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El Norte: An Ill Wind?

Our Man In Havana

Breakfast at the Hotel Nacional

The Riviera

At the British Embassy

Soy Cuba

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El Norte: An Ill Wind?

We arrive in Havana to a bitter chill wind, not at all what I had been expecting; I shiver in my summery clothes. The atmosphere at the 'Nacional (the huge old hotel standing on a promontory looking out to sea where big events such as the Film Festival tend to accommodate their guests and have their offices) seems somehow muted. Apparently there are, for the first time at the festival, no guests or participants from the USA at all (a telling symptom of worsening relations during the last four years.) There is a sprinkling of visitors from Denmark and France, and it seems Christopher Sheppard and I may be the only English guests. Apart from that, the participants are Latin American. There is a feeling of isolation, of contraction, in the air - but how much is this to do with the cold wind, the mythical 'El Norte', - mentioned in so much Latin American literature as an 'ill wind' - which is whistling through the hotel lobby?

The terraces looking out to sea - with sofas which I remember from previous visits to be usually filled with people happily sipping 'mojitos' - are practically deserted. Waiters are shivering and sneezing, huge grey waves are breaking over the sea wall (the famous 'malecon', where in the warm days and nights people usually gather to sit, or talk, or play music, or kiss.)

The next morning we seek out some of our friends and collaborators in the film industry. We greet each other joyfully but Frank Cabrera (our Cuban executive producer) is feeling the effects of 'El Norte' and is limping. It has gone to his knee joint. When asked how he is, how things are; he says, smiling - but serious - "We are afraid of being invaded. First Iraq, then Cuba." This sentiment will be repeated several times by the people we meet in the coming days. It seems to be a real fear.

At ICAIC, the state cinema organisation with whom we had made the first official UK / Cuba co-production for YES, Camilo Vives Pallas (Director General) is also limping. A problem with the hip joint. And then his wife walks in, limping as well. Something is happening here; at first sight it looks like a somatic expression of a wider unease.

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Hotel Nacional

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The Malecon

Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated