Sunday, 24 August 2008

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are altogether....

I got the DVD of "Across The Universe" today as it was nice and cheap.... just £5. I figured I would enjoy it because I love "Moulin Rouge" and I knew that this film was like that - a surreal musical with lots of humour and a human story behind the glitz.

I wasn't disappointed. The love story running through this film is moving and poignant. It's the story of a young Liverpudlian lad who goes to America to find his father, a man who left home before he was born. Having a university address for the man, he expects him to be an educated man, a professor, but he turns out to be the janitor.

While in the school, he is befriended by a student and falls in love with his sister - who has lost her boyfriend in the Vietnam war.

Against a backdrop of war and love lost and found, this film is wonderful, with lots of Beatles songs sung very well by the cast!

I love the lead actor who plays Jude (a guy named Jim sturgess) and he has a lovely voice.

Bono's part in this is not bad at all. You think that he would be struck with the curse of the "singer turned actor" that historically never works out well. Most musicians who take this path turn out to give a wooden performance, but Bono's is funny and his comic timing excellent. Love the bit near the end of his scene where he gets all petulant about someone not being there to meet him.... his expressions are priceless. His accent is great too, but then Bono has always been a good mimic and is great with different voices and accents.

I was really excited when I knew his scene was coming up, and despite the fact that he is made up to look like some ageing, hairy hippie (nothing attractive about that moustache at all), I felt really proud of him. It sounds funny, but I think of Bono sometimes as you would a close family member! You know, when you feel that pang of pride when they do something, and you support them no matter what and feel fiercely protective!

His rendition of "I am the Walrus" is brilliant. His star quality shines out in the film and his status as a class act amongst the other performers is apparent. Well... it's Bono isn't it? :-)

I think some of the meaning went over my head initially.... when Bono's character, Dr Robert says "You're either on the bus or you're off the bus", I thought he just meant that literally. He had a psychedelic bus and had people travelling with him.

But apparently, it's beat generation lingo for "creative tripping".... so I guess this film had lots of that kind of thing that might not be initially apparent. At least to me.

Despite this though, and all the dancing and singing amid "trippy" colours... the theme running through it is one most people can identify with or at least understand. A "normal" love story with all its angst, and the difficulties facing young men drafted into the Vietnam war.

There is a fantastic sequence near the beginning when one of the characters is drafted, and goes to sign up. Just so cleverly done. I won't spoil it in case anyone decides to watch it.

And one of my favourite people, Eddie Izzard, is in this, and his scene and song is hilarious!

Oh... and the highlight for me, Bono-wise? Hearing him sing the words: "You let your knickers down" during his rendition of "I Am The Walrus"!!! Something a bit naughty about Bono saying "knickers"!!!! LOL

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Cuba Travel Part Two

It's a rainy weekend here in England, and looking through the window is depressing. Grey, cloudy skies - no chance of the walk I had hoped for. Oh well, I suppose I had better just carry on with my "retro" travelog of my trip to Cuba in June this year. Memories of sunnier days..... sigh!
Sunday June 15th 2008
The next day we were up at 7am, victims of the time difference and the fact that it felt like 12pm to us. After changing rooms to a third floor one with a lovely view of the pool, we explored the hotel: bars, restaurants, pool area, fitness suite and spa, and realised that we were in a very special place and were going to have one hell of a holiday! We did say that we might take advantage of the fitness centre, but of course we didn't!!! Who were we fooling! Ha ha.

Keith in the fitness suite and me in the spa

In the hotel there was a large buffet restaurant that opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and this was where we ate most of our meals. The choice and range of food was immense, and it was really good quality. Although you might think you would get fed up of it after two weeks of lunches and dinners, that was not the case because there was just so much to choose from. A whole counter of starters, salads, soups, potato salads, pasta salads etc (I fell in love with the ham that was rolled and filled with soft cheese, and with their lovely mustard dressing!), and then counters filled with main courses with every meat you can think of, various special dishes, vegetables roasted and otherwise. Then there were the dessert counters!!! Oh my goodness! Here was where the diet went totally out of the window. Every day we had cake (and what an array of cakes!) and ice cream. And then there were pancakes with bananas and orange juice and rum. Yummy!

Oh, just for the record I discovered that - strangely - all the clothes I had brought with me shrank during the first week. Must have been the humid climate.

Ahem... anyway... where was I?

Oh yes, the food. As well as the buffet restaurant, there were two a la carte restaurants within the grounds of the hotel - one at the side of the pool, and one on the beach (called The Romantic, and it was!). You could eat out at an a la carte twice a week, so four visits in all. It made things a little more interesting and a nice change from the environment of the buffet. Plus, in these restaurants, it was waiter service, not self-serve, which also made a nice change.

Today, we went down to the beach, and Keith snorkelled while I lazed about and read my book. It was so peaceful and idyllic, with the clear blue sea and white powdery sand. We lunched at the Romantic restaurant, which in the daytime doubled as a snack bar. It was so great to have a few beers with lunch and not have to pay for them! A concept that I had not experienced before, but that I could definitely get used to. All you need in Cuba is a few pesos a day for tips. A peso at the end of the meal or after an evening at the bar is very welcomed, but not expected.

After lunch it started to rain, so we went back to the room to drop off all our beach stuff. By this time a magnificent thunderstorm was underway, and the rain torrential, but this was the only time we saw rain like this the whole two weeks. It did rain again during the second week, but it was hardly noticeable.

The beautiful, white sand beach

After dropping our stuff off in the room we decided to go down to the bar for a beer, which was interesting, because with being an open plan hotel, the bar had no walls and the wind and some spray from the rain was sweeping through. We spotted our rep, Janier, sitting alone. He was on duty as he is most days, but looked bored as he waited for people with problems (not many of them I am sure) so we decided to go and sit with him.

We had quite an in depth conversation with Janier, who is Cuban. He told us all about the tourist industry, and how it is normal for the barman serving your drinks to actually be a qualified doctor or lawyer. He can make more money in the tourist industry. Just to give you an idea of the difference in salaries between Cuba and elsewhere, we met a Canadian woman who was a radiographer, and she told us that she met a barman a few years ago who was also a trained radiographer. She earned in one hour what he earned in a month!

Despite this apparent shortfall in earnings, and the perceived poverty of this country, you have to look at things in context. Cuba has no unemployment to speak of, and although the government owns all the businesses and there is no free enterprise , everyone who wants to be is gainfully employed. There is hardly any crime because the penalties are high (many people would argue that ours are not high enough!) and the health service is on a par with what we expect in the UK. Obviously, everything has its problems and nothing is perfect, but life is not as dark in Cuba as you might think.

It's hard to think about Cuban children excited about presents and sweets from the tourists (many people take pens and other stationery if going on any trips where children will be around), but then, don't our children have too much? It's hard to rationalise it, but this is the only life they have known.

Janier said he wanted more for his children, more than is available in Cuba, and I understand that. Not being able to set up your own business and earn levels of money that some of us take for granted must be hard. We can buy TVs and Hi Fi systems, travel where we want to. That freedom can be hard to live without, but then that's what WE have always known.

So, our first full day in Cuba was a diverse mix of lounging on the beach in lovely sunshine, sheltering in the bar with a few glasses of beer, and learning about Cuban politics and culture. I'll be talking more about that later too.

Dinner in the buffet tonight was lovely. Even though you serve yourself, you get waiters/waitresses coming and constantly re-filling your wine glass, which is wonderful. The waiter tonight, Rafael, made me a lovely rose out of a white napkin!

Just two days in, I loved the place already and could not wait for whatever was around the corner. The view from our balcony during the storm!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Cuba Blog At Last

Okay, it's been weeks since I got back from Cuba and I am long overdue writing about it. Life has kind of got in the way, and I have been adjusting to some changes at work. Think I am just about doing that, so I am more able to work on my computer in the evenings now. Here is the first part of my Cuba write-up.... and there are going to be several more, with a few pics along the way. Hope you enjoy it.

I am also going to be writing in my Blog more regularly now about day to day things. It's hard to get a writing schedule going (as all busy Bloggers know), especially when you have other projects on the go.... but I am going to do my best.

Anyway, onto Cuba

Saturday June 14th, 2008

Cuba is not a country I had ever considered before. I've done a lot of travelling - not as much as many people, but I don't do badly. My destinations of choice have always been Greece (lots and lots of the islands over 22 years), Ireland (Dublin mainly and, once, Galway), the US (countless states and cities like Boston and my favourite, New York) and Canada (Vancouver). Cuba kind of happened by accident. Keith (my husband) and I were looking at going on holiday to Greece, but the Euro was doing too well for our liking, so on a whim, we decided to look for All Inclusive holidays in the Caribbean, as we know they can be great value for money. First we looked at the Dominican Republic, and then, we took a look at Cuba. To our delight, we found a fantastic deal on a hotel called Sol Rio De Luna Y Mares.

Thinking it was too good to be true, we tentatively checked out all the reviews we could find on the internet, and we could not find a bad review! Oh, apart from the people who complained that the sea was too wet and the sand too fine! That kind of thing! So.... we booked it. It was really exciting to be going to such a different country, and when the day came, we were raring to go!

You can't get Cuban currency outside of the country, so we took sterling to change when we were there. But, we didn't need much, as our holiday was an all inclusive deal, which meant that all our meals, drinks and snacks were paid for in advance.

The flight with First Choice airlines was relatively painless. For such a long flight, you always expect a bit of pain, but the aircraft was so comfortable, with lots of legroom, that it was not bad at all. Apart from the fact that it was FREEZING cold, and several people had to ask, time and time again, for the air conditioning to be turned down or off. Eventually, the message got through to the captain, who did the honours for us..... but this was after hours and hours of being cold. Oh well, a minor point I suppose, and at least all the complaining passed some time!

When we arrived the weather was glorious - really hot. I had been warned though, about the humidity, and the fact that I would have to put up with "bad hair" days for two weeks!! But I could put up with that to be away from the unpredictability of the British summer. Cold and rain was far from my mind!

Immigration in Cuba is much more relaxed than when you go to the US. No reams of paperwork to fill in, or questions about whether you are a terrorist or a Communist (ha ha!). The female official who dealt with our visa was wearing a VERY short skirt and black fishnet tights! I think all the men appreciated that after a long flight.

The journey to the hotel was just over an hour by bus, and it was very enjoyable, because we got our first glimpses of this beautiful country. The countryside was so lush, with many very colourful flowers, and lots of crops like bananas, avocados, corn etc. There were lots of people out walking, and taking shelter under trees. Animals like goats, cows and horses were tethered at the side of the road, thin and bony with ribs and hips (do animals have hips?!) showing. But this is a different life, a different climate. A fat animal would probably die of heatstroke!

One of the most noticeable things when driving in Cuba are the many old American cars. Up until the revolution in 1960, Cuba was the largest importer of American cars. Of course, now there is no trade allowed between the two countries, so the cars that remain from those times have been lovingly preserved and are driven with pride. They affectionately call them "old timers", and there were certainly a lot of them about.

A Cuban "Old Timer"

As we drove along the roads through the province of Holguin, we got our first glimpses of the Cuban people, and the impression we got from them during this time was the impression that stayed with us the entire two weeks. The people were friendly with very open, smiley faces, boundless curiosity (they gawped at us new tourists) and great senses of humour (we got saluted and kisses blown!).

When we reached our hotel, we knew we would love it. It was a pretty orange building, fringed with white, and like many of the hotels in Cuba, was an "open" hotel, meaning that there were no doors to enter it, it was just a big, open plan space in the lobby. There was a circular drive leading up to it, and lots of palm trees and flowering borders of many beautiful colours!

The beautiful "Sol Rio De Mares" - Holguin, Cuba

The sky was blue and on the air the sound of birds singing! Absolute bliss..

We were a little disappointed when we got to our room. It was pretty enough, but the view was non-existent, and all we had outside the balcony was a jungle of palm trees. We changed it the next day, but for now this was the first of FOUR rooms we had in total during our holiday!

Our first balcony view!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Cuba Travel Blog Coming Soon...

On 14th June this year, Keith and I went to Cuba for our holidays... the first time we have ever been to the Caribbean. But definitely not the last! I am currently working on writing about it, and will be posting very soon. It may have to come in instalments, but it WILL come eventually.