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What can I say about Cuba? 

In the late ‘70s I lived on the boundary of Paddington in Sydney and walked to and from work in the city.  Between my home and work there was an area of terrace housing in Darlinghurst that had been resumed by the State for the construction of a road tunnel and traffic interchanges.  Squatters had moved into some of the ‘DMR affected’ houses.  Most of these were young people, students, rock bands and radically unemployed alternative culture advocates; hippies. 

Those houses in this socially vibrant area that were not condemned by the road building were rented to people who were happy with these neighbours: artists; writers; musicians; even some younger professionals; and a number were brothels.  

Graffiti was a local art form.  ‘Disarm Rapists’ competed with ‘Lesbianism Sucks’.  A finely finished sandstone wall bore the inscription in copperplate style: ‘Eradicate Gratuitous Vandalism.  The 'red light' area was frequented, in addition to the girls, by incognito men and 'flashers'.  A sign high on the local church warned these sinners ‘Jesus is Coming’.  Below it someone had written ‘button up your raincoats’.  

This experience unwittingly prepared me for Cuba.

In 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista the corrupt dictator of Cuba and installed a strict Marxist-Leninist political and economic system.  While not as radical as that of Pol Pot in Cambodia the immediate impact was the eradication of private property and the peasantry was invited to move into the homes and hotels of the rich. Thus the cities became giant squats.

 

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Many of those original squatters are now very elderly or dead but their children and grandchildren live in what has become a family tradition.

Back in Australia, the Darlinghurst squatters mostly grew-up and moved on.  Some to fame as artists; musicians or writers; some overdosed and some contracted AIDS.  Most got regular jobs and moved to better homes; their children in turn enjoying a personal bedroom, modern kitchens and bathrooms; many are now travelling the world. 

But Cuban children came to think of temporary wires as electricity services; hose pipes as plumbing; and a packing case as a table or chair.  It sort of works but it is essentially squalid.  Now the older buildings themselves are falling down and no one seems to be prepared to make major repairs or renovations to property they do not own. 

Where ownership or at least a long term lease has been allowed there are wonderful exceptions.  Tourist hotels are an example.  The restored up-market hotels are world-class, some brilliantly renovated.   There are also a few excellent restaurants. 

 

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The dining room at the Telegraph Hotel

 

But these exceptions stand out against a background of very sub-standard accommodation and food.  Cuba is not a place to back-pack or ‘do it on the cheap’; unless you like living in a squat and eating beans from a can. 

 

 

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Travel

Burma (Myanmar)

 

 

This is a fascinating country in all sorts of ways and seems to be most popular with European and Japanese tourists, some Australians of course, but they are everywhere.

Since childhood Burma has been a romantic and exotic place for me.  It was impossible to grow up in the Australia of the 1950’s and not be familiar with that great Australian bass-baritone Peter Dawson’s rendition of Rudyard Kipling’s 'On the Road to Mandalay' recorded two decades or so earlier:  

Come you back to Mandalay
Where the old flotilla lay
Can't you hear their paddles chunking
From Rangoon to Mandalay

On the road to Mandalay
Where the flying fishes play
And the Dawn comes up like thunder
out of China 'cross the bay

The song went Worldwide in 1958 when Frank Sinatra covered it with a jazz orchestration, and ‘a Burma girl’ got changed to ‘a Burma broad’; ‘a man’ to ‘a cat’; and ‘temple bells’ to ‘crazy bells’.  

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Are we the same person we once were?

 

 

 

I was initially motivated to write this cautionary note by the controversy surrounding the United States Senate hearing into the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court that was briefly called into question by Dr Christine Blasey Ford's testimony that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in their teens.

Kavanaugh is but one of many men who have come to the attention of the '#MeToo' movement, some of whom are now cooling their heels in jail.

Like the Kavanaugh example number of these cases, as reported in the media, seem to rely on someone's memory of events long past.  Yet as I will argue below after a decade or so our memories are anything but reliable.  After that time we should be respecting the accused's legal right to be presumed innocent, unless there is contemporary immutable evidence (diaries photographs and so on) or a number of non-colluding witnesses or others who have suffered a similar assault. 

Now in the news another high profile person has been convicted of historical sexual assault.  Cardinal George Pell has appealed his conviction on several charges relating to historical paedophilia.

There is just one accuser, the alleged victim.  A second alleged victim took his own life some time ago. The case was heard twice and in total 22 of the 24 jurors decided in favour of the alleged victim, despite the best defence money could buy.  Yet, as with the '#MeToo' movement in respect of powerful men, there is currently worldwide revulsion (see my Ireland Travel Notes) at sexual crimes committed within the Roman Catholic Church, such that a Cardinal is likely to be disbelieved, just as at one time a choir boy's accusations against a bishop or a priest would have been, and were, dismissed.

Both trials were held in closed court and the proceedings are secret so we have no knowledge of any supporting evidence. We do know that the two alleged victims were members of the Cathedral Choir and at least one other ex-choir boy also gave evidence. So justice may have been served. 

Yet I'm just a little concerned about the historical nature of the charges.  How reliable is anyone's memory? 

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Opinions and Philosophy

World Population – again and again

 

 

David Attenborough hit the headlines yet again in 15 May 2009 with an opinion piece in New Scientist. This is a quotation:

 

‘He has become a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, a think tank on population growth and environment with a scary website showing the global population as it grows. "For the past 20 years I've never had any doubt that the source of the Earth's ills is overpopulation. I can't go on saying this sort of thing and then fail to put my head above the parapet."

 

There are nearly three times as many people on the planet as when Attenborough started making television programmes in the 1950s - a fact that has convinced him that if we don't find a solution to our population problems, nature will:
"Other horrible factors will come along and fix it, like mass starvation."

 

Bob Hawke said something similar on the program Elders with Andrew Denton:

 

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