USA (Habana 53)

You can’t really consider Cuba as a country without considering the role of Uncle Sam; their intervention in the war for independence from Spain was a turning point, the consideration of Cuba become part of the Union, the influx of American investment (much of it from organised crime), their support for the Batista dictatorship until it was overthrown by Castro, the missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs, Guantanamo…

All in all the US hasn’t been a quiet and unobtrusive neighbour, though the recent rapprochement confirms that their value as a trading partner outweighs this.

Diplomatic relations were broken off in the early sixties, so for some time there was no direct representation for American interests in the country, or for Cuban interests in the U.S. although Switzerland and Czechoslovakia respectively took on some of the workload.

In 1977 Jimmy Carter’s administration took steps to improving relations with the result that US diplomats took over  from the Swiss in running what was known as the United States Interests Section in Havana.  (It was finally recognised as an embassy in August 2015)

Of course with the two nations still at odds politically and ideologically the building inevitably became a flashpoint.  With a complete lack of diplomacy the Americans began displaying propaganda messages on the building, even installing an electronic billboard in 2006 specifically for the purpose.

Havana’s response?  They’d already built the José Marti Anti-Imperialist Platform, a public space for political rallies, in front of the US Special Interests Building, so they used it to build a wall of flags, initially each with a white star on a black background to represent Cuban victims of terrorism.  The flags’ role was to obscure sight-lines to the billboard.

In 2009 the billboard was removed, and the flags now fluttering are the Cuban national flag.  How ironic that it should now be a wall of stars and stripes.


The Old Hall

So, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend and the great British public will be visiting the usual selection of attractions and beauty spots…

The Now Show, BBC Radio 4, 25th March 2016

Well who am I to argue with that?  A good excuse to get out with the camera, though with one or two other commitments this weekend I didn’t want to go too far, which is why I ended up at a National Trust property that I had hitherto neglected for no other reason than that is was too close.  Just a few miles from pretty much every place I have lived.

Oh and it’s quite small.  A few rooms, a compact garden, one or two outbuildings and a nature conservation area that you can circumnavigate in just a few minutes (if you choose to ignore the nature!).  Of course as it’s spring nature is determined not to be ignored.

The property is the manor house of what was the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Hwæssaingatūn.  The settlement was recorded in the Domesday Book, though the manor wasn’t begun until the century following the arrival of the Normans.  Most of the present structure is 17th Century, though it is remarkable that it still stands at all given that once its most famous residents had sold it it was converted into cottages, with residents who allowed it to decay until it was no longer fit for human habitation.  Left untouched as part of a farm for a further period it would probably have been completely demolished were it not for the efforts of a local teacher who campaigned for its restoration as an important historic site.  Though Fred Hill began his work in the mid 1930’s, the intervening war years meant that the property wasn’t properly restored for another twenty years or so.  The National Trust took ownership shortly afterwards._PW_7903

_PW_7883-EditAnother twenty years after that and the significance of the property was marked by a visit by the then President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.  The eagle sculptures in the garden hinting at the hall’s special relationship.

For some of my life I lived under a misunderstanding about the place.

_PW_7932Through comedy sketches that distorted history, and stories told with great, if misplaced authority by my father when we attended a wedding reception here, I thought that this garden was the one where Jimmy Carter’s predecessor had famously cut down an apple tree.  The settlement is now known as Washington and hall was home to the family that produced the first President of the US.  Unfortunately for my childhood version, George Washington never set foot in the place, his family having sold up some 200 years before his birth in Westmoreland County, Virginia!_PW_7930

A small detail when it comes to playing up the connection however, and if you’re around on the 4th of July each… expect to be reminded of it in style._PW_7885_6_7-2