where I was cornered by another Canadian claiming his British roots in Leeds.  I politely replied that Leeds was a fun city, to which he replied no its not anymore its full of Pakis!  As my jaw dropped still lower I decided it was really was time to take my children and myself off to bed, just before the wife of the bigot chipped in with the immortal line ….. we don’t mind brown people if they are suntanned just not when they are born like that.  What are you doing in Cuba then I thought to myself?  and then I remembered, they are not in Cuba they are in Varadero.

As I contently drove the straight easy road back to the city with the boys watching Harry Potter in the back of the car, I thought about the very different Cuba that I know in Havana enlightened and global ….where I meet interesting and open minded people every week, of every shade of beautiful brown, suntanned or born like that!