Outsider In and about Trinidad de Cuba

In October and November 2016 I spent three weeks travelling around Cuba.  I returned home just days before Fidel Castro died.  These posts are written from the scribblings I made in my notebook throughout the trip.

Trinidad, almost halfway along the southern coast of Cuba

…is cobbled streets rolling up hills, Unesco bollards, brightly painted colonial buildings, wooden doors and shutters, wrought iron bars to glass-less windows, terracotta tiled roofs.

It’s blue blue blue skies and fabulous views of green.

It’s a still heat so hot you have to slink along buildings to keep to the shade and avoid melting in the sun.

It’s horses clip-clopping in the street.

It’s getting ripped off and finding great deals, and new experiences in great places…

It’s dinner in a surprise location; in someone’s front room with grandma watching TV next to us.

It’s roof top bars serving Canchancharas, one of my new favourite drinks: honey, lime, white rum.

It’s good service and it’s bad service.

In every bar, it’s music.  It’s a night club in a cave.

It’s the ‘hardest sell’ in Cuba so far – although still quite soft: cotton clothes, trinkets and souvenirs to buy; “drink in this bar”, “eat in this restaurant”; “taxi, taxi”; trips to the beach and days on a catamaran; horse riding excursions with cowboys.  Speaking of which…

It’s the day of my Trinidadian horse riding experience into the countryside surrounding the city!

It’s another day of blue skies and sweltering heat.  Getting away from the cobbled streets and out along dirt paths on horseback brings a just perceptible breath of air.

Cowboy style, I have the reins in one hand whilst the other remains free – for toting my imaginary gun or swinging my imaginary lasso around my head?  More likely it’s for grabbing on to the nobbly hand-hold at the front of the saddle if things start to get a little exciting.

Most of the time our horses seem to want to go for a not particularly exciting but not particularly comfortable trot. My thighs feel quickly achey from rising up and lowering myself in the saddle, and my jeans rub disagreeably. The other option is to stay put, sat in the saddle, and be bumped around with every movement of my horse, Mojito. I alternate between the two, realising very quickly that the end point in any case is going to be one of all around thigh and backside pain.

At one point the horses collectively, and surprisingly, decide to break into a canter. I lose any of my horse-riding swagger, along with my hat. It’s flown off behind me while I cling to the reins and the now essential nobbly hand hold in order to not fly off myself!  Just as suddenly, and collectively, the horses chill out back to the bumpy trot.  We are all, more or less, still in our saddles.  My hat is nobly retrieved by our cowboy guide.

This is the guide who’s decided very early on in our outing that I am the best bet for him to spend his time flirting with. This has started to become a staple part of my experience in Cuba, which is more amusing than threatening or flattering, especially as in this instance it is just me and a German couple on the trip. I resist his (most unprofessional!) repeated offer of the gift of my first ever Cuban kiss and, when he finally understands he’s at a dead end, he is just friendly and happy to chat if I have any questions.

Our bums get a break for a bit when we tie our horses up in the shade of some trees and walk up a trail to a waterfall and two natural pools so we can go for a swim. Set up on the rocks is a made-for-tourists but nonetheless charmingly makeshift bar selling rum cocktails and fresh coconuts. The requisite guitarist, maraca and bongo players are in situ, serenading us with Cuban hits.

Looking forward to a dip, I get changed quick sharpish, unwittingly doing so standing on an ants’ nest. The little buggers quickly let me know my error and with a foot now on fire, getting into the fresh water becomes even more desirable.

I plop into the deeper pool off a small rock, lamenting not having brought a more practical swimsuit as I watch the small group of tourists already arrived demonstrating the main attraction: jumping off a high up rock into the deepest part of the pool.

I can’t actually tell if I want to jump off the rock into the pool, but now I’ve seen the damned thing, I realise I have no choice – self-bully mode has set in. I dutifully tighten my bikini (one that was involved in a nipple-reveal incident in the summer), clamber out of the pool and up the rocks, and plan to just jump without thinking. The plan fails when I get to the top and, rather than just jump, I do start thinking – thinking very much how my tummy is telling me ‘no’.

So there I sit, like a lemon, not massively high up, but high enough to feel thwarted. I feign drying myself off in the sun whilst realising that I can’t hang around on this rock for too long – I’m one of the whitest people in the world, and will very quickly get burnt. I dither but my pride won’t let me climb back down. Nothing to it then but to take one step, two steps, jump off, and aim for the spot everyone else has been plunging into…

What a fuss over nothing! Really, five metres is not high at all – I can’t even tell I’ve jumped and I’m already hitting the water. I emerge with a stinging hand where I must have slapped the surface on my way in and my sinuses feeling that they’ve had a good old flushing out. Bikini is still in place, though. In this puny battle of wills, my more courageous side eventually won – hurrah. Time to get my horse swagger back on, stinging hand, bruised butt and all.

On the last part of the excursion, we ride to lunch at a farm and sit under a thatch canopy where hens scratch around and a skinny determined tabby cat makes enough fuss for me to throw it my leftovers. I chat to the German girl who eats a sandwich. I’ve paid 9CUC (9$) for organic chicken, rice, black beans, yucca, plantain and freshly pressed sugar cane juice. The German girl’s humourless boyfriend sits mostly quiet and consumes nothing, declaring the food to be “too expensive”.

Jelly-legs, raw inner thighs and sore bum, I sit nonetheless content and warmed, not just from the heat of the air blowing gently through our shaded terrace, but from my full-stomach and the peace I feel looking out at fields leading to lush hillsides and small mountains under an eye-splitting pure blue sky… a moment of genuine bliss.

Without a doubt, a good four and a half hours – and 25CUC – well spent. I don’t bother asking the German guy if he agrees.

***

Trinidad is, and has been, a multitude of things to me.  It’s tourists, tourists, tourists, of which I am one.  There are too many of us here but undoubtedly because it is so beautiful and so easy to love – which I, along with probably everybody who visits the city, do.

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Outsider In interviews for jobs in TV production

This was my third interview.  Would it be third time lucky?

Interview number 1.

In a surprisingly sombre office, the first interview barely counted: 15 minutes with my interviewer, which I mistakenly took as being a good sign. I thought that it meant my CV and application had just screamed out ‘Hire Me!’ and that the face to face bit was a mere formality.  After all, it was for a receptionist job – a position I’d held a good three times in the early years of my working life – and I’d been called for the interview the very same day I’d applied.  I probably went in feeling over-confident and quite possibly treated my interviewer as an equal rather than my potential future manager; she can’t have been three years older than me.

What I hadn’t yet understood is how TV recruitment works: fast, casual, and on feeling. Although we both knew that I could do a receptionist job standing on my head, her feeling might have been that I wasn’t cut out to be her subordinate.  At least I got some feedback – competent, intelligent (!) but probably more suited to production.  Oh, and not available quickly enough.  Like I said, TV recruitment needs arise, and need to be sorted, fast.

Interview number 2.

Interview number two was for a slightly more challenging role: Office and Executive Assistant.  These probably don’t sound very much like telly roles to a non-TV person, and quite a lot like your average ‘office job’, which I’ve been steadfastly avoiding for the whole of my working life…  Well, they pretty much are office jobs, but in a bit more of an interesting and creative environment.  I’ve worked out that I’m good at organising, coordinating, anticipating, communicating – doing all the bitty things.  And creative industries need people like that to Get Shit Done.

So, whilst I work on flexing that less tangible creative muscle (known as editorial in TV-land) or picking up the technical aspects of production through personal pursuits, I’ve decided my best path currently is to play to my strengths within the industry by making myself utterly indispensable on the logistical side.  Especially as I’d be laughed out of the room if I tried to get anyone to take me seriously as a producer or researcher at this point in time!

I left my second interview high as a kite, feeling like it couldn’t have gone better.  One of the interviewers was finishing my sentences, and so I let her believe everything she wanted to about me. There were no awkward moments, I got to ‘sell’ myself, and I was in there for double the time they’d initially said. By the end I was being asked about my hobbies and holidays. Surely things don’t get any better than that?

I skip out of the bright, young, funky and friendly office, fully expecting to be asked for a second interview the following week, as that was the timeline I’d been given. I even start researching and preparing for the next round.

A week goes by and, no matter how many times I refresh my inbox, no ‘We’d like to invite you for a second interview’ email arrives.  Inexplicable!  I was awesome!  Wasn’t I…?  I start to panic, as the ‘no news is good news’ mantra isn’t doing it any more.  A quick google of ‘what to do when you don’t hear back from a job interview’ and I feel somewhat reassured.  I plan for a follow up email in a few days time, cos I’ll surely get a response either way, right?

Well, apparently, three weeks can go by since an interview, two weeks since you were told you would hear back, and a week and a half since a follow up email, and it is acceptable in the TV industry – or from the interviewers of this company – to not respond.  At all.

No time to dwell, though, as, in the meantime, another company has got in touch with me to conduct an informal phone interview AND I’ve made it through to the second face to face stage…

Interview number 3.

This company and its offices are the biggest and most impressive yet, although a bit more traditional feeling.  They also smell of someone’s curry lunch.  I’m here to try to become the Development Team Assistant – the best title I’ve interviewed for thus far.  On arrival I find that my phone interviewer, and one of the intended interviewers of today, is off sick.  Consequently I’ll just be meeting with the Director of Development.  He is the person I probably have to impress the most but the one I will have less contact with of the two.  I have no idea if this is a good thing or not.

On leaving the interview, I still have no idea.  I feel, bizarrely, like I haven’t had an interview at all.  Not in the standard sense, in any case.  As in, I’m not actually sure if I was asked any questions, or particularly had the opportunity to talk about myself…

I learnt a lot about the company and the details of the role and about the person (my interviewer) and people whom I would be assisting.  It is as if it were purely down to me to decide whether or not the role and company appealed.  Whether or not I appealed to the company is, well, a mystery to me.  When it came to the inevitable end question of ‘do you have any questions for me?’, I almost returned it straight back!  I chose, more diplomatically, to ask him if he wanted me to elaborate on anything, as it’s difficult to shoe-horn in one’s carefully prepared responses to all those standard interview questions that you’ll definitely get asked when you actually don’t get asked them.

I’m left, then, with no sense of where this is going.  Is it possible in this case that my CV and initial phone interview really did scream ‘Hire Me’ this time, and the face to face was literally that: ‘Hello, here’s my face, my arms, my legs, the expressions that I make’, and how bright, calm or personable I am?  And how will my face, arms, legs, eyebrow wiggles and general persona compare to those of the other people coming in for this non-interview interview experience?  Is this more of the casual TV, ‘on feeling’ way of recruiting?

I won’t know for a few days yet, but I’ve been sincerely promised that I will hear back either way.  On this note, I decide it’s time for me to follow up on the ghosting experience I seem to be going through since interview number two: it’s time for the phone call.

Big anticlimax: my main interviewer is in a meeting.   I leave a message and she will ‘hopefully’ get back to me. We shall see.

***

It’s been three months since I actively started my intensive job hunt in TV and I’m three interviews down.  I remain decidedly not employed in the industry but still sure that it will happen… although where, when and how, even when an interview is staring me in the face, I am, evidently, still in the dark about!*

*Two weeks later I get offered the job from interview number three, so I’ve taken it.  Interview two has still never got back to me.  Their loss.

Outsider In a documentary making competition: It’s edit time

This follows on from my last post detailing the first half of our 36h short documentary making challenge.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m at home, all revved up with nowt to do. I’m well aware that when it comes to editing a documentary you can’t have too many cooks. Maximum two, or you’ll spoil the broth big time, entering into a creative and cooperative nightmare. I am not one of the two, unfortunately, owing to my under-developed editing skills (apparently iMovie don’t cut it), and being slow off the mark to proffer my abode as the edit studio.

My mistake, as I’m finding it difficult to be out of control.  I am ITCHING to tell the story – to stitch together the narrative, to create something worthy of the planning and filming work we’ve put in – and of the subject – our night time food delivery king.  Not having assigned clear roles at the outset or made any one person director means that the final choices come down to the editors.  From my end, at least, our ‘egalitarian easy-going set-up’ could prove flawed now we’re at this point.

At 5pm, team non-edit (friend and I) are at his waiting to receive the first cut to then record some appropriate voice-over.  I am nervous and excited to see it.  When we watch it through, I am… confused and disappointed…  Instantly I start pouring questions out to my friend which he can in no way answer: Where was the footage from this cam, that cam? Where were these bits from the interview?  The story isn’t the one I thought we were telling.  Plus, it doesn’t actually look like a documentary yet.

We watch again and I’m making notes all the while my non-edit partner, a videographer by profession, and well-accustomed to this stage of the process, remains calm.  They have just spent an entire day getting to this point, he reminds me, and they’ve made certain calls – and edits – for a reason.  But, but, I think…

I quickly calm down, and strike through my ‘feedback’ notes.  None of this is mine, despite my claim to ownership as initial idea generator.  It’s a collaborative learning process above all, and I have to put my creative and competitive feelings aside.  As such, friend and I just get on with our end of it: we record an intro and an outro and send it over to the edit team.  We then hop on a train to east London as we’d agreed to join forces for the final touches.

It’s 8pm. We’re in a plush modern flat turned temporary edit studio in Dalston.  There are beautiful views, of which our teammate who rents the place made a lovely time-lapse – it makes it into the credit shot of our film.

We sit down to watch the updated edit that the last three hours of hard work by these guys has produced… and it is SO much better than the 5 o’clock version!  There is a whole variety of shots and footage included now; in a restaurant, Soho at night, weaving shots from the bike through traffic, food close-ups, a title – London’s Night Rider.  Of course it was never going to be just the interview – how stupid of me to have worried that might be the case! The cut of the interview and order of narrative are still not how I thought it would be, but, overall, the doc looks good.

We watch it over a couple of times, make suggestions for final editing, and put together the credits.  It’s after nine when we finally press submit to upload the film to the London Documentary Network competition site.  High fives all round.  Despite our potentially chaotic all in and all hands on approach, and my disappointment at not being part of the edit, it was quite a dream team to work with, and a very enjoyable weekend.  I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, and appreciate all the hard work of my comrades.

Nevertheless, I’ve taken a copy of all the footage in order to create my own version.  It’s amazing how you can tell so many stories with the same footage – it really is all in the edit.

This whole process served up lessons and reminders from start to finish. One, of course, is how people interpret things in very different ways – just looking at the same thing for sure doesn’t mean we’re seeing the same thing.  In filming particularly, I learned that it’s best to designate ONE director, and to be that director if you have a strong vision of the story you wish to tell.  Otherwise play your part and then let it go.  As I’m not sure how well I can handle the latter on an idea I’m passionate about, then the other lesson is to up those editing skills – a surefire way of having a say!

Better get on it, then, the next competition‘s only a few weeks away!