Sunday, 21 December 2014

A future for Cuba.

I might be expected to join in all the Happy Christmas shenanigans, but I can't let the Cuba news slip by without a thought or two.

Do I really have the qualifications to give an opinion on the thawing of relations between Cuba and America, based on just one month on the island last winter?

Of course not. But I can make an observation or two. Besides, I've read a couple of newspaper pieces that seem to be based on internet research. I have, at least, been there - and very recently.

Feelings, on both sides, run deep. There are misunderstandings, fantasies, projections - all feeding beliefs that have their origins in history. And that is surely the point - the fallout between the two countries began over fifty years ago. At last, it's time to talk.

In my opinion, what is most encouraging is not the announcement by President Obama that diplomacy will be resumed; rather it is the acknowledgement that there have - behind the scenes, in the bars of Havana and the corridors of Washington - been talks. Men and women from both countries have sat together, out of sight of newsmen and photographers, and settled on a discourse. There will be upsets and foot-stamping before an understanding can be reached. But the doors are now opened. There is the opportunity of listening.

And, from my position of ignorance, I can tell you what I wish for Cuba. I wish investment - in her buildings, in her health service, in her infrastructure. There is much to be done. But I hope it can be done thoughtfully - Cuba is a vibrant, wonderful country with a unique culture. Her music (ah the music) is compulsive. Her people are welcoming. She needs antibiotics and better transport.

Does she need MacDonalds? New cars? - Who are we, with our western luxuries, to go all gooey-eyed over the old cars, the shortage of french fries? Cuba should be free to make her own choices.

I rarely mention my books on this blog, but for once I reckon I'm allowed. In Vultures Overhead I wrote about my experiences in Cuba last winter. I found a Cuba that might not be recognised for much longer. Turkey vultures circled everywhere. I just hope that the Americans visit with the humility of puppies and not the avarice of vultures.

(There's a link to the book to the right of this blog.)

And - Happy Christmas. May it be whatever it need to be for you.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

My winter travelling plans

It's that time again. The days are long; the nights are cold; I'm grumpy. No, I'm not depressed - I have no seasonal illness. I can get out of bed and join in the razzmatazz. But I'd rather be somewhere warm.

And so, just as the baubles come off the trees and tinsel is packed into the cupboards for another year, I'll be again. I have a flight booked to Bangkok, and six weeks later I come back from Singapore. I shall probably spend most of that time in Malaysia.

Why Malaysia? I was there on my long trip and loved it. I love its multicultural soupiness. There are indigenous Malays, many of whom are Muslim. There are Chinese with their temples and wonderful food. There are Thais, of course, with their Buddhism. And plenty of Indians with their Hindu stories and curries. There is tension - much of which is not immediately obvious to the tourist - but there are also some wonderful celebrations of cultural difference. (For instance, each tradition seems to have a different date on which to mark the New Year - and they all celebrate with wonderful processions and dancing. How I'd love it if the tiny Chinese population in my little market town took over the High Street with dragons one year ...)

I love its scenic differences. I shall brave the leeches and go into the rainforest. I might try a little snorkelling off the coast of an island. I shall admire the patchwork hills of the tea plantations.

I shall see if some of the people I met last time are still there: Farouk, the waiter who gave me bigger and bigger breakfasts every day in Penang; Rusty - a landlady in Mersing who knew I needed a cup of tea before I even opened my mouth; Miss Jo - who took me to a Sikh ceremony and then to lunch. They may not be there, of course - it's nine years since I was last in Malaysia and much will have changed. But I'll look for them. And spend time with anyone else who might wander across my path.

Will I write about it when I get home?

I don't know. If there are adventures - then I probably will. But I'm not looking for adventures. In spite of all the dramas in Nepal I don't go looking for cyclones and tigers. I'm returning to a place that I love, because I can, because it's winter, because it is so gloriously different.

But I will blog it. (And I don't go till January, so no need to wave me off quite yet!)

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Time to Think.

What is life if, full of care, we have no time to ...  I've no time to finish the quotation now.

After all, there are cards to buy cards to write presents to buy presents to wrap don't forget Aunt Vera this year remember that sour look she gave you last year and then the children ah the children we must do our bit to give Santa a hand he'll need carrots and mince pies - not supermarket ones that's cheating - no you must make the mince pies and the sausage rolls and the stuffing get it all in the freezer and your cake will be made by now and the puddings so you've time to make costumes for little Nellie is a shepherd and Joss is a dog and the tree don't forget the tree and the decorations make some with the kids you know how they love it and a wreath for the front door ...


Who says we have to do all this?

I'm all for a midwinter festival - with or without any religious overtones. But does it really have to be such a struggle?

Speaking for myself, I want to hibernate at this time of year. I want to snuggle by the fire, watch the flames and let the winter blow itself out. I want to read. Write.

Most of all I want to think.

Some years ago I heard an interview with Germaine Greer in which she was asked her favourite pastime - and she said, 'Thinking.' Wise woman.

Where is the thinking in all the December mayhem? For without it we are simply automata, lurching from one must-do to another. There is no time for anything to touch us. To let the fun and laughter echo as we fall asleep.

If we cannot stop to think, we are purely reactive. We consider neither history nor consequence nor meaning. And we're all the poorer for it. We allow the marketing gurus to lure us into all the razzmatazz, sweeping us away from the glorious temptations of independent thought. From those quiet reflections that remind us of those we love.

It doesn't have to be like this. We can choose what we get swept up in, and what we allow to pass us by. But that means we must make the time to take that decision. And maybe it also means taking time to stand and stare.