For Janine. Who understands how important it is to care for one’s delicates.
Today’s post is brought to you by the wifi on the Red Arrow bus that traverses Highway 2 between Calgary and Edmonton and Sean Lindsay‘s ability to edit audio while moving at 120 km an hour.
and, of course, read:
Jorge now refers to the villa’s front salon as “my writing room,” and every time he says it, I feel at home… even though I haven’t written a word there.
The kids want me to make jello.
Jane: “Ok, ok. But first I have to go to the store and buy yoghurt.”
You might be mystified. They understand. I’ve been making them jello in the plastic cups we’ve saved from the extortionate, imported-from-Spain single-serving yoghurt I bought them a couple of weeks ago. ($0.90CUC, so more than a Canadian dollar, per miniscule single serving). But yesterday, I used one of the cups as a candle holder. Not because there was a black out, by the way, but because I was running out of matches—I’ve already told you that story, right? Point: we only have two yoghurt containers, and there are three children, and so… I need to buy more yoghurt.
Cinder: “Can you buy more cream cheese while you’re there?”
Except, I can’t. The tubs of cream cheese have been replaced by slabs of white cheese. Mozarellish? Maybe? “Queso blanco,” Yaskiel, the clerk behind the cheese-and-butter counter, says. I as him when there might be cream cheese again. He shrugs.
I buy some queso blanco, made locally, and the second last chunk of gouda, imported from Europe via Brazil.
The elderly woman behind me taps me on the shoulder. Would I mind taking the bigger chunk so she can have the little one? It’s a difference of $0.75CUC in price. A dollar and change to me. Significant to her.
The strawberry yoghurt I bought here last time has been replaced by plain yoghurt, which will not be celebrated by the children, and no-fat peach, aspartame-sweetened yoghurt, which I will not let them eat. But—oh—chocolate pudding in absolutely perfect jello-making cups—much better than the yoghurt cups, which are, really, too thin and tall to house jello properly.
Bonus: the pudding is $0.50CUC a cup, making it almost half the price of the yoghurt.
Vanya, the clerk who’s been on check-out most often when I’ve been at the store, is manning the meat station.
“Hey, amor, you were asking about chicken—there are still chicken breasts,” he calls to me, and points, and sure enough, there they are, behind him, rapidly defrosting in the freezer bin. Delivered Sunday, yesterday, he says. They do their best to keep them cold, but the freezer bins have no tops, you see, so you’ve really got to buy them Sunday if you want them to be fully frozen. But it’s Monday morning. They’re still pretty solid.
I grab a pack. Chicken juice (don’t think about it) drips down my hands. Vanya gives me a damp rag to dry off. “They’re still pretty frozen,” he says. I decide to believe him.
(On the way home, I decide I should, in fact, run back for another pack, because there is no guarantee they will deliver them again next Sunday, or, ever again, is there?)
Vanya’s name, of course, is a legacy of Cuba’s relationship with Soviet Russia. There are quite a few Vanyas, Vladimirs, Yuris, Olgas, Valentinas, and Yevgenies around. Most of them are in their 50s—born in the first years after the revolution.
I haven’t met any Josephs, though… Nor a Nikita.
“No matter how much imperialist reaction, headed by the United States, tries to stop or check the great revolutionary process of liberation of mankind, it is powerless to do so. People fighting for their freedom and independence are strong enough to defend their gains with the backing of all the forces of peace and socialism. This was convincingly demonstrated by what took place in the Caribbean towards the end of last year.”
That’s Nikita Khrushchev addressing a mixed audience of Cubans and Russians on May 23, 1963, speaking about the Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war in October 1962, when Khrushchev headed the Soviet Union and JFK was the President of the United States of America.
“The Caribbean crisis was one of the sharpest clashes between the forces of socialism and imperialism, the forces of peace and war in the entire post-war period. When they prepared their invasion of Cuba, the American belligerents thought that the Soviet Union and other socialist countries would not be able to render effective aid to the Cuban Republic.
The imperialists reckoned on the geographical remoteness of Cuba from the socialist countries allowing them to utilise their overwhelming military superiority in this area and attack the Cuban people and wipe out their revolutionary gains. As everyone is aware the American imperialists are no greenhorns when it comes to suppressing the liberation struggle in Latin America and other areas of the world.”
“The imperialists’ plans to strangle the Cuban revolution came to grief thanks to the firm stand of the Cuban Government headed by Comrade Fidel Castro, the fighting solidarity of the Cubans, the military might of the Soviet Union and the powerful political and moral support of the socialist countries and all the peace-loving forces which joined the united front to defend the heroic Island of Freedom.”
Go on. Gag. I am…
…but if I quoted you the propaganda the Americans were spewing at the same time—even now— you’d gag too. Or you ought to, anyway.
(You can download the whole speech here, courtesy of the Luxembourg-based Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance sur l’Europe.)
Cinder: “Did you get yoghurt?
Jane: “No, chocolate pudding. But look: chicken breasts!”
The kids do a little dance of joy.
Ender: “Will you make jello now?”
Jane: “Right away. You have to eat the pudding, and I just have to finish washing my bras.”
Um. Yeah. So, between the tub, bathroom sink, kitchen sink, and two laundry tubs, I have five places where I could do laundry. Not one of them comes with a plug. I try to solve this issue the First World Way by, you know, trying to buy a plug.
This is not possible.
There is apparently a nation-wide plug shortage in Cuba.
I create make-shift plugs out of plastic wrap and rocks, and they do ok, but they’re none of them a perfect fit, and the water keeps on draining, and I can’t give anything a proper soak.
So. I use our pots.
Cinder: “Rinse it really well. Because when we washed my socks and then you made pasta, it kind of tasted like detergent.”
Flora: “What are you going to do when Daddy comes to visit? Are you going to tell him what you use the pots for when you’re not using them for cooking?”
Jane: “Hush. Do you want jello or not?”
In deference to the fact that they are their father’s children—and that he would probably have a stroke or at the very least a mild anxiety attack if he knew I was feeding his children jello made in a pot in which, a few minutes earlier, I was washing my lingerie—I pour boiling water over the pot before repurposing it.
This is also a true story: November 18, 1956. Three years after the death of Stalin, and two years and forty-three days before Fidel Castro and co. unseated the US-backed and profoundly undemocratic government of Fulgencio Battista, Khrushchev is talking to Western ambassadors at the Polish Embassy in Moscow—I’m telling you the story at least in part because it happened at the Polish Embassy, of course—so he’s talking to Western ambassadors, and he says:
“About the capitalist states, it doesn’t depend on you whether or not we exist. If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations, and don’t invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!”*
Nikita died in 1971; the Soviet Union itself… well, the mortal wound was delivered on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. The patient was declared legally dead on December 26, 1991.
It is so… very, very much alive.
Ender: “Is the jello ready?”
Jane: “Let’s go check.”
We do. It’s ready. It’s orange. It tastes mostly like sugar and artificial colouring, and only a little bit like harsh detergent.
The children are ecstatic. After they eat, they carefully wash the pudding cups-cum-jello cups so that we can use them again.
I walk into “my writing room,” then past it, onto the verandah, meditating on the meaning of the word “freedom.” Also, “independent.” And… when he was dying… did Nikita have an inkling of what the future would hold?
Down below me, the street—Cuba—lives, and I wish I had a crystal ball that would assure me… you know? I just don’t want to think…
But I know nothing, nothing. Except for this—Fidel will die, as Nikita did. So will Raoul.
*In the years to come, he couldn’t quite decide how he meant it… Check out the Wikipedia entry on the phrase “We will bury you” for subsequent interpretations of what Khrushchev meant.
LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:
Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.
And if you like what you read/hear/see, please consider expressing your delight by becoming a patron of this project via PayPal:
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.
If you would like to make a contribution, but have PayPal issues (I get it), please email me at nothingbythebook at gmail.com, and we’ll work something out.
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