Monday, October 17, 2016

Our Last Trip to Cuba #9 - The Italian Guy and Buddha

Soon after that TiaLourdes went for her nap and a group of us gathers in a circle in the long hallway.  Their Spanish suddenly goes by too fast for me to keep up so I find myself staring at the plants, that line the hallway, wondering how many generations they have seen come and go.  

I wonder if these same plants were here when Abuelo’s mother lived here – she only died in the mid 80s, I was senior in high school, I didn’t understand that I could have known her, so I didn’t – and they must have.  These plants have seen so much.

 All the sudden, more than anything, I want to take pieces of these plants back with me, I want them to be separate and whole just like my mom is, just like TiaLourdes is, just like our whole fractured family has been since 1960.  I don’t know how but I’m going take one of these home with me, I’ve decided, don’t even try to stop me.  

With that all set, I’m suddenly able to understand all the Spanish flying this way and that and over the next little while I hear a story about someone in our close circle who somehow got  (purchased?) the right papers to travel and leave Cuba, gave up their job, gave up their apartment, packed a suitcase and went to the airport where they found out the papers were all fake.  Now they were homeless, jobless and a bit shamed for wanted to get out of here.

I don’t ask but I wonder if it can’t still be a little how it was before, back when the USSR was strong and Cuba was a central player in the Cold War, back when the Revolution was newer and hope was stronger and where people who wanted to leave this island were treated as traitors

The talk goes in circles and then Olguita has to run an errand and asks me if I want to go with her, and seconds later I am walking the Prado of Cienfuegos unchaperoned by my mother/protector/translator. 

I’m not exactly sure where we are going or why, but I am completely sure that Olguita thinks I understand every word she is saying, and I do nothing to dissuade her from that belief.

We cross over at the Liceo and then go down one rubbly street where I barely manage a balletic jete over a pothole. We cross this street and then one more over and then she’s standing outside the door of something saying that it’s closed. Yes it’s closed.  She signs a heavy sigh and we go a few steps more to the store that blew my mind

There was no sign outside the store, but as soon as we stepped into the air conditioned dampness I was in capitalist heaven

 To my right was a row of kitchen d├ęcor that involved that Italian guy holding things (a shaker, a menu board), pastel colored picnic plasticware, and several happy Buddhas.   Ahead of me was a rack of shirts that all looked exactly the same (ugly thin polyester plaid) next to racks of clothing that were mildly the same. 

I tried to follow Olguita through a passage between clothing and appliances but was blocked by a woman with a sharp tipped umbrella tucked under her arm. I tried this way to get by and that way, but she looked me dead in the eye like I was crossing her turf and needed to give some sort of tribute. Or maybe she was staring at me because I’m a stranger in strange clothes with glossy lips.  I couldn’t tell (and I couldn’t lose Olguita) so I turned around and walked behind the clothes and caught up with her a few feet later.

In that small store, the same that sells (one brand each of) diapers, dishes, laundry detergent and shapeless housedresses there was a moderate assortment of large housewares: stoves, ovens, dishwashers, microwaves that varied by pricepoint. From what I could tell, you can buy a $330 refrigerator, a $200 one, a $150 one, but there is only one option at each level.  Also, because “store credit” and “instant credit” and “American Express” are foreign terms, these items have to be purchased in cash – not an easy feat considering meager state wages in Cuba. At this point I couldn’t tell if Olguita was showing me appliances she wanted to buy (what? Why? Like the 1920s fridges in the house aren’t good enough? Yeesh!) or just touring me around, but I loved every minute of seeing how little choice there was in the store, and how strange the prices were for shapeless housedresses and polyester underwear.

On the way out we passed Italian kitchen kitch again and I said goodbye to Buddha who somehow made it past the Yanqui Bloqueo and followed Olguita up the street and across the street and through the tangle of people and that’s when it happened.