The New Regime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Check

Cecilia by Humberto Solas

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