Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Fellow Cubans of a certain age will probably remember a mid-eighties Havana-set comedy called Los Pájaros Tirándole a la Escopeta (translation not provided, sorry). The movie was about a young couple who find out that their parents (her dad and his mum) are dating each other. Problems arise when the youngsters refuse to acknowledge their elders’ relationship. Although a comedy, the film explores serious issues such as family dynamics, romance between middle-aged people – and how they are perceived by a youth-obsessed society like the Cuban one – and the ubiquitous macho culture.

"Are those my mum's shoes?"
"Are those my dad's trousers?"
I thought of this movie recently because I was reading a column by The Observer’s agony aunt Mariella Frostrup. I’m not a fan of agony aunts but for some reason, chiefly because of her writing style, I see Mariella more as a columnist in the same vein as a Barbara Ellen or Suzanne Moore than a mere dispenser of questionable advice – one of the reasons why agony aunts are not my cup of tea. On this occasion the dilemma facing Ms Frostrup’s correspondent concerned a mother who was dating her daughter’s fiancé’s father. To make matters more complicated both parents brought their relationship into the open in the same year their children were getting married.

Unlike the Cuban comedy this situation elicited no laughs at all, at least, I reckon, for those caught up in it. And Mariella was right when she brought up the fact that should one of the two relationships go belly-up (and who’s to say that couldn’t happen) there would be complications to contend with. You can bet your bottom dollar that the annual Christmas family gathering would become a rather awkward affair.

However that same point provoked in me a different reaction, of a more antipodean nature. What was at stake here in this mini-crisis, in my opinion, was not mum and dad’s relationship, dodgy as it might have been perceived by others, or daughter and fiancé’s fears and misgivings. What was at risk here was trust. Simple as that, trust in the person you are about to pledge your life to, “till death do us part”.

That “what if” scenario is the human in us. No matter how many romantic novels are written, how many tear-jerking films are made or how many plays are staged about star-crossed lovers, there usually is a little voice in our heads crying out: “Yes, but what if...?” Maybe this feeling doesn’t manifest itself in the same way as the case Mariella was dealing with (circumstances were different), but it does exist. Separate bank accounts for each spouse but one main joint account for house bills and the like, prenuptial agreements enforced by law and a circle of friends, mutual enough to invite to dinner parties, but still loyal to one of the two consorts. It is almost like designing an escape route before the wedding cake has been sliced. In fact, forget romance, this trust issue turns up uninvited when we think of going into a business venture with our best friend or if we give a good reference of a close mate for a job. Again, there's that annoying "what if..." they let us down?

You might be thinking that I am being cynical. I am. However, do not take my words as a rejection of the existence of romantic love; I am just merely trying to keep it more grounded in reality. The mother who wrote to Mariella about her predicament with her daughter’s fiancé’s father was probably thinking only about her future with le beau-père but her offspring was being far more practical. Mum, what if you and X split up? Who gets to keep the Michael Bublé CDs?

Joking aside, this is what life is really made of. Which is probably the reason why that woman wrote to Ms Frostrup in the first place. And we haven’t even considered what would happen if the mum and dad decided to have another child. That could happen. That would mean that daughter would have a brother who would double up as a step-brother. If the couple were to have a child before that, their little one would be the nephew of a much younger uncle. The possibilities are endless.

So, romance or practicality? A little bit of both, methinks. It’s all right to give flowers, serenade your paramour and walk along the Thames holding hands. That’s love, pure and simple. Meanwhile, keep a separate bank account. Just in case.

Oh, and before I forget. How does the title of that Cuban film translate into English, you might still be wondering? It is literally “The Birds Shooting the Gun”. Now, work that one out. Cheerio!

© 2014

Next Post: “Killer Opening Songs”, to be published on 9th July at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Good gracious, what a predicament those people could find themselves in. The 'what-if' scenario is (sadly) all too common now. Joint bank accounts, contracts and the like were unknown in my day. If we didn't trust a partner we didn't marry him. Sadly, marriage is now an on-off affair... no staying power!

  2. I enjoyed your post Cubano, I think everything Spanish is romance

  3. I think I have seen a film with that theme but can't remember the title.

  4. haha oh that would be quite the family affair if the what if came due. People just get married now a days because society says they should, making most marriages a shame and the what if coming due.

  5. One of my daughters used to ask 'what if ...' all the time - her childhood was full of possible disasters (to be fair, we were in London when a bomb went off in Harrods, which is what set her whole anxiety-thing in motion).

    Then my husband - her step-dad- died, and her what-ifs stopped. When I asked her, she told me that the worst thing that could happen had happened, and we'd all come through it. That was all she needed to know.

    I've looked at life a little differently ever since.

  6. I do a lot of 'what iffing'. And, in the end, usually go for it anyway. I choose life rather than an existence. And only taking the safe path strikes me as an existence.
    Families are complicated beasts already...

  7. ha. what an interesting title of the movie...and a conundrum when you start trying to draw out the family tree as well eh? ha. i wonder though if we dont worry at time about what ifs that may never happen but expend our energy...if they are happy, oh well..smiles.

  8. No conozco la película, pero en lo cierto que son asuntos familiares de los corrientes muchas veces.
    Un abrazo y buen principio de semana.

  9. Speaking as someone who once was a policy and management analyst whose work often centered around writing contingency plans which included worst-case scenarios and meant interviewing countless people to learn their needs and preferences, it is my opinion that most of us see no farther than the ends of our noses and do not plan beyond the time of our next three-day weekend.

    Add to that, most of us are selfish, self-centered and have extravagant opinions of ourselves. This cocktail probably accounts for ninety percent of the problems -- large and small -- in the world. We live for ourselves, mostly, no matter what we like to think.

    Well, it appears that I am saying I think more people should be saying "what if" more often.

    Another thought-provoking post, CiL. Sorry, if I sound like a misanthrope, but I am a charter member of the Bitter Bierce fan club and have an image to maintain ....

  10. Ha. The world is a complex place--I suspect that the breakup of the children would be worse than a breakup of the parents, as children need loyalty! All that said, love is pretty precious-- wherever it is found, and sometimes it is more easily found twitch people with whom one spends time! Separate bank accounts though-- wise advice! Thanks, k.

  11. Once upon a time, I might have (No, I WOULD have) considered the scenario you described to be rather weird. That was until I met a family at church years ago. Husband-and-wife were about the same age as my hubby and me, and they had children about the same age as ours. His widowed father married her widowed mother, and believe it or not, it wasn't at all weird. The older couple had known each other for years, and their love grew from a long-time friendship, and they had many good years together.

    One of my best friends, who has since passed away, told me on the way to her first wedding, "If it doesn't work out, we'll get a divorce." I was absolutely appalled, because to me, that was kinda like having an expectation of failure. Sure enough, they got a divorce a couple years later.

    Bottom line, I don't see a disaster-in-the-making when any couple works at a relationship, no matter how convoluted their family dynamics may be. It's all about attitude and willingness to make it work.

  12. Well, if my wife and I split up, the CDs would be the easiest thing to separate as we both have our own stash and generally dislike the others, except for jazz and classical. Good thoughts on trust and I enjoyed the insight into Cuban life.

  13. that's complicated, you're right there!

    'what if' is one of the best writing prompts around, by the way, it can certainly really get rid of writers block

  14. "Agony aunts?" I'd never heard that term for it before!

  15. Many thanks for your kind comments. Fram, out of curiosity, does your club accept occasional members? :-)

    Greetings from London.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...