Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Yesterday my right arm was cut off. Not literally of course. France is not a country of barbarians, whatever you might hear.

I lost my mobile phone.

Despite a pretty organised appearance, I do in fact lose things on a fairly regular basis. It all started with a bag at a bus stop. I used to take the bus from the top of my street to school. Packed with sixth formers and kids from another local school, the bus was always full.

One day, at 11 years old, I walked up to the stop armed with Hot Gossip standard issue schoolbag, games kit and violin. How I didn't end up with chronic lower back pain at 30 I don't know. Obviously this load weighed me down somewhat, and it was easy enough, mid-chat, to climb aboard the bus Hot Gossipless. I realised after a few seconds and begged the driver to stop while I ran back (with violin and games kit in tow) to get it. Two minutes later and 2 kilos lighter, a panting red-faced me scrambled back aboard just as the grumpy driver was about to set off without me.

Following the bag at the bus stop incident there were many other occasions. The purse on the bench in St Malo, the keys at work, the keys at home, the scarf in the bar and the top at summer camp. I always seem to have much more important issues to think about than keeping track of my belongings.

I've now realised I left my phone at work on Tuesday, and as I work in different places on different days, I won't get it until tomorrow. I have a dinner arranged for tomorrow and now have no idea if the person is trying to confirm or cancel, or if there are any texts waiting to be read from long-lost friends.

This has also made me see how attached I am to my mobile phone and how absolutely naked I feel without it. Only ten more hours before I can get to it again and probably find the screen exactly how I left it....

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Dark Side

A little cheer on a grey Sunday evening...

Saturday, February 24, 2007


I had a morning cup of tea this morning surrounded by enormous suitcases and stressed looking people in all manner of clothes for all manner of seasons. There was a slight waft of kerosene in the air and disembodied voices announcing times and exotic locations.

Yes, I was in Roissy airport, not because I was coming in from anywhere or leaving to go anywhere, but because my friend L was flying in briefly from England to Hong Kong.

Heaving myself out of bed at 7.30am, only 30 minutes after I normally get up when I drag myself off to work, I hastily ate some cereals and got ready. Not wanting to show up looking bedraggled I tried out my new skinny jeans and discovered that black and white trainers look stupid with them. Mentally making a note in my head to get some funky black flats I braved the Saturday morning metro.

I really hate taking the metro or RER early on a Saturday morning. The people on it are either loud-mouthed tourists, exhausted, drained looking night-shifters or people on their way home from parties - these are generally both loud-mouthed and exhausted. I experienced all three this morning, on my way there and on my way back. The RER B is the darkest and most sinister of all the lines but this morning (when I was returning to Paris) was host to a group of women from the north-west of England on a hen-night, most of whom looked old enough to be the mother of a bride, but I couldn't actually work out which one was the bride! In any case, now I know why Sheila isn't buying a house in Spain (she'd be too tied to the one country and wants to see the world), why Ron will retire next year (he's fed up now, innt 'e?) and why Barbara can translate anything in French (she's been before).

Gloomy journeys aside, I had a lovely two hours with L in a cafe in terminal 2C. It had been 3 months since I'd seen her last and while I was getting used to her not being around I still missed her very much. We caught up on developments (G's forthcoming move to Chablis - more on that soon, her new apartment, our respective jobs) and discussed pressing current affairs:

"So, have you seen Brittany's new hair?"
"I know, what made her shave it off?"
"Paris Hilton probably didn't want the competition and persuaded her it was a good idea during a Jack Daniel's marathon session..."

She got on her second plane of the day and headed back to the world of three-storey shop fronts, live chicken markets and mountain escalators. So now it's back to catching up by blog, her on mine and mine on hers, though I'm sure it won't be long before she's back again.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I'm not usually a fan of Valentine's Day. Not because I don't like its commercial nature or couply-coupleness aspect, but because it feels a little forced. I have a wonderful boyfriend I'm very happy with, but up until this year he didn't remember Valentine's Day or think it was anything special and that was fine with me. In a smug sort of way I was content with his being quite lovely the rest of the year.

So this year I wasn't really expecting anything at all. I was happily wrong, when he came bouncing through the door with a thick package from Le Triomphe. I was treated to a delicious meal of amuse-bouches, foie gras, dorado with vegetables and heart-shaped chocolate delights. The meal was truly wonderful and we drank some delicious Alsace Gewurtztraminer with the starter and G's family's Chablis with the main course. The photos don't include the fish because the photo doesn't look quite as mouth-watering as it really was...

In fact we went to the theatre on the day itself, so all this was the day after. A two-day Valentine to make up for four years of no Valentine: I wonder what he's been up to...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Last Day

Our fabulous trip ended in Varadero, an extremely nauseating tourist-filled place with little else but roads and hotels. The fine, long sandy beach was gorgeous, yes, but the complete lack of atmosphere or real Cuban life was so blatant that we were ready to leave after just spending one night there. The glacial reception we received the hotel Villa La Mar was just the beginning of our adventure. Bare light fittings, grotty walls and a very vociferous porter who complained constantly about bad tips were to follow.

The hotel wasn't dangerous or particularly dirty, but we certainly had a much better reception in every single one of the casas we stayed in during our two-week trip.
Our flight home was long, but uneventful, and we fell into our beds early when we got back to Paris. Tanned, tired but happy to have spent two weeks discovering one of the most fascinating of countries, a communist nation with stunning natural beauty, amazingly resilient people and a history to fill thousands of pages. And we only did half of it!

Monday, February 12, 2007


I have recently discovered a fantastic site, called facebook, which you use to share photos, stories and comments with loads of different friends and you can browse their photos too.

I discovered it during a little internet break, and was immediately hooked. In the five minutes per day of free time that I seem to have at the moment I've been checking it for new people and new photos. It's the new friends reunited on a worldwide scale!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Day 12 - 30 years old

The 12th January brought many thoughts, memories and feelings. I turned 30. In Cuba, and on the beach. Not a bad selection of events, but they did get me thinking.

I realised that it was the first time in my life I'd ever spent my birthday in the sunshine, not at work or school and without that post-Christmas blues which only lifts by late January. I know I shouldn't complain about anything; seeing the way Cubans struggle through their lives really showed me I could never be justified in moaning again. Nevertheless, every 0 birthday makes us reflect on the last ten years. While there was a huge gap between turning 10 and turning 20, moving from 20 to 30 hasn't felt so different, and I'm sure 30 to 40 will feel even less different, although hopefully by then there will have been some major changes in my family life.

We spent the day on Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Santa Maria and stayed in Villa Las Brujas on the first island. The wind was pretty powerful and my fantasy of doing a scuba dive on my birthday was dashed by the waves. We did find a secluded beach at the far end of Santa Maria though, which had not yet been developed by the all-inclusive powers that be. It won't be long, there were construction vehicles and cranes on other parts of the island.

In the evening of my birthday we enjoyed a few cocktails in the bar and ate at the hotel restaurant, there being nothing else on the island. Our langouste was accompanied by a Spanish white, our first bottle of wine throughout the whole holiday, and it was delicious. Not a bowl of congri in sight. I haven't mentioned this dish up to now because we had it every single day and I'm trying to block out the memory....

Suffice to say I had a lovely birthday on the beach with good friends and good food, and that's all anyone can ask.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Day 9 - 11 - Trinidad

"Psssst! Cigar, cigar!"

That was the accompanying chorus during our two days in Trinidad. That and "skol!" from the German tourist groups bedecked with all-inclusive bracelets, downing rum cocktails in ten minutes flat and taking up the whole bar we'd just found tucked away in a discreet side street. No so discreet in the end.

Trinidad is truly beautiful place, with a peaceful main square, little cobbled streets you can lose yourself (and your balance) in, and gorgeous colonial houses partly restored with money from UNESCO. The streets are narrow and pedestrianised for the most part, and there is rhythmic salsa music wherever you turn.

So why didn't I love it? Trinidad has unfortunately turned into Disneyland, or at least as close as Cuba will get to that. In no other place in Cuba did I feel so much like a tourist. I felt rich, stared at, guilty and frustrated all at the same time. Cuba, generally, is not like other countries where people barter with you, pulling you over to see their products or insisting on selling you things, but in Trinidad it was. In Trinidad, pregnant mothers begged "for the baby" and children asked for pens and soap.

I can't decide if the beggars are more prominent in Trinidad because there are no jobs available, or because there are so many tourists milling around, easy pickings, that the people of Trinidad, exhausted from working for 20€ a month for the government, have found a new way to get what they need. Maybe it's because so many tourists go there on day trips from Varadero, eating in government restaurants and drinking in government bars, then get back on their coaches and to the safety of their government hotels (51% of all hotels in Cuba are owned by the government).

Perhaps if more people stayed in the casas particulars in Trinidad, eating with families there and contributing to the local economy, the people there would be able to stop harrassing tourists in the street and benefit from their presence in another way.

On a lighter note, we met my friend S and her boyfriend S while we were in Trinidad, they had booked their holiday in Cuba too, so we enjoyed the casa de la musica in Trinidad over mojitos and daiquiris (again...). S and S gave us a little salsa show from the lesson they'd had on the streets of Havana.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Days 6 - 8 Vinales to Playa Larga and Cienfuegos

Leaving Vinales and driving over to Playa Larga - in the Bay of Pigs - took us the best part of the day, so we arrived there with great expectations of golden sands and clear Caribbean Sea. The sands and the sea did not disappoint, and our brief stop-off on the beach at Playa Larga went a little way to calming my beach-obssession; I had been in Cuba for almost a week without seeing a beach!

One thing which surprised us in Playa Larga was that accommodation was rather thin on the ground. We consulted our Cuba-bibles and asked around the area, but everything was booked, except a casa on the outskirts of the village and the 'luxury' concrete block hotel. Being quite eager to enjoy a little luxury I assured our friends that G and I didn't mind paying extra and going to the hotel. As it turned out, the hotel was made of bungalows designed by the architect later assigned to Guantanamo Bay, or perhaps the one they fired for making it too harsh.

Swelteringly hot with brown and stained bathroom walls and an air-conditioner which would give a Harley Davidson's motor a run for its money, the bungalow we were given was the furthest one from any kind of civilisation (if 45 Germans on a package tour is in fact civilisation). All this for the twice the price of the casas.

We actually had dinner at the casa and enjoyed crocodile meat. I wasn't sure about the étiquette of eating crocodile, I have to say the dilemma had never crossed my mind before, but since coming back from Cuba I have realised that there is quite a debate about them, and eating their meat perhaps wasn't one of my finest choices. But it was delicious, kind of like chicken.

We set out for Cienfuegos the next day after a brief brush with disaster when our hire-car failed to start, but Havanautos came to the rescue, and we were soon on our way over to the colonial town.

Cienfuegos, home of the singer Benny Moré, was both truly beautiful and truly crumbling. The pedestrian mall running through the middle of the main street was atmospheric, filled with Cubans on evening strolls. The streets along either side of the roads stank of urine and waste, and the façades, like a Monet, were better from a distance than up close. The people of Cienfuegos seemed rather different from in Havana or Vinales, there were more beggars, more suspicious looks, and I felt uneasy walking back to our casa. I gave away some of the notebooks I'd taken, but the people wanted convertible pesos.

Further down from the main boulevard is a pretty stretch of land less than a kilometre across called Punta Gorda, with the sea on either side. Our casa was a large house on this strip, and we had a terrace which led out onto the sea just in front of our room.

With the sea lapping below, a mojito and a Habana cigar, we sat on our terrace and watched the moon.