For Tamara, who keeps us in eggs, and Crystal, for “taking over.”
With gratitude, again, to Janine Morigeau of Tarot By Janine. Janine is one of the longest practicing Tarot card readers in the Calgary area–she takes phone and Skype readings too, by the way–and amazing in every way. I am so grateful you are in my life.
I have been trying to buy eggs for about a week. I know there must be eggs, because, first—all the roosters that start crowing at four in the morning? Surely they’re not just loved family pets, right? Second, the cafeterias and street stalls frequently sell egg sandwiches, and all the bakeries sell flans—and, most convincingly, on the second or third day that we were here, my mother scored us a flat of eggs.
Where are they?
Neither in the supermarket nor the agro, and no one’s walked down my street yelling “eggs.” (They have walked down the street yelling “Crackers,” “Peanuts,” “Buns,” “Brooms,” “Fruit” and, I think, “Puppies.”) I ask at the supermarket. “Not here,” they say. “Where?” I ask. She shrugs, he shrugs. They laugh. I try not to take it personally.
On Sunday, I see a man walking down my street with a flat. Yes!
Jane: “Excuse me! Where did you buy these?”
“At the mercadito, two streets over, the one on the corner,” he says. “Ask at the front.” I run to the mercadito—which is a bring-your-ration-card-and-pay-with –moneda-nacional-only kinda store—in time to see a bike, its back loaded up with eggs, drive away. “Wait!” I holler, but there is no way he can hear me over the Havana traffic.
“Are there ever eggs in this store?” I ask one of the people waiting in the line for god knows what.
“Maybe,” she says. “Sometimes.”
I go back to the street corner religiously every morning, but I see no egg guy, nor eggs. Pop into the mercadito. “Could you please tell me where I could buy eggs?” I ask. “Not here,” the dude behind the counter says. He’s young. And surly. Rude actually.
“But where?” I ask.
“Not here,” he says, and turns his back on me, starts moving sacks under the counter.
He’s my first encounter with a rude male Cuban—but neither my first nor last experience with a rude-angry-surly Cuban shop keeper. Customer service just ain’t a thing in a centrally planned economy, y’know?
Cinder: “No eggs?”
Jane: “Plan B—if we don’t find eggs by Thursday, we’re going to go to one of those rooster houses and ask if they’ll sell us eggs.”
We could, you know, just not eat eggs. I’d like to make it abundantly clear: we are in no danger of starvation. There is plenty of food. Bread, rice, beans, chicken, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, pineapple, cheese, ham, pasta (although I cannot buy just flour), intermittently milk.
I want eggs, goddammit.
I don’t have a great many memories of Communist Poland—I was six when we left, and spent a chunk of that period living in Communist East Germany, and the Germans were always less deprived under socialism than the Slavs—but I do have a lot of vivid memories of living under an American trade embargo in Libya. They include driving for two, three hundred kilometres to get some chickens (or eggs) from a farmer—once, a cow. Going into store after store full of empty shelves… then going into one that had flats of jam, and then watching my mother buy all of them—she would trade them later for whatever someone else scored at another store that had things. Sardines, maybe.
I remember eating a hell of a lot of sardines.
Also—I don’t know if this is true, it seems ridiculous, I must ask my parents—caviar. It seems there was often caviar…
Whenever any of the other Polish workers would come back to Libya after a trip back to Poland (at that time, under martial law, its socialism in death throes, although no one knew it then), they would invariably smuggle in a shitload of vodka… and sausage.
The sausage would be shared out—the lions’ share always going to the kids. Sliced oh-so-thinly to make it last.
I remember… the thin slices of sausage? They tasted like heaven.
Jane: “Plan C: the next time I see someone with a flat of eggs, I’ll ask them to sell them to me.”
Flora: “For how much?”
My mother got me the first flat for $3CUC.
Although, in another week, I’ll probably go up to $10, dammit.
The outrageously beautiful woman who cleans Jorge’s—temporarily my—house on Saturdays also comes on Thursdays to clean the porch. She washes down all the furniture—makes me feel really guilty as she does this—what the hell do I do to the furniture in the space of a week that makes it so dirty?—but, it’s not me, it’s not me—it’s the dust, the moisture, the diesel fumes—and she also scrubs the 100 year old tile.
She has two children, about Flora and Ender’s age. She must know all about the egg delivery system.
Jane: “Could you please tell me where, how I can buy eggs?”
Sometimes, she says, they’re at the market at the corner. Do I know which one? The one two streets over, on the corner? Yes, I know. They’re not there today, they weren’t there yesterday, and I can’t shop there anyway. Are there other places?
Translation: “For fuck’s sake, where the hell is the egg black market?”
She shakes her head. I sigh.
It’s really not that big a deal. I’ll feed my kids semolina cereal imported from Poland, boiled in packaged-in-Cuba UHT milk, sweetened with extortionately priced Spanish jam. Or buns with creamed cheese. They had cream cheese at the supermarket yesterday and I stocked up.
I. Want. Eggs.
No, I don’t think you really understand how badly I want eggs. I am, in this moment, a study of how and why the black market works… I’m not saying I’d sell my first born for a flat, but if you wanted to trade me eggs for a snip of Flora’s rare red hair…
Eggs. Eggs. Eggs.
I can’t think about anything else.
Jorge: “Jane? Jane? Are you there?”
Jorge is my landlord. He is about to become my god.
Jorge: “I have a gift for you and your children.”
It is a bowl full of eggs.
Eighteen beautiful white eggs, speckled with chicken poop and feathers.
Straight from the ration store… via his fridge.
I would pay him… anything. A small fortune in hard currency.
Jorge: “It’s a gift, it’s a gift. Enjoy. Please, enjoy!”
That first egg I fry? It is the taste of heaven…
…and yes, it tastes, an awful lot like a thin slice of smuggled Polish sausage.
Now please go check out Tarot By Janine. Mother’s Day is coming up, and Mom’s on a diet and allergic to flowers? Get her a gift certificate for a Tarot card reading.
LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:
And if you like what you read/hear/see, please consider expressing your delight by making a contribution:
Jane: Because you’ve always wanted to be a patron of the arts, and you know that artists can’t pay for groceries with exposure.
You: How much?
Jane: Buy me a cup of coffee, a Cuba Libre, or a counterfeit Cuban cigar.
You: That’s all?
Jane: My avarice is happy to match your affluence. But I get $1 in royalties for each copy my other self sells of a traditionally published book. It is impossible to disappoint me.
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