Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Letter from Havana

OK, not technically FROM Havana, but a week after our return because I was sick as a dog after getting back.  My first comment on the trip is "GO!" and go soon, because it is still that odd combination of communist tourist spot, and soon I fear it will be just another Caribbean idyll. My second comment, is "Don't eat anything at the airport!"  Boy, did that one get me.  It was the only government food we ate, everything else was in private restaurants or homes, and it was the only place I got sick.  But, after five days of antibios, I'm back and ready to try and put some of my thoughts about the trip on paper (or not paper, but into 1s and 0s).

Cuba is a fascinating country, and I'd advise reading a brief bit of history before you go, since it will make things more clear.  Everyone has an education, healthcare, and a very small government allowance, but people are very poor.  In recent years people have been able to supplement the governmental assistance by opening restaurants, opening up their homes to tourists, and selling gifts and artworks.  You can feel a palpable sensation of a people longing to do more.  I don't think the way their Revolution has progressed is ideal, but by studying their history, you certainly get a sense of what happens when a people are pushed past their breaking point.  Our trip was to see Museums and understand the people there, and spread some good will.  I think we succeeded.  We talked to lots of nice people, many Cubans, but also diplomats, vacationers from Mexico and the UK.  You are advised to bring small gifts, people really are grateful and happy to have anything.  Maybe they'll sell them.  Maybe they'll keep them.  I don't care.  I just hope it improves some lives.  We brought some silk scarves, costume jewelry, lipsticks, Tylenol, toothbrushes, hand sanitizers, and tampons, all things we were told were often tough to get there.  Shortages are common.  For three days there was no Cuban beer to be had anywhere, then all of a sudden it was back.  The Havana airport had no bottled water.  Zero.

Ttraveling with an adult child is fun, and challenging. They can go out drinking with you, but they don't have to do what you say.   I know we both wanted to do things the other just wasn't up for.  But we compromised, found stuff we both wanted to do, had a blast, and a lot of mojitos. (Although I bet she would have had more fun Saturday night if she was with someone who wanted to go out to clubs in the real people neighborhoods.)  I would advise staying in a hotel with a swimming pool and wi-fi, rather than at an AirBnB (or maybe splitting the time if you want to get a view of Cuban family life).  It was very nice to meet a Cuban family and try to understand them in my very basic and limited Spanish, but the beds and private bath we were promised in the booking on AirBnB were just barely that. We were in a room with two beds, but it was a concrete shell with no windows and an ancient Russian air conditioner (which worked just fine). The door was a plastic accordion with a flip over lock.  The bathroom was ours alone, but it was next door down the hall, not en suite, and the shower was a bit small - like couldn't lift my arms to shave under them, small.  I wanted to show my daughter I could still travel like I was an adventurer (stop laughing!!!!!!!) and it was a mistake.  At my age I need a few more comforts.  hell, at her age I needed a few more comforts. Still, we found a couple of great hotel lobbies nearby that were fun to hang out in, had bars and food, and wi-fi, so it all worked out, but I wouldn't do it that way again.  A pool would have been a nice way to cool off from the miles of walking we did.  Probably about ten miles a day.  I highly recommend the Hotel Mercure Sevilla and the Hotel Ingelterra both on Prado.   Get used to carrying around giant bottles of water, because it is very tropically hot and humid, even in January and you should not drink the water.  I even used bottled water to brush my teeth.

The level of decay (and restoration) in Havana is kind of astonishing.  We went back to our rooms one night, and when we came out again the next morning, there was a giant pile of rubble blocking the sidewalk less than a block away.  It had come off one of the buildings in the night.  And the cranes never stop,  There is a great building boom going on as tourist hotels are being rapidly put up, and graceful old buildings restored after the most recent easing of sanctions by President Obama.  People are very anxious to find out what happens next (aren't we all?).

It was a worthwhile trip and I'd very much recommend taking your adult or older children to see it.  Highlights from our itinerary:
Day 1
cool purple classic car taxi from the airport
had our first and located the BEST mojito in Havana - La Moneda Cubana, San Ignacio, No. 77 (really we challenged this claim, but he was right)
Dinner at La Terraza - Prado 309  where a tropical thunderstorm punctuated our dinner on an outdoor, covered terrace
Day 2
Walked Havana Vieja
Museums Bellas Artes and Artes Nationales
Walked Old Havana some more
saw the Plaza Vieja, Plaza des las Armes, Plaza San Francisco and Plaza de Catedral
listened to live music at Bar de Oro
Rooftop bar at Hotel Ingelterra

Day 3
Museum of the Revolution - don't miss the Hall of Cretins (I think they may have to make the hallway longer soon)
Back to Old Havana for more exploration and a visit to the Castillo de la Real Forza
Lunch at Mama Ines Calle Obrapia 60 (have the Ropa Vieja) Restaurant by Fidel's former personal chef.
Happened upon a Three Kings Parade
Had the obligatory too expensive daiquiri at The Floradita and took pictures with the Hemingway statue
Day 4
Memorial Jose Marti
Copelia - Humungous Ice Cream park - as if Disney had designed an ice cream playground for Tomorrowland
Attempted to go to the Christopher Columbu Cemetery.  There are four sides and one tourist entrance.  By the time we found the correct entrance (after having been sent away from three) in the heat and humidity, we no longer wanted to see it.
Lunch at Cosina de Lilliam, most expensive meal we had and well worth it. Calle 48 No. 1311.  Met Jorge and Catia from Ecuador, who were kind and lovely and had a private car, so they gave us a lift to the Hotel Nacional.  Where we met vacationers from Mexico City, a psychiatrist and his psychologist wife who hadn't visited in ten years and were impressed with all the changes.
More drinks and music out in Old Havana.  Cocktails are generally between 3 and 4 CUC (equivalent to dollars) Except at places like the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where they are 5CUC and well worth it for the view of the 1930s hotel and the bar going down to the sea.
Day 5
Amazing wind storm off the sea.  Temperature dropped to the mid 60s and waves were crashing over the Malecon.  It had to be closed to traffic.
Lunch at Casa Miglis a Cuban-Swedish Fusion restaurant.  Spectacular!  Laitad 120 e/ Animas y Lagunas
Day 6
Bus tour with Habana Bus Tour Company, double decker hop on/off busses for 10CUC for the day, out to see Marina Hemingway, nothing is there don't bother and Fusterlandia, which is an entire neighborhood covered in mosaics, and well worth the trip.  One man had a vision and started with his house, then after it was completely covered, he moved on to the neighbors'.  No one seemed to mind.  It really is a sight to see.
Met Mandy and Alex, tourists from Somerset
Long hard search to find the place with the best mojitos in Havana again.  Success was celebrated with mojitos!
Day 7
Home again, but first we had to endure the Havana airport, where you can buy rum at duty free, but they don't mention that if you have a connection, you have to put it in a checked bag, as they don't send it through.  What you can't buy is a souvenir shot glass or a bottle of water.  Not one.  Beer or Coke, and too bad if you don't drink those.  Do NOT under any circumstances eat anything there.  I was hungry (and mostly bored waiting around because you have to get there three hours before your flight) and had a pork sandwich.  Big mistake!!!!  Huge.  Also don't take a connecting flight.  Go direct if at all possible.  So much easier in every way.

And just for fun, some of my stream of consciousness notes/tips from the trip:
1:55 Wed. "OK, now you are the bougiest person on earth. " Miranda van Dijk. (S.Pellegrino en Havana)
The bartender at the Bar de Oro  at Livvia de Oro. has the hard shake down.
No lock, no tp, no seat (many, many, bathrooms)
Met a kid from Rye on line at the churro cart in Old Havana, Sat. night
Ecuadorean diplomat Georgie and his wife Catia drove us from lunch at Cucina de Lilliam to get mojitos at The Hotel National de Cuba.  So nice!
This place makes me miss smoking.
My pace doesn't fit this island.
Bring $1US for tips
Don't change all money at airport. Hotel Sevilla was much better for US $
Best mojito in Hanava. We looked! And nice, kept backpack for couple who lost it.  Older guy totally didn't need to show off simply had the best mojito. Small sign to make sure everyone was paying attention.
Taxi prices are highly variable. And there are LOTS of taxis. So if someone gives you a price too high, bargain. If they won't accept, find another taxi.
Don't forget a TSA lock for your luggage even if you aren't checking anything. Best to keep it locked in room.
Not a place for those of us who don't drink beer. No water in the airport. None.
You can buy alcohol at airport but have to check a bag at your connecting flight. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Awake 4AM Edition

1. That tiny edge on my pinky toenail keeps getting caught on the sheet.
2. What would I do if I woke up in a sealed coffin? Like really?
3.  I locked the front door, right?
4. I remember locking the front door, good.
5.  I locked the back door, right?
6. No seriously, you wake up underground in a coffin.  How do you die?  Screaming and fighting to make it faster?  Yoga breathing?  What?
7. I have got to cut that toenail.
8.  How could the alarm already be going off?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

July

In July
the park's distances are measured shaded spot to shaded spot
my path changes according to the angle of the sun
and breeze is a sacrement

Friday, July 8, 2016

Weirdness. There is Just No Other Word.

It has been a very weird day.  And was already by eleven AM.  I was at the nail salon (it's Friday, people!!!) chit chatting idly with a couple of other women while we waited for our nails to dry.  One I have known for years (and this is important, because I know she is a lawyer) we've done yoga together, taken classes together, I've been in her home.  The other was unfamiliar.  We were talking about the gym and various yoga teachers and trying to exercise in this weather, when the one I know pivoted a bit to the odd feeling of dread in town and said something about the election being to blame.....the rest of the conversation follows as best as I can reproduce.  (Picture all smiles and lots of bared teeth from everyone involved at all times.)

Me:  Yeah, it is strange out there.  Someone actually stole my Hillary magnet off my car in my own driveway last night.
Her: Oh, yeah, I would never put a political magnet on my car. (Other woman nods in vigorous agreement)
Me: OK, but I would never take anyone else's.
Her: Of course, but it is someone using their freedom of expression.  Just like you did by putting on the magnet.  They are just expressing themselves. It's the same thing.  (More vigorous nodding)
Me: Um, except one is expression on private property, and one is stealing....Stealing isn't legal.
Her: Drugs aren't legal either. (yes, apropos of nothing)
Me: Well I wouldn't break into anyone's house and take their drugs either.

At that point my nails were dry enough to run away.  It was such an oddly disconcerting conversation.

Now I don't know that these women are Trump supporters, (but I can't  help but have my suspicions). I do wonder though, how we have gotten to the point in our country where in a suburban town, a lawyer would casually argue in favor of theft of property as a way to express that you disagree with someone.  Weirdness.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Too Old for all the Clothes I Like

Once again I find myself pulling clothes off the rack, sighing at their beauty and putting them back without trying them on.  Coachella in my head. Flower crowns of the mind.  Once again,  I am way too old for all the clothes I like.  In my mind these long flowy togs look good on me.  In reality I would look like a short, middle-aged lady who got lost in the teen section. It's not as bad in the cold weather.  For fall and winter, I  can tweed and cashmere out and feel comfortable and fashionable, but come the heat? Chaos!

Yesterday I was shopping at Lord & Taylor and I was flipping through the racks next to a lovely young woman who had the unmistakable scent of McDonald's french fries on her breath.  And I'm sure she wasn't even beating herself up for eating them!  She was tall and willowy with gorgeous medium brown skin and dark eyes.  She had the most gorgeous pink headband  wrapped around a casual but perfect updo.  My guess is she was all of seventeen.   She may have even still had braces. We can't possibly like the same clothes.  Or we can, but I can't possibly wear them.  Or I could, but I'd look like an idiot.

And yes,  I know there are some clothiers who exploit that tiny bit of hippie chick urge by making things that are both age appropriate and yet still bohemian, (Calypso St. Barth's, I'm looking at you). But if you ever see me pay $150 for a cotton shirt, you'd better check my basement for pods, because that is NOT me!  Also not me?  Tailored jackets and structured skirts.  There really ought to be some fashionable, reasonable, warm weather in between.

Someday (soon?) maybe I'll be old enough to say "Screw it. I'm just wearing what I like."   Until then, I'll be haunting the racks looking for things that meet my warm weather style, won't break the bank, and won't totally embarrass me.  Wish me luck!


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

spring

winter coats washed,
boots tucked away,
sparrows chit-chattering in the trees,
SPRING!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Through the Looking Glass

Yesterday was a weird day.  A deeply sad day, as well.  But very, very weird. Yesterday, I went to my birth mother's funeral.

It was a lovely ceremony, very Rebecca.  It was in her house. She was there in her "green burial" coffin.  A set of (non-toxic) crayons sat atop the coffin, so people could write messages to her, before they placed her in the ground.  It was a pretty ceremony.  There were dogs and kids running around, and music and poetry, a double dutch song, as well as the normal Jewish prayers.   People spoke of her smarts, her kindness and her love of arts.  It was beautiful.  And exactly as she had planned.

She got suddenly sick last May.  One day this vibrant, bright and busy woman was having trouble with her words.  Her friends were worried she was having a stroke so they rushed her to the hospital.  A stroke might have been treatable.  Stage four brain inoperable brain cancer is not.  When I went to visit in early October, she could no longer lift her head, keep her eyes open, or speak, so it seemed as if the end was coming soon - but then, a near miracle happened.  She suddenly was able to speak, and said to her daughter, Nicole, "I feel better.  I need another MRI."  She was indulged with a new MRI, but no one really gets better from glioblastoma multiforme. Except she did.  Well, not really better, but the tumors had shrunk enough so that she had three months of lucidity and mobility.  She had a big seventieth birthday party in November.  She visited with friends, made plans to begin a poetry class at the local library and even started to plan to go back to her beloved pottery wheel.  She talked about seeing the first asparagus shoots coming up in the garden.  And she planned her funeral and burial down to the last detail.

Three weeks ago, whatever cancer miracle had taken hold, stopped.   She wouldn't quite get to see another spring in her garden.

She was a very kind and lovely person and I am so glad I got to know her. We met the year I turned forty, so we had a bit over a decade to reacquaint ourselves.  She was only eighteen years older than I, and we were both always very careful not to overstep.  She was like a kooky older cousin. Always full of interesting stories and small but intriguing presents for the kids;  a two-bowled, hand carved wooden spoon, a Russian Army officer hat, ballet slippers from the Bolshoi, a flower pin.....She lived in Russia until moving back to the States in 2010.  Then she built her perfect little house outside Boston and settled down in it to enjoy her later years with her art and her friends and her family.  That was the deeply sad part of the day.  Seventy years just isn't enough time.

But it was also a very weird day.  It is very, very strange to be in a room where everyone knows who you are, and you don't know almost anyone. And especially at the kind of event where you really don't want to stand out.  It was the first time in my life that I was anywhere with more than one or two people I am biologically related to.  Which I understand is not a very common experience for most people.  Here there were bio-cousins, and aunts and uncles.  They were all very kind and I felt very welcomed.  But it was a little overwhelming.   I hid a bit in the back row.   Wanting to pay my respects, but not wanting to get in the way.

I'm still wrapping my head around lots of things.  I've lived through two other parent funerals, and this wasn't that.  Rebecca was a wonderful woman, and I'm so glad she was part of my life, but burying a bio-parent is different than burying a parent.  Deeply emotional and yet deeply weird.

My brain had a hard time keeping up with the day.  I't's also weird to have now lost three parents to three different brain diseases; my mom had a stroke, my dad had an aneurism and now Rebecca to brain cancer.  It seems just a little unfair.  A little tilted too much to the head.  My bio father was in a car accident in the early eighties, so at least that is that.

It was very hard for me to find my center on a through the looking glass kind of leap day.  I was out of normal space and time.  It seemed appropriate for the odd day anyway.  The only word I could hang on to for the day was weird.