I woke up this morning and had breakfast with my neighbours, a British couple named Charlie and Michelle. I ran into them briefly last night, but was on my way out to see Sandra and they were just walking in. I regretted afterwards not taking a moment to talk to them, however breakfast was my chance to be sociable. It turns out they’ve been stranded in Havana due to the Icelandic volcano. They think they might be able to fly out tonight. It’s too bad in a way… we seemed to be getting along quite well.
About half way through breakfast I asked them what they did for a living. My jaw hit the floor. Michelle is a free lance producer who just finished working on a British celebrity reality show, and Charlie is a director for a daytime TV drama. After that, the conversation turned into shop talk. I showed them my Dracula demo and they were impressed. They were asking questions about some of the techniques we used and other behind the scenes stuff. Michelle has close ties to a UK production company that’s been producing a ton of 3D content. Since I’m already in the process of trying to land a UK broadcaster with a 3D version of the series, this breakfast might turn out to be quite fortuitous indeed.
Afterwards I headed out to spend some me time with the city. Havana strongly reminds me of Bucharest. It too is a city of extremes. Extreme beauty and extreme ugliness share the stage. Extreme poverty and extreme prosperity play together. The biggest difference between the two is that the role of prosperity is played by tourists and the role of poverty is played by Cuban citizens.
It takes some getting used to… Cuba is a communist country and poverty is shared more or less equally by everyone. There are two economies here, one run by the government and one run by the black market. Almost every restaurant, hotel, shop and service is government run. Participating as a citizen in the government run economy is a dead end street. You make a few dollars a month and have no hope of ever doing much more than that.
The black market is the only chance you have for getting ahead. Everything from bathroom tiles to labour to other goods and services can be found. Of course, there’s no easy way to buy or sell any of those things. Lots of phone calls to lots of different people are the norm.
People still seem to find pleasure in the simplest of things here. I’m writing this from an old broken down stadium by the seaside. A group of children are playing baseball while traffic whizzes by. There’s lots of sun and the pace here moves gingerly. Cuba’s health care is universal and its mortality rates are comparable to those of other first world countries. University education is free. Culture is everywhere and I’m looking forward to experiencing more of it as the days tick by.
Last night Sandra and I happened upon a plaza in Old Havana when a carnival came by. Clowns and stilt walkers, and musicians, and actors, and a whole mass of humanity made it’s way through. Flocks of people followed them where ever they went. Nothing about it seemed out of place.