Part Six
© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

The title of this blog says it all! However, this is only the case if the group of people who travel together do not have a writer in their midst!
On with the story … trip to Rau’s house! And, the final day in Cuba…

Day eight … on Saturday a small group of us went to Rau’s house to meet his family. I asked the taxi driver if he would stop by Al Capone’s place on our way––you guessed it by now––that’s right, for pictures! After my mini photo shoot, we picked up V’s friend, D. She has a boat at the marina. She and her husband purchased the boat a number of years ago; however, he passed away shortly after. D loved Cuba so much that she decided to stay on.
V had a map of Matanza, showing where Rau lived, but we still got lost. Not for long, though. Of course, I snapped pictures everywhere. The poverty would take your breath away. Our summer cottages would be mansions compared to what many Cubans live in. I managed, during a walk, to get a real glimpse behind the wooden and steel-railed doors––poverty, unadorned and simple.
The ravaged wooden door leading into Rau’s home opened into what we would consider a storage shed. It housed piles of old wood, and Rau’s workshop where he makes wood carvings for sale. I determined that I would buy some pieces from him.
All the gifts we had brought along for the family were spread out on the table, and the excitement was like a Christmas morning. The gratefulness was heartfelt. Rau has three children: Moses, Penelope, and Elizabeth. Penelope loves to draw, and she proudly showed me her art work. One of our friends had sent her some art supplies. Moses plays baseball, and V had brought him a bat and a new pair of gloves. Of course, they posed for pictures!
Rau has been working on his house for over ten years. The kitchen was quite nice, and from what we saw there were two finished bedrooms. I had no idea where the two girls slept, or the elderly aunt who lived with them in order to help care for the children while Rau’s wife worked. There was a section of the house that I guess, if one were to use their imagination, could be considered an inside open courtyard, as there was no roof. Rau showed Ed his plans for the house and said the construction probably would take another ten years or more to complete!
The household also had a pair of Chiwawas, and their baby, and a Rotti that was tied up on the third floor level. I dared not approach him, assuming by his greeting that he would have taken our limbs from under us and would not have had to eat for another week or two!
During a walk to the store, I flashed more pictures of the living conditions, of the lack of proper sewers and drainage systems––of the people. I felt guilty probing into their lives, but these pictures tell the real story of how the Cuban people have been forced to live. I managed to capture some children playing baseball in a meagre side yard, using sticks and a tennis ball.
Back at Rau’s house, plans were being made to go out for lunch. It took forever, as decisions were being made on Cuban time! Finally, two taxis were called (one of them belonged to Rau), and we crammed in 18 people (including the drivers), and then headed off to a special destination. Rau’s wife just smiled and said it was a surprise. It is inconceivable that the old 1950’s and 1960’s cars are still running, although the air is rank with gasoline fumes! After meandering down a country road, we arrived to a beautiful park––the surprise.
Upon arrival there, I was sad that I had asked to leave Rau’s by 3:00. We sent a message to our cab driver to extend our pick-up time to 4:00––5:00 would have been better, though. We had another fabulous Cuban meal. The meal was provided with plates of sweet potato chips for us to nibble on before our main course came. Ed and I shared a shrimp and chicken dish. Our meat was cooked on an enormous outdoor barbeque. The taxis returned for us at 3:30 and transported us back to Rau’s. I purchased several wooden pieces as gifts for my kids, and Rau wrapped them for me. Our taxi arrived shortly after 4:00 and we were finally on our way at about 4:45. It takes a long time to say goodbye to people in Cuba. I promised Penelope to send her some art supplies.
Back at the hotel, we played cards and then hit the bed early as six of us were supposed to go on the Catamaran on Sunday––our last excursion!
Day nine … Rain clouds crowded the sky and released their droplets to the earth. We decided to cancel our Catamaran trip. Luckily, we got our money refunded. The sun came out from behind the clouds later that morning, so the six of us headed downtown to do some shopping. We found a charming restaurant and were served up a delicious lunch. Once again, I had shrimp; I couldn’t get enough of the shrimp from the restaurants in Cuba (the resort shrimp was nothing to be desired). I managed to pick up some more souvenirs for the kids and my friends, so, despite not getting on the Catamaran trip, it was a perfect day.
Back at the resort, we played some more cards and then six of us took a walk on the beach. I snapped several more pictures, again, and captured a beautiful sunset. After supper, we hung out for a few laughs. Two of the young men who were MC’s for the evening shows were sitting at our table and it became quite the party. One young fellow really got into the joviality. At one point, he jumped up and called C his “Papa!” It was hilarious. We attended the Cabaret Theatre show, and then headed off to bed.
So, here I come, almost to the end of our trip … it is day ten. We are packed, and all our suitcases are in one room as we had to be out of our rooms by noon, and our bus was not arriving until after supper. Some of us chilled out by the pool, I had a swim and caught up on some of my journaling.
On the bus to the airport, the guide said that they hoped we had a fabulous time in Cuba. He instructed us as to what we were to do once we got to the airport. As Ed and I were in line waiting to get our boarding pass, a couple from Canada was short $20.00 and was desperately asking people to loan them the money––they would send the benefactor a cheque. Ed gave the man a 20, and also our business card with our address. In a world where sometimes one expects to never see that 20 again, we were surprised to get a cheque in the mail a couple weeks later––faith in human honesty confirmed.
Fortunately, our photos matched up with the pictures that had been taken upon our entrance into Cuba, and we passed through and onto our plane. I was amazed that Sunwing had remembered to provide me with a gluten free meal (request had been put in by the flight attendant from our flight down to Cuba). We were picked up at the airport by the pre-arranged cab and arrived home in our driveway at about 3:30 a.m.
At that point, another adventure began. But, that is another story, for another time.

Stay tuned for my concluding segment, my generalization of “What Happens in Cuba, Stays in Cuba!”


Review: Predator

Predator by Patricia Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Predator” by Patricia Cornwell is a maze of mystery and intrigue that will keep you biting your nails right up to the last page. And even then, I wanted more. I wanted to see the real perpetrator – the one truly responsible – brought to justice, but maybe that has been reserved for another story.

Cornwell leads us into the world of Dr. Kay Scarpetta and her team – Pete Marino, Benton Wesley, and her niece, Lucy. This collection of specialists operate a higly sophisticated forensic academy, and some of what they do is analyse the brains of killers in order to see if they can figure out what makes them tick. In “Predator” one particular man, Basil Jenrette, is telling some pretty amazing stories – stories that begin to have a familiar ring to them and lead to some old, unsolved disappearances. These in turn, become connected to current disappearances, and crimes, which at first glance might be considered to be suicides. But are they?

The finger gets pointed at several individuals, keeping the reader guessing. I am not one to give away too much in my book reviews – I figured it out, and would love to hear if you did, as well.

If you are someone who can handle an intriguing psychological thriller, then curl up with “Predator.” But, make sure you keep the lights on, your curtains drawn, and your doors locked.

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Part Five
© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

The title of this blog says it all! However, this is only the case if the group of people who travel together do not have a writer in their midst!
On with the story … trip to Havana! (Sorry for the delay – life sometimes gets in the way)

Day seven … L and I went on the Havana trip. We were smart and took the tour bus, complete with a guide and a tasty lunch.

As we drove through the countryside, our guide, George, relayed to us bits and pieces of the history of the island. I must have been an annoyance at times because I asked several other questions regarding religion, labour laws, living conditions, etc. Of course, with the early Spanish influence, the main religion of the island is Christianity, Catholicism being the primary denomination. There are a few Protestants, and also highly prominent on the island is the African Spiritual worship––the reading of cards, palms, and spirits. George pointed out that many people go from the Catholic Church service to the Spiritual service … same for funerals … a ceremony to appease each of the factions.

When I questioned about life styles, the lack of modern appliances, I had the feeling George avoided the specifics. He started by saying that despite the looks on the outside of the buildings, inside was beautiful and most everyone had televisions, VCR’s, stereos, etc. Somehow, I found that difficult to imagine, and our visits to families in Cuba paid tribute to such thoughts. Of course, there were some modern conveniences, but I do not consider entertainment devices to be an improvement to a person’s general well-being.

We made our first leg stretch/bathroom stop at a roadside stand. It was pointed out that we could purchase a virgin Pina Colotta––L and I shared one––it was delicious. I took a picture of L, standing by an old car. Suddenly, a young man points to a saucer on the hood of his car, and he demanded a peso. I was astonished. I threw in a peso, and then asked L to take a picture of me, as well––two for the price of one! I don’t think the young fellow was too happy about that.

Continuing on through the countryside, I asked questions about the soil conditions on the island, mentioning that what I had noticed so far was a lot of rock. George said the Caribbean Sea side of the island was more fertile than the eastern side. He went on to talk about the plentiful fauna on the island, the 1000’s of species of insects, the animals, and the fact that 85% of Cubans owned their own homes. He elaborated about the free educational system to the end of high school, and that even after that, if a student passed a tough university entrance exam, the education was free. Those who did not pass the exam could go to a college and learn a trade. George also pointed out that medical and dental services were free. He flashed a perfect set of teeth to drive his point home. (Unfortunately, some of the street people I had observed were not so lucky––if you get my drift)

Most Cuban families must have two incomes in order to survive. Many families live together, and welcome extended family members into their humble homes so the children can be tended to while the mother goes off to work. As mentioned above, George talked of home ownership. Cubans pay a % of the cost, per year, to the government, and the house is usually paid for within 15 years. As a visitor from an affluent country, I was shocked because the conditions many Cubans live in are appalling. Up to this point, there have been no property taxes, but that is something that is going to start changing. Up to now, foreigners have not been allowed to purchase homes in Cuba, but that, too, may be changing. The more George answered, and didn’t answer my questions, the more I felt that a lot of what he said and didn’t say was “programmed”––if you get my drift.

Well, on with the actual trip … upon our arrival in Havana, our first stop was at the 16th century El Morro Castle. We were allowed to purchase rum and cigars at the store; however, our tour did not include an actual walk through the inside of the fortress. Back on the bus, we drove through Old Havana and New Havana (not the historical early section yet, though). We dismounted the bus and took pictures, and as usual, we were swarmed with people who had their hands out to beg for coins, or to sell their wares. If I had to pay each one of them for the amount of pics I took, I would have been broke in no time! I thanked my lucky stars for my new camera and its 50x’s zoom!

New Havana’s homes are in better shape than most of what I had observed up to this point in my trip. It was in New Havana that we stopped for lunch, a typical Cuban meal of rice, black beans, chicken, pork, sweat potatoes, finely grated cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a scoop of ice-cream to finish it off. After lunch, we headed to Revolutionary Square where Castro gave many of his speeches. George mentioned the Pope had performed a Mass there. From there, we headed down to the oldest historical section of Havana. George said some islanders would be dressed in century costume and would be performing (like our street busters, I guess). They would also expect money if you took their pictures. One elderly woman, dressed up, a cigar hanging from ruby-red lips, sitting on a stoop, held her hand out for a peso when she noticed my camera. I walked past, went down the street, turned and focused. She must have expected me to do that, for she turned and covered her face just as I snapped!

When George discovered I was a writer, he was excited to point out the hangouts of the writer, Ernest Hemingway. He sent me down a side street, just off the square, to a café where Hemmingway had hung out. George also pointed out the hotel where Hemmingway had lived while he wrote the book “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Hemmingway actually committed suicide in his room, and it has been closed off now, and only used for “viewing.” Of course, our tour was not privy to this. I was nervous, being away from the group, so I headed back to the square. Here, the landscape was teeming with buskers and beggars. There was an elderly couple dancing; a man dressed up as Castro, brightly dressed ladies. I noticed a statue of the “Old Man of the Sea,” so life-like … and then it moved!

From the square, I snapped several photos of the people and the beautiful architecture. We went into a huge cathedral, and another building that had, at one time, been a prison; however, it was now transformed into a castle with rooms filled with well-preserved precious treasures. Eventually, we made our way to a hotel/café, another Hemmingway haunt. I took pictures of the author’s pictures. I also browsed through one of the shops and purchased a tourist guide on Old Havana, something to refer to, as my brain definitely would not be able to accommodate all the information being relayed.

Our final stop in Havana was the market. What chaos! Vendors everywhere, trying to lure the tourists to their booths … “Looking free, lady!” … I purchased a couple small things, but our time had been limited to 40 minutes, and I personally hate to be pressured into spontaneous purchasing.

By the time we arrived back to our resort, it was dark. It had been a wonderful day––a little taste of Havana!

Stay tuned for the next segment of “What Happens in Cuba, Stays in Cuba!”

Review: The Hideaway

The Hideaway
The Hideaway by Meryl Sawyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“The Hideaway” by Meryl Sawyer is a romance/mystery with several twists and turns that will keep the reader turning the pages right up to the end. Personally, I felt several pages could have been eliminated by removing some of the unnecessary “love” scenes. I felt that the real story – the who done it part – got lost in these excessive pages. Only a personal preference here…

However, on to the meat and potatoes of the story … Claire Holt finds herself in an embarrassing situation when she is confronted by Zach Coulter, the man with the badge. Holt and Coulter had a history, but that was a long time ago, when they were in their teens. The scandle and deaths of her mother and his father drove both the young people away from the place of their birth. Now they have returned to their roots where mystery, murder, and the unwinding of a forbidden love is revealed.

Claire is charged with a murder … Zach tries to protect her … Claire’s father hates Zach and has his own agenda … not everyone is who they try to appear to be … and what of the mysterious man – the only witness who can clear Claire’s name – where has he gone?

I have given The Hideaway 3 stars for two reasons – one being some of what I felt to be unnecessary to the story (as mentioned above), and two, for editing (having found several miscellaneous errors in the book). Having said this, though, The Hideaway is a good quick read for those who would love to just curl up with a book and while away a few hours.

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Review: I’m Watching You

I'm Watching You
I’m Watching You by Karen Rose
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I’m Watching You” by Karen Rose had me hooked from the first page. It was filled with page turning mystery and intrique.

Kristen Mayhew, a highly respected DA, finds herself the attraction of a vigilanty who is set on knocking off individuals who slipped through the system and didn’t have to pay for their crimes – all people that Mayhew had prosecuted. The vigilanty referred to himseld as Mayhew’s humble servant.

Enter Abe Reagan, a cop who is now back on the force after having spent several years under cover … he is assigned to the vigilanty case, and when he meets Mayhew, a familiarity stirs inside of him.

Bodies keep piling up, and it soon becomes apparent that it is not just the people Mayhew prosecuted, but also defense attornies and judges who were involved in the cases.

As Mayhew and Reagan work together to solve the case, the mysterious past that Mayhew has tried so hard to keep secret begins to unravel. She and Reagan find themselves embroiled in an emotional rollercoaster that neither one seems able to control or stop.

“I’m Watching You” is full of twists and turns, and suspects. It will keep you on the edge of your seet, right up to the last page. Well worth the read for the mystery lovers out there.

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Review: Death du Jour

Death du Jour
Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kathy Reichs’ novel, “Death Du Jour” takes the reader into the world of forensic anthropology. There were many times that I tended to skip over a lot of the medical stuff, wanting to get to the nitty-gritty parts of the story. Tempe Brennan is a highly respected forensic anthropologist and she has been called upon to examine and report on the bones of Sister Elisabeth Nicolet, whome the Catholic church wishes to have entered into sainthood. While Tempe is in Quebec, she gets called upon to help out with what appears to be a murder/suicide – and it involves the death of babies. Other strange situations begin to squirm their ways into her already complicated life, all seeming somehow to be connected – and not in a very nice way. Tempe returns to the Carolinas and is faced with more murders and more disappearing people, including her own sister who seems to be involved in some sort of cult, altering her personality … and then, after digging deeper, Tempe discovers there is a possible connection between the murders in Quebec and the happenings in the Carolinas. She teams up with a handsome French police officer (always nice to add a touch of romance) and together they finally solve the case. It wasn’t until I had actually finished the book that I found out the television program “Bones” is fashioned from Reichs writings.
I would have given this book a 3-1/2 star, because despite all the medical jargon that I skimmed over, “Death Du Jour” had a very surprise ending. Well worth the read if you enjoy a good suspense. I look forward to reading more of Reichs’ work.

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