Wednesday 6 March 2013

Dipping our toes in the warm Cuban Cultural POOL

“Ballet!” we cried, in unison, storming the ticket booth in solider-like unison, moneda nacional waving in the air and a sense of righteousness that enabled us to get in for local, Cuban prices.

“Ballet!” we cried, shirts buttoned and dresses flared. “Ballet!” we hollered, skipping into the venue, and settling bums into our velvet seats…but BALLET – ‘BALLET’ - is NOT what we were presented with. Unless, of course, the Spanish word ‘ballet’ actually means ‘FLAMENCO’ or ‘woman pretending to be a bull and thrusting’.

The chosen piece was ‘Carmen’, the traditional OPERA, turned into ‘Spanish Ballet’ which was 100% flamenco. The ticket for Cubans costs 10 moneda nacional, far less than a can of coke and about 30p in GBP, and I must admit the dancing quality was extremely high – the production values slightly less so. It was all a bit confusing because they used a lot of the famous music from Carmen, but I am also convinced they did a mash up between flamenco and swan lake at one point and I have no idea why. The music wasn’t live though, and the sound quality was a little tinny and echoey, and in adition I spent some of the second half distracted by the fact the walls were creaking threateningly and I was scared they’d fall down. By far the best bit was when they stopped the music and the male protagonist stood on top of a table and did that insane foot-stamping flamenco thing, accompanied only by a woman clapping and another man beating on a wooden box. His feet were moving so fast you couldn’t see them! It was really cool and we clapped VERY hard.

The ballet venue is only 10 minutes walk from our house, as is the national theatre and concert hall, so we are planning to make some more visits soon and see what we like. I definitely want to go to see the national ballet (as I think it would actually be ballet). As regular fans will no doubt be unsurprised to here, I am also on an avid search for getting my next fix of opera.

The theatre is just off La Plaza de la Revalucion, which is a big square where that huge mural of Che Guevara is. In the middle is a giant tower built to Cuban hero Jose Marti, a poet and revolutionary from the 1800s. Me and Bajan Roommate went there on Saturday and got the lift to the top to get a view of Havana. [NB: The following eloquent and poetic description will only make sense if you have ever played Sim City.] You know on Sim City, when you built a town really nicely in a nice grid shape, and given a few nice monuments and a town hall and a hospital and all that jazz, but then you neglect it for a bit? From zoomed out it still looks good, but when you zoom in, some of the blocks still look all shiny and new and the town hall is doing great, but right next door to the shiny, healthy looking blocks and you see a whole block of derelict buildings that are falling down or on fire. That is what Havana looks like! (except no buildings on fire). A beautiful renascence building will stand directly opposite an almost completely derelict one – its really extraordinary  From what I can gather, this is because Old Havana became very derelict as I guess there isn’t much money and it was being spent elsewhere (like at the ballet.) but recently they have started a big project of restoration, which is why seemingly new buildings are stood by decaying ones. The restoration is deemed as being a huge success because the man who spearheaded it had ensured that they keep to how they would have looked originally, and carefully and sensibly restored. The results are quite SUBLIME in some places.

The area where I live is full of huge houses where the mafia used to live, now mostly looking really quite rundown. One of the concerns of opening up the housing market is that foreign money will not be as respectful to the history of buildings as the government has been, and fund cheap but poorly judged and insensitive repairs to the buildings, which would really take the magic out of the area. I find this very interesting, and I learnt a lot from speaking to our professor who came to make sure we were doing okay as we settled in (and bought me a shandy).

NOW FOR SOME POLITICAL INSIGHT: Cuba is currently in a state of mourning after the sudden death of President Chavez, and this means I have uni off tomorrow. There is going to be a huge ralley in the Plaza de la Revolucion apparently, so we're planning to go in the morning. Venezuela is one of Cuba's closest allies and trades with it and apparently, amongst other things, sells it cheap oil. A change in government there would really affect Cuba, so we're waiting to see what happens. However the TV seems to show the whole of South America is very affected by his death, as he was a bit of a hero.

The weather became quite stiflingly, suffocating hot this week until I could barely breath without getting all bothered, and every now and then I’d get a whiff of how I smelt and it would be so stomach-churningly sour that I’d immediately run to bathe myself in a refreshing lukewarm shower. Then, on Thursday, l the heavens opened and the rain fell down with the pounding force of projectile vomit. It was absolutely freezing today (like 20 degrees or something) and I’ve been having to use my blanket at night L I’m even wearing my (only) hoody as I type (it’s starting to stink.)! 

Mother will probably have noticed my grammar and spelling have improved this week, which is due to the fact that I found ‘Microsoft Word Starter’ on my laptop (instead of notepad) and it comes with Spellcheck! I love Spellcheck.  But apart from that, university is still running, I’m still on a diet based almost exlusively on rice and beans, and the an army of dogs is still roaming the streets, bald and growly and scaring me senseless.

Kluvya bye xxxxxxxxxx  

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