The honour of my family and my love affair with Cuba

In my last days leaving Cuba, Shakespeare quotes were running through my head, lines from Julius Cesar and Corialanus, now in England I am listening to Danay Suarez and it all makes sense …………. Yo soy individual y me gusta el blues y me gusta el rock y me gusta el Jazz,   ……….. y  esto no va a cambiar…..

I wish I had more time to spend with you Danay, one day we will meet again and have that cup of tea you promised me.  Like all the wonderful Cubans I connected with you rapidly, and will never forget that interview in your mother’s house in Santa Fe.  But we didn’t get to hang out as we wanted ….. but you are going places and so are we, so I think our paths will cross.  In the meantime all my friends in the UK are going to know about you and your music!

We arrived in Cuba with so much love and TRUST.  We were so glad to have got out of Guatemala, away from the violence and corruption, and so happy to be in Cuba with Rafa working somewhere as wonderful as EICTV, the school he loved so much.  We were safe, we would be looked after.

Or that is what I thought, how wrong I was.  We had been left a 15 year time bomb by the last director and it was ticking ….. Even after she left she had her spies in the school informing her of everything Rafa was doing and was writing public emails to criticise and damage him.  Recently she wrote waving the white flag …… way too late for that!  Maybe she too was a little unstable after 4 years in the school …. anything is possible.

My husband was a student at the film school in the second generation, to him in those days it was a utopia, and it was the school of 3 mundos (3 worlds).  They were pioneers creating a new world of cinema as many of the students that followed were.  I have met a lot of his friends, they are all still great friends and wonderful inspiring people.  Now in 2013, nearly 30 years on, what has it become?  Just another film school?  But a  film school in Cuba with a great heritage, and one lucky enough to have exceptionally good teachers ……….   I met a lot of great people at that school but also an awful lot of fake people holding on to their lies, some more clever than others.  They were the ones that disappeared from the scene when the going got tough.

One woman spent the whole of the first year showering us with presents, the children too, acting as though she was a good friend, I never trusted her and I was right.  I felt sorry for her boyfriend who always seemed to be following one step behind her like a loyal dog.  Another character, who Rafa invited for over a decade to Guatemala for the film festival, paying her flights, was nowhere to be seen.  Did not even call us to say goodbye.  Is this the way decent people react?

My love affair with Cuba was intense and dramatic, of course, how else could it be?  I will always remember MY Cuba.  The sweet kind people that came into my life and they were the ones that were there for us at the end to help and support us, when all the bureaucrats in the government, the foundation and the film school, had done their work at ruining a family life in a few days and possibly psychologically damaging my children.  I still haven’t found them a school place in their new home, we arrived too late.  But who gave a shit about my family in the end?

The other side of the Atlantic, another beach ..... safe and together.
The other side of the Atlantic, another beach ..... safe and together.

A few weeks ago my husband told the children over a Saturday breakfast that he was no longer director of the film school.  Nico, my 7 year old just shrugged his shoulders and sighed and said that at least we wouldn’t have to worry about saving the film school anymore.  But things got tough when they realised they were leaving their beloved French school and all their friends and Cuba ……..

A cowardly, total lack of humanity is the only way I can describe what has just happened to me, and my family.  Ironic that with film school money, a previous director had co-produced a documentary series called Ser un Ser Humano.  Not much humanity came my way from the people with power at the school.  The anger and indignation, and also the horror of what we have just been put through, is lessening day by day, but writing this blog, I hope will be some kind of catharsis, and help me turn the page and leave all this soap opera behind, and move on to better things.

Also ‘me and my blog’ have become one of the characters in this ridiculous story, which should be a film script or a myth.  The British wife is now, like Miss Scarlett in Cluedo one of the characters of this tale, where we became victims of corruption, deception and betrayal.  I remember in the last tough days, receiving a phonecall from a woman (who thinks she is a lady) from the fundacion, telling me that she was a friend and a professional.  I had to laugh, there was nothing friendly or professional about this woman.  She behaved like the worst kind of bureaucrat from the beginning to the end.

My husband has had to take a lot of personal punches in the face and plenty of bullshit over the last few weeks, but everybody who knows him knows that he is an honourable man, who loves and protects his family, and loves Cuba and that film school.  He is also Guatemalan and has been through a war in a country where you are taught to keep your mouth shut, and not share your worries, and at times in Cuba, there seemed no other option.  We always thought we were going to be safe though.

We have received accusations of being counter revolutionaries and having private meetings with the American office of interest.  So ridiculous.  We met the poor guy 3 times.  Twice when they threw their huge annual party for all the people involved in culture in Havana and the usual Havana personalities, journalists and other diplomats, and once when he came to visit the film school.  We invited a lot of ambassadors to visit the school in the 2 years we were there, and when we invited the Head of Mission we really did not think he would make it, as it was outside their 25 mile zone.  To his credit he applied 3 times and finally got permission.  We admired his tenacity and received him once in the film school, I wrote about it in this blog.  This was our only time meeting him.

Thieves, thieves everywhere ………

When I arrived in Cuba, our house, although beautiful, was a crumbling den of corruption by the sea, the tip of the iceberg of what we were about to discover.  The woman in charge was running a food, beer and coffee business from the house, selling through the rubbish collectors and whoever else.  When I arrived it didn’t take me long to get to the bottom of everything.    All this stuff in the house and there was nobody living there.  Food for hundreds of people, including many luxury items had entered in the last 6 months, we could do nothing as everything had been signed off.  The woman still works in the kitchen at the film school and I dare say she is still stealing.

We could not ignore what was happening, as it was right under our nose in our own house.  As I said, we threw them all out and then our house was burgled.  Nobody at the film school who could help, seemed to want to, in fact the opposite, the head of administration was openly hostile towards me when I wanted help with the police and the investigation after the robbery.  Other ¨friends¨ in docencia (the faculty) told me just to forget about it and it was all conveniently swept under the carpet.  It took us a year to get the guys to pick up the rubbish again, they were really pissed off at losing their business, the British wife had made a stand and she would have to pay.  We certainly did when thousands of dollars worth of money and property disappeared one night from our house.  Rafa was about to travel and only a few people in the school knew that he had cash in the house for a few hours.  Too much of a coincidence.

I tried not to let all this dark stuff get me down, and we were happy to be away from military fascists, narcos and violence in Guatemala.  I loved Cuba but I was wisening up fast.  The people who I had found to work in my house either refused to work with the film school as they described it is a nido de ratas (a rat’s nest) and pushed everything back onto me, or they ended up stealing from me too!  After a year I had almost cleaned it all up and had my great right hand woman in charge.  Without her I could never have got through the last year, she was my rock and one of the most wonderful and honest and hardworking people you could want to have at your side.  Rafa on the other hand had more than a house to deal with …..

I was already falling in love with my Cuba, a world of good and interesting, decent people.  But at times I felt more comfortable on the terrasa of my friend’s apartment in Buena Vista than playing the role of director’s wife in my beautiful beach house.  Many aspects of the film school for me had begun to represent all that was going wrong with Cuba, and I had to keep it to myself.  There were good people in the school, and I tried to focus on them and not the fake ones.  In the second year some great women arrived bringing with them an international vision and experience, there seemed some hope that the school could move forward into the real world.

I loved meeting all the people who came to visit and the wonderful teachers who brought their energy.  When there were a lot of workshops happening the place could be buzzing with healthy energy from outside the madness.

The wise grey haired academics*, always treated me kindly, the good team in production and photography, Luciano and the ladies in the library, the sweet people in the dining room, the humble workers, tired of working amongst a mafia.  But I had become tired of dealing with so many doble caras (two faced people) full of their own self importance.  My Havana life was much more fun and genuine.

* Especially Daniel Diaz Torres who directed one of my all time favourite Cuban films: La Pelicula de Ana.

Every month we had parties in the house to thank the teachers who travel for little money to give classes at the school.  I threw some great parties, we all had fun and danced a lot.  I love music much more than film, and like to push people out of their comfort zone.  My days of working in record companies in London meant that I had a huge appreciation of diverse music.  I will always remember how much people danced in front of the sea and how my favourites became theirs.  In Cuba, I got into my rumba, always loved cumbia, rediscovered Blaxploitation, and fell in love with Danay and her gang.

I always wanted to invite the students more so they could escape from the pressure cooker, but the first time I did invite a group and took some time and had fun chatting with them and made sure they had some special cocktails that we did not normally serve but in the end, someone stole 26 electric candles from me!  I had just bought some new ones on Amazon half price and a German friend had brought them over for me from London.  I felt like a little girl who had just had her birthday present stolen, I loved my cheap but cool candles and everyone knew it.  Another stealing mystery, but we couldn’t touch the students, some of them were just too full of entitlement and hostility.  It seemed I deserved to have my candles stolen ………  In the end some students even stole the words from my blog but that’s another story.

I met many lovely students on an individual basis, especially in my first year, but as we entered our second year, they seemed increasingly more interested in complaining about petty issues rather than looking at the big picture, and their way of dealing with everything seemed to be with hatred and violence and lynching amongst themselves most of the time, but the Rapidito Mafia (as they had become known) were always happy to lynch anyone available from what I could see.  A Shakespearean mob manipulated and misinformed and sometimes unstable.  One week they would be saying one thing and the next ……

As a psychologist I began to find their behaviour erratic and often disturbing.  I felt a bit sorry for them, maybe this so called utopia had turned into something more akin to Lord of the Flies or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest then anything more poetic or wistful.  The isolation of the school and the intensity of the community did not seem healthy anymore.  Havana was so close but so far.  It seemed cruel to isolate these young people from life and Cuba.  If you ask me the school should move to Havana and maybe things could be a little bit more normal rather then some over-rated psychological experiment that has passed its sell by date.


I just wish I had had more time to dance with my friends, instead of listening to the problems Rafa was dealing with, night after night after night. It drained me.  This organisation was on its last legs and we were realising that even people we had considered friends could not be trusted ….. and the time bomb was ticking louder and louder ….

The Cuban State is what it is and it seems they have been looking for scapegoats everywhere in these last few years.  Two Brits just got out of prison, there are now 20 Canadians in prison, all for minor allegations.    They threatened my husband with prison 3 times, mainly for irregularities which had been going on at the school for over 15 years.  He took it like a man as they told him to do so!  Then they took him to the school and did it in front of the whole school like a crucifixion, with no chance for the truth to come out.  The people who should have been up there, those that had been sucking the cow all those years, were nowhere to be seen.  Cowards!

When we were thrown out of our home and the whole family left the country in just 2 weeks.  I had to give away most of my possessions from a family life of 10 years and 3 children, everything in my kitchen, most of my clothes, my books.  I was scared of what could happen to us.  Can you imagine going through that?  I wept as I tried to decide which books to keep from the children’s collection, which memories.   Hiding their Lego in boxes to be taken away.

They were unable to say goodbye to their school and half of their friends, they had to see their books, bicycles and toys being sold and given away,………or disappearing, and their mother working like crazy under enormous pressure to organize everything in record time.  We could not have done it without the help of all our wonderful friends.  We shipped a few precious personal things to Guatemala where we were not going, and ran with 5 suitcases to England leaving so many things in the house to be given away.  The school paid nothing towards the move.  Everybody warned us, don’t leave Rafa behind, you all have to get on that plane together.  At the airport security they went through everything in my hand luggage touching my underwear with much interest and studying my magazines.  It was pathetic, I had to bite my lip as I snatched a pair of my favourite knickers from his hands.

But in those last 2 weeks, our house was full of Cubans looking after us and keeping us safe in more ways than one, some people who had been friends since the beginning, others who appeared like knights in shining armour to help us with everything and anything.  Filmmakers and their families, artists, students, actors, writers, dancers, and our wonderful team in the house making us eat, and helping by taking the children out to have fun and keeping things as normal as possible for them.  Thank you everybody we couldn’t have managed without you.  Maybe you were the counter revolutionaries we were supposed to be meeting with?  I think you were all just decent people and wonderful kind friends!!!  To be a counter revolutionary in modern Cuba is I believe verging on an oxymoron, if that makes any sense.

Also everyone in the diplomatic and international business community who reached out to us, my great friends in the international press, UNESCO, NGOs and human rights organisations and of course the wonderful Mums in the French school, an eclectic bunch.  I will never forget all those people, friends for life who came to sit with us and give us hugs and love in our stunned bewilderment.

It seemed that some Cubans were grateful for the truth, but horrified about how we were being treated, they were truly ashamed, therefore they couldn’t do enough for us.  Nothing seemed real, but we just had to keep our mouths shut and get out, but we thanked them for their solidarity.  One thing I can truly say is that we came to Cuba with a lot of love and left with even more.

I miss my Cuba and my friends and my Latin world of good and genuine people some of whom I never got chance to say goodbye to ……. but as we would say in English ………. We were always between a rock and a hard place.  Or that is how it felt like to me, and maybe to those Cubans crying in my house …… so much emotion.  As Danay sings ……….. lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas…….. (tears)

Does utopia exist? I don’t know but what happened to my family is a reality.  That everyone involved in this ridiculous fiasco has to live with their shame and they all know who they are.

And still some people kept telling us, stay calm, stay quiet ……. Think about the school.  Phew ………….  Think about the school?  What about my 3 children and half of my possessions, and how they were trying to dirty my husband’s spotless reputation????

But on the upside I have never received so many messages of love and support ever in my life from all over the world, messages that touched me and got me through the toughest times.

The Cuban way to turn a blind eye is not what Raul is spouting in his doctrine of anti-corruption.  But change is tough, and Cuba, or at least the film school, was not ready to change, now it has to ……… as all the truth came tumbling out …. THAT’S WHAT THEY WANTED.

La Candela!

Te quiero MUCHO Cuba ……you are survivors, just like Rafa and I, and my family and I wish you all the best!

Hasta luego

Me and my Cubanita!

Meeting Sandrine Bonnaire and French Cinema month comes round again

Last week was a very exciting week for me.  Before heading off to New York, the French Film month had begun in Cuba, and the Friday before we had gone to the opening night to see Les Intouchables, the second biggest box office success in French history.  For me the film managed to stay just the right side of sentimentality due to a storming performance by Cesar winning Omar Sy.  I had tears in my eyes by the end, and it was clear that the packed Chaplin cinema crowd had enjoyed it immensely.  A feel good film based on a true story.  A wonderful evening finished off with a few friends joining us in front of the sea in our house.

We have always enjoyed a good relationship with the French in Cuba and there is a mutual appreciation for French independent Cinema and what the Film school represents.  Last year we met Isabelle Huppert, a French icon but this year I got to meet Sandrine Bonnaire, the new French star, who is much more than just a pretty face.  I had managed to watch a couple of her recent films before meeting her and was already intrigued before her visit to the school.  Her documentary about her autistic sister is really powerful and well worth watching.  Monday came and although I was really crazy preparing to leave the children for 4 nights and go to New York I had to get myself to the school.

Meeting Sandrine with Rafa and Llou

Immediately, I felt a connection with Sandrine as a person and a woman even amongst all the inevitable protocol of a formal visit.  She was so unaffected, so warm.  You could see her desire to answer the questions from the students, as honestly and openly as she could.  She seemed genuinely interested in the school and Cuba, kept sneaking cigarettes between every formality and had a charming nervous humility that surprised me for such a seasoned star.

I spoke English with her as she said her English was better than her Spanish, but I felt bad about losing my French because I wanted to speak French to Sandrine.  Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter that she was this hugely successful star and I am just another mother living on the edge of this world of cinema, observing it from outside.  If I ever get that script written I will send it to Sandrine, I dreamed to myself as I drove home, rushing to see the children and pack for New York.  She wants to make a film for children next, so I’ll be waiting with my little francophones!

We invited her to come back to the school to teach a masterclass.  I really hope she comes back as I would be first on the list to join that class.  I can still understand French quite well, its just when I try to speak that Spanish starts to mix up with the French still in my hard drive.  Hopefully our trip to Paris in the summer will revive it.  Doing French grammar homework with the boys is drumming some of it back into my head too!

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

Potatoes and the whole consumption game in Cuba …..

Potatoes disappeared  from sight here in Havana a couple of weeks before Christmas.  I managed to get hold of some a la izquierda, ie on the black market.  This entailed going to the big agro (veg market) on 19 and 42, parking my car round the corner and being approached by two or three guys whispering out of the corner of their mouths ……….. papa, quieres papa mi amol. Why so clandestino?  I felt as though I was buying crack cocaine in the street.

Well it turns out, or so I am told, that all the potatoes at this time have to be planted, re-seeded, whatever the term may be.  And anybody not doing so was operating illegally.  So I suppose was I, in the act of purchasing them, but I am still a complete innocent in these matters, and there seems to be a lot of grey territory from potatoes to internet services and anything else in between.

Potatoes are back now and we are enjoying them but you could say that the problem with buying potatoes here in Cuba, is the problem about all matters of consumption, you just never know what you are going to get and how you will find it.  This is partly the reason why I have so many people working in my house the whole act of pursuing things is a continuous game and word goes out on the grapevine when something arrives in a certain shop.  At the moment the elusive apples are dancing with us again.

I realise that I am quite spoilt as the film school supplies a lot of my necessities and I have such delicacies from the farm such as baby sweet tomatoes and asparagus, herbs, tenderstem brocolli, cauliflower, tasty greens, cucumbers, a selcetion of lettuces and arrugula (rocket), and garlic and onions of varying size and sweetness.

Cheese is not big in this part of the world and the locals tend to eat a very mild version of Gouda or an Italian style mozarella cheese to melt.  I have so far managed to order 3 types of cheeses from the French importer …….. Goats cheese and Compte and real Parmesan.  I wrap them up in damp cheese cloth and put them in the fridge and they will keep for up to 3 months.  Young when they arrive and old and strong when they are finished.  The parmesan I grate and freeze in little ziplock bags.  If you have the money you can pretty much buy any fancy French things from him including partly baked croissant, tarte Tatin and a huge selection of yoghurts, tasty Toulouse sausages, charcuterie, pate, pastries etc etc.  The French guy is married to a stunning Afro Cuban actress who delivered my cheese personally to my door a few months ago, all dressed in white with some trance inducing green contact lenses.  It was dead man’s cheese but that is another story ………….!

There is a Belgian who imports a variety of wares but I haven’t got my act together with him yet as you have to order 3 months in advance ……..  He sells breadmakers and  a huge selection of cleaning products, wine, juices, packaged goods, amongst other things.

My milk, yoghurt and butter come from a local farm.  Cream is still relatively elusive, which is a bit odd.  Maybe Cuba is just not a creamy culture!  Cream cheese grab it when you can, but when you get it, it is good, almost dolcelatte standard.

Bread is not very wholewheat (light brown and limp, ok toasted) but I can get hold of some pretty good  wholemeal seeded baguettes when I am lacking in the grain department. A bit pricey at $2 but worth it.

Fish and seafood can be bought in a nearby fishing town and all comes fresh but frozen at source in kilo bags of fish filets, prawns, lobster and crab.  Apparently if I organise them to call me when they have a fresh catch I can get there before they freeze.  I suppose everything gets frozen fast as it is so bloody hot here most of the time.  Also we have bought great fish from the fishermen who dive with their harpoons in front of the house.

All pork items get delivered to me from a local farm. Ham, bacon, gammon, cold cuts and sausages all pretty good quality and fresh.  Sometimes we have to call them a few times.  Maybe they run out of pigs to slaughter from time to time!  Local beef bought in 70 supermarket can be very good as great filet steaks or in casseroles such as the famous ropa vieja cuban stew.  Serrano ham imported from Spain along with olives and olive oil are nearly always available.

Outside the French school at collection time there are always a handful of sellers with iceberg lettuce, baby carrots, freshly picked spinach, beetroot, huge hunks of smoked ham, peanuts, fresh flowers, pirate films, green peppers amongst other random items.

Clothes are as random as apples but I have managed to buy some great sandals and a few summer dresses from Italy which appear in the boutiques of Habana Vieja, Nautico and Casa Particulares (like shopping in someone’s living room with 3 women serving you coffee and giving their opinions on anything that they manage to pull out the closet for you).

Toiletry items are in short supply and sometimes quite expensive but I have recently found good reasonably priced shampoos from Spain and Argentina and a great bubble bath from Italy.  Head and Shoulders is $9 a bottle!

So what is on my list of things to get from outside:

Vanish (I am a laundry fiend and have 3 children!), nappies (daipers), ziplock bags, good jam and chocolate, music and magazines, HP Sauce, Worcestershire sauce and all the usual condiments from UK, wheat tortillas to make tacos and quesadillas, rosa jamaica, chili sauce and miel de agave from Mexico, Ibuprofen syrup for children, sponges for washing up, red oil for all my Guatemalan furniture, good quality stationery items, glue, pencils etc., presents for children including Lego ………….. and there is always something else missing!

Nobody is starving in Cuba, a lot of people get sent clothes and material things from outside.  The Cubans always manage to look good and quite fashionable despite their isolation and constant desire to consume things, that they do not have readily available.

I can’t deny that consuming here is a frustrating and time consuming occupation and the only thing that you can rely on is that you can’t rely on anything.

My advice is shop carefully when you are abroad, and learn to stock up like a Cuban when you see something that comes and goes ……….. just grab it and grab lots especially if it will freeze or store!


The Spanish Party, Cuba the Cat and the Lion that roars ……

We headed out for yet another embassy bash last week.  It was the fiesta nacional of Spain at the Spanish Ambassador’s Residence and what a beautiful place it was.  Imagine a huge white villa with palms leading down through a beautiful tropical garden to an elegant pool.

We were greeted by the Ambassador (rather dashing) and his wife (looked a little like a younger version of the Queen of Spain) and then handed some useful freebies: a fan and a lighter before heading down to join the crowd down in the garden.  It was a big turn out and there was a fair amount of Cava being quaffed.  I fell upon a few Brits that night, a very nice chap from the embassy, one who acts as consul for Finland and is about to retire and Toby who runs a tourism and film and music production company.  I met Canadians, Brazilians, Chip from the US Office of Interest, Belgians, French, Norwegians and of course a fare few Spaniards.

It was a hot night and people were sweating a lot, so I was glad that I was feeling pretty cool calm and collected despite the grown men dripping around me.  We spotted the Spanish contingent of the film school students moving around in a gaggle but never quite caught them up.  We headed home at a pretty respectable time and sat outside cooling off in front of the sea in the breeze.

The other night as we were doing exactly this a little tabby kitten was spotted running along the wall.  She jumped down and slowly made her way towards us looking more for love than food and that is how Cuba the Cat as she is now known came to live with us.  She is young, impeccably clean and pretty and even seems to quite like hanging around our 3 not very gentle children.  In fact she has a lot of Cuba in her.  A little survivor who has a past, she has, in the most charming way, quietly seduced us.

We have another much larger cat that has a presence in our house. Next door to us, in between Club Habana and us, there is a beach and social club for the Ministry of the Interior known to the locals as Club 99.  The have a little zoo or more of a menagerie as it is small, the animals are small and the cages are small except for one bloody huge male lion, which is in a shockingly small cage.  Anyway this lion roars, especially at night so I often fall asleep to the sound of the sea and the lion roaring in a rather pathetic cat in a cage way.  It is strange and poignant to have this rather unusual neighbour and also something that makes me muy triste.  But alas you don’t mess with the Ministry of the Interior.   But if any important people in the Ministry are reading my blog (yeah right) please put the lion somewhere more comfortable.


Telegram from Habana

I have so much to write about my new life that I have 20 blog posts in my head.  I really don’t know where to begin.

I am realising that my inability to write or get on line is more to do with the fact that I am on my own with 3 children trying to unpack and find things and find out where to buy the basics  …….. than the fact that I have slow dial up internet.

So this is a bit of an incoherent ramble, I promise I will try to organise my writing a little better in future posts.  Too much to say and not much time to get it all down.

My husband says I have blossomed in Cuba.  He says everything about me is more relaxed and happy and beautiful.  Viva Cuba! just for that mega compliment I say ….

A lot of handsome streetwise men arrived to bring our shipment of things last week so we are now fully installed.  I never thought a move in could be so much fun.  Lots of jokes and banter.  Rafa and I were exhausted but happy when we went to bed that night.  In our bed, with our sheets and our pillows, our towels, etc etc.

The new nanny failed to be the right one because she did absolutely nothing!!!!  In fact she was quite brilliant at doing nothing.  I began to feel as though I was working for her as I served her another lunch at the table and I ran around picking up toys, getting the boys to wash hands, Saskia wrapped around me!  Plan B Nanny is a little bit bling bling but is turbo charged and a lot more sparky.  I gave her a test run by inviting her to come round and clean my disgusting oven.  She spent 3 hours up to her knees and elbows in grease removing a one inch crusty layer, all of this with a big smile on her face.

The tiles in my downstairs loo at first glance look quite ordinary and bland but you can spend a long time finding faces and animals in the patterns.  It really is trippy and very clever.  I certainly have not been near any psychedelic drugs lately, maybe a little bit too much red wine, as I have been partying quite a lot with Rafa.  I showed the children one afternoon and they thought it was amazing and even Rafa had to admit he could see a lot of things!  It is quite addictive once you start to see things you can´t stop and every day I see something new.  I want to find out more about these trippy tiles.

The boys start school on Monday (in French) yippee!  Saskia has been enrolled in a local nursery which I went to visit last week.  They were a bit low on colours and toys but my main concern was that the directora, a woman, had a beard!  I kid you not, no 5 o’clock shadow or a bit of stubble it really was what could only be described as an established beard.  I know I should be open minded and not prejudiced etc etc. but a bit scary for me, never mind my 17 month old girl.  I was just relieved that neither of the boys, who accompanied me on the visit, made some really inappropriate comment.

Also this week 6 men arrived from the film school to help me sort out everything that needs to be updated in the house …..mosquito screens, checking all electricity points, painting the guest room, tuning the TV, sanding the doors so they shut properly.  Mania is the Film School representative in Habana, she is a sassy 48 year old who looks 10 years younger and is helping me out with anything and everything.  She arrived to help me order the men around.  I was very impressed!  Cuban men are famous machistas but watching this woman you would think the opposite.  I feel she may turn into a future friend.  She also told me that she loves to dance!

Rafa is absolutely loving his role as director of the Film school.  I have never seen him so stimulated and full of ideas and confidence.  It is as though he was made for the job and vice versa.

We watch the sun go down chatting and chatting about all his ideas and all the characters that work with him.  He has a lot to do, but in Cuba you feel as though miracles are possible.

In Limbo in Habana

Havana, Habana, Guatemala, amateur, Guatemala, marriage, role, Thai Chi, Juventud, Cuba, Chrysler Voyager, traffic, cook, nanny, international school, French International school Havana, rugby in Cuba, French, France, baguettes in Havana, mac external modem

My life has begun here in Havana but I still feel a little bit in limbo, mainly because the school term hasn’t begun for Rafa or the children …….. but after a few amateur mistakes, things are falling into place faster than I ever imagined.

Most importantly, we are all happy and relaxed as we never were in Guatemala and I haven´t even made any friends yet!  But I feel so optimistic and happy for Rafa and I and our family life for the next 4 years.  The energy here has let us all unravel.  Rafa seems to be relishing his new role, and is getting up earlier than any of us every morning to swim in the sea and do Thai Chi.  The children have hardly had their clothes on, especially Saskia, whose fat little bottom I am getting used to seeing waddling around the garden or sitting in her paddling pool.  Her hair has also gone wildly curly and she looks prettier than ever!  The boys spend more time swimming, chasing crabs, sailing off in their pretend boat to the island of Juventud ……. than fighting, as they had been during the last few weeks of uncertainty and stressful travelling.

Havana, Habana, Guatemala, amateur, Guatemala, marriage, role, Thai Chi, Juventud, Cuba, Chrysler Voyager, traffic, cook, nanny, international school, French International school Havana, rugby in Cuba, French, France, baguettes in Havana, mac external modem

Cuba loves children and everywhere we go my three are running around making friends.  I feel so relaxed that I don’t have to worry about kidnapping or guns or narcos or just plain old uptight rich people judging us.  Everyone has been so friendly ………..

I will always love Guatemala but living in that ridiculously unequal, repressed and violent society was not good for me.  I feel things too much, even the things you don´t see.  I wrote about Antigua life in this blog and will always love my friends but I can’t wait for them all to visit me here to see me in this new world.

When I think about the uptight rich Guatemalans and arrogant Americans who had never visited Cuba, but were so quick to tell me that it was a disaster.  I will tell them, take a good look at yourselves before you criticise others.  Cuba ain’t perfect but there is something intangibly special here.

So here goes my little update on life …….

We arrived to find out that both our cars were off the road.  But now we have two cars outside our house.  Mine is a big Chrysler Voyager with 3 rows of seats.  Yikes!  But there is no traffic in Cuba.  Imagine 1950s England.  After Guatemala and a month in UK this is driving paradise.

I had to deal with the cook, who introduced herself to me in February (our first visit) saying that she was in charge of the house.  That is going to change, I thought to myself all those months ago.  I didn’t like her from the beginning.  Just her very presence in a room irritated me even before she opened her mouth and she would follow me around like a nurse in a mental institute.

The house had been empty for 8 years apart from the odd event or dinner and she had been ruling the roost.  I couldn’t even go into my kitchen and get a glass of water without her breathing down my neck ……. literally.   After 5 days Rafa came home to find me holed up in my bedroom like a depressed teenager on a school exchange.  So she had to go!  Her food was rubbish anyway and she hadn’t helped me find any of the things I had asked her.  She wanted to be in control.  Also there was a suspiciously large amount of food coming into the house that we certainly weren’t eating.

I think we have also found a nanny.  I am not sure anyone can replace our beloved Juju but I have a really good feeling about this woman who is a friend of one of the ex-employees from the house and is a kind and gentle woman from the country.  She is a teacher and a mother in her fifties looking for something less stressful and close to home (she lives in the first block of flats next to our house about 200 yards away).

Next the school issue.  We were expecting to send the boys to the International School but after a quick visit to discuss payments we were blown away by the fees.  The Film School had offered to pay for one of the boys but still we could not ask them to pay what they were demanding ……. a price expensive for anywhere in the world never mind Cuba.  It was a bit of blow but sometimes things happen for a reason.  We discovered the French international school was just 5 minutes from our house, a quick phone call and we found ourselves in the headmasters office filling out forms and laughing about how the French school was bringing rugby to Cuba.  I have a feeling my little Nico will be good at rugby just like his grandfather and uncles …….. vamos a ver.  I liked the headmaster, he had a little sparkle in his eyes like a good Santa.

So the boys will have another language, their third.  They even offer French classes to parents which I will be taking ……… its 20 years since my days in France and I love the language.  On top of that we have a very good French bakery round the corner with baguettes, croissant and pain au chocolat.

The food issue has not been such a big deal as I imagined and I have only been here just over a week.  We are lucky as all our basics come from the Film School.  I won’t have to shop for vegetables, rice, beans, meat, chicken, cheese, milk, yoghurt, flowers, water, beer, wine, cola, juice boxes, coffee, chocolates, serviettes ………. and a whole lot more.  What we have already found is supplies of fish and prawns, Serrano ham and Olive Oil, Malta, tomatoes, bananas, onions, cream cheese and a bread that you could just about call wholemeal.  All at cheaper prices than we paid in Guatemala.

What I foresee as the consumer issues are getting hold of good cheap clothes for the children and Rafa and good sunscreen and toiletries.  But Rafa will be travelling and friends will be visiting ……. we shall survive outside the consumerist world I think.

Now to the technical issues.  Rafa was so proud that he had sorted out my almost impossible to get hold of mac external modem and got me connected to internet in the house in a matter of days, only then to have a storm burn our modem 4 days later!  He has just interrupted me to tell me that a Cuban Mexican friend from the school has already found us another modem in Mexico and is arriving in a matter of days to come to my internet rescue.  She is also bringing Rafa a new MacBook which the school will pay for.  We’ll be having a few mojitos with her watching the sunset when she arrives …….. my internet saviour!

We have also been told that all our things have got the green light from customs and we should have them by Monday.  Oh my bed, my pillows, my kitchen stuff, Saskia’s toys, the boys Lego and bicycles we shall soon all be reunited!

So in a couple of weeks the children will be back at school, Saskia will start in her Cuban nursery, I will have a nanny, I will be online, we will all have the food we need, I will have time to write again ………. and maybe, just maybe, Rafa and I can get out for a night and go dancing.

We are coming up to a period of shooting stars apparently.  As we sat outside last night looking at the stars I was wondering out loud to Rafa that maybe I felt happy here as I come from a little island off a big continent and here I am again on my island.



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Arrived in Cuba and dialing up my internet!

I bet you have all forgotten what that sounds like.  I have to admit to feeling very nostalgic when I heard that old familiar noise.

Sorry for my absence from the blogsphere but the last few weeks have been a rollercoaster and I feel I have dragged my children all over England to family and friends for way too long with the usual highlights and low points that it always entails.

Now arrived in Cuba and just spent a wonderful day eating delicious food and tropical juices and swimming in the sea and most importantly getting my family back to normal.

So far loving the relaxed rhythm of Habana and the chatty friendly Cubans.  My children seem so happy and at home and Rafa and I feel as though we are having the honeymoon we never had, holding hands and being wistful.  Lets enjoy it while we can …….

Just watched the sun set over the sea and all my children are asleep in their own bedrooms albeit not in their own beds.  Got all that to come … getting our stuff.

Will blog soon about jumping back into British society during a tense and sad summer of a mix of death (Amy Winehouse) and disappointment (the looting of new trainer and plasma screen riots).

My wonderful girlfriends that I left in Guatemala and London.

And first days in Cuba …………




On the run, safe house and processions …….

safe house, processions, on the run, Guatemala, Cuba, UK, Calle Camposeco, Antigua,
Calle Camposeco ......... of course!

Our possessions have all disappeared and are due to mysteriously arrive in another country where I am sure we will spend an eternity fighting with the customs  …… but we are ready for it.

What if the ship sinks?  I forgot to take the negatives out of my old pre-digital precious photos.  No time for that kind of neuroticism, now we are officially on the run with all that we can carry, but we have been kindly lent a safe house in Antigua by Rafa´s sister to hide out in our last rainy days in Guatemala.  I have to say it feels a bit weird ……. halfway between tourist and fugitive!

Calle Camposeco is a lively little street not far from the beautiful Merced Church. However, the day that we arrived it was extra lively.  It happened to be their Catholic street party and THE procession event of their whole year.

So, shattered, after moving all day, or nervously watching the ants of Caniz dismantle my home at a frightening pace, we arrived to the pre procession party which in this neck of the woods means loudspeakers outside your window blasting out Mexican ranchera music.  Not a genre that I am too fond of, and not one that I associate with religious festivals, no! far from it ……… generally fat ugly men being lovingly stroked by hot young babes on Bandamax videos.

They packed up at 11pm but were hard at it again at 4.30am the next morning whilst they made their flower alfombras, we had a brief interlude of marimba music before the ranchera music was back to terrorise us ……..

Love the carpets but why the awful very uncatholic music?
View from our window
Our temporary neighbours


By the end of the morning Paulo was playing football with the neighbours (the ones of the elaborate shrine) and the procession had passed …….and quite nice it was too in the end to watch it all from our little window.


Look at those pious faces passing right by our house ....