December 4, 2014 by vivalafiona
I just passed the two year mark, which amazes me somewhat as it seems like only yesterday that I was packing up my office at A&U or sitting on the living room floor of my parents house trying to stuff everything I thought I might need into 3 suitcases -sheets, towels, kitchen utensils, tampons, water filters, sunscreen, vegemite, books, summer clothing, too many shoes, a camera and the lightest laptop I could find.
Casa los Mangos was full for 2 weeks in September which is great as this is low season. Osiel is in his element in the kitchen concocting all kinds of sauces for the lobster, prawns and meats we have been serving, with the help of spices brought from home and sent from a dear friend in Vermont, USA. One of our guests works in the NZ booktrade so I have been able to catch up on a bit of industry gossip and find out what ebooks I could be reading if I had access to wifi.
We had a couple from the USA too. She was born here and he managed to get a visa as her fiance, I think. They were visiting her family who are neighbours of ours and he is learning about how extended a Cuban family can be. I believe he is rather pleased to have found a Casa with a native English speaker and promises to return in December. He came with his own stash of instant oatmeal flavoured with maple syrup and walnuts which made me a little envious.
We have finally been listed on Trip Adviser, thanks to the help of my youngest brother in Sydney. I did spend a considerable amount of time in the internet cafe here filling in the application form but for some reason it was never received. Anybody that has been to visit or travelled with me in Cuba might like to add a comment or put up a photo, please. You know how these things work, the more activity the higher you climb the visibility ladder. Someone told me it was a disadvantage for our business that I was not a real Cuban but my Cuban family and friends tell me I am more Cuban than most Cuban’s having seen more of Cuba and consequently learning more about it’s history and culture than my fellow companeros. After two years I am finally being recognised by some locals as a Cubana, not a tourist.
Last weekend we attended the annual Neighbourhood Watch meets the Stazi (some have alleged) fiesta. The Comites de la Defensa de la Revolucion were celebrating their 45th anniversary. This amounts to a street party organised by your local presidente and enthusiastic neighbours/members. Local residences were asked to contribute a small monetary donation, some flour and a couple of eggs to make the celebratory cake. The CDR’s were apparently the eyes and the ears of the revolution but in my experience they mostly organise neigbourhood activities and the presidents role seems to be to pass on and explain any changes to government policy eg new laws concerning noise pollution or the roll out of more telephones in the neighbourhood. (We missed out again and I refuse to buy one from a neighbour for $500 or more which is apparently the going rate.)
I walked the streets in the late afternoon watching and photographing some of the preparations and it occurred to me that the size of the street party had more to do with the number of young children living in the street than anything else. It reminded me a little of fire-cracker night when I was a kid – Australia’s Guy Fawkes party held over the Queen’s birthday long weekend In June, which frequently coincided with my birthday. Cuba has a kind of Guy Fawkes, a stuffed dummy that is burnt on a bon fire to commemorate his failed attempt to bring down the government, but here he is an effigy of a fat cat Yankie capitalist complete with a large cigar stuffed in his mouth. I was highly amused to see in one street condoms were being put to good festive use, as balloons.
As you will see in the attached photo’s our neighbourhood donated enough for two very large cakes, a take away box of mostly fried Cuban snack food, and the ubiquitous party sized caldo/meat and vegetable soup, cooked in a 44 gallon drum or large cauldron on the street. This is normally made with pork, preferably a pigs head, sweet potato, yams and pumpkin and burbles away over an open fire for most of the afternoon. The party starts at 8.00pm and goes until midnight.To drink we had a choice of ice cold light beer, wine mixed with lemonade which the Cubans call Sangria, and a home made kind of Kahlua made from rum and condensed milk. We took along our CD player and a few disks but Osiels traditional music selection was not very popular and a USB was quickly produced, loaded up with raggaeton, Cuban hip hop and other electronic pop. This does not encourage the kind of dancing that is going to stave off altzheimers amongst Cubans or for which Cuba is famous. All the women, and the more intoxicated men, stand in a circle and gyrate and grind their very fleshy parts along to the tedious, monotonous beat. Given that I am a tad scrawny these days and seem to have mislaid my arse I know that I looked quite ridiculous joining them but they weren’t taking no for an answer. Perhaps if I had drunk the rum instead of the beer it might of helped.
Osiels has set up a workshop on our back verandah and is busy producing bamboo furniture for old and new clients and us. He has just completed some very smart bar stools and is halfway through a lounge setting for our guests. As some of you will have seen on my facebook page the cat and Osiel are competing for the hammock so more chairs are required. We have planted some bamboo in the garden, for ornamental reasons, and are watching it grow by inches daily.
Our ‘Danish’ cousin came to visit this week, which gave us a good excuse to go snorkling and visit some of the music venues at night.The water is a gorgeous temperature now and very transparent so we could see lots of fish, coral and a few jelly fish with our smart new goggles, recently purchased from a couple of our guests. We had an entire beach to ourselves, no diving groups or other snorklers in sight. The beaches here are pristine because each has its own caretaker who, when not watching tourist’s belongings and hire bikes, cleans and decorates the beach with coral and rocks. I discovered an electrical ceramic coil, presumably from a street light, in one of the sculptures. Very little is ever thrown away in Cuba.
If you visit Havana in the future and your budget allows please stay in a Habaguanex Hotel in Old Havana. This organisation was set up by the City Historian to raise money for the restoration of old Havana. 45% of all earnings from Habaguanex hotels and museum go into restoration works and 55% is set aside for social projects eg schools, medical services etc. Residents were not moved out to make way for tourists but rather have benefited too with safer housing and more services. Reminds me of the motives behind the Green Ban which saved The Rocks in Sydney amongst other important sites from mad, bad developers and maintained city housing.