by Mitch Sackson
(Sun City Center, FL 33573)
It was a beautiful morning in Havana. It was 2012 and we were in Cuba with a group traveling with the GCT Educational Society. We looked out the window at the dilapidated buildings, half-finished painting and faded colors. But the streets were crowded with Cubans hurrying to work and pedicabs moving gracefully up and down the boulevard. Marian said “Why don’t we try the street fare for breakfast rather than the hotel’s ‘always the same’ goodies?”
We got ourselves together and went down to the lobby. I asked the clerk at the front desk “Where can we go for a nice breakfast?” “Americano?” she replied. “No. A place where a Cuban might want to stop for a bite”. She then proceeded to tell me:
“Go around the corner to your right. Then down for five streets. Turn right and you will see a gas station. The bistro is opposite the station. It’s a tiny place with, maybe, a table outside.”
All this spoken in understandable English. And so, we started off. Counting out the cross streets, we turned the last corner and sighted the gas station. But where is our target? Starting down the street, Marian opined that “We made a mistake.”
“We’ll keep going. Can’t get lost.” We walked along, considering each tiny business until, surprise, we saw a counter with stools, two bedraggled customers hunched over their paper plates and coffee in plastic cups, eating with plastic forks. In the back was a table. We looked at each other and our eyes said, “Let’s try it. How bad can it be?”
As we walked in, the proprietor who was behind the counter, snapped to attention, smiled broadly, and came around in front of us and, using hand signals, told us to stop. “Oh boy! We are going to be thrown out.” Instead he went to the back, hauled the table outside, ran back and grabbed two chairs and motioned for us to follow him.
We were now seated on a lovely street, with nice houses in front of us and across from the gas station which was getting busy. He gave us a menu in Spanish, of course. By pointing to pictures, we agreed on an omelet with various sides and coffee for both of us. As we were enjoying our scary outing, he scurried past us and leaped up the doorway next to us. “Mia Casa” (“My home”) he said as he disappeared.
Down he came with two real plates, two ceramic cups and two settings of utensils. We were served as if we dined at a fine restaurant, Cuban style. The food was better than at the hotel and served with such graciousness. We asked for the bill, which was priced in ‘kuks’ (the phony parallel currency for foreigners), and equated to about $4 US. I left a tip in US dollars as that currency is appreciated by all Cubans.
The memory of that simple meal cooked and served by a proud owner will last forever even if it was across the street from a busy gas station.
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