December 3, 2012 by vivalafiona
The hill I frequently climb of a morning was alight last night and spewing smoke and ash all over the town. A familiar sight for an Aussie but not one I expected to see here in Cuba. It is the dry season now and after torrential rains earlier this year the undergrowth is now waist height and there are very few cows about to keep it in check. I am not sure if it was deliberately lit or a controlled burn but fortunately it did not reach the city outskirts or cross over the fire trail and into the beautiful valley below. I know because I climbed the hill today to check and was a little disappointed that unlike Australia there was no distinctive bushfire smell. Nor do I expect to see the regeneration of plants and trees, like triffids, in the next few days as occurs almost instantly in the bush.
I believe the mountains around Trinidad can from time to time experience bushfires, which is not surprising considering there are a lot of eucalypts and pines up there. Recently I spotted bottle brush too, which is now coming into flower. So I guess a wooden cabin in the hilltops is perhaps not the best of ideas. There are no casa particulars (bed and breakfast) up there yet, only state run hotels, that bear little resemblance to picturesque mountain retreats or chalets. Rather they look like sombre state institutions and indeed one was once a sanatorium for tuberculosis victims.
I am sitting in a local restaurant, typing this letter on my gorgeous slimline lap top. It would be my best friend if it could miraculously deliver wifi. Osiel plays and sings here during the day to tourists. Once a huge colonial house, it has ceilings that are 5 metres high, doorways 3 metres in height, beautiful crystal chandeliers, timber shutters and fret work to allow air flow. The floors are made of stone which helps with the acoustics. There are a couple of rocking chairs in an alcove which I can utilise as my writing den whilst also being able to listen to Osiel, which is such a treat. He can hold a note for minutes, it sometimes seems, and has a plethora of songs stored in his head, Cuban, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Mexican and is currently dying to get his hands on the sheet music for Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, having heard my Jeff Buckley CD. Fortunately, unlike most Cuban’s he is not a big fan of the Bee Gee’s or bigees as they pronounce them here. (Are you giggling Miranda and Bettina?)
It has been necessary to escape from Maritza’s house which is currently a construction site. She has decided to not only add a new bathroom to the house but is also extending the kitchen and putting a roof over the downstairs patio to add to the living space. Renovations are certainly a distraction from the grieving process. So is a house full of tourists. There are currently two Norwegians, a South African and a Swiss residing there plus the two ‘Australians’. Osiel has now been awarded Australian status as far as the family and staff is concerned. His English skills are improving daily and I suspect he may master English before I can speak Spanish correctly.
I went to watch a salsa class last night given by a local guy I met 10 years ago. Yudel is now managing the Casa de La Musica here in Trinidad and running a salsa school. He and his team teach Cuban rhythm as well as dance to assist those of us who can’t quite grasp the Cuban beat. The classes are held in the ruins of an old mansion, which is now minus its roof, windows and doors, with walls covered in a beautiful white flowering vine. Situated behind Casa de la Musica it becomes a reggaeton disco after 11.00pm. I get mates rates, so am planning to add this to my exercise regime. A regime that needs adding to on account of the amount of sugar I am now consuming. Cuban’s add sugar to everything and think I am crazy to drink coffee without.
It is a novel experience to be residing in a Christmas carol free zone as the silly season rapidly approaches. Surprisingly there are, however, Christmas trees, lights and decorations for sale in the shops and even a few window displays are appearing with ‘gift idea’s (a waft of Capitalism/consumerism). I am hoping that Maritza is going to bring a turkey home from the farm for me so I can cook everyone a traditional Aussie/British dinner on the 25th. Given the number of Europeans here it might have to be on the 24th. As I have now perfected the art of making ‘puddin’ (steamed stale bread, eggs, sugar and fruit) I thought I might add rum and raisins to it and pretend it is a Christmas pudding. If I could get my hands on some plain white flour I could also make some shortbread, but sadly it is only the wholemeal variety that is available. (A friend here found some bicarb of soda for me so banana bread is now a possibility.) Cuban’s don’t as a rule celebrate Christmas unless they are followers of the Christian faith. It is instead the 31st of December when families and friends gather to eat drink and be very merry.