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Monday, 8 October 2007

Oh, God – not more of Drayton’s bloody holiday snaps!

You can skip this one if you like, because you know all too well what’s coming, but I did promise to say more about Cuba so here goes, with a few illustrations

Everybody loves those ancient American cars that sheer mechanical ingenuity keeps running there year after year – and so did we. They represent one aspect of the transport system – in Havana, anyhow – which seems to consist of three alternatives.

First, buses, and for that matter trucks, which are almost as old as the old Chevrolets, Fords, Plymouths, Chryslers and Buicks with their dollar grins on the fronts. We never tried the buses and trucks - they were too crowded and we had no idea where they were going.

Second, pretty new “official” taxis, which operate with meters and cost much more than the third option, which you might call “stop me and buy one.” You stand by the road side and thumb a lift. When someone stops (you hope in a wonderful old classic, but sometimes in a battered old Lada or Fiat) you tell them where you’re going and they take you if it’s convenient. No problem if other passengers are already in the car or they join on the way – it’s like a shared taxi, and it costs about a quarter of an official taxi.

We loved Cuba, because the people are charming and for the most part it has not yet been ruined by tourism. Parts of Havana are a bit commercial, but tastefully done. I mentioned last week the artist Salvador Gonzalez, who has decorated an entire street.

We bought two pictures off him, but not one that we wanted, which had a small picture of Pavarotti, who had died the day before, inset in the middle. Salvador said we couldn’t have it because he was off to Turin the next day to do a mural, and was going to give it to the Pavarotti family.

I won’t bore you about the seminar we did, but the delegates, who had flown from Kiev, Moscow and Minsk, arrived late at night and turned up the next morning at 9:30 ready for a day that didn’t end till 6:30 – followed by another day starting at the same time. Talk about stamina.

Our translator, Vladimir, told me he had once been corrected by Putin – who apparently delights in catching interpreters out. The place we stayed was a bit like Club Med in the ‘70’s but without the good food.

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