With Your Permission
Essays by Constance Scrafield

Visiting Uncle Mojito
March 2020

A week to our favourite (all inclusive) resort in Cuba is meant to be a week of R&R. So, naturally, Patricia and I stay up until three in the morning, drinking Mojitos as long as the mint lasts and laughing, philosophizing and dancing the Salsa with our fellow imbibers. Then, because my cats usually demand it of me at home, I am up by seven in the morning, whether there are cats or no. Who needs to sleep in when there are the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other and all is toasty warm? 

The Brisas Sierra Mar, so called because of its location between those mountains (sierra) and the Caribbean Sea (mar) is settled some 70 kilometres east of the city of Santiago de Cuba on the south west corner of Cuba, bumped up against the provincia of Guantanamo on its west side. Guantanamo forms that coastal point of Cuba. The location of this resort could hardly be more perfect, settled as it is, in a spot so scenic that one simply loves looking at it. 

The Sierra Maestra Mountains do not consist of heady peaks of rock, capped by a dwindling bed of snow but rise from 1200 to 1700 metres through the length of the province. They are tree covered. Whereas, once, the island was 90% covered in forests, colonization over the centuries saw the forests reduced for agriculture and livestock, to a fraction of that, although reforestation since the Revolution has brought it back to 19%, much of it on the mountains. 

They are soft to look at, a million colours of green, punctuated by the wings of flashy birds to whom they offer a rich habitat. The way the resort is placed in the configuration of the land, from nearly every point of view, the foothills of the mountains sweep down to the sea, elegant palm trees frame the scene and you have a vision of real beauty that is kind to the eye. 

A long wide walk way from one set of elevators leads to the buffet restaurant, the large open lounge, the pool and so forth, offers the view in full. I stopped on my way to breakfast one morning, to admire it all, standing unintentionally beside another guest. Everyone speaks to everyone at Sierra Mar -

I've been here 29 times,” she said, “We used to come with our kids. And every time I arrive to the resort and stand here, it's like the first time – I never tire of this view.”

We agreed on that.

Her numbers are not unusual. Patricia and I have been there – well, this was our tenth time. We met friends last year, whom we have visited at home since. They come every year for six weeks to escape the rigours of the Canadian winter. 

That too, is common practice. A multi month stay in this resort is an ideal refuge from wind and cold, for Santiago de Cuba is pretty well guaranteed to be warm, protected by the mountains from the spates of chilly weather along the northern coasts of the country.

For many of us, it's a cottage substitute, a mere four hours flight – no stop for butter tarts. We don't look on it as travelling, really, just visiting a happy familiar place: Uncle Mojito is our joke.

Trip Advisor's adherents pan the 3.5 star Brisas Sierra Mar. They complain the rooms are dated. Yup – they are painted ice cream colours with a different regard for what pink goes with what green – ours was vanilla on the ceiling and the walls were strawberry and mint. Stepping outside, the balcony welcomes you with those stunning views and sometimes an exotic bird will grace the railing if you sit quietly enough.

They complain about the food, which is simple, Cuban fare, lots of rice and beans; fruit and raw vegetables, dishes with meat; plantain, potatoes, fish, chicken, cake...basic, good food; sometimes a pig on a spit, turned for hours by hand over an open fire.

We hold the elevator doors open for each other; we crack jokes with people we don't know. The staff know us; they fuss to make the Mojitos just right; they cook and clean and we don't have to bother. Domestic animals: horses, a cluster of pigs – chickens wander at will. 

We've met people from all walks of life, some of them really well off – five star people and they love coming to Sierra Mar because it is off the beaten track, an unpretentious smaller resort with wonderful scenery and lots of lovely folk.

One of the minor treats came on the CNN international news: amid the endless coverage of the United States' struggle in the impeachment process of their president, Donald Trump, came the news that Canadians were outraged about where their Prime Minister bought his donuts, as if Tim Hortons isn't now an American company.

Kind of makes you proud, doesn't it?

With Your Permission

Days of Wine and Bamboozle

April 2020

By Constance Scrafield

Once there was a Troll. Trolls do have names like the rest of us and all our domestic animals that we like to give names to, usually, without asking for their opinion. 

So, Trolls have un-spell-able, ergo, unpronounceable names that mostly sound like someone sneezing or gargling or shouting a whole bunch of bad words very quickly. Because we can't say his name, we'll have to make one up – how about Ugless. You could stretch it out to make other words describing a troll.

Some traditions describe Trolls that have horns and faces like really ugly dogs or too ugly to be dogs' faces; they have hairy bodies; legs like an animal, like a huge goat but they walk on their legs because they have big, hairy arms with three finger hands and terrible claws.

Many stories told they used to live under bridges and were most dangerous if you wanted to cross the bridge.

Now that we have a name for our Troll, Ugless, I should tell you that, at some time not quite known, as it is with most history, Trolls grew tired of living under bridges and they decided to move up in the world and live in big houses, or castles or wherever they wanted to. They way they did this was by bullying, bribing, blackmail and, of course, stealing. 

Over time, and Ugless had plenty of time, because Trolls can live for a very long time. They might have been related, ever so long ago, to elves who are immortal but, because of being such nasty, unkind beings, they lost their immortality. They can still live for ages. 

Now, as I was saying, over time, they learned that it was less fun to live alone in big houses and castles and that people – humans – from whom they had bullied, bribed, blackmailed or stolen the big house or castle – were really fun to tease and intimidate. They began to want people to live with them and do everything they demanded and cry when they were mean, and tremble when they were angry. It was so much fun!!

Unfortunately, it was difficult to persuade people, even with promises of money and treats and everything they could possibly want because these Trolls are really faery-tail-ugly, with their horns and their terrible hairy faces, that, by and large, people just couldn't stand them.

Of all of the trolls, Ugless had managed to keep some of his magic and he found a way to make himself look like a human! 

Mind you, there is always something pretty strange when you look at him or listen to him talk – that something so odd about how he keeps himself in the centre, how he still bullies, bribes, blackmails and steals to get his way. How he always sounds a little bit - or a lot – crazy.

Two things came of Ugless' discovery. First, he taught other trolls how to do it, how to look human but never quite right. Second, he became ambitious and wanted, not just big houses, but also power and he taught the other trolls how to want power too; he taught them how to pretend to be nice, even human charming. 

The trolls had always enjoyed a good laugh at the expense and pain of others and that fit right in with humans – who were suddenly finding Ugless “a great guy” a “real winner,” a “guy who could really run things, get things done, do things our way.”

Ugless discovered, and he was rather surprised, that many humans were much more like trolls than he had ever thought. Most of the way he lived, even under the bridge, they did too. He began to wonder if trolls and humans were more related than trolls and elves had ever been- except for the magic; humans had something they called science but it took way longer to change things than magic and it took too many people, too much time and work to figure things out. So, Ugless decided that science was bunkum and not nearly as smart as his magic.

Then, one wonderful day for Ugless, he found out that many, many humans were getting together to choose their next leader and he realized he wanted to be that leader and have all that power. So, he went out and he did more bullying, bribing, blackmailing and, of course, stealing on such a huge scale that he won! He won all the power and gathered all his victims close to him and they did everything he told them to, even when they were sure it was the wrong thing to do. 

Then, he got rid of the humans who didn't like him. 

When the storms came, Ugless stayed in his biggest house, and lots of people died but Ugless didn't come out again until the storm was past, sure that he would still be able to bully, bribe, blackmail and steal. 

With Your Permission 

What Sirs the Heart
October 2019

By Constance Scrafield

Just wrote the feature with Theatre Orangeville about this new season of plays and there is a theme of family and, as we spoke about them, it seemed to me that there is a theme to stir the hearts and minds of the patrons as well.

The matter of different folk living together in harmony, but not avoiding comment, comes up more than once. There are plenty of ways for relationships and families to be built of different people, people noticeably different from each other.

This covers a lot of territory: different can be appearance, age – levels of ability or education; cultural differences – there's pot boiler: especially overseas where there are so many countries, with such diverse cultures, located immediately beside each other.

Who can tell, control, guess where the heart will lead?

Do you believe in love at first sight? Still something science hasn't quite nailed down, I am happy to report. It is the suddenness of instant attraction, the power of it, the indifference to the differences between the two – fabulous, dangerous, exciting. The deep end.

One way or another, we are never alone for long, unless we make an unusual determination to remain alone but this is extremely unhealthy on many levels, a real detriment to our health, cognitively, physically and passionately. 

To be honest, supplementing or, indeed, attempting to replace real connection with online intercourse may very well lead to even worse health problems than a solitary existence. We don't know about that yet, although people commit suicide over their online communications. 

It would be interesting to learn the statistics there: how often do people kill themselves over what is said to them – however abusively -in the physical world as opposed to those who end their lives as a result of virtual conversations with them or said about them?

We are herd animals, for the most part, and we are warm tactile beings who long for and need, if not the actual touch of others, at least their nearness. Watch how often people hug each other; strangers can even be very quick to hug and people one might not expect will give a hug. It's wonderful. 

How we touch each other varies as much as anything else in the world. Probably our ßcultures dictate how we approach each other, meaning in a positive light, not with death or harm hiding behind our backs. Probably, our at- home culture influences us for life about our physicality later on. If parents hug and cuddle their children, not just when they are tiny, little, young, but also when they are teenagers, young adults, parents themselves, this probably matters on how those adult children are affection with others, including their own children. 

The eyes tell a lot of intention or not about touching. Body language invites and warns off; it can hesitate, undecided, until the other decides for both. If I recall correctly, there was a brief caveat against hugging and shaking hands in particular – wasn't there a fashion of bumping elbows instead for a while? I see lots of people shaking hands but that short term fashion crossed my mind recently in a situation and I looked to see if anyone else had thought of it but they were all glad-handing, as the expression is, so, I guess it faded as it should have into the dank heap of paranoia that needs to be hosed down regularly. 

The passion that binds us to each other disregards completely the circumstances: nor war, nor rebels, nor dictators, nor repressors, nor the dark, not even the lies can stop us loving, lusting too, admit it. 

We are alive and the disasters are what they are, sometimes. Yet, whatever we do about the sins of our fathers and our own neglect of the world around us, we must still be what we are – a species filled with thinking and talent at so much. We are not better at all than those fellow species with whom we should be sharing this planet with equity, with the same fierce love that we have for each other. We should caring about their well being as much as for our own children, for our friends and lovers – if those are well, so are we but – for ourselves – for if we are well, we can care for them.

It's a circle, do you see, a circle that must include everything. Scientists have clearly shown that all living things are connected – at their DNA level. No getting out of that. It's politics, the fools, yabbering on, brainlessly, missing the whole point of existence.

You have a best friend. You tell that friend you will always have their back. You have summed it up.

We have to have each other's backs not just people - we are only part of the whole. But the whole is being shattered and we have lost our way.

Love – how well we love – how our hearts are stirred – the answers lie there.