MY MEXICAN ANGEL, MY GOOD LUCK, CRYOGENICS, TERRORISM, NICE WOMEN & THE BITCH IN HAVANA- By GEORGE SMILOVICI

Last night I had dinner with Murry at a little groovy place I know in my street that's called SIA KARA, here in Havana.

We had lobster. He loved the place and the food. But I was tired, so tired and all my body ached.

I had achieved a lot during the day. I shopped for most of my food for the week. Bread, eggs, vegetables, guava, bananas, papaya, milk, juice, water of course. I got a sim for my phone and Murry's, found a place to by cheaper Internet, 2 cucs for 1 hr, admittedly the woman behind the counter at the Hotel Inglaterra is an outright bitch who just takes glorious pleasure in dismissiveness. To her it's a calling, her raison d'etre and I hate her.

E.g, when I asked her how to logout from the wifi card, she said to just shut down the wifi, which I felt was kind of wrong but I followed her instructions anyway, idiot me, because later on I found that all my time had been eaten up on 2 cards behind my back, so to speak. When I approached said bitch, pre- bitch naming, she actually said that she never said anything to me about logging out ( and I reminded her that she did ) and then she said that she knows nothing about theses things. Then why is she fucking working here? Great reception woman. The correct way, I was later informed by a non- bitch was to put 1.1.1.1 in my browser and that would take me to the logout page.  Anyway, I've digressed, I got Mumbo Mick's tres organised, Yummi and a new girl there, at my house, Dahlia made me lunch, they're happy cause Neida's ( the owner ) gone to Cienfuegos for a few days. Yummi calls her la Bruja, the witch.Today they've invited me to an outdoor concert on the Malecon,on the sly (cause Neida would not allow such a thing) to see some famous singer and her orchestra.

But.....last night I became as sick as a dog.  I can't believe I'm actually out at the Anglaterre Hotel writing you this. When I complained yesterday of aching and tiredness Dahlia had suggested I may have the flu or a bad cold or whatever and I dismissed her but around 8.30 pm just after trying to get to sleep, the sneezing began and the headache and snot and dry sorish throat...fuck...here we go, and all night I was a total blubbering mess. I didn't sleep a wink till maybe 8 a.m. It's 1.53 pm now and I slept till 1pm. Dahlia and Yummi brought me hot lemon tea and I've taken cold and flu tablets. So at the moment I'm up. Oh well...we'll see how I fare today, if I can beat this snot monster.

I'm not getting agitated because I've had some magical good luck since I left Sydney,after the $200 US for 5 kilo extra debacle. The trip was just fine, except for the fact that I think I was in the cryogenic section where I was freezing and asked them to turn the temp up many times before the finally acquiesced, ( this is probably the point at which I caught my virus/ cold/ flu and I should litigate against United Airlines ) ,  I watched a DOCO about the Who and their management and part of another film with Tom Hanks and I slept quite a bit. I get to San Francisco with plenty of time for connections, pay USD $29 for a chicken Ceasar's salad and a double expressos, and as you know upon going through customs through to Mexico they confiscate my Colgate toothpaste because it's 10grams over.  Yeah like I'm some kind of clean freak, lovely breathed terrorist. I said, I've already used a quarter of it so its not over weight, they said no, yeah like I'm gonna hold the plane and crew at toothpaste tube point, and threaten to clean everyone's teeth on the plane before I turn around use it on myself. Yeah. " Do as I say because I've got this toothpaste and I'm prepared to use."  With all this toothpaste confiscation, You'd think that they'd have a much bigger problem later on the flight with everyone's bad breath and on the long flights gum disease and decay. Then maybe everyone could sue United Airlines for Dental Trauma. Then they took away most of my phisohex cause it was more than 200 grams. 

So, I get to Mexico, customs fine, all good and on reflection, this is where my great fortuitous luck begins. I get outside and tell a shop keeper who sells Taxi vouchers that I've a friend who drives a yellow cab and if by chance I could call her from his phone and he generously obliges. Rosita comes and pick me up within 15 minutes, I haven't seen her since last March 2015 and it's December now, she's happy to see me again and takes me to the hotel that she took me to last time but it's full so she suggests another and takes me there, also near the airport, they have plenty of vacancies, the room is great, clean everything, great strong shower, $28 US  a night, fuckin amazing less than the Ceasar's Salad and coffee. I say a million thanks to Rosita my angel in Mexico and organise with her to pick me up at 8.30 am because my itinerary says that my Aero Mexico flight 451 leaves for Havana at 11.31 and so I figure instead of getting there at 9.30 to start check in, I'll get there even earlier just to make sure. 

Outside  in the street they've got restaurants and also those little street cart thingies where a guy makes tacos, soup, little cakes, sweets bla bla and I sit down to the best bean and Ham soup I've ever had and some soft shell beef and cheese tacos with hot, hot, hot salsa verde and ensalalda with little green peppers and coriander and tomato all chopped up finely.... Yeah baby. Then I have a shower go to sleep, back in my room of course.

As it turns out I was downstairs the next morning at  7.45 am and Rosita was already there waiting for me, lucky, because by the time I got to my gate to leave for Havana my flight was already boarding. Why?....Because it was leaving an hour early and my itinerary was WRONG. TALK ABOUT GOOD LUCK.,!! ) Had I not have been downstairs early, had not Rosita been there as well, had she not declined on my offer to have some  breakfast in the street  ( because she'd already had something ), She did say "look, we have time, you can eat before we leave if you like". Had I not decide to have breakfast at the airport after checking in instead, I would have missed my damned flight because my Travel agent.... had given me the wrong fucking info.

My good luck didn't stop here. I breezed through immigration in Havana like.......a breeze. Then I proceeded to baggage. While on the plane I'd filled out my declaration form for Cuba and after deliberating over whether to declare the 14 mobile phones, one house phone, miscellaneous gifts, and to packets of Miso soup I decided, much against my gut instinct, that honesty was the best way so I declared away. ( The telephones at least )  On the way to pick up my bags I passed by a table where sat 2 elder ladies that looked like officials and I asked them from which conveyer belt I should pick up my bags. One of them asked to see my declaration paper. I innocently handed it over. She looked through and when she came to the phones, she asked, " Does this say 4 or 14 " I said, "14". She gave me a look that implied that I was immensely naive, even daft, then looked at her friend with a wry smile then looked back at me, called me down to her eye level and whispered, "you cannot bring all these phones in, you can only bring in 3 at the most, they'll confiscate them all and maybe even worse". I immediately began to explain that they were all presents for friends. She then announced that she wouldn't be the one to whom I would have to explain and gestured behind her to the quarantine and luggage search area. Then she said look, pulled the lapel of her khaki jacket slightly to the side, showed me her badge and said, "I'm just the airport medical staff and I'm telling you, you cannot declare this or anything." She then asked me to follow her to her office, where, while taking my pulse and blood pressure proceeded to give me a brand new declaration form so's to get me out of trouble. She said my pressure was high. Derrrr !!! Then she re-iterated that when I walk through the final check out, the one with nothing to declare, to act  cool, relaxed and collected, not to use a trolley for my things and to wear my backpack on my back and guitar in other hand. Then she asked me for a "tip". I gave her some Mexican pesos which she said she could change. As I was leaving the office The other elder woman asked me when would I be returning to Cuba and I said probably next year same time. She asked me if I could bring her a phone, I laughed and said, look give me your number and I'll get in touch soon and give you one of the one I brought this time. 

So I'm now fully prepared with my lying declaration and nonchalant face to pick up my big luggage and guitar. My big luggage comes out first but my guitar doesn't so after a while I ask one of the young women customs people looking over things if there's another area, like oversize luggage where my guitar could be and she says, that there's another section where I could check and points to the other end of the terminal about 100 metres away. I wait where I am just to see if my guitar comes out, there's lots of people here at this pickup area and I don't like the thought of someone else walking away with it. After a while I ask the same woman if she thinks I should check oversize and she says yeah. So I go over there and there it is. I walk back with everything past her and without any questions, nothing, she points me down the Green passage- NOTHING TO DECLARE, I can't believe my luck, in a few more steps I'll be home free. But then I get to the end and a very young good looking girl asks to see my papers, she looks at my three bits of luggage and says " go back to baggage search ". I ask why. She says "for Revision". 

So now I'm thinking I'm fucked, totally and utterly fucked. Revision means "fucked". As I'm walking back thinking about myself languishing in a mouldy Cuban prison without a view or immediate deportation, the other girl asks me what's wrong and I point back to the final post girl and say she told me to go back. Then this girl calls out to her colleague and says, " What the hell are you doing? He's cool to go." The other girl says, "I sent him back because of his guitar". Then this girl says, there's nothing wrong with his guitar, he's cool, let him through. I'm a lucky guy. Then I was outside, beyond customs limbo, back in sweaty Havana.

So yeah, and since Thursday night Ive been as sick as a dog. I've never had a cold this bad, maybe it's a flu, I haven't slept for 2 nights and I'm rattling with cold and flu tablets and paracetamol. Today I'm not even leaving the house. I'm going into self quarantine. It's very weird being in sick in another country. But I'm not going to get agitated about it. It's got to run it's coarse and I hear my special voice..." George don't fret, relax, sleep, that's what you need. That's what your body is telling you George."

  THE SIMPLE IRONY OF A BLINDMAN SELLING SUNGLASSES.

THE SIMPLE IRONY OF A BLINDMAN SELLING SUNGLASSES.

 

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TIME KEEPERS OF CUBAWORLD

 

There's a saying in Cuba...." Barriga llena, Corazon contento ". " A full stomach is a happy heart. "

Xmas eve in L'habana was just that. I'd been invited by friends to their homes for Xmas eve but decided to stay at my place, Neida's house, where Neida herself and Maribel the housekeeper slaved all day concocting one blast of a Xmas feast. Just like my parents used to do. I was astounded by the finesse of the dishes that the two of them produced, all with the minimum of fuss and better than any restaurant I've eaten at so far here in

 L' habana. Including myself, the 14 of us ate and drank like there was no tomorrow or if there was a tomorrow, we wouldn't have to eat.

From 6pm, music and the sounds of happy revellers enveloped our street from all directions, and this was happening all over Havana. And something curious, comforting and civilised ; here in Cuba when people drink, they drink long and hard, they get drunk too.....But their drinking does not lead to punch ups or violence or throwing up or car accidents or rape and murder or slovenly behaviour like in Australia where drinking is an excuse for all kinds of degeneracy and tragedy. Here in Cuba, they even drink on the beach. They carry bottles of Rum into the sea and drink while playing and swimming in the ocean and still don't lose it. Instead, here in Cuba drinking leads to singing and dancing and joking and playing and story telling and over zealous expressions of brotherly love. How's that? Maybe I can organise a government sponsored " Drinking Programme " by importing Cuban drinkers as instructors to Australia.

Again I've not written for days because I've been busy. Busy going to the beach,visiting friends, cooking, walking, listening, looking, feeling. Busy rehearsing songs I've composed, and also some arrangements covers of some famous and old Cuban pieces that I want to record with Coto, the Tresoro from hell, Hayden Soul, the Flautist from the clouds  and yesterday a new addition Randolpho who plays double bass and has his feet planted firmly on terra firma. This is concept of "Terra Firma" or " Solid Ground " is an important one for me because, although the rhythms and rhymes of Cuban music are probably one of, if not, the most precise and sophisticated forms in the world and the Cuban's sense of keeping time is incredible, their ability to keep time in the sense of being punctual or keeping an appointment or meeting is laughable. If a Cuban says " I'll be there at 8 a.m ", don't hold you're breath, it's a fantasy. Especially with musicians. While waiting for you're meeting to fruit you could get married, consummate your marriage, have children, send them to school, watch them grow and get a divorce. Then the musicians will show up for the rehearsal with a quiver full of excuses as to why they're late. 

" I had a baby. "

" I had a dentist appointment "

" I had to be at another rehearsal with an orchestra "

" Did we say 8 a.m, I thought it was 11p.m."

And my question is.."Then why do you arrive at 1 p.m?"

I'm finding it almost impossible to get used to.

In Cuba, most babies of musicians are born about 3 months late, more or less.

Withstanding all this we're making considerable musical progress, thank god.

Tomorrow is the 30th of December. My friend Yovany has invited me to spend a week at his family's farm in Cienfuegos. I don't like dropping names but, Yovany is the nephew of the late and great Cuban singer Benny Morre. So I'll be staying and playing with Music Royalty. All of the family are musicians.....and little old me. WOW !!!!

Yovany keeps reminding me about the huge monster of a pig we're going to consume and how we're all going to bury ourselves alive in music and dancing and swimming in the river and riding horses and cows, bareback. If you read my previous blog you'll see how my father was kind of psychic when he bought me a horse and then later swapped it for a cow.  My father was a visionary in preparing me for my time with Morre family. 

Last night I went out with Maribel the housekeeper, her novio ( boyfriend ) Machichi and her brother Yusdel, down to the Malecon and the sea. A seven piece Mariachi band showed up and played to a group of people on our right while on our left a guy with giant Ghetto Blaster tore at my attention with his collection of thumping Rigatone, Cuban Hip Hop and Reggae.  We spent the evening drinking rum and coke ( Cuba Libre )'and eating copious amounts of roasted peanuts which the street vendors sold at a cent a cone. We joked, told stories, and I danced and sweated my ass off to the sounds of the Ghetto Blaster's pumping Salsa Hip Hop Mix. We ploughed through 2 bottles of Rum and all of us shared the same plastic cup. Now that's socialism ! 

This morning I popped into my second Revival meeting at the Methodist Church just around the corner where a charismatic Pastor preaches, and a giant group of musicians, singers and dancers chant and play their hearts out in praise of The Lord ....it's a humid, colourful, multi rhythmic, exotic spiritual get together for the local community every Sunday morning where every body sings and gyrates in an expression of devotion to their maker. They welcome me there with open arms. I was born a Jew and I love it. People is People! 

Early tomorrow morning at 6 a.m ( I'll believe it when I see it and I won't hold my breath ), Yovany, his brother and father are coming to pick me up and then it's a two and a half hour drive to Cienfuegos. I'm paying for the car and driver for the trip there..$100. Yovany has organised the car at a discount and has implored me, to the point of being pedantic, not to utter a single word in front of the driver because if the driver thinks that a foreigner is paying, then it'll be a lot dearer...more like $170. So it'll have to be silent bliss for me all the way there. Then on the way back, they're paying...so I can talk my freakin head off.

Until next year, to my brother Alexander I wish you a full and utter recovery and only the best, and to all the people dear to me I wish you all a really healthy, happy and prosperous and safe New Year.!!!!!! Xxxxxx

Joy and salud to you all.

Speak Soon.

 

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THE MAGIC TREE.

 

Today is Tuesday. Yesterday I came back to L' habana from a three day sojourn. I boarded a bus outside the Parque Central Hotel early Friday morning and basically did what I remember doing as a child and that is, stay on the bus and see where it took me. With me I had a small bag with some clothes and stuff and of course I also took my guitar. 

I remember once when I was 5 years old and I lived in El Salvador we had a school bus that used to pick each student up from their house and take them to school. The same bus  with the same driver would collect us at the end of the day at school and drop each one of us back at their house. One day I decided to hide at the back of the bus and just keep going. I wanted to see where the bus trip really ended. I was an explorer on a journey of discovery, full of wonder and careless delight? When the bus driver reached the terminus and finally realised that I was still on the bus at the end of his route, he looked at me bemusedly and then took me home. 

Both my parents were waiting for me at the front gate. They had been riddled with anxiety and worry because I hadn't come home on time and when I finally, innocently stepped off the bus they came running to me, hugging and kissing me and crying with joy and relief that I was alive and safe. They thanked the bus driver profusely and then my father gave me a look that still sends chills through me. He raised one eyebrow. That raised eyebrow signalled something bad for me, doom, an oncoming juggernaut of  castigation. He then unleashed on me, the hiding of my life right there, out on the street, in front of all the neighbours. That was the first time I realised that love has more than one face and those faces have many expressions.

I don't have a father or a mother anymore and so when left  I had no qualms about my little improvised trip.

I decided to get off the bus in a little pueblo called Balboa. The Main Street is a dirt road. It has about 3 shops. Upon first glance it looks practically deserted, like a ghost town. the only thing missing is the tumbleweed. The occasional horse and cart rolls by, a child on a bicycle perhaps, a couple of dogs chase each other and play in the dusty street, a man sells fruit and vegetables from a makeshift stall, a brew of women gather on a corner complaining about their fool husbands or compare their freshly painted nails and stare at me, the stranger, in their all but forgotten world. A rooster crows, an occasional car drives by. A gentle slow hot breeze ruffles the dust on the road.

I ask around if there is a place, a casa particular, where I can stay for a night or two and a little boy called Georgito takes me to a house on the corner of a nearby street where he thinks I can stay. We come to a corrugated iron gate and he knocks. A small dog comes running out. The gate opens and there stands a skinny,black woman with her beautiful little daughter. They have a spare room. Georgito says goodbye and runs away.

The moment I step past the front gate, I step into another world. The tiny little house is made of old wooden planks painted white. Upon closer inspection most of these planks are splintered and rotted or have been eaten from within by termites. But the place is spotless and clean and surrounded by potted tropical plants of all kinds. The inside of this fantastic hovel has all the touches of a loving mother. Humble paintings and family photos decorate the flaking walls, big brightly coloured, gorgeous fake flowers of Orange, yellow, red and green, from Mexico fill several vases in this rustic, fairy tale interior. The bathroom is clean and so is the outside toilet. 

While I settle into my room and try out my bed, the woman makes me coffee in her kitchen which is also a menagerie of colourful things. The place is crowded and everything has its place. Not one square inch of this house is waisted. 

I could see light coming into the house through cracks in the walls. I asked the woman what happens here when it rains. She told me that when it rains, water comes in and the entire house is inundated. She has to cover everything with plastic and lift everything off the floor. I was lucky that during my time there, the weather was perfect.

Occupying the corner of the kitchen was a kind of shrine, religious arrangement of sacred artefacts, a small figurine of St Lazarus, dedicated to the Deity of Santeria.

But the one thing that amazed me the most, the one thing that gave this place a sense of otherworldliness was the giant and monstrous Ceba Tree that stood in their yard and guarded over their precarious world. The trunk and base of this tree was bigger than the house itself. Its roots, half submerged in the charcoal coloured earth were like the tentacles of a Leviathan stretching outwards and undermining the concrete slab, the very foundations of the house.  It was like a dinosaur. It was easily more than a thousand years old. It was a truly spiritual entity unto itself and lent a secure force and magical quality to all underneath and next to it. 

Over the next few days I found that I couldn't take my eyes off it. On one side of its trunk the woman, with the aid of her father had built a small cathedral where she also practised sacred rights and performed rituals and blessings.

The woman and her daughter were poor. She worked as a schoolteacher by day in the local school. The government paid her $10 CUC per month. A joke. An insult. Meanwhile Raul Castro and his brother Fidel enjoy their palaces. At night she sold  gorgeous fake flowers, in nearby towns, walking the streets with her daughter till late.

Upon arriving I bought food for there household. Enough to last them for over a week. While I was there I bought the little girl a new pair of brightly coloured thongs and a new pair of blue and white runners for school. I paid to have their CD player and TV fixed and gave the mother a beautiful little painting that I'd bought at one of the bus stops along the way. She hung it proudly on one of her walls. 

During my entire time there, the mother never stopped cleaning, wiping, dusting, washing, folding, tidying, arranging, beautifying, maintaining, cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner, preparing and  caring. Everybody in the village knew her by name and loved her. 

The little girl, Maria Fernanda was 11 years old. The mother's name was Yuri. Over the next few days I got to also know the cousins and friends and aunties and mother and father and brothers and Grand father and basically the whole family who lived next door and around the corner and up the street. An old lady called Emma who lived next door peered over the fence and asked Yuri to be introduced. She was cute and friendly and offered to make  me a coffee which she then handed to me through a hole in the fence.

 In Cuba, everybody is related. 

Yuri's father was a proud man who's life's work was fish. He had an array of concrete aquariums in his backyard. He grew and harvested all kinds of pet fish, from tiny guppies to colourful carp. I was invited to his house one day and he showed me his aquariums and told me about his work. He said that just like me, he loved his work and that just like me, he was a very lucky man.

One morning while I was at the house alone, playing my guitar under the tree, three little boys dropped around looking for the lady of the house. I told them that she had gone out shopping, but they couldn't take their curious little eyes off me as I resumed playing and so I asked them if they'd do me a favour and feature in my video clip. They were over the moon with delight at the proposition. And so, maybe now, with god's help, Leon, Andy and Julio will be famous. Who knows? You never know you're luck in a small town. The whole world is a small town these days.

Maria Fenanda's ( Fernanda ) girlfriends also helped me out when one lazy afternoon I asked them to feature in my video clip. We sat under the mottled shade of The Megalith Magic Tree and I played my songs with them around me. It was beautiful. I filmed it on my iPad. When I get home I'll have so much sweet and wonderful footage to edit. 

On Sunday afternoon I took a walk out along the Main Street. The town was even quieter. I sat on a stone bench on the side of the road. A young woman kissed an older man on a bicycle goodbye and sat next to me. On a bench nearby a young boy with a backpack came and sat. He, like the young woman next to me were waiting for a coach to pick them up. He waved hello to me and I realised it was one of the young boys who had sat for my video the day before.  I waved back, " Hola Andy, como Estas Chico ? " 

Then a man from behind him in a nearby street called to him. The man was extremely drunk and lurched towards Andy calling " Andy mi hijo, ( Andy, my son )Andy, Andy." 

Andy pretended not to notice him. It was his father, stinking drunk and Andy was painfully and clearly embarrassed. The man stumbled forward and barely made it to the bench where his poor little boy sat. His father sat next to him mumbling obscenities about Andy's mother loud enough for me to hear from 10 metres away. And Andy bowed forward in shame, hiding  his little head in his hands....and sneaking a look back at me,  a look that said, " I wish this was not my dad."  Finally a horse drawn coach arrived and Andy got on board and was now free of his father. I waved him goodbye. 

His dribbling mess of a father then lurched towards me, bragging about his son. I got up and walked back to the house.

I took many photos during my time there but Yuri told me that she preferred not to be photographed.

I also gave Fernanda guitar lessons. 

I slept a lot while I was there and noticed that the entire house creaked at even the slightest breeze. I had many strange dreams, especially about my father Dan. I dreamt that I was calling the engineer at the recording studio where I'd been working, to see if I could organise a re-mix of one of my songs and instead of reaching him, I reached an answering machine with my father's voice saying..." This is the house of Dan Sima ( his adopted name ), please leave a message. " 

In another dream I was at a big party with hundreds of people. I decided to leave the party but as I was walking down the staircase I changed my mind and walked back up to join the festivities. The woman told me that whenever I do business negotiations I should always invoke my father. She also told me that the dream about the party meant that I would soon have great success with my work.

Later that afternoon a man dropped by to visit Yuri for a few minutes. Yuri later told me that

He was a poor farmer who had nothing but a cow, a bull and a horse and that during the night some men had decapitated all three leaving him with nothing but the heads and no livelihood. Police were notified but have still not found these men.

Cuba is probably the safest place on earth. There is very little violence or crime here.

I can walk down any street or alley anytime of night or day and feel secure that nothing bad can happen to me. And so why are there so many people in jail? I've been told, that it's because people are hungry and therefore steal or kill and eat animals that aren't theirs.

On Monday morning I left early and before leaving, the woman took me to her cathedral under the tree. She placed a coin dipped in oil into my hands and performed a ritual for me where she summoned the saints and gods to give me firstly Salud ( health ), also a full recovery for my brother Alexander, success in my work and business dealings and lots of money. She shook some Maracas over the sacred area and then waved a hand of bananas all over my body, lit some candles, made some incantations, drank some Ron and spat it out over some icons and made me do the same. She drew smoke from an old cigar and blew it out across the religious paraphernalia and then threw the four corners of the shell of some kind of seed on to the ground and read how they fell. She explained to me the process and meaning of what she was doing and told me that the shell pieces had fallen well for me. In total, she threw them about ten times. She told me that I should never spend or lose the coin she'd given me and to always keep it close to me for good luck. It turns out that Yuri was a Bruja, ( a witch ) as well.

Sweet Fernanda got dressed for school, gave me a kiss goodbye and thanked me for her shoes, and for trying to teach her the guitar.

I said my goodbyes...but before leaving I gave Yuri some money, an investment if you like, so that she could buy more fake flowers wholesale,in bulk, and sell them at a profit and thus build up her savings and grow her investment.

They accompanied me to the rickety old gate. I said adios and breathed into my soul one final gaze of the Magic Tree. 

SPEAK SOON. 

 

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the magic tree

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the house.

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a little shrine

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my room

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Fernanda before school

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Fenanda's lovely friend Jaslin

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old hospital

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a wall

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aquariums

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horse and cart ride

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the cathedral where I was blessed by a witch.

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my boy crew

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big fat view of everything 

COMFORTABLE IN MY OWN SKIN...SO NOW YOU KNOW.

 

It's a curious thing that here in Cuba from the moment I first came here, from the minute I stepped out of the airport, all doors opened for me. And every step I've taken has led me to something better. Luck has been my lady. 

Psychologist say that within the first 4 years of your life,  all that you are and ever will be, subconsciously, is formed. And so I figure that because I was born here and spent my formative years here that it's the reason why " the universe is conspiring with my subconscious, and every thing in my life is now synchronised. Even when I momentarily think that something has gone wrong or I've made a mistake, something fortuitous evolves for me, just as it once did for my father when he lived here. The right place, the right time. Every thing feels serendipitous. It's like I'm living in a house with good Feng Shui. And I feel comfortable in my own skin.  

Perhaps this is why ever since I've been here my intake of insulin, (I'm a type one diabetic), has been a quarter of what I need in Australia. Sometimes it's even less.

And I eat like a horse. I've told my GP back in Byron Bay about this and she was intrigued.

She quipped that she would love to come to Cuba with me and do a study on the phenomena.

What would she call her thesis?... " DOES HAPPINESS MAKE YOU HEALTHY? ".

I told her that last year I contacted the head of Marketing at Diabetes Australia and pitched an informative and, I believe, unique advertising campaign with a twist that would greatly benefit diabetics, young and old. I spoke to this " genius " for about 15 minutes on the phone! I sent her my CV and advertising credentials. ( I've won a few advertising awards for other commercials I've written for Advertising companies.) I gently stressed that this campaign also addresses the fact that diabetes is virulent and out of control amongst the indigenous communities of Australia. She said that she'd talk to her people and get back to me. I'm still waiting. She's probably been too busy watching BIGGEST LOSER or BIG BROTHER or BIG BANG THEORY. ......or BIG FUCK KNOWS WHAT ?!!!

Yes I'm a little peeved because I'm a diabetic and when I see how Diabetes Australia markets Diabetes Awareness I believe they're going about it arse up. It's a joke. And the solution is simple and I've got the solution. But that's Australia for you, apathetic and disingenuous. The world is dumbing down, down, down and Australia leads the way. 

Speaking of Diabetes ; Yesterday I ate the best sugar coated Churos I've ever had. 50 cents for 6 long sticks. They fry it in large urns here right in front of you, in the street. People wait in cues to buy it. I waited in cue. Me? A cue? Go figure!

Then I had one that was infused with condensed milk. 

I've also become a freshly roasted peanut addict. That sounds weird, like as if I'm a freshly roasted peanut. 

I also met up with a friend who is a painter. We popped into the national art gallery, sat on the ornate Spanish balcony which looks out over la Capitol of Havana, sipped Mojitos in the warm afternoon sun and swapped tales. The Art gallery restaurant was gigantic, with a ceiling about 10 metres high, and empty except for us and a maitre-de. Our voices echoed as we spoke. The Maitre De, a tiny man of about 70 welcomed us. Hospitality was his pride and he made us feel as if we had come to visit him in his home. He even shouted us a drink. I guess he was glad to have some human company that day.

Here in Cuba, when you use a public toilet in a restaurant, cafe, club, or art gallery for instance you pay a small token amount to a lady that sits outside. She's the Toilet Lady.

Even for just a wee. I guess that's why bottled water is so cheap to buy here....you pay on the roundabout. 

She makes sure that it's always clean. She gives you toilet paper if you've not already got some  on you. If you ever come here, don't make the mistake of presuming that toilets have toilet paper. They don't. You have to use your own or first calculate how many sheets you need and then pay a toll for a few sheets from the Toilet Troll Door bitch who guards the much coveted Toilet. Other wise you'll have to get inventive and use your paper money in which case, make sure you're always carrying a lot of $1 cuc notes and you don't find yourself spending $50 cucs on shit, or suffering the humiliation of trying to get change or trying to break a $50 cuc note into $1cuc notes while sitting on a toilet in a cubicle after you've already let your prisoners free for a swim. The interest rates in this Cambio are higher. You've been forewarned. You're now forearmed.

So now you know. 





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home for a few days....near Trinidad

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some young amigos who featured in my film clip....Leon, Andy and Julio.

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Fish in the sky pond

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young eyes

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some more Santeria

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sunrise 

WHERE ELSE?.....A BEAUTIFUL PAIN.

 

I have nine precious days left here in Cuba. On the 1st of February I leave and I will have been here for two incredible months. Time is my treasure. I'm scared of going back. Last night I didn't sleep well because the reality of having to leave was preoccupying me. I tossed and turned and tried to meditate. 

I'm two people, Australian George and Cuban George. Like Jekyll and Hyde. Cuban George is taking over. It's always been there but just had to be nurtured. It could never have been nurtured in Australia. And when both my parents died, any lifeline that I had, was gone.

 I've been getting waves of profound emotion sweeping through me as I ruminate over the times, experiences, people and music that have changed me forever. At times, these waves overwhelm my very heart. I actually feel a beautiful pain in my heart. It swells like an in coming tide, like when you're just about to cry it all out. And then, my eyes fill with bittersweet tears that trickle down my cheeks and relieve me. But it's a pain that without, life has no meaning.

Not a second goes by where for me, here in Cuba, I'm not in a state of wanderlust. Even a blind or deaf man would be the same here. If he was blind he would still be captured by the sounds of life in the streets and of course by the music which never really stops. If he was deaf, he would still be able to feel the beat and syncopated rhythms that pulse night and day, and he would still be able to see the rainbows of life here. 

Where else in the world can you walk down any street, and in passing, happen upon a little old lady that at home has decided  to make candied, donut balls of coconut, place them in a wicker basket go out onto the streets and sell them to people, to make some extra cash ?  This happened to me yesterday as I left my house at about 7p.m. I'd never seen her before. She just appeared. She was selling them for 1 cent each. I should've left a tip. Where else can you buy a packet of cigarettes for 70 cents and the most expensive cigarettes are only $1.70 ?  Or a loaf of fresh, warm bread for 30 cents ? Where else can you buy most fruit and vegetables from vendors on any street? Where else can you find a guy who has a hole in the wall Tienda ( shop ) where he sells dvds and cds for $1 cuc. You can ask him for what you want, anything, and he says " No problem, of course " , then sources it for you and has it by the next day ? You develop relationships with these people. It s not like going to IGA or Woolworths. 

They have taxis here and they're expensive for Cubans and tourists alike. But where the real fun lies, is in catching one of the millions of carro particulars ( communal old cars ) that trawl the colonial streets for passengers. The driver is allowed to take up to 5 people. Two with him in the front, three in the back. Each pays 1 cuc, ( 1 dollar ). The beauty in travelling in one of these is that you're not alone and that you ( I ) can always strike up some kind of conversation, about hell knows what with someone else in the car. Yesterday I met a beautiful old Cuban English teacher who now lives in Miami and is here visiting her family. We talked about how Cuba used to be before El Jefe, ( The Chief ).

Because I've been so busy playing and recording here I've only been to the beach at Billa  Los Pinos, (my favourite beach so far), five times. It's one of the eastern beaches in L'habana just before the very popular and extremely crowded TROPICOCO beach. You can catch a modern bus from Central Parque for a return trip that costs 5 Cuc. the Bus comes and goes every 30 minutes. 

It's quiet at Los Pinos and I can hire a white, plastic, lazy chair under a wood and palm umbrella, go for a 3 kilometre swim in the turquoise sea which, thank god, has been as flat as a pancake and leave all my belongings on the beach, without any fear of it being stolen. The people who run the restaurant, bar and all the equipment know me now. Julito and Juan Carlos bring me food and drinks. Yummi and Kinni massage people on the beach. Duran sells coconuts and likes to tell me his problems. Yesterday, I said, " lets talk about good things Duran, because you're problems are not my problems and we all have problems."

He said, " True Georgito ! " and laughed. Then we talked about his new guitar. 

Yesterday Kinni and Yummi listened to my finished and mixed tracks through earphones on my iPhone. Kinni is also a musician. I told him that Music is also a form of massage for the soul. He agreed. He has his own band and is a Rumbero and Singer. He said that when I return to Cuba, he wants to work with me. So the beach is also a place for Negocios ( business ). As he was listening to my songs through earphones he was singing along, impervious to the fact that he was singing very loudly. It was comical. It was hilarious. 

After swimming to the furthest point eastwards, I like to walk back along the beach and collect colourful pieces of weathered glass that sprinkle the white sands. When I get back to Australia I'll make a mosaic. The Cuban Mosaic. Or maybe a lamp that will colour my lounge room. 

A big tempest hit Havana yesterday afternoon. I left Los Pinos at 4p.m because I could see the black clouds forming on the horizon and heading our way. I caught the Trans Tour bus, full of tourists, back to Parque Central. It was cold last night and the downer came in handy.

It's now 8.52 a.m and the skies are blue. Looks like I might hit the beach later today. For now my work here is basically done, so I can treat myself to some guilty pleasures without any guilt. Which reminds me; The other day I walked down to the markets at the end of Obispo where people sell old stuff. One guy sells old photos and cinema memorabilia. One poster that caught my eye, which I will probably buy for about 5 cuc, is for a 1940s Americqn film, starring Richard Baseheart  called, wait for it................." DEDO DE CULPA" ( FINGER OF GUILT ). Funny! I also found two old posters from the 50s for a Cuban film called " La Isla de las Mujeres Desnudas." ( The Island of Nude Woman ).

I've just listened to a song by Louis Enrique, released in 2009 called "SOMBRAS NADA MAS" ( No More than Shadows ) and I think it's the most beautiful song Ive ever heard. See? In Australia we're not exposed to this stuff. I've got a lot of catching up to do.

Yep, I'm in love with Cuba and I'm scared of of going back to Australia.

Maybe you can try and put yourself in my shoes and understand why.

SPEAK SOON.






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funny

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outside my front door.....yay, bananas.

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funny

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life everywhere

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everywhere

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I used to sell papers in Bindi Juction when I was a kid.

DREAMS COME TRUE , A PAIN IN THE ASS and Chicken soup.

 

Today is Sunday the 19th of January and on Friday another of my dreams came true.

I finished recording two of my compositions here in L'habana with my band FRENTE CALIENTE. The engineer's name is Ramon de la Paz Obregon, Percussion - Fabian Sirgado, Flute - Haydee Soul, Double Bass - Randolph Chacon Paz, Tres - Coto, Guitar - Me. The songs sound great, better than great, and I documented the whole experience on film. And guess what; all the musos turned up on time! I've made history.

Upon finally leaving the studio, after a day of finessing and mixing, Coto and I were both exhausted and elated. 

Coto said to me,

"Georgito, we've realised a dream, WOW!!! From a chance meeting late one rainy night in a dark shop front entrance in Obispo to now. WOW.! Gracias a dios! In Australia they know you as a Comedian. Here in L'habana we know you as an Auteur and musician. " 

And then he hugged and kissed me. We caught a car home. 

I hope I can get a publishing and / or record deal with this stuff back home or anywhere. It's a Latino/ Cuban sound. Great for a a film soundtrack too I think. Who knows ! 

When I arrived home, Martin one of the tourists from Switzerland, a Cuban music fanatic who is also staying at Neida's house, eagerly awaited me and asked if he could hear the songs. We put the cd on his computer and he downloaded the files onto his iPod. He was the first to hear my stuff and he's the first to have a Bootleg copy too.

The previous night, Martin and I had planned to go out to a concert but I was drained and decided to stay in and chill. I made myself some sandwiches, ate voraciously and also drank lots of water and some Ron. 

It was curiously chilly that night and at about 11p.m I walked round the corner to visit Marcia at the little cafe particular where she works from 5p.m to 5a.m.

I bought some sweet Mani to take home, chatted and joked for a while. Marcia told me that they had some liver, which I love, and that I should drop by tomorrow to have some early in the day when it's much fresher. I felt weak and thought that I should eat some now, to give me strength and asked her for  some right then. She gave me a look and said, "Georgito, its better in the morning. " 

But I said, I can't wait.  I told her to forget the rice and just to give me the liver with lots of onion. After devouring the plate I bought a small container of chocolate ice cream, walked home and ate the whole thing. Then I hit the sack.

At 2a.m I awoke with dastardly, painful stomach cramps. Take it from me. Liver, onions and chocolate ice cream are apparently not a good mix. Who knew? Between 2 and 10 a.m I visited the bathroom about 10 times.  After getting to know eachother and feel comfortable together we made friends. I nearly ran out of toilet paper. The cramps were absurd. Every muscle in my body was wracked with pain. It felt like worms were crawling under my skin. Yuckissimo. At about 8.30a.m Maribel arrived for her daily housework. I called out to her to come and help me. She made me some peppermint tea and brought me a couple of little red tablets, said that a Spanish tourist, a doctor had just moved in and he'd given her the tablets to take to me. Lucky huh?

I fell asleep and finally got out of bed at 12p.m, feeling so much better and relieved, I showered shaved and dressed. But my ass really hurt like I'd been gang banged in a Cuban prison by bored, big black men with no hobbies and nothing better to do or probed by tiny, greenish, Aliens from Uranus with broomsticks wrapped in course sandpaper and short on Vaseline.

Last night I relaxed at home and chatted with Martin, then went to bed at 8.30.

I didn't and still haven't eaten a thing since the day before yesterday. Thought I'd be nice to myself, give my system a break and properly cleanse and rejuvenate. All I've had is bubbly mineral water and lemonade. I feel great and clear minded. I should fast more often. 

What I'd really like now, is some chicken soup ! 

SPEAK SOON.

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FRENTE CALIENTE ...the percussion player,far left, Alfredo never showed up for record,,so we used Fabian instead...,lucky...Fabian was a genius . Haydee, Coto, Randolpho, George.

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happy Coto

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Over the moon george 

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fine ears. Ramon ...the sound engineer.

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Fabian ..percussion magic

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some Santeria in the laundry/ kitchen area

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Coto and me.

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Haydee ...Flautista angelica. 

HOPE AND THE FLOW AND ROSITA AND HOT FRONT.

 

The 3 days post Lajas, post New Year's Eve, back in L' habana,for me were basically frustrating and lost. Nothing flowed.

I'm not one to sit still. I deplore waiting and because we'd arrived late, on a cold, grey and rainy winter's day, the meetings that I'd arranged had to be postponed. Also, I hadn't counted on the fact that the week after NYE, just like in Australia everything kind of shuts down. A lot of the shops ( tiendas ) are out of stock on many items such as onions, large cartons of fruit juice and beer, and many people are out of town visiting family and friends. 

On my return, Maribel told me that she'd been invited to spend NYE at Carlos's house 

( Neida's boyfriend  ) and that they'd eaten pig on a spit, something  which little, Jewish me simply loves, Crackling....Mmmmmm....something also that Yovany had promised me back in Lajas. But the pig we'd eaten in Lajas was not cooked on a spit, ( damn it ) it had been cooked in pots, because they'd run out of time. So I'd missed out on the Spitpig. Any way, you can't be in two places at once, although I've always tried to be.

The next couple of days are now a bit of a blur but I did manage to achieve something spectacular. With Carlos's help I actually scored an interview/meeting with world famous and Cuba's Shirley Bassey/ Liza Minelli / Barbara Streisand, ROSITA FORNEZ, at her gorgeous house in Miramar. Rosita is now 90 yrs old and was a friend and music associate of my father Dan. 

I was not allowed to film, but was allowed to take photos.

Carlos accompanied me to her house. We caught one of those old cars ( carro particular ) and paid 2 cucs ( $2 ) for a 20 kilometre ride, just the two of us. Ridiculously cheap. After getting a bit lost and having the driver drop us off at 5p.m in the wrong street, we approached a well appointed house and asked the security guard at the gate, who sat in a small guard house if he knew where Rosita lived. He did, and showed us where to go. We doubled back,turned the corner and found her house. Two dogs came running and barking to the gate, one beautiful big white one and a little black one. The housemaid showed us in, and there to greet us was the still radiant, classy and elegant, Sans cosmetic surgery, Rosita Fornez. She walked using a frame.

She sat us down in her gorgeous lounge room. Beautiful paintings and photos hung on the walls. The place was spotless and smelled of Jasmine. The couches and furniture reminded me of that of my parents'. It was Art Deco style and well maintained. She certainly had a sophisticated style and taste.  She lived like a queen. She had coffee brought to me as I showed her the photos on my ipad, which I had of her,  in her hay day with my father at L' ATELIER ( my father's club ). When she saw the first one she exclaimed " Aaaah Yes....I remember your dad, how handsome he was, I remember that night, it was a big party,...look, there is my husband too, Armando Bianchi, he too was a famous actor....". Then she sighed  whimsically and deeply.

Casually i began to interview her. She told us about her enchanted public life and how the greatest love she ever felt was the love of her fans, not only in Cuba, but in all of Latin America and Europe. Then she spoke of her private life, her two marriages, her children and grand children. She took us into her drawing room which was literally covered with photos of her, spanning 4 generations of her illustrious career. Many trophies and awards adorned her shelves. She was great full and proud of what she'd achieved in her life.

She told me how whenever she went out people would still be excited to see her, how she was still celebrated and on many occasions asked by producers to do presentations and appearances at events and on TV, but that these days she would gracefully decline their offers. These days, she said that she was content in simply enjoying a quieter life and the joys of her large family and grand children. 

She asked me whether my father was still alive. She even remembered my mother Litzi and how beautiful she'd been, and asked after her as well.

I told her that Dan had died a few years back and that my mother had died 17 years ago.

She told me how she'd once really enjoyed my father's piano playing and frequenting his club after doing her shows. She sighed deeply again....and then suddenly perked up, smiling, remembering one time when she'd eaten one of my mother's splendiferous cakes.

A spent calmness filled the room. 

It was time to go. 

Both Carlos and I were great full and mindful of her age. 

And then she said, " Before you go, come and have a look at the cabana and pool area. 

As I looked out onto the blue pool and luscious garden I imagined her as a younger Rosita, a Bon vivant, sharing sunsets and Cuba Libres with her husband Armando, with my father, my mother and others. I snapped back into the present. 

 At the front door she said " So now you know where I live, you're always welcome here." Then we kissed her goodbye

It was now 7p.m and dark. Carlos and I walked out into the quiet suburban street. It was starting to rain and we had to find cover or transport quickly. Carlos started praying for it not to bucket down as it normally does here. I thought that child psychology would work better with god, so I prayed for rain. We started to hitchhike and a few minutes later we climbed on and into the back of an open truck. I sat on a tyre and Carlos crouched down. Ominous, black, thunder clouds rained down on us as we hung on to the railing laughing and laughing. The driver dropped us off at the main thoroughfare and we caught a car back home.

These are the shades of Cuba. 

Nothing is ever really lost.

Things were just flowing differently, that's all.

Tomorrow I go into the studio for two days to record two of my songs with my band, 

" FRENTE CALIENTE " , " HOT FRONT ". I really hope everything flows smoothly !

SPEAK SOON. 

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some...not all of the amazing photos of Rosita.

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imagined pool parties at Rosita's house

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  a day at the beach....Just for me.

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looking confused at the beach...thinking about and hoping that recording goes well tomorrow and Friday.

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FRENTE CALIENTE....HOT FRONT.

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FRENTE CALIENTE...HARD BUT ENJOYING THE SLOG.

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some Rosita FORNEZ photos of old in her drawing room

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Rosita around the house....just a tease.

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visions of the past by the pool

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a day to myself....so I can stress relaxedly

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yeah?...what?

Under The Custard Apple Tree.

 

Haven't written for a week. I've been busy and discombobulated. 

Do you know how difficult it is to organise stuff here in Havana, especially with Musicians? Hmmmm?

Anyway, I'll touch on that later. Lets get back to New Years Eve in Lajas

Like I said, I rocked my self into a groggy slumber in that old rocking chair.

The first one up on this New Year 's Eve morning was Luciana, then the grandmother. Luciana made me coffee.

Then, one by one the rest of the family plopped out of their airless rooms. 

Like an army drill, like Reveille, the CD player was turned on, and at full volume with distortion, the 3 foot high speaker cabinets blasted the family and party back to life. It was on again!!! These people were unstoppable and mad. And It was only 7 a.m.

Sunlight crept into the house and highlighted a fine dust that floated through the still air inside. As the intense heat of the morning grew stronger, the morning mist outside evaporated and  gobbled up. 

I  decided to bathe again and freshen up. I felt like I hadn't slept for days, like I'd been purposely sleep deprived and tortured by unwitting, well meaning captors in conspiracy with malevolent mosquitoes and ants. I had to find a room somewhere close by or else, as I re- iterated to Yovany, I would sorrowfully have to high-tale it back to Havana with my tale between my legs. It was NYE and I didn't like my chances of finding a room or of getting back to Havana easily. I felt trapped and bothered. 

The previous night Alexis had promised to pick me up at 9 a.m, to help me find a room. At  9.10 he arrived, bright and cheerful.  He's the most punctual Cuban I've met so far. We walked into town. The Main Street was already buzzing and noisy. As we walked, Alexis would stop every couple of metres to greet people he knew and in passing, he'd ask if they knew of a "casa particular" in which I could lodge for a few nights. Half an hour later, I ( he ) scored a great "penthouse" room with running water, double bed, kitchen, lots of sunlight, windows,air and a view of the town. I now had my own patio under the shade of a Custard Apple Tree which was starting to fruit. 

For the next three nights this was home and I came and went as I pleased. The guy who owned the house was a sweet little man who's name was Angel. He lived downstairs with his wife. He gave me my keys, said that I could come and go through his house, and use the front door and that he was always there, anytime, night and day. He made me coffee in the mornings and kept things of mine in his fridge if I needed. I was set.

Alexis and I then spent the day walking around town, sat and watched life in Lajas, drank a few Rons, a few beers, talked and joked with people he knew, and I watched him hustle a bit as well. At about 3 p.m I went home and slept for a couple of hours, played my guitar and then at about 6.30 Alexis came over and we walked back to Luciana's house where the NYE party was already under way.

When Yovany saw me he was very upset and berated me and Alexis for not having told him that I was safe and sound. Actually he was more upset with Alexis. He said that I was his responsibility here in Lajas, that he had invited me and that he, his brother and father had been very worried. I apologised and said that I didn't even realise that he'd be worried and justified that, because things were so informal here in Cuba re time etc, that I assumed all was ok. After about 15 minutes of somewhat heated discussion, explanation  and reasoning between Alexis, Yovany his brother, father and my self, they calmed down and all was fine again. Yovany told me that from now on, here in his town I was answerable only to him and not to Alexis, who he said, was irresponsible. I told him that Alexis had done his very best for me and had found me a great room and not to be upset with him, that it was just an oversight.

New Year's Eve at the More House was even more consuming than the night before.

More family and friends from all over Cuba visited the house. The music, dancing, food, love and Ron just kept on flowing....

At 11p.m several of us walked into town and went to a giant, open air disco that pumped loud hip hop. The DJ stood on a large dimly lit stage. The place held about a thousand souls and it was dark. Very, very dark. Dark because there was very little light and dark because everyone was black or mulato ( light black ). The only light that actually allowed any form of relief, emanated from the bar area at the far end of the club. I don't know how anybody recognised anybody there unless they actually bumped into them. Yovany and the rest kept close to me the whole night because I was certain that I'd lose them in this Cuban human black bean. soup 

We all got hammered and danced like fools. At the stroke of midnight we hugged and kissed with brotherly affection and then drank and danced till dawn. This is how I spent the final night of 2013. Who could've guessed.

The first day of the year I got up late but surprisingly spritely. I had breakfast in town..the usual, coffee and Pan con Tortilla. Alexis met up with me, we walked around town looking for a place to buy a new memory card for my camera. No luck. Of course, most businesses were shut. We rocked round to the house at about 6 p.m and guess what? The party was on again. Most likely at had never stopped. Even from the end of the dirt road I could discern the music coming from the More house. As we entered the house everyone, including all the children and teenagers came to hug and kiss me and shake my hand and high five me "happy new year".

Needless to say, the celebrations careered into the night and onto the next morning.

The menu didn't change. Pork, rice, beans and salad and Ron Ron, Ron.

The next day Yovany,Juan Carlos, Yordalis, his wife Adeles, their 1 year old, Yovalandy and I took a trip to the main city of Cienfuegos to sight see. We left Lajas at about 10a.m in a gorgeous, old, violet Oldsmobile from 1954. 

Adeles helped me look for a memory card in Cienfuegos, but they only had cards of 8 gigs and I needed a larger card.

We didn't sight see much, but I got a feel for the place. Unlike old Havana, it was quite clean and organised. The people of Cienfuegos are considered snobs by the rest of the country. I didn't get a sense of that in my short time there. Everyone I met were simpatico.

We spent most of the day very relaxed, sitting in a beer garden, drinking, eating, laughing and dancing. At 4p.m we left because Yovalandy wanted to take us to his family farmhouse  on the outskirts of Cienfuegos. I now forget the name of the pueblo. I took photos of us around the statue of Benny More on the Prado.

After a bit of haggling with the driver of a rickety old Audi we piled in and drove to to the farm. On the way there, as we merrily drove by fields of cane and cows, a dog ran out in front of the car. It's owners, an old man and a young boy looked on in horror. The driver tried to break and swerve, and just as we all thought that we were clear of the dog, it confusedly decided to turn and run in the opposite direction. 

We ran it over. The sound of the bump and crunch was sickening and sad. Yovany told the driver to keep going, not to stop, and that there was nothing we could now do. We drove on in silence and some shame. But it was an accident, and not our fault.

When we arrived at the farm giant, generous, and jolly Eloy, Yovalandy's father, was there tour great us. So was his his handsome brother Miguel. Eloy was so happy to see me and gave me an enormous bear hug. He'd just come back from working in his fields all day. He wore a farmer's hat of straw.. He was sweaty and covered in dirt, but he was vibrant and radiating a vigorous energetic happiness. 

His yard was filled with old farm machinery. An old horse stood zombie-like, munching at a tuft of grass amidst the muddy surrounds. An excited dog ran around wagging it's tail in delight.  We all hugged and kissed again and he asked his wife to make me something to eat. Pork, beans and rice in a beautiful oily sauce. It was freaking delicious. The bottle of Ron came out. I ate with gusto. The bottle was passed around. Such hospitality is hard to find in our world today. Here in Cuba it's in their blood.

Eloy's teenage daughter was learning double bass at school, and so she brought it out, Eloy brought out his Tres and it was all on again. We all sang, played and danced for about an hour. The tired sun was setting now and a splendid crimson halo surrounded us.

The driver of our car had been waiting all this time and it was time to leave. So we began to say our goodbyes. Yovany was now very wasted. And we all waited for another 15 mins for him to finally get in the car. Goodbyes are lengthy ordeals and hard here in Cuba. People find it hard to tear away from loved ones.

We finally got away. We arrived back at the house in Lajas at about 7p.m and I said my goodbyes to Luciana and the rest of the family. I told them that I was now going home to sleep because I was leaving the next morning and I needed to sleep. No more partying for me. Yovany, Juan Carlos and Hendry, his father would come and get me in the morning, early. 

Luciana looked me in the eyes, held my hands tightly and said " Georgito, when you come back to Cuba this year, come back here, and this time promise me you won't leave so soon. Next time stay for ten days."

 I promised I would try but secretly wondered whether I could handle that.

It was an emotional goodbye. As Yovany, Juan Carlos, Yovalandy  and Yordalis escorted me me back to my room we bumped into a lot of people, more old friends and family. One of these was Jose, an old handsome man of 74, who used to be a skin diver. He reminded me of my father Dan who used to get under my skin a lot. Upon being introduced to him he took my face in his hands, wished me a happy and healthy new yearand kissed each of my cheeks. Then he blessed me with the sign of the cross upon my forehead and whispered into my ear that I was special and that I had the grace of Jesus.

He made me cry. Juan Carlos looked on in dismay as I my eyes welled with tears and then turned to Yordalis, and said  " look at Georgito, I've never seen him like this".

We kept on walking.

I arranged for Yovany to collect me a 7.30 the following morning. That night at about 1a.m I  was awoken by the sound of little pebbles hitting my bedroom windows. I could here the deep voice of someone calling out my name, over and over. At first I thought I was dreaming it all. When I finally got up to peer outside, I saw Yovany and his brother standing in the street below. I wrapped my sarong around me and sleepily went downstairs to the backyard to speak to them through the iron gate. They then informed me that they'd be coming to get me at 6a.m sharp and to be all ready to leave at six. 6am.m sharp.? Was there such a thing as " sharp " in this timeless land? Ok,  so I'd have to get up at 5a.m in order to shower, dress and pack. 

I went back upstairs to sleep. I set the alarm on my iPhone.

At 5a.m I awoke. At 5.30 a.m I was ready and had awakened Angel. He made me my coffee.I paid him for the Three nights 

At 6.m....no Yovany. I waited on my patio, under the Custard Apple tree. At 6.30a.m...no Yovany. The sun was now rising and the silhouette of the town looked pretty. People were starting to walk to work. The cocks were crowing to eachother in relay, all over town.

I waited under the Custard Apple tree some more. At 6.45a.m...Yovany and his brother arrived. We walked to the bus stop, about a kilometre away, where Hendry waited for us. We waited for the Camion, ( the truck/ bus ). It arrived at 7.30. We piled in and off we went.

The trip back to Havana in one of these Camions is no lovely excursion. It's nothing like a luxury Cuban Trans Tour or  Greyhound bus. It's a bus where you sit, on long steel benches. If you're one of the first 70 people on the bus, you're one of the lucky ones who gets a seat. Otherwise you stand. It was a rocky ride that took 5 and a half hours to finally reach The terminal in Havana with only one pee stop. 

That day was cold and rainy. I couldn't believe that I was in Cuba. It was actually cold!

Because the bus had  only large open slats to look out from, and no closeable windows as such, I froze for the entire trip. And my arse was sore. The bus was full for most of the ride, with about 90 people, rocking and rolling on this hell trip. Thank god, it's the closest I'll ever get to riding in one of those trucks that carry sheep to slaughter. Hendry got off a stop early and I didn't notice so I didn't have a chance to say goodbye and thank you.

I arrived in Havana, cold, thirsty, hungry and exhausted. When I'd asked Yovany if the terminal was close to my house and if was a walkable distance he had said "YES..VERY CLOSE".  I was losing my patience which in Cuba is a very important asset. It wasn't and I was losing my patience, which in Cuba is a very important asset. So we hailed a Taxi...and I got ripped off by the driver but....I was back home, in my room, cosy and warm at Neida's house. I couldn't wait for a nice hot shower.

I said goodbye to Yovany and his brother and told them to give my love to Hendry.

Now to organise and work with Cuban musicians.....heaven and hell.

Nothing is lost here in Cuba except perhaps Time.!

But I'm having the time of my life!



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"You Won't lose Anything Here". "You Won't lose Anything Here".

 

There's another saying in Cuba ...." Late for sure. " and Yovany and his brother never arrived at my place at 6 a.m, they got here at 9.30. Yet again, I had to laugh.

Patience has never been a virtue of mine and Cuba is beating it into me like a strict headmistress...on time.

Previous to our arrangement I'd asked Yovany if they'd be coming around in the car. He'd said yes. But when they showed up at my place, there was no car. When I asked Yovany where was the car, he said that the driver was waiting next to Parque Central with his father Hendry because they couldn't pull up outside my house to load the car and it was more convenient that way. There's another saying in Cuba,..."Uncertain for sure."

So, from my place we walked four blocks carrying our bags and instruments. They also told me that I could only take my guitar and not my Tres as well, because there was no room. It was already a very hot day and by the time we reached the car I was sweating. 

The driver who's name was Ruen, a tall young handsome white man was waiting with Hendry, the dad, a beautiful, kind and gentle man. We started loading my stuff into the car and when they began to load the instruments onto the roof wrack, I was dismayed. I piped up and said that that was a bad idea, and that after 2 and a half hours under the searing heat of the Cuban sun the instruments would literally explode in their cases. I couldn't believe that Yovany didn't think of that. I told him that there's no way I'll put my guitar up there. It's the boot, or nothing. So we reorganised the boot, making room for the three instruments, ( my guitar and their 2 Treses ) with the other bags on the wrack.

We finally got out of old Havana at 10.00. Three quarters of an hour later we were on the eastern highway, driving through countryside and although its winter in Cuba now, in my head I started humming that old Cliff Richards song, 

" We're all going on a summer holiday ". 

No sooner had we hit the open road when suddenly there was a loud bang and Ruen, the driver had to control our now, swerving old Audi sedan. Yep...we'd blown our back left tyre.

Ruen's very words were, " Oh yeah, and now the fun begins". He pulled over to the side of the road. We all got out and then Ruen amazed me. With antique tools from the 50s he hoisted the back of the car and changed that dirty old tyre in less than it took me to take 3 swigs from my water bottle and take a piss. We were back on the road with me hoping that we don't blow another one before repairing the old one that had just blown.

Along the way we stopped for a pee break and a snack at a roadside thingo where they sold ham sandwiches, beer, soft drinks and had a toilet. I bought a large slab of Mani ( peanuts ) mixed with caramelised condensed milk, a kind that I had not come across in old Havana...yummy. I should've bought a few.

All in all, and with Ruen basically doing 100kms/ hour all the way, we finally reached a sleepy, little Pueblo called Lajas, on the outskirts of Cienfuegos at 2.30 pm. the drive had taken 4 hours, not 2 and a half. 

We arrived at the house of Yovany's mother Luciana, a little place at the very end of a dirt track on the ultimate outskirts, in the poorest part of Lajas, next to a creek, not a river as envisioned. Yovany had told me it was a river, that I could swim in. Music blared and preparations for the following night's New Year's Eve celebrations were already underway. 

Luciana came out to greet us and when I stepped into the house there were about 7 children gathered around the TV Playing XBOX football video games. Yovany had told me that it was a big house with 3 bedrooms. In this " big " house Luciana lived with her wonderful mother Rosa and her cute and wicked grandmother Theresa and her other handsome and charismatic son Yordalis and his wife Adeles and their one year old son Anthony and now about 15 or so extra assorted,  extended family members that had come to stay for a week or so, and the four of us. As you can see size is relative. The more relatives, less is the size. 

They were as poor as the dirt floor in the bedroom that they had generously and wholeheartedly assigned to just me, as my very own. They told me that if I wanted I could have the front room to myself for sleeping if I wanted. That room had a tiled floor. But it had two beds which were supposed to sleep 4 or five to a bed. I said, " it's fine, thank you, I'll take the room with the dirt floor. Secretly, in my own thoughts I knew I could not sleep there. It was a small, dark, hot and dingy room with no air and a large bucket of pig swill fermenting in the middle of the room. The bathroom and toilet in this shanty hovel had no running water. After a pee or a crap one had to pour water from a bucket into the toilet bowl to flush. In order to bathe, water had first to be heated over an open fire and then placed into buckets and mixed with cold water and carried to the shower recess and then with a cup poured over oneself to wash. 

The house did have electricity though. How else would you play Xbox? 

The kitchen was big, with a fridge, but all cooking took place out the back on several smallish open fires.

To put it mildly, I was in shock. What was I expecting? "Dynasty"? "Bonanza"?  "Little House on the Prairie "? 

I felt like a spoilt, little middle class bourgeois punce. How could I survive here without a clean bed or room. Without fresh, pure water to drink? ( Lucky I'd bought a gallon of pure water before I arrived ). I kept my cool and graciously tried to absorb my new and temporary reality. I tried to tell myself that I could endure it because the love and hospitality I already felt coming to me from Luciana, Rosa, Theresa, their brothers, Uncles, sons and daughters and in- laws was beyond overwhelming. I'd never experience anything like it in my life. People who had nothing, offering me so much of what little they possessed turned me inside out. They were literally dirt poor. But they were richer than kings and queens and happier than any millionaire I'd ever met because of their collective hearts and souls and spirit. They did not have a shower that worked but the showered me with care and laughter and singing and dancing and jokes and playing and drumming....and food. Luciana and Rosa cooked from morning till night and tried to make sure that I was as comfortable and sated as possible. From the moment I arrived they told me and insisted that I was now part of their family and that I should not be embarrassed to ask for anything. 

After arriving and putting my stuff away I couldn't find one of my bags. I was looking for it, slightly concerned and confused as to why I couldn't find it because I remembered having placed it with everything else on the bed. While I searched, a beautiful girl of about 18, I've forgotten her name, walked into the room and asked me if I wanted to see the album of photos that she had taken by a professional photographer. 

"Of course." I said. 

She handed me the album with pride. In these photos she was dressed like a princess,she WAS a princess, in many different ball gowns of various styles and colours, with her hair up, with her hair down, some with tiaras, all in full makeup. Some photos were done as faux fashion magazine shots with her on the cover of popular magazines. For her, this collection of photos represented all her teenage hopes and dreams and fantasies. I poured through the gorgeous array and praised her beauty and grace. She  smiled and said thank you. I congratulated her and thanked her for the honour of sharing this with me. Luciana and her mother Rosa then walked into the room and I asked them if they knew where my bag was. They helped me search. Luciana told me not to worry and " that no one ever loses anything here."  And then the old " Abuelita "( grandmother ) Theresa walked in, overheard us and located it for me straight away. She had placed it in one of the cupboards. I thanked her.

When I first stepped into there backyard which was basically jungle, I was alerted by Yordalis and Alexis to the fact that I should get my camera out so as I could film the slaughter of the pig that I'd been told about, the giant pig we would all later eat, for the rest of the week. I asked Yordalis, when exactly would this take place he said " ahorita " which means "shortly". I said Yordalis, I want to do a couple of things first. He said, " look Georgito we'll wait for you, we won't kill it without you here". 

I pulled Yavany aside and tried to be as polite as possible and asked him to please understand that this is not an insult to his beautiful and gracious family but that I didn't think I could sleep in that room and if it was possible to try and find me a cheap room in the centre of town, close to his house, that had a shower, flushing toilet, bed etc where I could have my own space and come and go as I please. Again he insisted that I could have the front room, the room that slept 8 people or more, the one with the two beds, all to myself. And again I said that I couldn't do that to his family.  He agreed to come with me and look for one. I told Yordalis that I'd be back in an hour and to wait for me for the slaughter. 

During this whole time Ruen, the driver had waited patiently for Yovany because he also needed assistance in finding a place to repair his punctured tyre and so we decided to kill two birds and drove firstly to fix the tyre and then to look for a room.

We got the tyre fixed easily enough while Ruen and I got to know each other a little. I  lectured him on Australia's weather, wildlife and women and he was keen to learn a little more English as well. He asked me about Kangaroos and I told him that I had a kangaroo right here, between my legs.  He decided that as far as he was concerned, my new nickname would be " Kangaroo " and that he would also call his penis 

" Kanagaroo " and that whenever he heard the word Kangaroo, he would think of me.

I asked him if that meant that whenever he looked at or touched his penis, he'd think of me too? He laughed his head off.

We then drove to a couple of places to enquire about a room for me but none of them were any good and the people running these places were a bit of a pain the ass regarding rules and regulations. The word to describe this kind of person in Cuba is  " Un Igado " ( literally.. " A liver " ).

So it looked like that for this night at least I would have to stay at Luciana's house, in the room that I knew I would not handle. 

We briefly drove through the main street of Lajas.

 Lajas is quaint and elegant and its main claim to fame is that it's the birthplace of the late and great, Cuban singer Benny Morre. And the humble and proud family I was staying with  IS The Morre family. 

Everywhere, all over town there were tributes to him, THE BENNY MORRE CAFETERIA, THE BENNY MORRE CENTRAL PARK, photos of him in every cafe and shop, statues, bronze plaques and paintings of and dedicated to him all over the place. 

Horse drawn carriages combed the streets carrying hay, boxes of fruit, people. The main centre of town was busy with the townsfolk preparing for New Year's  eve celebrations, buying food, eating, drinking, chatting, working. Then Ruen drove us back to the house.

The second I stepped foot into the backyard Yordalis said " ok grab your camera, we're ready". They'd let the pig out of its cage to run around free for a bit before it's execution. I ran inside, got my camera, ran back outside and they had already grabbed the pig and brought it to the ground. I swear, it was squealing like a pig. Alexis, another nephew and Yordalis held it down, some of the children gathered around like an audience in Ancient Rome. A large caldron with boiling water was already in place on an open fire of burning coal.

Then the gentle and kind and suave and noble Yordalis stuck a knife into it's heart. The pig kicked and fought and screamed and grunted and kicked with the two men. Salsa music blared, dogs barked and children giggled in the background, providing an ironic ambiance to the whole butchering. Blood squirted all over the two men, flies and mosquitoes buzzed around and I captured it all on film. 

After about 5 minutes of frantic and useless struggle and death throws, the pig stopped moving and twitching. Ding dong the pig was dead,....or so we thought. It suddenly jumped up, scratching and wheezing and gasping for another morsel of life, tripping over itself and up again a few times over until Yordalis and Alexis grabbed it one more time, held it down and stabbed deeply into it's heart once again. And then, once and for all, it stopped breathing. It was now definitely, very relaxed. 

They poured boiling water onto it to loosen the pores of it's skin thus allowing them to scrape off all it's hair with a large sharpe knife with relative ease. Then they slit it down the middle with an axe, pulled out all it's innards, ( to eat of course ), because not one part of the pig is waisted, because nothing is waisted here in Cuba. They even scooped all the blood out of it's carcass to use for cooking and to flavour the meat with. 

For me, it was an incredibly visceral ordeal to witness and it ended just as nonchalantly as it had begun. The pig was unceremoniously stuck on a hook and hung from an old and withered tree close by. Everybody went on partying.

The cage was now empty. 

The pig was chopped up into manageable bits to cook and to put away into the fridge for later.

 And then the instruments were brought out and we played and sang and danced and laughed while Luciana, Rosa and Adeles prepared the pig's parts with garlic, lemon, salt and onions and then placed them into pots to cook. Because the rice contained minuscule grains of stone it first had to be sifted, by hand, stone by tiny stone. This had already been done with loads of patience by the women and so now it was put to boil as were the beans (Frijoles). Intermittently they would break away from their cooking to sing and dance as well . 

And this is how the Cubans drink their rum ( Ron ) here in the countryside. Who ever has a bottle or cup or glass of the stuff passes it around and shares it. Bottle after bottle after bottle is passed around time after time after time. And let me tell you something ; These Cubans, both men and women alike can drink any Australian, including the biggest brute of a Rugby player, any time, under 15 freaking tables and still keep themselves together and even dance a straight line. That Ron is strong.

No one got ugly, there were no arguments or fights or biffs or altercations or people throwing up or any disenchanting incidents or inappropriate behaviour. Everybody just sang louder, laughed harder, danced and talked more freely and ate and drank more and more. No one sat around staring into space, saying nothing, no one got bored. Everyone was constantly up, up, up.

And bit by bit, the pig slowly disappeared into our stomachs and on to another world.

 I was hugged and kissed so many times that night by every member of the family. And it wasn't even New Year's Eve yet. 

Rainel, one of the teenagers there, a thoughtful and handsome kid of about 15 was so cool. He could dance and sing and play the fish ( guallo ) like an animal. He watched me intently, laughed at my jokes and stories and really took a shining to me as I to him. He'd come up to me every now and then and shake my hand and sit next to me. 

I made friends with another little boy of about 5. His name was Michael. He was strapping and smart as well. One of his front teeth was missing. He kept on getting into trouble with his grandmother. He loved looking at the photos and video that I took of him on my iphone. 

He actually taught me how to play the guallo. That kid had music in his blood and was already a groovy little percussionist at the age of 5. He kept on laughing at me because I couldn't play the thing and kept on falling out of time. He'd grab the gourd and stick from me every time I made a mistake and he'd laugh and say " that's not how you do it, this is how you do it Georgito.."

Yordalis sang a kind of improvised Cuban "guagiro" rap which he dedicated to me. It was pure crazy and inspired poetry.

Yovany's father Hendry reminded me of Buddha himself. A  man with such humility and patience and pride and soulful talent. He also sang some beautiful old Cuban boleros from the 50s. 

The indefatigable and beautiful Luciana would come up to me almost every half hour smiling. She'd grab me by the shoulders. Concerned, and with a mouth shining full of radiant whiter than white teeth, she'd ask me if all was good with me, telling me that if I needed or wanted anything, just to ask. She said that when I wanted to bathe, just tell her and Yovany or one of her sons would go and fetch buckets of hot water from one of the neighbours for me. I'd keep telling her that I'd probably bathe later that night. 

And I'll never forget Titi, a tiny pretty woman of about 40 years of age. She only had one big buck tooth on top but more teethe on her lower jaw. The younger people there would make fun of her. She had no husband, no boyfriend, no children and the others joked that I should marry her because she liked me. But when she sang everybody stood still and listened in wonder. It was like hearing a beautiful angel / bird. She was note perfect and her voice was the highest voice I've heard in my life. She sang like a child with perfect pitch. And she would laugh like a crazy person. I filmed her and showed her and she kissed and hugged me and laughed herself stupid.

It was now about midnight. We'd already eaten so much and the festivities, the playing and singing, the songs and dancing just kept on coming. They were never going to stop. I'd been up since 6 a.m. I was beat but everybody else were just getting their second wind. Again I pulled Yovany aside and said that I couldn't sleep in that room and that I'd sleep out on the front patio on a small "camita" ( a little bed ) which they had near the glassless open window in the lounge room. He laughed and insisted yet again that I sleep in that room. He just couldn't dig me. He didn't get it.

I then spoke to Luciana and told her the same. She too was confounded and told me that I'd catch a cold out there. But I insisted. The little bed was arranged outside for me. I asked them to just take the little mattress off the iron frame and put it on the ground outside with a pillow and a sheet to cover myself with. 

And so, I went and laid out there on it and tried to fall asleep with the music and dancing and laughing and yelling and all the cacophony around me. Impossible, but I tried. About half an hour later I got up and danced some more, this time with the lady of the house Luciana. Everybody was so glad that I was up again and they all clapped and commented on how well I danced. I asked them if they were just joking with me. But they were being sincere. They really thought I danced well.

I guess that I'd just picked it by instinct, over the time I've been here, like osmosis.

After an hour of furious salsa and rhumba I went back to my camita and fell asleep...for a while. 

When I awoke I was itching like crazy. Little ants and mosquitoes had ganged up on me while I'd slept and now I was scratching like a rabid dog. I got up and sprayed myself with Tropical strength " OFF Skintastic " repellant that I'd brought from Australia but I was still itching and sweaty and feeling really filthy and uncomfortable. So I approached Luciana at 2.30 a.m and asked if I could now bathe. All was arranged for me and after they brought the buckets of warm water into the bathroom I washed my self using a big cup that I scooped the water out with, pour over myself, lather up with soap and then pour more water to clean off all the soap. I emerged from the bathroom a new man, feeling as fresh as butterfly.

When I walked back out to the patio, Alexis had already worked out that it was better to place the small mattress on it's steel frame so that at least the tiny vicious ants couldn't get to me. He'd already arranged it all. He then took my repellent and sprayed it all around the perimeter of the bed. I sprayed more all over myself and went back to bed. I think I may have slept for an hour at most. Disjointed and delirious dreams sneaked stealthily into my subconscious. I was in some weird limbo. Inevitably, I tossed and turned in my uncomfortable and torturous attempts at sleep. I thought to myself, what have I gotten myself into? Tomorrow I'll just have to find myself a "casa particular" close by. I can't go without sleep for 4 days. If I can't find a room, I'll have to go back to L'habana early and how will I explain that to Yovany, Luciana and her loving family without causing them great insult?

I awoke at about 4 a.m blanketed in a thick tropical mist which permeated the entire neighbourhood and made everything damp. From my bed I could barely make out the tiny concrete bridge which spanned the creek at the cul de sac next to our house. 

Everything was quiet now. Everyone was asleep. 

I got up with the sheet wrapped around me and walked into the lounge room. All the large rocking chairs were now empty. All the bedrooms were now full of family members. The front room with the 2 beds had 8 people in there. The middle room next to the bathroom now slept 4 people. And the room which I'd originally been offered slept 5 kids.

At the back of the lounge room, on the floor, under thin sheets, slept Luciana and her two sons, Yovany and his brother Juan Carlos.

I sat myself in one of the rocking chairs, with my feet up on another in front of me.  With the sheet snugly wrapped around me, I gently and finally rocked myself to sleep.

And all this happened the night before New Year's Eve. All this was just a practice run, a taste of what was to come.... Just a flavoursome entree. 

To be continued... 

SPEAK SOON. 

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Alexis, Pig and Yordalis...

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little five year old Michael with Hendry in background holding baby Anthony

TIME KEEPERS OF CUBAWORLD

 

There's a saying in Cuba...." Barriga llena, Corazon contento ". " A full stomach is a happy heart. "

Xmas eve in L'habana was just that. I'd been invited by friends to their homes for Xmas eve but decided to stay at my place, Neida's house, where Neida herself and Maribel the housekeeper slaved all day concocting one blast of a Xmas feast. Just like my parents used to do. I was astounded by the finesse of the dishes that the two of them produced, all with the minimum of fuss and better than any restaurant I've eaten at so far here in

 L' habana. Including myself, the 14 of us ate and drank like there was no tomorrow or if there was a tomorrow, we wouldn't have to eat.

From 6pm, music and the sounds of happy revellers enveloped our street from all directions, and this was happening all over Havana. And something curious, comforting and civilised ; here in Cuba when people drink, they drink long and hard, they get drunk too.....But their drinking does not lead to punch ups or violence or throwing up or car accidents or rape and murder or slovenly behaviour like in Australia where drinking is an excuse for all kinds of degeneracy and tragedy. Here in Cuba, they even drink on the beach. They carry bottles of Rum into the sea and drink while playing and swimming in the ocean and still don't lose it. Instead, here in Cuba drinking leads to singing and dancing and joking and playing and story telling and over zealous expressions of brotherly love. How's that? Maybe I can organise a government sponsored " Drinking Programme " by importing Cuban drinkers as instructors to Australia.

Again I've not written for days because I've been busy. Busy going to the beach,visiting friends, cooking, walking, listening, looking, feeling. Busy rehearsing songs I've composed, and also some arrangements covers of some famous and old Cuban pieces that I want to record with Coto, the Tresero from hell, Hayden Soul, the Flautist from the clouds  and yesterday a new addition Randolpho who plays double bass and has his feet planted firmly on terra firma. This is concept of "Terra Firma" or " Solid Ground " is an important one for me because, although the rhythms and rhymes of Cuban music are probably one of, if not, the most precise and sophisticated forms in the world and the Cuban's sense of keeping time is incredible, their ability to keep time in the sense of being punctual or keeping an appointment or meeting is laughable. If a Cuban says " I'll be there at 8 a.m ", don't hold you're breath, it's a fantasy. Especially with musicians. While waiting for you're meeting to fruit you could get married, consummate your marriage, have children, send them to school, watch them grow and get a divorce. Then the musicians will show up for the rehearsal with a quiver full of excuses as to why they're late. 

" I had a baby. "

" I had a dentist appointment "

" I had to be at another rehearsal with an orchestra "

" Did we say 8 a.m, I thought it was 11p.m."

And my question is.."Then why do you arrive at 1 p.m?"

I'm finding it almost impossible to get used to.

In Cuba, most babies of musicians are born about 3 months late, more or less.

Withstanding all this we're making considerable musical progress, thank god.

Tomorrow is the 30th of December. My friend Yovany has invited me to spend a week at his family's farm in Cienfuegos. I don't like dropping names but, Yovany is the nephew of the late and great Cuban singer Benny Morre. So I'll be staying and playing with Music Royalty. All of the family are musicians.....and little old me. WOW !!!!

Yovany keeps reminding me about the huge monster of a pig we're going to consume and how we're all going to bury ourselves alive in music and dancing and swimming in the river and riding horses and cows, bareback. If you read my previous blog you'll see how my father was kind of psychic when he bought me a horse and then later swapped it for a cow.  My father was a visionary in preparing me for my time with Morre family. 

Last night I went out with Maribel the housekeeper, her novio ( boyfriend ) Machichi and her brother Yusdel, down to the Malecon and the sea. A seven piece Mariachi band showed up and played to a group of people on our right while on our left a guy with giant Ghetto Blaster tore at my attention with his collection of thumping Rigatone, Cuban Hip Hop and Reggae.  We spent the evening drinking rum and coke ( Cuba Libre )'and eating copious amounts of roasted peanuts which the street vendors sold at a cent a cone. We joked, told stories, and I danced and sweated my ass off to the sounds of the Ghetto Blaster's pumping Salsa Hip Hop Mix. We ploughed through 2 bottles of Rum and all of us shared the same plastic cup. Now that's socialism ! 

This morning I popped into my second Revival meeting at the Methodist Church just around the corner where a charismatic Pastor preaches, and a giant group of musicians, singers and dancers chant and play their hearts out in praise of The Lord ....it's a humid, colourful, multi rhythmic, exotic spiritual get together for the local community every Sunday morning where every body sings and gyrates in an expression of devotion to their maker. They welcome me there with open arms. I was born a Jew and I love it. People is People! 

Early tomorrow morning at 6 a.m ( I'll believe it when I see it and I won't hold my breath ), Yovany, his brother and father are coming to pick me up and then it's a two and a half hour drive to Cienfuegos. I'm paying for the car and driver for the trip there..$100. Yovany has organised the car at a discount and has implored me, to the point of being pedantic, not to utter a single word in front of the driver because if the driver thinks that a foreigner is paying, then it'll be a lot dearer...more like $170. So it'll have to be silent bliss for me all the way there. Then on the way back, they're paying...so I can talk my freakin head off.

Until next year, to my brother Alexander I wish you a full and utter recovery and only the best, and to all the people dear to me I wish you all a really healthy, happy and prosperous and safe New Year.!!!!!! Xxxxxx

Full stomachs, happy hearts Joy and salud to you all.

Speak Soon.

 

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DOWN SIDE UP

The difference between being young and being older is a simple one. When you're young you dream of things you'll one day do or feel or achieve. You dream of possibilities. When you're older you ponder the things you'll probably never do or experience. 

All my life, probably since the age of 8 and upwards my father Dan and mother Felicia ( Litzi ) recounted stories to my brother Alexander and I, enchanting and engrossing tales of their life together, their love, their work, their associations, their hopes and fears and troubles, their obstacles, triumphs and adventures.

After meeting each other in a bar, at a piano, which my father played, just after the war, in Tel-Aviv, they married and returned to say goodbye to there respective Romanian Families and then took a boat to the sexiest country in the world, Cuba. It's these stories of their enamoured youth here in this country, here in L'Habana, where they created a rich life, where I am now, that resonate with me the most. I remember more about my early childhood than of what happened 2 years ago.

Just yesterday I was blessed once again. I say this because, what I did, was extraordinary and there's no way I could've done it alone. 

Before I left Australia for Havana my bro Alexander, god bless him, was kind enough to give me the deeds to the house that was once my Parents'. I say "was" because although we still "legally" own it, we "legally" don't anymore, because it was appropriated by the communists when Fidel took over. So really we don't have a right to it anymore. Wrong is right and right is wrong. Everything changes. Very Zen. 

I always wanted to find that place, my first home. 

Well, just yesterday my good friend Alberto and his friend Ivan came to pick me up at 9.30 a.m to find the house. It's been 54 years since we left it. In those days the streets and addresses were all different. There were no street numbers as such and instead, this house was listed in the deed as a lot, in a certain area called "CLUB CAMPESTRE km 23" in Bauta, on the outskirts of L'habana near PUNTA Brava, in the countryside.

Anyway, the salient factor that determined our success in finding this place was that I remembered from my early childhood that there was a railway track on the right side of this grandiose colonial mansion, and when the sugar cane trains came by, the workmen on the train would always throw a few bundles onto our property and wave to me and shout out my name. I would love sucking the juice out of the cane. So when we found the street in that area we began to search for, and immediately found the track, all but gone, but still kind of there.

Now, because the track was on the right side of the house, there could only be two corners where the house could've been situated, at diagonals of the crossroad. Outside in the garden of one of these corners, on our left, on the patio was an old woman who was painting her wrought iron chairs. We stopped the car, got out, walked into her yard and then asked her if she knew anything about what was here before. How lucky for me that she was actually there that day at that precise time of day. I showed her a photo on my ipad. She was gobsmacked.

I asked her some questions and then she began to open up with her story. I asked her many questions and the past unfurled into my world and her words seemed to tumble from her lips like falling, floating Autumn leaves.

I walked around her humble little country house to take it all in and just remember and imagine myself as a child again. Memories whispered to me like the gentle breeze that caressed my skin on this sunny, lovely day. I remembered running down the road full of excitement on my way home from playing and falling over because when I was little I used to have knock knees and was always tripping over myself, till my parents bought me corrective boots. 

Our home had undergone many metamorphoses since we'd left and finally, after all but cascade to the ground like a sad, old elephant it was finally put out of it's misery and felled to earth by bulldozers as were all the giant palms and the Mango tree that was the centre point of a row of palms that once stood at the back of the house way behind the swimming pool.

  She told us that she and her family had lived there for 45 years. The house was knocked down 15 years ago....as it had been taken over by the government, was then, amongst other functions turned into headquarters for a chicken farm. Her husband had been the Vet there. 

Any way I've captured about half an hour on film with her telling her story, with Alberto, with me and Ivan too.......she remembered the house very well room by room, wall by crumbling wall. Her son tried to jump off the roof once, she remembered the shape of the swimming pool and showed me where everything had been situated....the enormous fountain in front of the mansion that dominated the driveway, ( I remember my father telling me a story how when he used to come home late at night from the his club that he would often see the ghost of a woman sitting at the fountain. ) the pool, ( I stood in it's former space and pretended to swim to make her laugh and remembered how as a child I had placed my small toy plastic red and blue boat with lit candles on top, in the pool. It had started to rain so I ran into the house forgetting that I'd left the boat in the pool. When it had finally stopped raining I remembered the boat and ran out to the pool only to find a floating melted blob of red and blue plastic.). , the chauffeur's  quarters (the chauffeur who had once caught me in his arms when I fell off my horse. My father had gotten upset that the horse had thrown me and decided to swap it for a cow.).... and the old lady, the new legal owner of this once glorious property and I concurred utilising her memories and my recollections and photos. Perfect match.

The whole episode was a quiet but immense shock to my spirit, like coming to say hello and goodbye at the same time....melancholy and relief all bundled up....washing over me like a gentle Tsunami.

Her house there now is small and simple, with giant pigs, healthy chickens, rabbits and herbs at the back behind here humble dwellings. She spoke of all the giant palms that used to line the perimeter  of the property with a huge mango tree which stood at the centre point of the palms behind the house, which were all torn down for safety because of cyclones.

She showed me that where the pool used to be it's always more muddy and the earth is softer.

And the train line of course, which I always remembered was right there on the right side of the house. The train line, onto which I once threw chickens with my retarded accomplice friend Raphi who was the son of an American consul. Raphi was older than me but slightly retarded, so mentally we were about the same. I got into huge trouble from my father who locked me in the huge dark basement of the house as punishment for my murderous crime. I told her that story and of course she remembered the basement, she'd been inside and told me how she always had to keep an eye on her children because they were always playing in the old house which was falling apart and becoming more and more dangerous to live in.

I asked her if she had any relics, doors, a piece of wood, nails, bolts, door knocker, anything ...she said nope, nothing Georgito...only the dirt at our feet and the dry sand that we sometimes use to make concrete to repair this little house.

She said that next time when I return to Cuba I should drop by and see that her place will look much better. I said yeah...and maybe I'll cook you dinner.

So we left, and I let out a big sigh. We drove back to old Havana, we ate lunch at a great place and then Alberto drove me home. I thanked Alberto and Ivan for the honour of accompanying me on my soul's mission. I had a wee siesta and then at 2pm walked to Coto's house to play and work on some more music.

So I guess I've achieved one more of all the great things I've always wanted to do and when I get older I'll have less of a bucket list. 

But as my father once told me,.." Without dreams, a man is nothing."

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Dreams....... 

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WITH THE RAIN AND NO SLEEP ; MIRACLES

 

It's been a few days and I feel guilty for not writing but so much has happened to me of late and I haven't had time. Now I've certainly got something to write about. 

If you remember, three days ago I was incredibly tired and although I went to bed at 6pm,

try as I might, I could not sleep. I tossed and turned, listened to a meditation cd, watched some Mexican reality TV but nothing worked. Something niggled at me, something out there and not in my room.

It was about 11pm and I decided to get up and walk up to Caille Obispo, the main tourist section of old Havana. Where there are bars and music and people. No sooner had I left the house than it started raining again so I snuck undercover just off the curb into a dark alcove where 4 men and a woman already stood. Behind them on the ground lay a drunk hobo, tall, black and broken by life, who muttered and blurted obscenities and incriminations at us and the world, which we tried our best to ignore. 

One of the men, an older man of about 75 was playing guitar and singing a beautiful old bolero for the others who were listening intently and also singing along with him. When he finished his song we all clapped in appreciation engrossed by his weathered, beautiful voice and gentle playing. He sang another sweet, melancholy song and when he finished we all applauded again. I asked if I could play one too. His name I now forget, but he handed me his guitar and said "OK...you play one and then we'll take turns..me one, you one, OK?" 

So I played a beautiful old Cuban bolero that my father, himself a pianist, taught me long ago, a song called " TU ME ACCOSTUMBRASTES " composed by a friend of my father's, a  famous Cuban pianist, FRANK DOMINGUEZ. 

They all joined me with harmonies at different sections of the song.

What happened next was a miracle of sorts. It turns out that these 5 people were all musicians, amazing musicians and singers and percussionists. They couldn't believe that I was actually playing this song and when I finished I was overwhelmed by their appreciation and surprise. One of these men in particular, looked up to the sky and said 

" Gracias a dios, Tu es un regalo de dios. Eso es el trabajo de dios. " Which means " Thanks to god, you are a present from god. This is the work of god." When I went to hand the guitar back they told me to keep playing. 

It turns out that this man, who's name is COTO is one of Cuba's national treasures. He is a Tresero, ( Cuban 3 string Guitarist ) who has toured the world playing everywhere, including Australia. And, to cut a long story short, for the last 3 days, he and I have been working on my own compositions with the intent of recording a CD. Yesterday he told me, 

( and this I can't fathom ), that I've taught him stuff, chord structures and harmonies that he's never heard before and that I'm really helping him reach a completely new level of musical understanding. The only thing I can say is " WELL FUCK ME " because this guy is a pure and utter magician. He's a Musical animal. Talk about an honour. I feel blessed to have met him. What we've arranged so far sounds gorgeous. To watch him play my melodies is........total WOW.! I can't believe my luck. 

This is the miracle I'm talking about. Had I been able to sleep, and had it not rained that fortuitous night I would not have been walking and I would not have snuck into that dark little alcove and I wouldn't have met him. 

Yesterday afternoon a good friend of his, Gregory, a wonderful bass player, form Brooklyn, New York arrived at Coto's house while we were practising. Gregory is here a week to perform at the Cuban Jazz festival. Gregory invited us to play at a Jam session later that night ( last night ) with some of Cuba's and New York's finest Jazz players including pianist extraordinaire Arturo O' Farrill and Hayden Soul, angel Flautist and singer. Later that night while Coto and I waited to be picked up Coto asked me to tell him more about my brother Alexander and how he's doing. I told him, and so Coto, being an evangelist grabbed my hands and as he held them he prayed and beseeched god with such conviction, passion, zeal and faith for my brother's full return to perfect health, that I feel all will be well for my Alexander, with god's help of course.

 At about 8.30 Gregory, accompanied by Pedro, another formidable Cuban bass player and lovely guy arrived to collect us. First we went out for dinner at a great place just around the corner in Caille Galeano where we ate like little kings. I even had a vanilla thick shake ( my private celebration ). Then we took a car to Hotel Habana Libre in Verdado where we met up with another band who was playing there and we sat in ( actually, we stood in ) for a few songs. After that we took another car to Mirimar, to a place right on the beach where the big jam session was happening. The drinks and food were on the house and we drank and ate more and played our balls off. What a night. Very hospitable and gracious patrons.

These musicians were all hot, hot, hot...super caliente!

And I was there!!!! Thank god. 

When it rains, it pours. 

I am a very lucky man !

Coto and I had arranged to go to a recording studio today where Coto was scheduled to record with an orchestra of some of Cuba's finest. We'd intended to spend the rest of the afternoon doing some more rehearsals but when I arrived at Coto's house he was asked by a neighbour to fix ( actually, to build a door ). He had to, because he'd already promised to do so. So.....we postponed our session till midday Friday.

I'm looking forward to it and other miracles.

Speak soon.

 My bedroom where I found it hard to sleep that night

My bedroom where I found it hard to sleep that night


LONG WALK, BIG FAT FISH, RAIN & SMALL TALK.

 

 I'm sitting on a chair at my small table on my balcony within the big 5 roomed house of Neida, where I live in L'habana Vieja. It's just outside my room and its open to the sky as is all the centre of this large house. I'm surrounded by some hanging tropical plants and some on the floor in Terracotta pots. The floor is covered in big light brown and beige tiles with patterns of squares and small leaves. My balcony overlooks the other rooms downstairs. My room is the best I think. It's relatively private and I can play my guitar into the wee small hours. It's now 5 pm and the sounds around me coming from the street and other apartments is a veritable smorgasbord of audio delight. Cuban Music, mothers yelling at their children and their boyfriends and husbands, children laughing and playing, street vendors calling out their wares, cars honking, small ice cream carts playing their recorded corny tunes; " Green Sleeves ( of course ), Happy Birthday To You, There's No Place like Home, Star Spangled Banner ( hard to believe ) ...et al.

And the smells coming at me form everywhere. Mostly the odours of food cooking. The smell of sauces and onions and meats and corn fritters and chicharron, ( deep fried pork fat ) ....yeah baby, I'm in earthly heaven.

It's been raining torrentially for 2 days now which is peculiar for this time of year in Cuba. Last night, just as I left the house it began to drizzle. Then down it came. Like Noah's downpour. Everyone in the street ran for cover wherever they could find some; Under awnings, into shops, restaurants, markets, hotels, cafes.Where ever there was shelter people huddled. The water in the streets flowed like a river. I found cover in the Pattiserie Francaise at the entrance of the Hotel Inglaterrre on Caille Prado. The place was packed with wet people.........." I....see...wet people"......

Next to me stood a pretty, slim Morena, ( black girl). Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun with a red and white polka dotted bow. She wore a sleeveless red top with frills, tight, white jeans and high heels. She had heavily pencilled eyebrows, red lipstick on full luscious lips with a silver stud above her top lip.

She came over, smiled and asked me where I'm from. I told her that I was born here in Havana but that I've lived in Australia practically all my life, after Fidel's Revolution. She asked me if I live close by. I said "yes" and asked her if she did as well. She told me she lived not far way, but in another municipality. She asked me my name and told me hers. I told her mine and then asked her what she does for work here in Havana. She made a face and said that she doesn't work. I asked her why and she answered, " It doesn't interest me ".

We made some small talk about the river outside that now careered down Prado, then merely gazed out at Wet Havana, at Central Park.  After about 3 minuites or so of silence between us she turned to me and said, " Georgito " ( like saying Georgy ). I knew what was coming next. She said " Georgito, can you help me with a little money? I need to eat." 

And I said...." No." 

After that she stopped talking to me. No small talk. Not even tiny talk. Sometimes talk is not cheap.

A few minuites ago a fisherman came by the house and sold me a gorgeous big fat fish.

No bones, all filleted. The fish...BONITO....that's it's name. I've packed parcels of this ocean treasure away in the freezer, to eat another time. If I eat a lot of fish every night it will last me about 10 days. I love cooking. It's one of the few things that relaxes me. 

Today I walked from my house along the entire Malecon and had lunch at the small battlement Castle which dates back to the 1600s and sits on the point at the very end of the Malecon. It's  now a restaurant. I ate chorizo steeped in a rich salsa, bread and salad. I drank my favourite soft drink, MALTA...it's a sweet and wonderful, full- bodied, dark brown fizzy drink made from wheat that my mother used to mix with condensed milk and feed me here in Cuba when I was an infant. All Cuban mothers do this. Its very healthy. It shits on Coke and brings back ancient memories of my enchanted childhood, whereas Coke doesn't really offer memories of real substance, although Coke, as they claim, is "THE REAL THING".

Yep..... it was such a long walk along the Malecon, especially with all the post rain humidity and soaring heat. 4 or five kilometres took me a little over an hour, but the lunch at the end of the trek was worth it. Walking cleanses the mind too.

Now I'm sore all over. I hope I sleep well tonight....I really do. If I don't, I guess I'll just get up, go out and keep walking.

SPEAK SOON.

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NO HEAD IN HAVANA.

 

The last 3 days have been kind of weird. I haven't blogged for 2 days now, and that's usually a sign that something is either amiss or I that I'm just too busy, or have nothing to say. 

This is what I mean by "weird". I've been incredibly tired. Every muscle and joint in my body has been hurting. If I go and spend time just resting on my bed I'm riddled with guilt because I feel like I'm waisting precious time and I'm not out there in the thick of it all doing what I do. But then I come to my senses and realise I've only been here for not even 6 days and that last time I was here, the exact same thing happened to me in the first week; Lethargy, soreness etc. I guess it's a combination of all the travel, change in climate, food and time difference. 

Last night I dreamt that I was walking down a Havana street and a headless woman in mans' clothing was walking passed me gesticulating with her hands like a true Latina. In my dream I wondered how the hell she ate food and whether she just shoved it down her open neck. I also wondered how a headless woman can interact in social situations and whether she can project any kind of personality without eyes, mouth, voice etc. Would you want to or even try and socialise with a headless woman? Perhaps if you were a an extremely horny man with no principals. 

I guess that she could get a job as a janitor , but how would she know where the dirt was.? Perhaps a toll collector instead?

Yesterday I spent some time with my friend Yovany, the Tresero and the members of his band. Yovany has invited me to spend a week at his family's country house in Cienfuegos after the 31 of December. His family is the family of the  great and late Cuban singer, BENNY MORE, who is to Cuba what Sinatra is to the USA. I look forward to that. All his family are musicians.

 Yovany told me,..." George, we have a very big pig at our farm. A very big pig which we're saving for you.  We're gonna eat this pig together George." Thank god Yavany qualified the pig with the word " eat ". For a second there I had visions of some weird Cuban Hospitality ritual of Bestial rights and of the "Squeal like a pig scene" in the film " DELIVERANCE ". 

I asked him whether the pig has been informed about this, his metamorphosis from Pig to dinner.?

Yovany said,  the pig doesn't know yet but he thinks that the pig may pick up on some vibe pretty soon.

Anyway, today has just begun. I've eaten my yoghurt with papaya and banana. I've had my coffee. I want more coffee. 

So......photo below..from left to right.. George,George Sam,Yovany and Raphael...PRE GIG.

SPEAK SOON.


 

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A Jew, a hustler and a Comic walk into a Bar. A Jew, a hustler and a Comic walk into a Bar.

 

It's now 2.56 a.m. I think I went to bed tonight about 8.15. For some reason I've eaten a lot today. For breakfast, coffee, 2 expressos, yoghurt and pan con tortilla. Then Maribel,  the maid,

took me to buy a mobile line + credit, 35 cuc ( approx $35 ). Then I went to the Parque Central Hotel to buy a wifi credit card so I can do all my daily online stuff. They wouldn't sell me one because I wasn't actually staying at the hotel. I told the lady that last time while I was here for a month I bought many at this Hotel and I wasn't staying here then either, but she said " new rules ", she told me that I could get one at the Hotel Saratoga. But for me The Parque Central Hotel is much more convenient and I can be stubborn too. I looked around the hotel lobby and found a guy who looked like he was staying here and asked him if he would buy me one. He agreed. I gave him 35 cuc. He bought it and I was off and running, blogged my head off! ...Yeah..screw the new rules. 

I went back home, ate some papaya and bananas then Maribel and I went shopping for stuff I needed -2 big bottles of water, cigarette lighters, coffee. We bought some cakes and hazelnut ice cream and ate them on the way back. I carried the huge bottles and Maribel spooned ice cream and cake into my mouth. I told her she was my slave. After getting home I was still hungry so I went back out and ate lunch at a local cafe ; steak with with beans and rice, salad and a cervesa ( beer ). Then I went home for a siesta.

I awoke at about 4pm, played some guitar on my balcony with Carlos, who lives in the house with the lady of the house, Neida. She"s 40, he's 25, he's a funny guy. Neida used to be a ballerina with the Cuban Ballet. She's toured the world as dancer and also worked with a famous and now late composer friend of my father's, Frank Dominguez, the guy who wrote the famous song," Tu me accostum brastes ", a song that he dedicated to my dad back in 1957 because he was in love with my dad who was also a pianist. (but that's another story). 

Early evening I got hungry again but I thought, this is ridiculous, I'll just have soup.

I also had a bunch of presents I wanted to give to my friend Marcia who works at a street cafe around the corner. I had a mobile phone for her and some toys for her grand daughter. I took them over and she was so happy to see me again. Then I walked back to the Parque Central Hotel for some emailing and then went to a bar in Obispo St, where all the tourists hang. I met my first Jew. He wore a yamulkas. His name is Ray. He's a large man of 68. I told him about my father and he excitedly told me that he had heard of him from his father. And so he invited me to dinner and to meet with a friend of his, Louis Escalar, a Historian who he said would definitely know a lot more about my father's exploits in pre Castro Cuba. 

Ray then voraciously described what he would cook and how he'd cook dinner for me, using his pen he passionately etched tiny drawings. Vegetable by vegetable, animal by animal, time in the oven, temperatures et al, and all kosher. It was like watching a General plan a military campaign with intricate strategies and precision. He  said he'd make a soup for me that would make me strong like a Horse. Then we talked about how to make a beautiful salad without olive oil, which is very expensive and hard to get in Cuba. The trick of course is Lemon and salt.

While talking to Ray I also bumped into a guy, Michel, who I'd met the previous night in a bar further down Obispo street where I'd gotten wasted after 3 strong Mohitos. I invited Michel to sit with Ray and I. I bought them both a beer while I drank fizzy mineral water. I'm not really a drinker. 

There were two reasons why I had come to this particular bar tonight. One, to listen to one of my favourite bands in Cuba. The Tresero in this band is my Tres teacher. And two, to see if I could find a somewhat nefarious " friend ", Alexander, who I'd met on my first trip here. This bar was his favourite haunt. He's a great dancer and would grab girls like he was picking grapes off a vine and dance the night away with these enchanted chicas. 

Alexander is 35 and 15 years ago used to be Cuba's World champion Kick Boxer but these days was what you'd call a Hustler. He has a pregnant wife, and a young boy of 5.  This day, when I'd visited this bar briefly to ask about his whereabouts, one of the waiters had told me that he'd not seen him for a month. This I found peculiar. 

Tonight I asked Michel,  who I guess is also a Hustler, if he knew Alexander. Birds of a feather and all. 

 Michel said, " of course I do, he's my friend ". When I asked Michel if he knew anything, because I wanted to give Alexander a mobile phone and some clothes that I had promised to bring back, he said that Alexander had had some trouble. 

"What trouble?" I asked. 

Michel told me that he was in Jail for bashing two policemen who wouldn't stop making Alexander produce his documents every single night in the middle of the street, just outside the bar and humiliating him in front of patrons. Alexander just lost it one night and now he's in prison for three damned years. His wife had had the new baby since my last trip. Fucking Great timing Alexander ! I guess he'd be trying to kick down this box too.

Michel offered to take me so I can give my presents to Alexander in Jail. Double Great !! 

Perhaps Alexander can make that one call with his new mobile from Prison. 

There was something I found unique and  loveable about Alexander and this news has made me very sad. Very very sad.   

After all this I was hungry again. I paid for the drinks, gave Ray a manly goodbye hug. As I did so he recited some Jewish blessing into my ear and we agreed to meet on Saturday morning at the French patisserie next to the Hotel Anglaterre. Then he gave me a burgundy coloured yarmulkas that he had spare as a parting gift.

Michel told me that he needed to eat but had no money. He hit me up for some, 3 cuc, which now left me with 1 cuc and some small change in national currency. So I hit the street, bought a Salami sandwich for 5 cents then  revisited Marcia at her cafe and had some kind of  beautiful and tender pig meat ( not kosher) with rice and beans and some cucumber. I also bought a small desert for 3 cents made of peanuts and condensed milk called Mani. Yummy !

Below is a photo of Alexander ( the jail bird,pre jail and I ) on my last trip.

I need to sleep now.

SPEAK SOON.

 

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INCIDENTALLY HOME AT LAST INCIDENTALLY HOME AT LAST

 

Well, I arrived yesterday afternoon in Havana. The previous night spent in Mexico City

was mostly abominable. I'd spent most of the day prowling the street markets, buying a few presents for the 1 year old granddaughter of Marcia, a friend of mine in Cuba. I bought her a beautiful blonde doll, a plastic saxophone that blows bubbles and a collection of tiny plastic jungle creatures, basically things a child will try and eat, or choke on, ( which i hope she doesn't. I bought myself a gorgeous lime green guayabera, yummy!!!! ( No I won't eat it...I could choke! )

Early that evening I wanted to enjoy a soup I had had last time I visited Mexico, a garlic soup with two eggs. It took me about two hours to find because I'd forgotten where it was. But perseverance prevailed. when I finally saw it looming in front of me, it was like an apparition and I finally chowed down. It was worth me misleading myself.

 I went back to my hotel room at about 8pm but I couldn't sleep at all. It was a very cold night and so around 1 a.m I got up, packed and went downstairs to the lobby to get online and also played my guitar for the night clerk who made me coffee.

I caught a cab to the airport 4 hours before having to check in and talked Mexican politics with the cabbie on the way. He told me that things need to change and that old age pensioners could hardly survive on their meagre monthly hand outs. The story sounded familiar to me and I told him that it was no different in Australia .

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At the airport, Strabucks took me in. I ate a blueberry muffin and drank more coffee sprinkled with cinnamon and free WiFi. The plane trip took another three and a half hours and when I finally landed in Havana I was home Free. The airport was quite empty for the peak season and so every thing went surprisingly smoothly through customs etc. Because I had packed into my baggage 14 mobile phones and chargers to give to friends I had premonitions of being arrested, cavity searched( for more mobile phones ) and slung into a crumbling, damp cuban prison without so much as even a phone call with a mobile phone to a family member, friend or lawyer. I'm lucky I guess.

Once out the gate my friend Mani was there waiting for me with a beatific smile and a big hug. He drove me to the house I'm staying at, not without incident though. Just as we were  making a turn near Parque Central and no sooner than Mani had said " We'll be home in 5 minutes", a man on a motorbike came at us from the right,....from nowhere actually. I didn't see him, and neither did Mani till we had clipped him ever so slightly, he swerved, nearly coming off. ....OH FUCK!!!!! He's not just a man on a bike. He's a fucking Policemqn on a bike, who's nearly come off his bike. That prison began to loom in my mind once again. 

Every man, woman, child and their dogs came and gathered around the scene as Mani stepped out of the car at the behest of said cop. I felt like we were the unwitting stars on a new reality TV show.  

" WELL FUCK ME !!! " But we were all lucky. He didn't come off and there was no damage to his bike. And we were even luckier because if Mani would have braked one nano second later or the policeman had been going just one metre/ hour faster, there would have been carnage and hell to pay and Mani and I would be rattling our tin cups along the rails of the jail doors. The Policeman did not give Mani a ticket either. 

5 minutes later I was home and nearly unsound.  I gave Mani one of the mobile phones for Xmas and for a call from some Cuban jail, should he ever need it.

SPEAK SOON

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Awake in Mexico Awake in Mexico

 

I'm like a kid. It's like I've been waiting for Xmas to open my presents. I've not slept for 3 days. My head is swimming with delirious excitement in anticipation of what's to come.

 On the plane to LA I didn't sleep a wink. Watched a lot of shitty movies. If you want , I'll tell you how they end. Shitty!

From LA to Mexico City I also couldn't sleep and just peered from my window seat across vast desert wastelands and "rugged mountain ranges", ( they have them in mexico too ), wondering if from my vantage point I could catch a glimpse of some nefarious drug related cartel activities in progress down below.

It was dusk when I finally arrived. The minute I got to my hotel I showered, got dressed and crossed the street to my Taco Oasis which sits in the midst of a cacophony of music blaring from Music shops and honking cars in this Mexican market of madness. I ate seven and downed them with a bottle of "BOING" mango juice. The Taco master's name is Rigoberto. I introduced myself and told him that I'm in the process of making him famous

In Australia and wherever I get a chance to champion his unique talent in my travels to whoever needs to know about the Taco treasures I've discovered.

After that, I went for a little walk till about 8 o'clock to soak in some more life then came back to my room to sleep. Slept till 11.30 pm. Great! I don't think I'll sleep. I'm too excited about my life. So I'll play my guitar and write a little. 

Its now 2.54 a.m. Can't wait for my first coffee and breakfast. 

Can you eat Tacos for breakfast?

Speak Soon. 

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ODE TO A MEXICAN URN.

By this time next week I'll probably be too excited or anxious to sleep. At 10.30 am I'll have to be at Sydney international airport to check in my luggage for my flight to Los Angeles, with a connecting flight to Mexico City. Two days later, I'll be back in Havana. 

In Mexico I'll stay in a great little hotel called Casa de la Luna ( House of the Moon ), in Bolivar St, which is situated smack in HIstorical Mexico, next to the Aztec ruins, Museums, all the music stores, fabric stores, cafes,churches and bustling commercial life. 

But, what I've really got my sights, or should I say, my taste buds set on, is a little hole in the wall just across the busy street from my hotel where a humble culinary superstar makes the most delectable and satisfying soft shell Tacos in the world. Street food supremo!! The actual shop, cooking area and all is no bigger than maybe two square metres, with upturned wooden boxes on the sidewalk to sit on. There's a steel urn, like a witch's urn, about a metre in diameter and about 2 feet deep which boils and bubbles with oil and spices full of a cornucopia of meats from a variety of animals and animal parts from which the cook serves whatever you pick from the blackboard menu. He makes the Tacos there and on a massacred, indented and brutalised wooden butcher's block, chops and then gently places the soft and tender shreds of sacrificial meat upon your tacos and you add the fresh coriander, diced onions and piquant salsas, cheese and sour cream from an array of bowls. Then just sit, eat and watch the world go by. 

They say that just before you die, you see the most salient moments of your life flash before your eyes. I wonder if these wonderous Tacos will feature in my visions? I can't wait. .....No, not to die. I mean, for the Tacos.

Speak soon. 

 

 

 

 

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Cuba On My Mind.

Earlier this year, in July I went back home to my roots, back to my soul, to Cuba. I was there for a month and it was like living a whole life in one month. My experience was so rich there. I rediscovered something that I'd even forgotten that I'd misplaced after living most of my life here in Australia. 

Well, I'm going back, on the 2nd of December. This time for two months. While over there last time, I bought myself a TRES, the Cuban guitar which I'll be studying with a teacher on this next trip. It's completely different to a normal guitar. I'll be taking my other guitar as well. I have a few tunes that I've composed over the years which I'll record over there with whatever great musicians I can muster up. There are plenty of them. its a smorgasboard. I already have a few in mind. 

I'll be back on the 4th of February, back to work in Australia.  

SPEAK SOON

GEORGE

 

 

 

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