Santiago Di Cuba: Part II – People

Castros Revolution Quote sm
In Spanish, the text of Castro’s ‘Revolution’ May Day statement from 2000 is represented next to his tomb in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.

“Revolution is having a sense of the historic moment; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and freedom; it is being treated and treating others like human beings; it is emancipating ourselves on our own and through our own efforts; it is challenging powerful dominant forces in and beyond the social and national arena; it is defending the values in which we believe at the price of any sacrifice; it is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity, and heroism; it is fighting with courage, intelligence and realism; it is never lying or violating ethical principles; it is a profound conviction that there is no power in the world that can crush the power of truth and ideas. Revolution is unity; it is independence, it is struggling for our dreams of justice for Cuba and for the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism, and our internationalism.” 

These are the words spoken by Fidel Castro at the May Day celebrations in 2000. I’m genuinely inspired by these words – and it’s not hard to see why many of the Cuban people dearly loved their hallowed leader, in life and in death. If a person can be remembered by what they said (rather than what they did) then, surely, these words are the ultimate in epitaphs. They are inscribed on a twelve-foot high marble slab that stands next to Castro’s memorial, the final resting place where his ashes were laid to rest in the glorious Santa Ifigenia Cemetery; his dying wish was that a ‘cult of personality’ should not be permitted after his death, which meant that he wanted no public places, streets, parks or institutions to bear his name and no statues, monuments or busts should depict a likeness of him. The granite monument in which his ashes are very simply interred (in a rock shaped like a corn kernel; the inspiration for the shape of the tomb was a line from a José Martí poem: “All the glory of the world fits in a single kernel of corn.”) next to the impressive monument to Cuba’s other national hero, Jose Marti, who was referred to as ‘The Apostle of Cuban Independence’ and inspired the revolution that led to Cuba’s first stint as an independent state back in 1868 (which you knew about already because you read part 1 of this essay … didn’t you?) which is just a stone’s throw away.

Not that you’d be throwing any stones of course, since both monuments are guarded by armed soldiers, with a goose-stepping changing of the guard ceremony taking place every half-hour – necessary because of the extreme heat in which these guards have to stand, albeit that they are afforded at least a little shade whilst on duty.

Jose Martis Guard changing sm
Three new guards goose-step to their destination, guarding Jose Marti’s tomb.

The Santa Ifigenia Cemetery is a remarkable place, filled to the brim with the remains of ‘All of the revolution’s history’, including Antonio Maceo and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo (the chap who freed his slaves and declared that first independence from Spain in 1868) as well as not-so-revolutionary Emilio Bacardi (son of the founder of the Bacardi dynasty) amongst many other illustrious guests. It’s also filled with thousands of tourists, who daily traipse through, marvelling at the magnificence that such bastions of revolution reside in. I’m sure some, like myself, find the juxtaposition of concept versus reality a little puzzling, but it is definitely a must-see when you do visit Cuba. It is quite a sight to see.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, starting with the dead always seems a little unusual perhaps, but it is impossible to visit Cuba and be unaware of the legacy that Fidel Castro leaves. For most of the people, he was their hero, who liberated them from oppression and guided Cuba to a better life. To many outsiders, he was a wicked despot who recklessly womanised and ran Cuba’s economy into the ground, silencing all opponents before they had a chance to cast any kind of aspersions on his leadership – he ruled with an iron fist. I find it difficult to marry the reality of the human being with his magnificent ideals, but it is always worth remembering that he was a man, a simple human being with all the flaws and complex emotions and feelings that informed (or clouded) his judgements of the best course of action in any given situation. I choose to be inspired by his words, if not his actions, although I’m not actually planning any political revolutions this month – I’ve still got loads of photos to edit!

Santiago Di Cuba is a colourful and vibrant place, full of sunshine and joy. Cubans go about their daily business with a calm, laid-back approach, which is fairly typical of island life in my experience. The faded elegance is in evidence almost everywhere, with an intriguing mix of half-millennial-aged, archetypal blue-and-white painted buildings and contemporary architecture; wide, tree-lined boulevards lead directly into the older quarters of the town so that you are travelling through varying degrees of ‘passability’ – sometimes you simply cannot overtake in the very narrow streets! The bright sunlight makes everything take on a more vibrant appeal.

In central Santiago, appropriately built atop the largest hill, lies Céspedes Park which is surrounded by some of Cuba’s most imposing architecture – the magnificent Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Assumption) dominates the square.

Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Assumption sm
Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Assumption dominates Cespedes Square in central Santiago

Two wall plaques offer a small clue about the building’s history:

Foundation stones sm
Wall plaques marking the dates the building was first erected on the site, then restored after four centuries.

I was deeply intrigued by the meaning of these plaques, which make more sense when translated from Old Latin so that they tell the story of the current building, erected in 1922 to commemorate the first building on this site, constructed four centuries earlier. It seems that there have been several buildings over the centuries that have been destroyed by pirates, inadequate design and earthquakes, but this current building has also been spruced up to celebrate Santiago’s quincentennial in 2015. We didn’t have time to explore inside and frankly, it was so hot we simply settled for a long cold drink at the Casa Grande, which flanked the square on another side. Directly opposite lies the Cuban National Bank building – very much a modern construction, all glass and simple lines. From one corner of the square, you can see quite how high the hill is by looking across to the hills opposite. Finally, the traditional blue painted wood and white-washed walls enclose the final side of the square. The overall effect is of a very mixed and lengthy history, which tells Cuba’s story in microcosm.

We came upon a sign on a side-street that just made me laugh loud and long… you have to admit, this guy is honesty personified!

Shoemaker small
… who wouldn’t want the shoemaker for a partner?

One of the most memorable things about Cuba is the people. Not just because that’s what Communism is ultimately about, but because they are like no other people I’ve ever come across – immensely friendly, likeable and charming. I recognise that there’s a huge element of laying it on fairly thickly for the tourists, but many people were just going about their daily business, getting on with their lives, oblivious to visitors and all else besides, probably planning what to have for tea. Who cares if shutters are clicking all over the place when you have such a life to be living?

I am often reticent about taking photos of people because I’m aware that there are many who a) just don’t like to have their photo taken (I fall into this category!) and b) feel that the photographer is ‘taking’ something that doesn’t really belong to them – in an almost primaeval manner where the image of the person contains a part of their soul.

Fortunately for the photographer, in these days where virtually all the world’s people have smartphones, this issue is less thorny than it used to be, although I think a part of me still does subscribe to this idea. Certainly, in Cuba, most people are VERY happy for tourists to snap away, capturing people doing *crazy Cuban stuff*, so this actually encouraged me to take photos of people, much more than I usually do. Yes, it is perhaps a little staged for the tourists, but it does give peeple something to do and it has an infectious charm that cannot be denied.

Everywhere you go, it’s likely that someone will be serenading you, mostly with some kind of salsa (that’s the dance, not the edible accoutrement to barbecued meat!) … individuals, small groups and entertainers abound. Ariba, Ariba! It made me feel like dancing!

Cuba – what a fascinating and beautiful place to visit!

Rocking chair sm
I could sit here all day…

Thanks for reading… see you next time!

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Santiago Di Cuba: Part I

‘To travel is to live!’ declared Hans Christian Anderson or rather, more completely:

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
― Hans Christian AndersenThe Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography

I’ve long loved that quote, having travelled a fair bit myself, I’ve frequently found joy in just thinking about travelling and it makes me smile to recite it to myself in the deepest, darkest depths of winter when the cold winds and icy rain turns to snow, making simply getting to the shops a challenge worthy of The Crystal Maze. I’m very much a sun-bunny, I need warmth and light to maintain my mood more effectively than pills can and really, nothing beats sitting on a sun-drenched stretch of white sand, with the cool, inviting sea lapping gently at my feet, a good read and a cold drink in my hands.

Idyllic sun drenched beach
Sun-drenched sandy beach – just perfect!

One of the reasons we decided to visit Cuba last year was to try to experience what life is like there before it finally makes it into the 21st Century and becomes just *another sunny holiday destination*, similar to all the rest. Cuba has a remarkably fascinating history, like many other Caribbean islands, drenched in Colonialism and revolutionary fervour alike over the past three and a half centuries.

I’m not planning on penning a complete history of Cuba of course, but the potted version goes like this: native islanders (Mesoamericans or Arawaks) were subjected to Spanish rule after Columbus claimed the land in the late fifteenth/early sixteenth centuries, with sugar and tobacco plantations helping to bring reasonable prosperity to the island, dependent upon slave labour, of course. Cuba’s location meant that pirates and Buccaneers frequently raided the ships that carried essential trading cargos and for two centuries the lands were fought over, sovereignty disputed by the main colonial powers – the Spanish, Dutch, French and of course the British, with Spain generally winning out. Rebellion and general unrest (due in part to a desire to maintain slavery as an effective economic tool) led US president, Thomas Jefferson, to consider annexing Cuba to the US in 1805, but despite several attempts to further this cause, it remained in the hands of the Spanish until the first declaration of independence in 1868, leading to the Ten Year’s War and culminating in the eventual abolition of slavery in 1886, although the Spanish then took back control of the island.

There followed a period of war between the Americans and the Spanish in which many of the Spanish-speaking colonies (Puerto Rico and the Philipines amongst them) were fought over, with the two parties eventually agreeing to the Treaty of Paris in December 1898 that led to the first US occupation of Cuba –  maintained until 1902.

American Memorial sm
Memorial stone commemorating the defence of the hilltop battleground in Santiago Di Cuba

And so it was that in 1902 the US government handed control over to a Cuban government, crucially securing the rights to maintain a military presence; Havana became a very popular American tourist destination and the naval base at Guantanamo Bay was established.

Three decades of semi-independent governance, with an uneasy relationship to the US, ended in 1934 after a Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Cuban people, declared that Cuban peasants would have legal ownership of their own lands. Its success was short-lived: the US soon backed a right-wing anti-government revolt, called the ‘Sergeants’ Revolt’ which ended this brief period of stability and restored the political status quo and whilst  the country enjoyed an economic boom in the post World War II era, after Fulgencio Batista seized power in a bloodless coup d’etat in 1940 corruption was rife and political and economic disruption gave the Communist Party, with the infamous Fidel Castro at its helm (inspired by Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara), much greater power in the eyes of the Cuban people.

Biran sm
Fidel Castro’s hometown, Biran – posters like this adorn many of the highways in Cuba

Castro took control of the country after a bloody revolution lasting six years, from 1953 to 1959.

Machette memorial sm
Revolution Square, Santiago Di Cuba; a simply huge structure entitled Antonio Maceo
Machette memorial closeup sm
The 23 giant machetes are awe-inspiring
Memorial perspective sm
… to show the sheer scale

The Castro years led to significant tension between the US and Cuba, with the Bay of Pigs incident in April 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, amongst many other significant events of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Castro ruled with an iron grip, largely because the Cuban people considered him to be THE national hero and were willing to invest wholeheartedly in Communist ideology, heavily supported by Communist bloc nations, particularly the USSR; with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the consequent collapse of Communist Russia, this support was promptly withdrawn and the country struggled to survive. Castro’s isolationist policies meant that Cuba became a nation immured in what was effectively a ‘time bubble’, with many pre-1950’s American cars and glorious mansions simply left by their wealthy owners who fled to Florida (mostly) during the conflict.

Elegant mansions sm
Elegant mansions, abandoned by their wealthy owners, were reassigned as communal properties under Castro.

This conflict remained unresolved whilst ever Castro lived and is only slowly adapting to change since his death in November 2016.

Which leads me very nicely to where we came in … this is precisely why we wanted to see the Cuba that exists in this ‘bubble’ before commercialism and Capitalism takes a more firm grasp of their economy. It’s definitely changing and that’s what makes it such an exciting place to visit. The Hemminway-esque mystery of this unique island was calling to my sense of adventure!

And so our eight-and-a-half-hour flight was booked and off we popped. We opted for a resort holiday so that we could relax and investigate different parts of the island on tours and trips, although hiring a car to drive independently (always our preferred way to explore) didn’t really seem to be an option, so we resigned ourselves to being shown whatever it was the tour guides felt they wanted to show us of their little piece of paradise. Initially, we had thought we might take several of these tours, after all, we had two weeks to fill! We’d be able to see everything in that time, surely?

Well, actually, not really since of course, we had assumed Cuba=Caribbean island THEREFORE small, easily circumnavigated and everything within commutable distance.

SHOCK NEWS: CUBA is HU-YUGE!

Map of Cuba in Caribbean
Map of Cuba in the Caribbean: Barbados is that tiny weeny dot way out almost in the Atlantic, for size comparison purposes!

Within a couple of hours of arrival, we realised that our vague plan of taking a day-trip to Havana was not feasible, simply because at almost 800km (nearly 500 miles), even if the roads were reasonably passable (which they’re not!… more in a moment on this), that’s a ten-hour drive to get there. An organised trip was possible, but it involved getting a flight and an overnight stay in Havana, which frankly was quite expensive and potentially prohibitive for me as my disability is not particularly well catered for.

We consoled ourselves with the promise of taking the coach trip to Cuba’s second city, Santiago Di Cuba, which is of course on the southern coast, facing into the Caribbean (not very far from Guantanamo Bay in fact).

Jorges sm
Jorges, our excellent tour guide

I really must thank our intrepid Tour Guide, Jorge (pronounced ‘Horhey’ as he was at pains to point out to us!) for the wonderfully humorous and informative manner in which he conducted this two-day tour. It was epic.

 

 

 

Firstly, we noticed the roads, the condition of which can be described as ‘Fair, on a good day’…

… and only occasionally did we come across something slightly *odd*, such as this road to nowhere…

Road block sm
Occasionally, you’d see something odd, like this

One thing that became very obvious early on was the system adopted for public transport in the countryside. There are vast swathes of greenery and countryside that are crisscrossed with these long straight roads and very few public buses pass by on a regular schedule, so the people simply gather at the crossroads, waiting for any and every vehicle passing to catch a lift from… there are inspectors randomly placed to ensure that every vehicle traveling is fully occupied – it is Communism in practice and works remarkably well. Petrol (or diesel) is rationed and therefore a highly prized commodity, so it is deemed to be appropriate for every Comrade to help others by offering their spare seats to strangers when they need to get into the town from the countryside and vice versa. The only vehicles that are generally exempt from this system are the tourists’ guided tour coaches, which coincidentally tend to be of a higher quality than most other local vehicles.

This fact of life in Cuba (limited resources) also means that people become much more creative at finding methods to travel any distance – so horses and horse-drawn carts are pretty standard methods to get around the fuel rationing issues. In addition, locals use trucks with many spaces (which effectively become buses) and many other ways to scrimp and save fuel – here’s just a few of the wonderful variety of vehicles we saw:

There’s a LOT of countryside and, for the most part, it’s very green, which was contrary to what I had expected – the blazing heat in the Caribbean frequently burns the grass and other crops in fields a yellowy-brown, so that you get the impression of an almost desert-like terrain. So from the roadside, most of what you see on the 3 hour-long drive through Holguin and Santiago Di Cuba provinces is green countryside, edged by distant mountains where coffee is the main product.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tiny villages in little enclaves seem to exist with little or no acknowledgement of a world beyond their border. For a Communist state, there are a surprisingly large number of sometimes breathtakingly beautiful churches – which are attended daily by locals. We visited the El Cobre Basilica, high in the hills around Santiago Di Cuba, which is dedicated to the miracle of a tiny statue of the Virgin Mary holding an even smaller baby Jesus in her arms that was found by three fishermen in the early 17th Century. People celebrate and worship at the shrine by strewing sunflowers all around. Naturally, enterprising locals sell bunches of sunflowers to all visitors, which affords the scene an innocent charm that is quite beguiling.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The defence of the city of Santiago Di Cuba from pirates, buccaneers and other potential invaders was primarily conducted from the beautiful cliff-top castle fort, the San Pedro de la Roca Castle, which offered us some stunning views over the sea and bay of Santiago Di Cuba.

(Here’s a fantastic short video from UNESCO giving a much more detailed view and history of the castle)

In Part II of this essay, I’ll tell you more about the town of Santiago Di Cuba, which is simply spectacular, along with some portraits of the most interesting part of Cuba… the wonderful, friendly people. You won’t find a better welcome anywhere!

Once again, thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

The Old Man and the Sea

 

Cuba Hemmingway
The Old Man and the Sea, setting forth into the Gulf Stream from Cuba

“If the others heard me talking out loud they would think that I am crazy. But since I am not, I do not care.”
― Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea

 

No trip to Cuba could possibly be undertaken without familiarising myself with Hemmingway’s works. As an English student (ie. in all senses of the phrase; I am English (mostly) and I have studied the English language both academically and simply for pleasure… perhaps that qualifies me as crazy before we start!), I should have read some of his works. Hemmingway is recognised as one of the greats in literary terms; Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for literature aren’t just handed out, willy-nilly or else they wouldn’t be worth the toil, now would they?

I am slightly ashamed to find that in spite of being really fairly well-read (if any of those Internet-based questionnaires are to be believed at least), until recently I have never even opened a single page of Hemmingway’s. Shakespeare; I’ve read most or large parts at least of 21 of the 37 plays definitely written by him; Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, William Golding, Aldous Huxley, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, E. M. Forster, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, D.H.Lawrence and of course, J.K. Rowling… as well as very many others, I have read. With great enjoyment, I learned to read at a very early age and it has remained a favoured pastime of mine since I could hold a book in my hand.

So I was, on the one hand, appalled to find that my reading of worthy American novelists is so sadly lacking, whilst on the other hand, this meant that I had a whole new wealth of material to explore.

I started by Googling (of course, I could have Binged, but that doesn’t sound so much fun…) Hemmingway and was instantly fascinated by such a magnificent, larger than life character that takes up simply oodles of Internet space. His life is so interesting, I got lost for days before my holiday even began, just sifting through all the biographies, theories and opinions about this remarkable writer’s life and his substantial body of work.

I decided that I needed to start reading some of his actual writing before I became bogged down with other people’s opinions of the work.

(Cue drum roll please…!)

A list was drawn up. (Ching! (That’s the hi-hat))

It was waa-haa-haaayy too long! I’d be reading for months! Not that the prospect concerned me of course, but we were only going to actually be IN Cuba for two weeks, so I had to prioritise. The rest can be read later, at leisure.

I KNOW that holidays are the very definition of leisure! I’m not completely cuckoo!

I needed to download my reading list onto my Kindle before we went as we couldn’t be sure about the availability or reliability of the Internet once we had set off, so there was an element of urgency about my endeavour. Which should I choose?

Of course, The Old Man and the Sea sat firmly in pole position.

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have.
Think of what you can do with that there is” 
― Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea

I also added ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘A Farewell to Arms’, ‘To Have and Have Not’ and the posthumously published ‘Islands in the Stream’, the latter largely because it made me think of the wonderful Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ duet with the same title. I had heard of the others too, which always helps when choosing I think.

But it was The Old man and the Sea that grabbed my attention and no sooner were we settled into our new vacation home (a four-star holiday complex in Guardalavaca, on Cuba’s north-facing coastline, looking out to the Bahamas across the North Atlantic Ocean – although it is decidedly Caribbean-like at this point), I settled down on a beach-side lounger, drinking in the exquisite blue of the sea, Kindle in one hand, tropical cocktail in the other.

And breathed.

For your delectation, I am including some visuals, to help you get the idea…

So, I thought I would read for an hour or so then take a nap and then maybe eat something and then rinse and repeat.

I wasn’t expecting to be quite so enthralled by the story!

“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.” 
― Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea

It is quite the most gripping tale, a literally un-put-downable story of survival, all played out under the very same sky I was looking at. The main character, the Old Man (named Santiago) decides to take his tiny fishing boat (called a ‘skiff’) right out into the Gulf stream, alone, in order to try to break his dreadful run of bad luck, termed ‘salao’, which has lasted for eighty-four long days.

The epic battle with his quarry, an eighteen-foot-long marlin with more than enough spirit to struggle legendarily, that ensues over the following three days is simply awesome in the truest sense of that word. The loneliness of the two, fisherman and fish, forever linked by bait and rod, is empathically described, with Santiago showing true compassion for his adversary, frequently referring to it as his brother: “I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.” Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. . . . Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. . . . There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity. I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.” 
― Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea

The story’s resolution is not what one might hope for the mightiness of the struggle that has been undertaken, but it is ultimately fitting. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet (in spite of this seeming to be my forte at the moment – whilst Facetiming my granddaughter I accidentally revealed that Anakin becomes good at the end… I genuinely didn’t realise I was giving the plot away there!) because I can genuinely say this was more than worth the time invested.

I found myself welling up with huge, fat tears of affinity with this pair of souls. I wanted them to find peace. I like to think that they did, for who could not in this beautiful paradise?

Guardalavaca marina BW
The Watchful Eye of the Marina tree
Coastguard Cuba
Coastguard, Cuba-style
Guardalavaca marina
Guardalavaca Marina

Thanks for reading… there is more to come from our trip to Cuba when we ventured out of the hotel compound and into the extraordinary countryside and second city that is Santiago Di Cuba. Adios!

Havana go to Cuba: Part I

Yes, I know it’s a terrible pun… Havana (I wanna, just in case you can’t see it) is to Cuba as Moon is to Sun I suppose, so I hope you’ll excuse my playing with words… but it’s kind of what I do. It’s also what my FAB hubby said to me at about this time last year… he’d been looking online for a potential holiday destination that would appeal to my sense of adventure and willingness to think unconventionally so that we could try something new together. ‘I want to go to Cuba, soon, before it opens up to the world and becomes just like every other sunny tourist destination!’ he announced, pleading playfully.

Cuba is definitely Fuera de la caja, especially if you’re coming from so far across the Atlantic. The idea seemed rather magical and intriguing and surprisingly less expensive than you might have imagined.

Holidays are difficult concepts for me, I can’t seem to grasp the whole relaxing thing, doing nothing, sitting on a beach all day, looking at the sea. It comes from so many years of frenetic activity – teaching, especially when you are the committed sort (like me!) takes a considerable amount of time and energy and for many, many years I was simply unable to switch off except when I would fall into my bed, exhausted, at the end of each half term. ‘Holidays’ for teachers actually equates to a week of catching up on sleep, followed by whatever’s left of the not-in-school-scheduled-time taken up with planning, making resources, tidying up after the previous term’s activities and meeting with other teachers to accomplish the final bits of the plan. Oh, and shopping for all the stuff you’re going to need to fulfil the plan for the coming term. Planning every minute of every day is what I did for nearly twenty-five years so being faced with whole days, nay weeks of time to spend doing the unthinkable, engaging in unplanned adventures, became almost inconceivable to me.

Maybe I could read a bit… it is one of my all-time favourite things to do and goodness knows, reading on my sad and sorry old couch in the cold grey dimness of an English winter is definitely trumped by the thought of the same activity, but on the lovely, sun-kissed golden sands of a Caribbean island. Warm breezes in the salty air, bright colours to heighten the senses and no need to worry about what to cook for dinner, because that was someone else’s responsibility.

Yes, a holiday seemed like the best of ideas.

So, in spite of my increasing infirmities – walking is becoming progressively more challenging as is even standing, unaided, for more than a few minutes – we threw caution to the wind and booked the break. My FAB Hubby arranged for assistance on and off the plane for me and booked a suitable ground floor room so that I wouldn’t have to trouble myself with stairs. It was going to be perfect.

In my experience, travelling is half the fun of the adventure, as long as it’s not too problematic and to be fair, the journey to Cuba was great. Stepping off the plane into the wonderful warmth of a tropical isle is one of life’s little pleasures as far as I’m concerned. Clearing customs into Cuba was not.

I was wheelchair bound, in order to ensure that I didn’t have to walk through the terminal, which would have taken me most of the day I think. It was the first time I have experienced that utterly inexplicable behaviour that some people adopt when faced with a person in a wheelchair – that somehow they have been lobotomised and cannot hear you or speak for themselves. Official after official looked over my head to the person pushing the chair to ask for my details. It was infuriating! When my tone of voice betrayed my frustration, some were apologetic, but most simply shrugged and smiled, as if that somehow made things better.

I was determined not to let this upset me, but it would have tried the patience of a saint, which I am most certainly not.

Emerging from the torture chamber then into the bright sunshine and the onslaught of riotous colour that pervaded the car park was an immediate assailing of the senses. Vehicles of such age and variety I could only have imagined, with people everywhere; cab drivers touting for trade, tour operators trying to herd their charges towards the strangely Soviet-branded, possibly fairly elderly coaches, families trying to stay together, small children escaping with inexorable regularity. Within a few moments though, having smiled at each other for reassurance, I began to enjoy it all – the bustle, hustle and hurly-burly became like a tropical symphony of excitement, a whole new experience that might be just what I needed. We would be having FUN!

The journey to the hotel was a about an hour and a half – I was to come to realise that time travels very slowly in Cuba – along a remarkably bumpy (in parts) highway from the airport in Holguin to our resort hotel in Guardalavaca. Being an ‘assisted traveller’ has its perks – travelling at the front of the coach being one. This meant we had good views of the countryside and area through the main windscreen – I had an impression of typically tropical island life, big blue skies, patches of brown, dried earth interspersed with swathes of green, low utilitarian apartment blocks that wouldn’t be out of place in Minsk or Tbilisi, with many references to Che Guevara and of course, Fidel Castro.

Along the route we also encountered a variety of transport used in Cuba – bearing in mind that the country has existed in a ‘time bubble’ for the past half a century. Once out of the town, the highway became a two-lane road (one lane in each direction) built mostly along straight narrow lines – few bends in the road meant that we could see for long distances the road ahead, travelled by men on horseback, little horse-drawn open buggies, motorcycles (some with quite precarious-looking sidecars), heavy confederate lorries and other coaches. What we were looking for was the infamous cars – the 1940’s and early ’50’s massive gas-guzzlers, the American convertibles that are almost synonymous with Cuba. We weren’t disappointed.

I’ll leave the story for today with a couple of pictures of vehicles. They’re really amazing – huge, built like tanks and totally unwieldy, yet holding a romanticism that just can’t be bottled. ‘Til next time!

 

 

It’s been a while

So, it’s been almost two years since I wrote anything here. There’s a whole bunch of reasons for that, mostly to do with failing technology, but also health issues and in particular, of course, the ever present mental health challenges. Motivation is the key to any kind of success and something I’ve been very sadly lacking in recent months (about twenty of them at last count). I think I’m over that hump again (for now at least) and have decided to resume blogging in the hopes of finding my metaphorical mojo and getting at least some of my shizzle together.

Last time I wrote about my unpleasant interaction with my neighbour downstairs. He has since passed away and we now have a new neighbour, a young female person whose first name I know, but that’s about all. I think I saw her once just after she moved in, but she’s quiet (no loud partying, yet) and seems happy to keep herself to herself, which is good. Or, at least better than the previous occupant. I can’t see that she’s going to provide much in the way of source material for writing though, so I’m going to have to look further afield perhaps.

Happily, I have finally managed to move into the 21st century as far as my techie-bits are concerned, which has been no mean feat! Many, many thanks are due to my FAB Hubby, without whom, I would remain up s**t creek without the proverbial paddle… thanks indeed! I have many other things to thank him for right now, but I do want to get to the reason I have up-sprung and returned to my musings on life, so I’ll save those thanks for other stories as and when I get round to regaling you all with them.

So now I have a pencil shaped magic wand/mouse that means that I can use more intuitive movements when creating digital art. I am loving this! I have tried a few practice projects… it takes quite a bit of getting used to, but I think I am on the right track now and thought it was about time to start sharing stuff once more.

Caribbean Sea Yacht 3000
Caribbean Yacht

This picture us one that I have painted, digitally, using Corel Painter 5 and some photos taken during our holiday to Cuba last year (I told you there’s lots of stories to come!). Developing any understanding of the myriad possibilities of tools, colours and techniques to employ with this programme is definitely challenging my grey matter, which I am thoroughly enjoying. It’s probably taken me about two days of dabbing with my pen-brush, so I offer it to you for perusal and would be delighted to receive comments either here or through my Facebook page… follow the link  at the top!

It’s great to be back!

Lost. Found. Recovered.

Some of you may recall that I recently had a bit of a run-in with one of my neighbours. Welcome to the second instalment…

 

About ten days or so ago I decided to order a copy of this picture as a large canvas print.

Beach Post
Beach Post on Pebbles Beach, Carlisle Bay, Barbados

It was meant to be for my fab hubby to remind him of our perfect Caribbean holiday, which seems so very, very long ago now. We’re having a bit of a tough time right now, what with dodgy finances and (the FAB Hubby’s) heart surgery and a distinct lack of purpose in life, coupled with an increasing feeling of having been tossed onto the scrapheap of sentience. I don’t want to impose my life complaints on everyone, but these circumstances are not helping my increasingly severe depression and most days I spend staring at my computer screen, trying to find any kind of motivation to get something achieved.

Curtains
I have occasional spurts when I try to ‘pull myself together’ like a pair of curtains, but these rarely result in much tangible success, although I do keep on trying.

So actually gathering  enough *oomph* to select and order this picture was a major happening for me. I was so pleased with myself for achieving something.The picture is particularly sentimental for us as it is of Pebbles Beach, in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, where I learned to swim as a small child. Taking Mark there was one of the first things we did when we got into the hire car – the satnav wasn’t working, but I managed to guide him to the place without too much of a detour, largely based on forty-year-old memories and a keen sense of direction. To be fair, the island is only 14 miles by 21 so it’s pretty easy to navigate around, but I was still chuffed to have found it so easily.

Standing on the exquisite white sand in the most brilliant sunshine, I was suddenly eight years old once more, in my tiger swim-suit (long story !), whiling away my days, collecting precious shells and rolling in the surf on Pebbles Beach. The Aquatic Club bar – ‘Pebble Beach Inn’ as it was known then – also had a swimming pool although it’s gone now, having been redeveloped in the intervening years. Patrick (my bestest of boy-friends) and I spent day after day either in the sea or the pool, only being dragged out to eat or drink something then back in the water we went, like a pair of water babies. It’s a strange misnomer, because there isn’t a single pebble on Pebble Beach – and there never has been as far as I can recall, so it was shells that we collected on the rare occasions that we emerged from the water.

Showing my husband of thirty-six years this precious memory meant that finally we could share it together and this of course called for a stroll along the length of the beach. I snapped the picture from the top of the steps, then he helped me jump down the steps and being a rather rotund shape these days, I tippled forward and he, being the gallant knight that he is, staggered forward to help me, so that I would be spared the indignity of rolling into a ball on the hot sand. He’d been taking his specs off and replacing them with his new sunglasses – another, whole different story –  so this process was interrupted during the rockin’ and rollin’ around in the sand.

Fast forward for about an hour as we stroll the entire length of this gorgeous beach and begin our return journey. By now, the heat has gone from the day and the sun is beginning to set -the light is fading exquisitely albeit rapidly, as it does in the Caribbean, being so much closer to the equator and all that. I’m happily snapping away with my new camera at the scenery, the sand, the water, the sky, everything in fact. I turn to take a snap of the FAB Hubby; he’s looking puzzled and just ever-so-slightly panicky.

Why’s he fumbling in his shirt pocket?‘ I ask myself. Then I ask him the same question of course, to which his terrified face blurts out ‘I’ve lost my specs!’.

Now, I should probably explain here that FAB H is virtually blind without his specs. Modern technology has reduced the thickness of the glass these days to something that resembles one of those convex coffee-table paper-weights that people have favoured pressed flowers encased in, as keepsakes or whatever. Jam jars are a thing of the past. Well, mostly anyway. The thing is, he genuinely cannot see a thing without them. So this was a BIG deal.

The entire holiday was on the verge of ruin, for without his eyes, how would he see everything? How would we manage?  Plus, the damned things had just cost an arm and a couple of legs to ensure he had them in time for the holiday. Usually he has photo-chromic lenses which means he doesn’t need separate sunglasses, so there was considerable cursing of the incompetent optician’s assistant whose fault it was that we were now having to negotiate our holiday of a lifetime, minus the ability to actually see anything, since the actual reading glasses had taken themselves off for a little holiday of their own.

It’s quite a long beach it turns out.

We retraced our steps, trying to remain positive, in spite of the increasingly fading light, turning every grain of sand over with our hands and feet, checking to see where they may have been washed into the sea, for, of course, just to complicate matters a little further, the tide was coming in. Fast.

We’d almost given up as we arrived back at the steps to clamber back into the car.

And then I saw them, quietly, even contemplatively, watching the sunset  sitting squarely in the sand, exactly where he’d knocked them out of his pocket when he chivalrously came to my aid earlier.

Lost. And then found again. Just like the beach was.

Perfect.

Now, let’s get back to the present shall we… stop all this lazing around on tropical beaches!

So, I’d ordered this picture to remind him of our wonderful holiday and perhaps to help motivate us both into better frames of mind. I got a great deal and ordered it in a large size – my pictures are meant to be viewed in large formats. This one was about 60cm x 80cm. That’s about 2 feet by about 2 feet 8 inches for those who don’t do decimals.

Thrilled I was.

When I received the email saying it would arrive on Tuesday, I was still feeling thrilled.

On Tuesday I went out of the house for the first time in about … well forever… to go help some friends hang an exhibition in Scarborough hospital. I almost asked my other neighbour to keep an eye out, but she was busy with her three children, so I left it, thinking ‘We’ll be back in good time, it’ll be fine.

Famous last thoughts. ‘It’ll be fine.‘ HAH!

Upon returning home the neighbour and her offspring were still in their garden so I asked about the parcel and she told me our other neighbour, the chap from downstairs, the evil one who made me clean his drains out recently, he was the one who’d taken it in. I sent my son round to go pick it up, but there was some confusion about my apparently ambiguous instruction and the long and short of it was that no-one went to get the parcel that evening. I fretted and worried and got antsy and my *long-suffering men*  ignored my slightly manic state and pressed on with the heavy responsibility of watching TV (or rather, snoring in front of the telly) and raising hell in some imaginary computer game world. Ahem.

Fast forward again to the next morning, when, as usual we were woken by the sound of the recycling truck and staff collecting the recycling waste. Thinking nothing more than ‘Did you put the bins out?’ I turned over and went back to sleep, whilst the FABH got up and pottered about downstairs for a while.

When I rose,  Cleopatra-like, from my slumber a little later on, my first thought was about the picture so I asked if FABH had yet retrieved it and he agreed to put some trousers on and go to collect it. It’s best to not ask about the trousers – just let that one go for now, OK? 

He returned, empty handed, reporting that our (despicable) neighbour had no knowledge of any parcel whatsoever.

I was distraught.

I was beside myself with tormented thoughts.

It wasn’t adding up.

How could he not have known about the parcel? What could have happened to it? Where did the UPS chap leave it?  Did anyone see what he did with it?  These and many more questions began encircling my tiny brain Liz birdies– like the little cartoon birds that used to fly round Sylvester or Tweety Pie’s head when they crashed into something.

I fretted a little more. I envisaged every and any possible scenario regarding my parcel’s fate. Each  a more grisly fate than the last.

The FABH of course remained implacable in the face of potential chaos. He phoned the delivery company (UPS) and we had a delightful conversation with a lovely lady called Sarah, who assured me that the records showed that the parcel had been left in a porch around the back. I explained that this property isn’t what it seems and that ‘around the back‘ are two separate, distinct apartments. She sympathised and suggested that the delivery man might call me himself to explain where he left the parcel. We thought this was an excellent idea and readily agreed.

Then we waited.

Only, I’m not really very good at waiting.

The ants in my pants told me to do it.

I went downstairs and around the back and knocked smartly on my (beastly) neighbour’s door. He was on the phone and clearly, visibly, ignoring me. I could see him through his window. Eventually he gesticulated for me to let myself in, which I did. I asked him about the parcel and he flatly denied all knowledge of it.I described it in detail and he shook his head and threw up his hands, asking me what I wanted to DO about it?

I asked for permission to check his outbuildings- an aluminium shed and another, smaller, store-box, but it wasn’t there. I was even more puzzled now and asked him what I was supposed to think when I’d been told that the delivery man had left it in his domain, but it seemed to have simply vanished. As he sagely nodded his head and attempted to stand up to encourage me to leave, he slumped, in a drunken stupor, to the floor. After helping him to the nearby sofa, I took my cue and left. Clearly, I wasn’t getting anywhere there.

Upon my return, the delivery driver, Carl, rang and we discussed the situation with him. He suggested that usually in these cases, the ‘thief’ makes the mistake of putting the packaging into the rubbish bin, to which the FABH calmly stated that it’s unlikely he’d find any rubbish in the bin as today was collection day… and then we both looked at each other in horror as the realisation of what might have happened set in.

With tears (of anger, frustration, utter disbelief and the ultimate pain of loss) rolling down my face, we thanked Carl for agreeing to pop by the next day to check on the location of the parcel and then all we could do was sit and wait. Again.

I am really rubbish at waiting – we’ve already established this – so around six-ish, I went to call on our other (Polish) neighbour to see if perhaps Carl had been mistaken and left it in his kitchen instead. He hadn’t. And it turned out that our Polish friend had actually seen my parcel in the other neighbour’s kitchen.

What can you do when faced with such evidence? Clearly, I live next to an unstable and apparently vindictive man who thinks nothing of stealing our mail. I considered going to the police, as well as our mutual landlord, but persuaded myself these options seemed drastic. I even emailed the council in the hopes that someone might have spotted the brand-newness of my parcel and put it aside perhaps… to no avail of course. I didn’t sleep a wink and when Carl arrived the next day having taken a good look around the neighbour’s property, he agreed that the only thing to do was set everything in motion to replace the picture. He promised to drop the necessary paperwork off early next week and then he left.

Imagine how delighted I was yesterday morning then when Carl arrived with my replacement parcel! He confided that the paperwork hadn’t been required since, upon ‘further investigation’ (I know not what that entailed), my dastardly neighbour had admitted that he’d taken the parcel in and then put it straight into the recycling collection. Part of me still mourns for that lost picture, but at least now it’s sitting where it’s meant to be – above the sofa across the room from the FABH, so he can be re-inspired each time he looks at it.

Lost. Stolen. Recovered. Or at least replaced.

It’s a picture with a story to tell…

Thanks for reading again!

 

 

 

 

 

Real Disney Magic

Arriving in Disneyland (Paris) on a cold, rainy Friday afternoon in early March gave me something I never dreamed it might.

Of course, I’d been looking forward to spending some really good quality time with my family – something that’s been in very short supply for so long that I couldn’t remember when it wasn’t. You know your life is going wrong somewhere when you realise you are miserable all the time and there seems to be nothing that can break the downward spiral of discontentment and despair. When it feels like even your closest family members really have no reason left to love you anymore because you feel so toxic.

When the FAB Hubby suggested it just before Christmas, I’d shrugged and assumed that, like many other dreams from the past, this one too would never see the light of day. I mean, what grown woman wants to go to Disneyland, for goodness sake? The thought HAD crossed my mind when my girls were much younger, and then again when my son was small – especially when one of my students was the son of one of the project managers of the much anticipated Hong Kong Disneyland Park  – but somehow, it just never happened and frankly, holidays are not something I’ve ever really known how to take. I’m not so good at the relaxing part and enjoying life, like many people I know.

So once I saw the tickets and the many conversations between the ten participants of this jaunt to the Continent confirmed that it actually WAS happening, I found I was really quite happy about the whole event. I am aware that I can be a bit of a killjoy at times and so decided that success for me during this holiday would be to have some good photos and some cherished memories of shared good times together. I hate roller coaster rides and to be honest, Disney itself has never been a massive influence on my life, so I really wasn’t expecting the place to work any kind of actual *magic* upon this world-weary, somewhat lost soul. How wrong can a person be?

It first happened about twenty minutes after arriving at the Gotham City-sized car park, which was remarkably empty at 2.30pm on this particular Friday afternoon. Perhaps, not surprising in itself of course, especially considering the cold, damp weather forecast and the fact that most people would be at work or school or otherwise engaged in their everyday lives.

We’d trekked the hundred miles from the car park to the main entrance (seriously – travelators help, but it’s a really long walk!) and not been too put off by the large green hoardings just outside the magnificent Disney Hotel, declaring that Disney Magic was being worked upon this particular area just now, so it was closed for visitors. I hoped that wouldn’t be too much of a recurrent theme for the next three days. These hoardings had shadows of the Seven Dwarves and characters from Peter Pan that we adults recognised but that scared the bejeezus out of my three-year-old granddaughter, Scarlett, who imagined they were real.

And then we found ourselves in Main Street, USA.

And there was the actual Disney Magic Castle.

DL MAgic Castle
The actual Disney Magic Castle at Disneyland Paris. It’s actually Magic.

Right in front of us.

That’s when I first felt the magic. ‘Dah, dah dah dah, dah dah dah! ‘ trilled the loudspeaker somewhere above my head (you KNOW the tune).

It was so familiar and yet so very strange. Actual goosebumps. And not just because it was about 2º.

And suddenly my face was wet with happy tears and I smiled for the first time in a very long time, from a place very deep within my soul.

This was going to be awesome.

A lot of other stuff happened during the rest of the afternoon – I’ll skip that for now (don’t worry – I’ll come back to it later, in another post!) though to get to the next time my face got wet. I KNOW! TWICE… in ONE DAY! Who’d ‘a thunk?

Again, it took me by surprise – because one thing on my list of ‘Things I hate with a passion‘ are fireworks. Ask anyone who knows me well – fireworks leave me cold. When I was about nine or so, I used to watch one of my favourite TV shows, called ‘Magpie’ which was a bit like ‘Blue Peter’ with a really catchy theme tune that immortalized the old wives’ tale about magpies –

Magpie logo
Murgatroyd the Magpie from the TV show

One for sorrow, two for joy;

Three for a girl and four for a boy;

Five for silver, six for gold and

Seven for a secret never to be told‘.

They added some extra lines that went Eight is a wish and nine a kiss – ten is a bird you must not miss, Ma -aah- ahh- ag- pie! (clicking on the link will take you to the theme tune on YouTube, in case you’re interested!) Murgatroyd the Magpie was their logo – I loved him!

In the UK fireworks are generally only used at one time of year, unless (nowadays anyway) there’s some kind of special celebration such as a royal wedding or a summer outdoor concert or something, but when I was young, all through the month of October small groups of children would make effigies of Guy Fawkes, using one of their dad’s old shirts and trousers stuffed with straw (or mum’s old tights) and wheel him round in a barrow shouting ‘penny for the Guy?’ to all and sundry in the hopes that some would offer you some dosh so that you could go and buy some fireworks to let off on Bonfire Night – ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November; Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason, why gunpowder treason. Should ever be forgot!‘.

Frequently, of course, some children (usually the older ones, who were generally out to create a lot of mischief) would let off their fireworks, throwing bangers and crackers willy-nilly before the designated night of merriment, much to everyone’s delight. Well, everyone who wasn’t me. You see, I had watched those awful episodes of Magpie when they featured the consequences of such mischief-making, gone horribly wrong. It seems that gangs of older kids (and I knew some of these people) routinely found it very amusing to tie Catherine Wheels or Rockets or other such delights to the tails of unsuspecting moggies and even occasionally small pooches and then light them and run for safe cover, to see the object of their handiwork desperately struggling to free themselves, before the inevitable awful lift off, lighting up the sky as they flew through the air.

This practice simply terrified me, all the more so since I knew several very unpleasant characters that were responsible for such atrocities, although I had no actual evidence that they were involved of course, so couldn’t substantiate my claims to any person of authority. In truth, I was very afraid of these louts myself so I wasn’t about to endanger my own safety so recklessly – even though I felt like a terrible coward for choosing this path.

Photographs of maimed cats and later, when the campaigns became more aggressive, there were pictures of maimed children too, were quite sufficient motivation for me to hate the source of such evil – fireworks, even tiny little sparklers, became the thing I feared and hated most on Earth. It’s taken nearly forty years for me to change my mind.

We’d had a long day travelling, arriving, exploring and being enchanted by Disneyland. We stayed in the park for the big fireworks show at 8.00 pm, seated on wet chairs in a huge crowd of people waiting for the same thing. Hot chocolate and some bright flashes and then we could go to our lodgings to get a good night’s sleep – that’s what I was looking forward to most at this point.

Until the show began.

And what a show!

As soon as it began, I could feel that *magic* happening again. I smiled once more. It was all so charming and adorable, so exciting and – what was it… thrilling?

I had to leave the family group to get a better view for my camera – we were too far away. I snickered in between other small groups and eventually found a reasonable vantage point to watch the show – me, who hates fireworks!

And before I knew it, those tears were streaming like Colorado Rapids down my face. The rain had definitely stopped, so it wasn’t Heavenly precipitation causing this flood. No-sir-ee. I was crying, smiling, laughing, pointing delightedly at nothing in particular, wiping away my tears with the back of my hand and never taking my eyes off the fireworks show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Fate is kind
She brings to those to love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

It really is *Magic*!

Thanks for reading this one, there will be more because it was such a great experience, so do come back again!