Santiago Di Cuba: Part II – People

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

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… 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!

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I could sit here all day…

Thanks for reading… see you next time!

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Revolution Square, Santiago Di Cuba; a simply huge structure entitled Antonio Maceo
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The 23 giant machetes are awe-inspiring
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… 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.

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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!

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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).

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

Walking in a winter wonderland

I love it when the family come to stay. There are all sorts of gorgeous, funny, poignant moments and happy times that I always regret living so far away that we can’t do this every day. Anyway, yesterday we went for a lovely stroll in Dalby Forest on a perfect Winter’s day. A pale cerulean sky with fluffy white vapour trails belied the Siberian setting as it fell below freezing during the course of our perambulation.

Mysterious mists shroud the valley
Mysterious mists shroud the valley

Aghast at the natural beauty of this landscape, with a deep valley, heavily wooded with lofty trees, packed so densely as to almost obliterate the light, I found myself marvelling at the mysterious panorama. Carved at an improbable gradient, the road snaked through the forest to an attractive visitors centre, looking for all the world like an alpine ski-village, so deep was the hoarfrost on this magical journey.

A glaring white mist thickened as it drew close to the Earth, giving a feeling of descending into a primordial or ice-age swamp as we drove towards the centre, where we found details of a most engaging Gruffalo Nature Trail, perfectly suited to our intention for the trip.

Robin greeted us in his practiced manner
Robin greeted us in his practiced manner

A pair of delightful (European) robins greeted us at the outset of the trail. One hopped onto the wall and posed perfectly – he’s clearly an old hand at this. Portrait captured, he hopped, skipped and jumped from pillar to post, from branch to ledge, guiding us skillfully onto the trail’s start. I was in seventh heaven already.

Striding forth into the world
Striding forth into the world

Watching my small people and my not-so-small-any-more people striding forth into the misty pathway, looking for gruffalo clues and enjoying each other’s company, I felt content. Life is wonderful at times.

Shetland ponies are well suited to cold weather, thankfully!
Shetland ponies are well suited to cold weather, thankfully!
A Yule Log lay in the path
A Yule Log lay in the path
The trees stand watch over the valley
The trees stand watch over the valley
Who's that I can see hiding in the trees?
Who’s that I can see hiding in the trees?
Why, it's The Gruffalo!
Why, it’s The Gruffalo!
This tumbledown shack gives rise to a thousand potential stories...
This tumbledown shack gives rise to a thousand potential stories…
This is what bending over backwards looks like!
This is what bending over backwards looks like!
Looking for the light
Looking for the light
... and at the end of this glorious afternoon, the sun slowly sank into the moor
… and at the end of this glorious afternoon, the sun slowly sank into the moor

I may not get time to compose another post before the old year ends and the new begins, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year. For Auld Lang Syne, my friends, for auld lang syne.

See you in 2015!

Thanks for reading once more.

 

Thornton-Le-Dale’s hidden magic

Aren’t dogs fabulous? Pet-sitting for Dad for a couple of days this week, I’ve been motivated to get out and about for longer walks each day. When Candy, Dad’s seven-year-old Staffie, returned home on Wednesday, we we left without an obvious reason for going out to walk other than the joy of simply doing that. For many years my lower back pain has been worsening, to the point of forcing me to retire from the job I loved so much for so long – teaching. I had practically come to an almost total standstill, finding myself longing for the days when walking was not only a useful method of transport, but actually fun too. I have been just about able to take some very gentle, albeit rather brief strolls until very recently.

Thanks to the pain management clinic at York Hospital, I have learned to better understand my pain and through a variety of strategies I’ve been able to improve my activity levels significantly, to the point of being able to walk for increasingly longer periods, pain-free. Last week I managed to do a complete circuit, down the back lane and around to the front of our house, a distance of about a half-mile or so, with little difficulty; this week I’ve extended that to walk about double that. Twice a day. So really it’s quadrupled the amount of walking I find I am able to manage. Yay, go me!

So, now that we are dog-gone once more, how could we maintain this daily walking schedule? What motivation did we need?

The answer is simple – I just wanted to be out there, walking. BECAUSE I CAN! It’s no great mystery – walking is, for me at least, one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise I can get.

So, the real question was, ‘Where?’. Living as we do, in the Vale of Pickering, where walking is a generally relaxing and fulfilling pastime, surrounded by nature so beautiful and refreshing, choosing which part of the area to go for a walk is the difficult part. There are so many places to go. I’m going to have to draw up a list!

My FAB Hubby, Mark, suggested a short jaunt around the picturesque village of Thornton-le-dale and I didn’t need much persuasion – we frequently drive through the village on our way up to the Moors, which is by far my most favourite place on this Earth. I’ll write a piece about the Hole of Horcum one day, when I find enough adjectives to gush effectively enough about its divine serenity. But that’s another story.

I wonder if the diagonal harvesting is more efficient?
I wonder if the diagonal harvesting is more efficient?

A fairly short drive of about fifteen minutes from here, through the vale to the tiny village of Allerston and on to the infamous A170 which leads along the top edge of the Vale of Pickering to the picture-box-pretty village of Thornton-le-dale. If you keep on the 170 for a few more miles after Pickering, you would come to the magnificent White Horse at Sutton Bank, where the Vale of  York reaches the town of Thirsk stretching out for miles, leading you deep into Herriot Country, also known as The Yorkshire Dales. World famous beauty, right on our doorstep!

At this time of year the farmers create a patchwork of yellow, as the golden crops are safely gathered in with massive machinery. It is quite a sight and I was particularly taken with this intriguing pattern across a field that spans a considerable gradient, away up on the hills. I wondered if the diagonal lines had proven more efficient than the usual method of travelling up and down, parallel to the hedges.

Arriving into Thornton Dale, as the more modern name of this village is being accepted, you can feel the ancient history that permeates the air. It seems that the first settlers here were Neolithic, with evidence of burial grounds just up the hill through Ellerburn Wood onto Pexton Moor dating from 300BC. The Angles are most likely to have given the village its name as the dense forest of Dalby nearby probably held thorny bushes.

Lady Lumley's Almshouses have stood here since the late Seventeenth century
Lady Lumley’s Almshouses have stood here since the late Seventeenth century

The village is simply filled with gorgeousness. Following the sparkling brook by the main road, we found a parking spot immediately, right by the village cross and eagerly embarked to investigate a place that I had only stopped in a couple of times before. The Lady Lumley Almshouses are currently undergoing refurbishment, which was a little disappointing, but I will go back later to photograph them – it’ll give me another reason to return!

Magical water flows swiftly, only a few inches deep, right through the centre of the village.
Magical water flows swiftly, only a few inches deep, right through the centre of the village.

The clearest water, presumably coming down from the Moors, flows through the centre of the village, casting a magical spell over visitors immediately. It feels like a physical embodiment of Chi – the life-force of the village. I made a secret wish and felt a peaceful sense of calm simply watching the fast-flowing water as it danced vivaciously towards the little bridge.

Bridges over the brook are numerous in Thornton Dale
Bridges over the brook are numerous in Thornton Dale
The bridge to Lavender's Tea Shoppe
The bridge to Lavender’s Tea Shoppe

A short stroll shows where the stream  was divided, presumably by the Victorians, to provide power to the houses that face onto the village green. Some of these have been amalgamated into a charming tea-shoppe planted with an abundance of lavender. Each of these houses has a small stone bridge to provide access over the water.

More bridges lead to the homes and businesses from the road – wildflowers complete the picture of serenity.

Aubretia thrives by the brook
Aubretia thrives by the brook
I orbed it, of course!
I orbed it, of course!
The Old Post Office has a sentry on guard
The Old Post Office has a sentry on guard

I was saddened though to find that the village post-office has closed since my last visit. I had been charmed by the Post Master there, an elderly man, who knew everybody in the village personally  and who took great pride in treating this knowledge with honour and respect. It’s a terrible shame that we allow these traditions to die out. All that’s left now is the pillar box as it stands on guard duty at the edge of the stream.

With a sense of adventure, we traversed the first bridge. The scent of woody growth and clear, fresh water pervaded and we were instantly treated to the bucolic scene of a small weir, with ducks happily negotiating their naps or foraging for food within. The light here became even more entrancing than before, as it dappled the water through the tiny gaps in the leaves.

The light dappled over the water mesmerizingly
The light dappled over the water mesmerizingly

And then, the grandest surprise of them all presented itself! I had never suspected that there was a beautiful pond, complete with wildfowl of various kinds and a  well-worn path around as well as benches at strategic points.

The Pond presented itself as a secret revealed
The Pond presented itself as a secret revealed

How could I not have known this was here? As ducks, drakes, coots and moorhens quacked and chuckled, the exquisite surroundings seemed to take on a life of their own – I felt almost as if I were looking through a Pensieve: given a unique, Dumbedorian opportunity to view Paradise.

The white duck swam serenely by...
The white duck swam serenely by…

Ducks and other wildfowl clucking and nattering to each other, to me, to anyone who was listening; young children with their mothers, mid-day joggers, teenagers and older couples dotted around The Pond, all drawing life-affirming sustenance from simply being there.

Picnicking in the sunshine by the pond
Picnicking in the sunshine by the pond
An elderly couple enjoy an ice-cream across the pond
An elderly couple enjoy an ice-cream across the pond

I was utterly bewitched.

The duckling was separated from his mother
The duckling was separated from his mother

A tiny duckling had lost its mother.

The duckling spotted his mother and just went for it...
Splash! In he goes!
Splash! In he goes!
The duckling spotted his mother and just went for it…

He peeped and piped on a lofty note, increasing his alarm as the moments passed – his dive into the water when he spotted his parent was euphoric and a delight to witness.

The Hole in the Wall
The Hole in the Wall

Through the hole in the wall a modern car-park was secreted – I determined that I would have to bring my children and grandchildren here and this convenience made it even more accessible.

Age before Beauty!
Age before Beauty!

Growing against the wall are ancient roses and other flora – I came upon these lovely examples that immediately made e think of the old adage ‘age before beauty’ – so that’s what I called this picture.

The Morning Glory basked in the sunshine
The Morning Glory basked in the sunshine

Whilst the Morning Glory flowers drank in the sunshine, we decided to head back towards the car. I needed longer, but since Time waits for no man, reluctantly I had to draw away.

Tome waits for no man...
Time waits for no man…
So, of course I orbed this too!
So, of course I orbed this too!
Brambles Antiques marketing ploy - an elderly delivery cycle
Brambles Antiques marketing ploy – an elderly delivery cycle

The antique shop on the corner by the crossroad holds a plethora of delights to be explored another day; the bakery’s fine produce provided a delicious lunch and trinkets of sublime synchronicity bade us a fond farewell.

My daughter and her daughter's names called out to us...
My daughter and her daughter’s names called out to us…

We will definitely be back!

As always, thanks for reading!