Little Lou Who (He’s no more than two)

I know, I know, you’re all geared up to see the Christmas knitting, and dudes, I’m wild to show you. Coming back to visit the holiday knitting doesn’t even seem all that late to me,  since there’s still a big honking Christmas tree in my living room.  Usually I take it down on the 6th – the Twelfth day of Christmas, but this year, that just didn’t feel possible.  We were supposed to arrive home on Sunday night, but the cold caused havoc here at the airport. We were delayed out of Veradero for de-icing in Toronto (that should have been a clue) and our plane landed at 2am. The fun was only starting though, and we were held in the plane on the tarmac for just over four hours, waiting for a thawed gate. Another delay getting luggage, another delay finding a taxi, and we ended up staggering in the door at about eight in the morning, and after being up all night taking down a tree just seemed… ambitious.  I decided it was still pretty and left it. (For the record, the delay was easy to tolerate. There’s only so crabby you’re entitled to be about problems caused by the cold when there’s still Caribbean sand in your underpants.)

This year I knit lots of things, and I’ll show you a few more tomorrow, but the big winners this year were the littlest, my niece Myrie, and my nephew Lou.  Both have sets of parents who appreciate knitwear, and a big investment in them always makes sense.  Sure, they won’t fit for long, sure – there’s a fair to middling chance that someone is going to puke on my work, but they’ll be worn and adored for every minute that it’s possible to do so, and that inspires me to no end. Luis was the first on the list. 

I’ve wanted to make Lou a cheerful red sweater for a long time. Well, not that long, he’s only 22 months old, but for most of that time I’ve dreamed of a cozy red sweater, cabled and warm, the sort of thing that you can put over almost anything for a romp in the park, or in the house, or a layer under a coat, or as a jacket in the spring and fall.  I knew exactly the sweater and yarn I wanted, and I just had to find both. 

In September I went to the Fingerlakes Fiber Fest, and Jill Draper was there, and whammo.  There it was, the perfect yarn.  I bought two skeins of her Mohonk yarn  in Heritage Tomato and knew just what they would be.  I think I even stood in her booth and described (in excruciating detail) just what my plan was. 
The yarn’s a deliciously squishy, bouncy cormo, and I was after cables.  I thought about designing something, but while I was kicking the idea around, I saw Ellinger, and suddenly, things were easy.

The last time I knit him a sweater, I miscalculated.  His mum and I aren’t sure what went wrong, Kate measured him, and I knit to those measurements, but the sweater was too small, and it only fit him for about thirty-six seconds, if that – and as much as I like knitting for the kid, the payoff is that he wears them, and so this time Kate and I were both determined that it would be big – fit him for a long time.  Kate measured him with a generous hand to the tape measure, and I did the same when I knit.

Success was ours.  This sweater fits just the way I’d hoped.  Roomy, with the sleeves rolled up now, with tons and tons of space to grow into, which is fabulous, because right now the kid is growing practically in front of my eyes.  He makes the way beans grow look like they’re not really trying, and this will fit forever, or three months, which is really the baby version of forever.  

His mum was thrilled (and that matters too, when you’re knitting for a baby)  and I love how it’s an "old man" sweater, if you know what I mean. There’s something charming about a wee lad in a garment with grown up styling, and I think the combo of his natural charm and what the sweater grants him is deadly.

He looks just like I’d hoped.  Cozy, happy and our little Lou who.

PS – My thanks to Carlos and Kate for the beautifully executed photo shoot. He’s a fast mover, getting pictures is tough.

PPS – Do you think his Nana loves him?

PPPS – People have asked if it was hard chasing Lou on the beach while on holiday, and the answer is no.

Uncle Joe totally had a solution.

What I was Thinking While I Was There

I think that I’ve started this blog post about forty times, trying to figure out how to show you and tell you everything that I want to, and I’ve finally figured out that I’m best to go with an Inigo Montoya quote.
"Let me ‘splain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

Cuba was the best vacation we’ve had in a while.  Admittedly, Joe and I don’t go on many, so the competition wasn’t really stiff, but it was truly grand. Havana is a city I’ve always wanted to see, so that was a highlight for me, and not at all what I was expecting. 

It’s hard for me to separate my expectations of the city with the reality of what I found there, or my ideas about what people in Cuba have (and don’t have) from the actual things that I saw there.  The standard of living is very different than here. 

Like a lot of developing countries, there’s not big houses, a car for every house, a computer (or two) or so many clothes that they regularly donate to a charity or have big yarn stashes. The way we (North Americans and Europeans) live, is a life of pretty wild decadence to their eyes.

Unlike some other developing countries (and I’m thinking here of the places we see on the labels of goods we own – China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan – for a start) while the standard of living is lower than ours, there is a stunning lack of abject poverty.  I’ve seen more homelessness in downtown Toronto than I did in Havana. (For the record, the amount of homelessness I saw in Cuba was zero.)

Every Cuban has a right to certain things provided to them by their government. Housing is highly subsidized. The rate of home ownership in Cuba is 85%, although the number of people living in one residence might be surprising to us as North Americans. (They have a cultural preference for all generations of a family living together.)  They might be crowded, but they all have a home to live in.  (Questions about homelessness were met with confusion, largely.) They have excellent health care, some of the best in the world by any standard you care to assess it,  and it’s accessible to all.  Life expectancy is higher than that of the US, and only slightly lower than that of Canada, and the same goes for infant mortality.

Education is free in Cuba, from primary school to University, and the literacy rate is an amazing 100%, something neither my own country, nor the equally developed country to my south can claim. 

This statistic, together with some other remarkable facts about healthcare explain a great deal about why the average Cuban- particularly older ones, speak with real gratitude about the revolution. Before Castro and the revolution, only about 50% of Cuban kids went to school,  and 45% of the population was illiterate, healthcare was for the rich, and many Cubans weren’t just poor, but destitute.  It’s not hard to see how a shift away from that would be positive, especially for the Cubans old enough to have lived both ways.

I’m not saying all this to convince you that Cuba’s a paradise without problems. There are problems, for sure, particularly around political freedoms. Cubans don’t vote, for example, but it’s more complex than "Socialism bad, democracy good." It’s more a question of priorities.  Given a country crushed by poverty, illiteracy, lack of healthcare and misery, would you trade your political system for making sure everyone got those things? Cubans said yes, and as a result of the revolution, there’s a standard of living that means that nobody’s living in a cardboard box or wondering how they’re going to feed their kids, or get them help if they’re sick.  Most people in Cuba don’t have much (although that’s changing, as a great many of them start small businesses and branch out,. The highest income earners in the country are in tourism and crafts)  but every person has enough, and considering what they had before? I don’t think it’s irrational at all that they chose it.  I’m not sure what I’d pick if I was living like that.

It’s a beautiful place, and the people are remarkable, strong, funny and kind and I enjoyed every minute. It’s a remarkable time in their history, and it was a privilege to invest in them.

PS.  I’m not stupid.  I know that anytime you use words like I’ve used here (socialism, in particular) that you might as well pour gasoline on your comments section and toss a match in. I’ve decided to talk about all this anyway because I trust you, and because I believe that you’re all respectful and smart enough to know that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Everyone who is going to comment here comes from a country that has problems. None are perfect, and I think we should be able to talk about choices, other ideas, and the way that other humans choose things (remembering that overwhelmingly, Cubans chose Castro and this system with a degree of ferocity that makes our political support look anemic.) Also, I know darn well that they aren’t free (although Cubans are starting to travel abroad for education, business and travel, we met some who had been on holiday to Canada) and so do they, but remember their perspective.  While we were there I overheard a conversation between a New Yorker and a Cuban. The American asked if he minded that his government wouldn’t let him go where he wanted. The Cuban asked her how she had come to Cuba.  When she replied that she had come through Canada because her government didn’t allow her to travel to Cuba otherwise, the Cuban smiled at her until she laughed too. We all know it’s not the same, but their perspective is an interesting one.

Go forth and comment, but with respect for all people, will ya?

PPS:  I didn’t see any knitting in Cuba, but man, can they crochet.

Eight things I Can Tell You

1. I can see the mountains far off in the distance from where we are, and that is where they grew the coffee beans for the cup of coffee I’m drinking right now.  I’d forgotten that Cuba has wonderful, amazing coffee.  They don’t make it the way I do at home either – here every cup is made one by each, a long draw on an espresso machine, and each time with wonderful crema across the top, "Con leche?" they ask me, but I take it black.

2. When we discuss money and what to do with it, Joe and I have always put travel at the top of the list.  Still, here we are, this far in and we haven’t done much of it at all. Now that the girls are big and we’ve established that we don’t really care about furniture, maybe this is what we should be doing more of? We’re thinking it over, standing here, watching the sun set.

4. Everywhere I go, I see a plant that is either a complete mystery to me, or is something that is a houseplant in Canada – here rewritten as a tree, or a vine that envelopes a building.  Hibiscus and azaleas are everywhere, huge and treated like weeds and hedges.

  The trees are strange shapes, with leaves I can’t identify, even if I cast my mind back to the stuff I learned for my arbourist badge in Girl Guides. Oak, Maple, Lombardy… none of the trees I know are here. Instead, trees with round leaves, smooth bark, or fronds as big as me. Every where I go I look at the green things and mumble "What the hell is that?"

(This plant was as tall as me.)

(When I ask it out loud, sometimes a Cuban answers me, although usually their answer is in Spanish, and I still don’t get it.  Yesterday though, Katie and I paid a peso to go into a tiny little museum – the ground floor of a house really, and that lady spoke a little English, and was able to identify Mahogany.  It was thrilling.)

5. One of the things on display in the museum was Che Guevera’s glass asthma inhaler.

6. Yesterday Sam, Joe and Carlos went scuba diving in the Bay of Pigs.

7. This particular area is full of Canadians – although in the course of a day I hear about nineteen languages. Yesterday Lou dug sand castles with a little girl from France, while Katie and I had our towels next to Russians on one side, and Germans on the other.  We play rousing games of "guess the language" daily.  It is a little bit bizarre to be somewhere that Americans are not.  I’m used to finding them everywhere, and having things to talk about – when we are anywhere in the world, we have a language and a geography in common, and they’re usually our fast friends. Here, there are people from all over the world, but no Americans. It’s interesting – Americans generally outnumber Canadians ten to one – so all travelling Canadians  are used to being taken for Americans first, as soon as we speak English,  before our accents or a stray "eh?" sets us apart and gives our identity away.  Here? As soon as anyone at all hears North American style English, the total assumption is that you’re Canadian, and it’s wildly interesting to be a majority anywhere outside of Canada, considering our tiny population.  Here though?  There’s three clocks in the lobby, and they tell the time for Havana, Moscow and Ottawa and there’s poutine on the buffet.

8. Today I was swimming in the ocean and a pelican flew over me so low it almost touched my hair.

Another Update From Away

Happy New Year!

This conversation is going to be a little funny and one-sided, since one of the things it’s hard to get in Cuba is Internet access.  (Actually, that’s not true, it was pretty easy once we established that we really, actually wanted it, and not the idea of it, whenever it was possible for someone to give it to us when the feeling came over them, and then it happened in about 10 minutes.  It’s a card you buy and it gives you one hour of access. Me being me, I decided I would be thrifty, and I entered my code, slammed up a blog post, downloaded my email and then shut it off, pleased as punch with myself that I’d used less than 10 minutes of my allotted hour.  It would be easy, I thought, to make that hour last all week. Then Carlos asked if he could use my computer to check his email, and I said yes, and we re-entered the code, and couldn’t get on – thus learning that either you use all of your hour at once, or you forfeit the rest. I blame the mistake on what I can tell is my appallingly beginner level Spanish.)  The upshot of the nature of this access is that I’ll read your comments on yesterday’s post after I put up today’s post and I hope that it works.  Forgive me ignoring blatant questions, will you?

Cuba is, as expected, completely wonderful, and we haven’t even made it to Havana yet.  Things here are as they were in the Dominican. Slower, less concerned… desks scheduled to open at 9am open at 9:30, or 10 – or in the case of today, not at all, without notice or any sort of concern at all.  The whole system is loose, and nobody here can understand why loose isn’t the way we do things in Canada. (I think the answer is the heat, but I have to think on it.)  There’s a general sense of economy here that I like.  There is air conditioning, but it is only on to a comfortable level, rather than blasting – and lights are dimmed in the daytime heat. The food is different, the trees and wild things are very wild, and little anoles (like a gecko) run everywhere that you look.  The sea is warm, the people are kind, and just about everything is beautiful. We take turns with Lou in the daytime, playing, walking, rocking and digging holes, and he does his fait bit by spending most of his afternoon like this:

While Sam and I play in the waves,

Joe and Carlos talk about buying a boat, and if if would fit in the driveway, and where they would sail it, and generally dream about all the things they could never have…

We’re making a move for Havana soon, and I can’t wait to show you all of it.

For now…Happy New Year, from a table in Cuba where we rang in the New Year with Champagne, 12 grapes

(Carlos is Spanish – Tradition says he eats 12 grapes at midnight, and there were none to be found.  Samantha scavenged 12 off of cakes, garnishes and side plates in the restaurant.  She was on a mission.)

We had each other, good fun, and a wonderful game of cards.
Feliz Año Nuevo!