Edmundo and I enjoyed a trip to Havana in 2010 – and our local guide opened not only many doors, but opened our eyes to life as it can be lived even in a community as repressed as Cuba.
After the ‘bun-rush’ around the breakfast buffet in the dining room on the first morning, I’ve taken to ordering a plate of papaya and a cup of tea in my room before starting the days. Fortunately, Edmundo doesn’t like early starts, so this gives me some added lee-way to get my pictures and notes of the trip ‘on paper’.
Our rooms are comfortable, overlooking the ‘central park’ of Old Havana. Internet access is fairly fast but I’m only just starting to remember to log out after each usage to preserve the precious hours on the pre-paid card.
On our arrival in Havana three days ago, all airport staff are wearing face masks for fear of Swine Influenza. The only form we have to fill in on the plane is for Health check, and one bright spot for me is seeing the lady who scrutinises the forms wearing a white nurse’s uniform, complete with white shoes and a white nurse’s hat! Some old customs die hard. The airline terminal is dimly lit. The baggage retrieval is chaotic with only one carousel in operation for flights arriving together from Paris, Cayman, Cancun and Mexico City, but we get through. In this melee, Edmundo’s childhood memories are of a bustling international airport in Havana, larger than the one in Miami at the time.
After rising at 5 a.m. in Miami and negotiating the bedlam of check-in and security at Miami International Airport on the busiest Sunday of the year (we should have known better than to travel on the weekend after the Christmas holidays!); then in Cancun having to retrieve our bags and catch a shuttle bus to the right terminal; and stand in line again for check-in while lifting our heavy baggage so many times through x-ray machines and the like, we are pooped. We decide to eat in the hotel and discuss our program for the week with our guide.
All we’ve had to eat today is peanuts on both flights. I’m hungry and we head for the Steak House. The shapely dining room hostess greets our guide, not us! He is a fashion photographer and this young lady has been one of his models. We are off to a good start and are offered complimentary champagne while Edmundo orders some sausages and the very Spanish de piquillo pimentos to pick on. We don’t know where, or in what period, we are in in this dining room of red and gold flounces, and polished wood.
We take off on foot for the first sightseeing expedition of Old Havana. . . . pictures tell more than a thousand words . . . please click on the slideshow and view the photos in full screen and follow our first day.
Here’s a new address for you to follow our touristic activities in Havana next week:
Dinner with friends at Susan and Bill’s home on Sunset Island, Miami Beach tonight was a happy-go-lucky affair. This was the last party for this decade, (and there was some argument around the table whether the new decade starts today or in 2011), but it is definitely the last party on this trip to Miami. Should I sound relieved?
Susan hasn’t changed one bit since we first met and worked together in New York in 1975. In fact, I took my mother Connie for afternoon tea on the front porch of her brownstone in Grammercy Park when she visited me from Brisbane all those years ago, and she was most disappointed that the ‘lovely Susan’ was already married. I’ll let the slideshow tell the stories of the other guests.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! (and best wishes for the start of the new decade, if you’re one of those who believe it is this year).
Edmundo hosted a wonderful dinner party last night to celebrate the arrival of Victor and Dr Patrick from Australia. Champagne flowed; hands were read (Victor was so “closed”, Todd had to read his eyes instead!); and José gave a rousing rendition of Handel”s “Creation March” for the guests – a little recital likes days of old – before repairing to the dining room for Regina”s delicious repast.
Edmundo”s surprise helicopter tour of the Beaches and Bays had to be abandoned at the last minute but the guests enjoyed the cruise past the homes and boats of the rich and famous on the islands just as much.
After three weeks of repeating after Edmundo”s Cuban trainer, Osmany, as I lift a weight or count the repititions of exercise routines, I still have difficulty in counting to ten in Spanish unaided. My “right brain” must be atrophied or something like that. I”ve now resorted to the children”s dictionary to give it one last attempt before the final training session prior to departure for Havana on Sunday.
uno (oo-no), dos (dose), tres (trace), cuatro (kwat-ro) . . .
Osmany”s stretching routines seem to work every muscle in my body and it leaves me with an amazing sense of “walking taller” after every workout. I know what”s on my agenda for 2010 back in Sydney, Lee.
Crab claws and Gulf shrimp with Peggy”s homemade mustard sauce with a whole 2oz can of Colman”s dry mustard! What a way to start the evening repast!
After a traditional exchange of gifts around Peggy”s Christmas tree, we sat down to a splendid home-cooked repast – starting with seafood in the Italian style. Unusual to me were the accompaniments for the roasted milk-fed veal – whipped sweet potato with banana; wild rice with pecans and dried cherries; and a five mushroom ragu.
Susan”s traditional home-made nut cake with frosting topped off the happy evening.
The wines were absolutely delicious and even after the many glasses of Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne during the exchange of gifts around the Christmas tree, I woke with a clear head.
And now to party!
Like the kids at the Cuban Christmas Eve party last night when Santa Claus arrived with a sack of presents, I was taken by surprise this morning not exactly to find a gift under the tree in Edmundo”s living room, but to see what he had arranged through a little Artisan Shop in Mexico City. What a surprise to find photos from Our Remote Africa trip last year printed and captioned by hand in a leather bound Album.
I then raided the “frig and had some left-over cold roast pork (with prune stuffing) on a slice of toast with my breakfast cup of tea.
My thoughts at this time are also with my older brother Tony, who hasn”t been well. He has his son Jonathan visiting with his wife, Birgitte from Copenhagen, while his youngest and seventh child, Jacqueline is on Long Island, New York in the snow with her Indian fiancee, Satye. Jeremy, one of Tony”s other sons is in Khartoum in the Sudan with his Sudanese/Jamaican partner, May.
The following group picture is taken at the Christmas lunch festivities with brother Mark and Jenny Musgrave”s families, in Brisbane, Australia.
On the morning of the third Christmas party planned for the outdoors, Edmundo wakes to threatening skies and wild winds across the terrace. He really is starting to wonder who’s behind the disruption of all his careful planning.
But as we sit down to lunch I hear his sisters, Tere and Elizabeth and so many other relatives rejoicing in how wonderful the weather is – so cool for a change for Miami!
The menu today is very Cuban but I’m surprised to see that the youngest generation don’t really appreciate what great uncle Edmundo has turned on for them. My favourite treat is the empanadas maybe it’s my Aussie ‘meat pie’ heritage.
I thought there’d be extras, and some roast pork loin and prunes to savour over the Christmas holiday when Regina was enjoying days off, but, alas, Edmundo gave all the food left-overs away! On learning this, I had no compunction in asking him to phone back to the house and ask Regina to retrieve a slice of pork and put it in the refrigerator for me.
I wonder who is right?
Last night I went out with the “first Hispanic President of the United States”.
Edmundo”s 11 year-old grand-nephew Erik (in blue shirt) has already decided that he will go to Harvard or Stanford to study Politics and that he will be the first Hispanic President. Can you imagine spending an evening with such a child and his equally interesting 12 year-old brother, Kristian at a performance of Handel”s Messiah at the new Arts Centre in Miami?
The questions came like volleys of bullets from an AK47 and Uncle Michael was left to answer all of them while Edmundo sat in the second row of our box and chatted to others. What lovely bright kids!
But I don”t joke when I say I was exhausted after the performance. We stopped by the Patrons Room to introduce the boys to the equally talented but exhausting, and slightly older 32 year-old Musical Director of Seraphic Fire, Patrick Quigley. Finally dinner (and more questions!) Both boys fell asleep on the hour-long drive home to South Miami.
Enough children for this weekend and I have suggested to Edmundo that we skip the painful and discordant children”s mass at St Agnes here in Key Biscayne and go to a Maronite Mass with better music at St Jude”s in downtown Miami.
I would like to share nephew Kristian”s written thoughts on the “Seraphic Fire” experience. (Click on red link above to read.)
Earlier in the week Edmundo and I went to a special Christmas performance of “Seraphic Fire” in a gallery of the Frost Museum at the Forida International University. I am attempting to include a music track from that performance here. The only way I can see as a possibility to do so at this time is through Windows MovieMaker.
BUT – I haven”t learned to “edit” it. Open this link and move the cursor to 5mins 20 secs to hear a wonderful rendition of “Adeste Fideles”
BUT BUT – I can”t even upload it!!!
We did have a late breakfast together, after Edmundo got over the shock of Regina not being here, and reprimanding himself for having listened to my suggestion that the older lady could also do with a day off to recuperate from long days of party preparation.
“We have no food, we have to eat out” was the plaintive cry as I opened the frig door to see leftovers including half a turkey and, lobster medallions; and cut melon that Regina had left for us.
Some people genuinely don”t know how to boil water. I”m staying with one who chooses never to learn. You should see both of us going through ten drawers to find the sugar, and then ten drawers to find the tea . . . and . . and . . . Even getting the stove to work to boil the water was a challenge. Edmundo is certainly not master of the kitchen.
Jose, a friend of Edmundo invited me to attend a Meditation session at the famous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The lady guiding the Meditation was so good with her comforting chants and mantras, I passed right out and Jose had to make noises to wake me up. How relaxing was that!
I felt more than a little guilty in these grand surroundings walking into the Golf Club and ordering only a hamburger and an Australian Coopers Ale. Time doesn”t seem to move very quickly in these surroundings. Immaculately got-up young caddies return to the club house carrying the golf bag while the older golfers in timelessly conservative “American” gear look like they”ve just stepped out of a silent movie.
The Biltmore is the heart of Coral Gables and was built in 1926 at the same time as the imposing Hotel Nacional de Cuba located on the Malecón in Havana, which we will be visiting next month.
Al Capone had a suite in the Biltmore that he turned into a gambling parlour. It was used as a Veterans” rehabilitation centre during the Second World War and refurbished to its “Grand Dame” status by the City of Coral Gables in the Eighties. It is also the venue for most meetings of US Presidents and their South American counter-parts. And here am I eating a hamburger!
I am a control freak. I create my own anxiety. How many people have told me that everything I do in life does not require a successful ‘outcome’ for me to be happpy? And so I’ve taken to Meditation. I haven’t had much success getting through to Edmundo that something similar might help him be happier without the 110% perfection that he requires of himself, and I continue to nag.
He may not have felt such a failure at not being able to control the weather that washed away his grand plans of entertaining guests outdoors on two nights this week if he had listened to me! (I know all of course.)
However, with rain pelting down, (and swearing as he removed the buried crossed silver knives that were meant to keep the rain away), with agility Edmundo switched from Plan A to Plan B, to Plan C, and finally to Plan D. He orchestrated the whole thing to be moved inside – with the guests still thinking how spectacularly presented everything was! And we all had a wonderful time.
Such a beehive of activity with Edmundo orchestrating preparations for two Christmas parties to be held outdoors over two consecutive nights. Setting of tables; placing glass columns for floating candles; clipping topiaries and sinking bamboo stakes in the garden under trees to hold the Christmas wreaths. At this point, Todd, the decorations man holds up two shining silver knives that he’d found buried in the garden soil . . . . . .
Ah ha! Edmundo had listened to a Venezuelan friend Antonio, who at lunch yesterday told him of the Venezuelan custom to bury two crossed knives in the ground to fend off any chance of rain. And he buried silver ones! And, as we were to find out, he perhaps would have been better off had he said a rosary, the practice of which he is more familiar. Come evening, the rain pelted down and so much of a day’s work of so many people was fruitless.
Not only the terrace, but the whole home looked terrific.
In the middle of this mêlée, I was banished to meet a friend for lunch at the Mandarin Hotel. What a setting, and how wonderful the new high-rises of Miami looked through sheets of rain pelting down. Poor Edmundo, unbeknowns to me, he had re-buried the crossed silver knives in the belief that there would be no rain for the evening party.
I get the sense that I will be experiencing things ‘Cuban’ to a larger extent during my stay, and not just on our trip to Havana after New Years. I’m very happy about that.
We started on our first night in town with a meal at a rustic seafood restaurant on the river, Garcia’s, owned by Cuban fishermen – now wealthy men! The crab claws that I always associate with Miami were delicious. I was also introduced to a hot ‘media noche’ Cuban sandwich of ham, roast pork, cheese, pickle and mustard on sweet bread at Sergio’s. This Cuban American restaurant started as a place for truck drivers but works now with a different immigration group of people mainly from Central America.
Of course, my trip here would not be complete without a visit to the famous Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, the venue for all Presidents at some stage of the campaign trail – traditional chicken and rice with fried bananas and black beans was the fare of the day. And then there was Joey’s in the most dangerous part of Miami where we got lost and I insisted we lock the doors of the car . . . . Apparently, Edmundo does not frequent five star restaurants, or perhaps he is showing me ‘life in the city’.
I joined him this morning for my first training session with his Cuban émigré trainer, Osmani, down in the gym of the building. This guy tried twice to row to the US from Cuba and was caught and beaten, before eventually ending up in the US via Venzuela about three years ago. When we go to Cuba, his best friend there will be our guide. How much easier it is to train when the trainer hands you the weights and takes them away at the end of each routine. I think Lee used to do this when B Firm was in its infancy and I didn’t appreciate it.
I think I might be in strife with Edmundo for upsetting the ‘hierarchy’ of the household! This morning, Anna the trusty Guatemalan maid of 20 years brought some Cuban croqueta de jamon and invited me to share with her and Regina with a cup of café con leche in the kitchen. These warmed ham croquettes in crusty Cuban bread were so delicious. Edmundo is concerned that my engaging the women in conversation is stopping them from doing their housekeeping duties!
On Christmas Eve we are going to Edmundo’s cousin’s house here for a typical Cuban Christmas dinner celebration. The cousin has written several cook books and she is doing one on Cuban ‘cuisine’ of old. They’ll be cooking a pig in the ground with all the trimmings.