1950’s architecture

if you are into 1950’s architecture, then you must make a visit to the hotel riviera in havana – it still has all the original details from when it was originally designed in the 1950’s, pre the revolution.  there is a wonderful dining room, cabaret room and an amazing swimming pool, still with its diving board.  because of the lack of money in cuba, there hasn’t been the massive regeneration and modernisation of the city like the rest of the world, so its a great discovery to find things just as they were designed over 60 years ago.

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sylvie guillem

you spend your life gently encouraging your kids to learn dance, an instrument, a language, but gradually you give in and let them do what they want…….  years later they say to you – ‘why didn’t you make me do those ballet classes, why did you let me give up piano?……..’  you can’t win.

anyhow, my girls are now interested in all live dance, theatre etc.   so i try and choose interesting things for them to see;  we always do a show at xmas and maybe one or two throughout the year. so last night i took maude to see sylvie guillem – it was an inspiring evening – i particularly loved the simple sets and music and of course watching her move is enthralling.   catch her before she retires the stage.

 

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barbara hepworth

rainy days are made for visiting museums – go and see the beautiful marble and carved sculptures of barbara hepworth at tate britain;  shown alongside her partner ben nicholson’s paintings, the exhibition is very enjoyable – the only drawback is that you want to touch and feel them – they are so tactile. it is now high on my list of things to do to visit -the barbara hepworth sculpture park in wakefield;  not forgetting the yorkshire sculpture park, which i have visited – apparently you can do both parks in one day.

closer to home, you can also go and see the wonderful sculptures of henry moore in perry green – its a lovely day out.

i ventured to epping a couple of years ago, didnt realise that the end of the central line could be so pretty – our lovely friend Lyn (who incidentally sends me so much information on what to do in london – she is a busy cultured soul) –  lives in a cute little cottage there and invited us for lunch followed by a scenic drive to Henry Moore  in Perry Green.  it was so peaceful and pleasurable walking around the grounds seeing all the sculptures and Moore’s workshops

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the sculptures are placed all around the estate, some you catch glimpses through holes in the greenery;  the sculptures themselves are breathtaking in scale and very tactile. its definitely an interesting day for children, both young and grown up.  unfortunately by the time we arrived, the house where he lived was already fully booked, so its a good idea to reserve in advance – it just means that i now have a good reason to come back again.

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films on planes

i love to travel, but i hate to physically travel – maybe one day there will be an easier way, but even with all this on line precheck on, choose your seats before you board,  carry on only and go straight through to security – its still always a long lengthy and stressful process.  i now use the time for long haul flights to either catch up on my reading, or viewing films – which is exactly what i did this time.  i managed to watch a few films that i missed, ‘Dior and I’ – a fascinating insight into the high couture fashion world – loved the dresses that Raf Simons created – but what intense pressure…….

x + y is about a borderline autistic teenager with brilliant maths ability – interesting character studies, especially by Sally Hawkins who played the mother.  i am also embarrassed to admit that i watched ‘fifty shades of grey’ – intrigued by the fact that sam taylor johnson, who i respect highly agreed to direct it – please dont even waste your time.

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havana

Culturally, just walking around is all you need to do, but its always hot from 11am to 5pm, so you need to find cool places to go – the museum of the Revolution is great as is the Bellas Artes which is housed in an amazing 60’s building. Walk along the Malecon on an early evening, it’s the road that runs along the sea front, its where all the locals hang out, fishermen,  families, lovers, musicians, it catches the evening breeze and runs from the old town to Verdado.  Soak in the atmosphere with barbecued food from one of the many shacks that are aimed more for the locals.

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Modernisation has certainly come to Havana – there is an old warehouse up in the suburbs by the docks which has turned into an arts house music venue – its mainly for young people, but we didn’t feel too out of place – Fabrica de Arte Cubano has live theatre, video installations, art, sculpture, food bars and is all very cheap .  on a weekend its frequented by all the young locals and apparently after midnight turns into a dance and music venue too. We ate beforehand in Cocinero, which is alongside Fabrica  de Arte in the same building, on the lovely roof terrace under an avocado tree.

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Its easy to hail taxis in the street, and more than often they will be the classic 50’s style cars – agree a price before you get in – as it can vary greatly. It seems that the pristine cars with smart driver are double the price, as well as the open top ones.   For short distances hop into the little yellow coco taxis – kids loved that, but generally its lovely to walk and if you get onto the malecon, you will always be able to find your bearings.

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There isn’t much to buy in Havana, except rum and cigars – but there is a big warehouse full of handicrafts right by the seafront, just a short walk down from the old town – we bought a string hammock, and some carved wooden spoons. Next door is a brewery that makes its own beer – its also a great spot to sit, cool down and take a bite to eat – aimed at both locals and tourists it’s a calm spot to relax.

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We stayed at the Saratoga, an old colonial style hotel which is perfectly situated for the old town, the malecon and then a short taxi ride to Verdado where the hotel nacional and all the 1960’s buildings are.   The Saratoga has a lovely rooftop swimming pool with great views of the city and is a breezy haven in the heat after a day of sightseeing.  There are lots of hotels to stay in, Hotel Florida in the old town looks good, the nacional is a government run hotel which is famous for its gardens overlooking the malecon and the sea and has hosted an array of celebrities in its past – its very bustling and commercial, but has all the nightlife of live music right there in its gardens. But our favourite has to be the hotel Riviera with its immaculate 50’s interior. It was the last of the hotels to be built by the mafia in its heyday and still retains all its design features – its not in such a handy area, but with transport so easy and not too expensive, it’s a very affordable stylish place to stay expecially if you love  50’s vintage furniture.

tatton park

my talented green fringe red friend Laura Arison is showing her garden design that she did for Maggie’s Cancer Charity at the northern equivalent of chelsea flower show – at Tatton Park.   so a few of us spontaneously decided to visit her – and especially as it was her birthday.  typically that particular day decided to team down with rain!  its not as glamorous as chelsea, but i managed to buy a few plants for my mother, surprise her with a quick visit and purchase a copper wire basket, which I am going to use as a wastepaper bin from my favourite shop Moth in didsbury.   its the last day tomorrow at Tatton Park and you can probably get lots of plants cheap – i did notice that the prices were at least half the price of the ones on offer at chelsea.

elise and I ate lunch on chorlton green, which is now the hot spot for a la fresco dining.  there’s an outdoor mini market on the green, selling deli food, home made chocs, olives and a few gift items.  elise has lived there over 30 years and i remember there was nothing then, how areas change.

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pharmacies in havana

i was amazed to hear that the country who has offered the most help with doctors to fight this ebola crisis – is cuba – cuba is renowned for its wonderful medicine and wealth of doctors, but now i have utter admiration for its compassionate and selfless offer of treating patients . being a communist country its also a sad fact that doctors are not paid much more than other trades, so it was surprising to hear that one of our waiters was a doctor, but waiting tables to supplement his income too.

there are a few old style pharmacies left in cuba – the french pharmacy was founded in 1882, but turned into a the Pharmaceutical Museum in 1964 – medicinal herbs were processed here, which are the source of drugs.  there are beautiful medicinal jars, books and utensils – all showing the history of medications available to the public.  situated on the main shopping street, Obispo, between mercaderes and san ignacio, Havana, entrance is free and its well worth a visit;  there is also Johnson’s drug store.  like most of restored old Havana, everything seems to be a museum.  i guess that as there is nothing much to sell, then all these beautiful buildings can only serve to be museums.    you can still however buy a few basic medicines, and you can see locals choosing from the small display cabinet amongst the exhibition pieces.

there is something soothing about old pharmacies, there used to be lots in london, but they seem to be getting modernised all the time.   dont know of any old ones now with the beautiful cabinets and jars, but i did find this interesting site that hires out old pharmaceutical accessories and jars etc.   curious science, otherwise, you would have to scour the old markets like portobello to find stuff like this.   i have old chemistry bottles in my bathroom, filled with bubble bath and shampoo.

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