Conversations over Ice Cream

Daisy Valera

Coppelia Ice Cream parlour. Photo: Caridad

One of the things I’ve never liked at the massive Coppelia ice cream parlor is the inability to sit at a table alone or just with friends.

Once you finally make it through the long line, often taking more than an hour, you’re forced to sit at a table with people you don’t know.

Some Havana residents tell me that previously (before the fall of the Eastern European socialist camp, of course) this wasn’t the case. What’s more, there had been a whole range of ice cream flavors, in addition to sweets and soda.

Despite how much it has changed, Havanans still flock to the “cathedral of ice cream” because it’s the most inexpensive place to get this much-savored product.

A few days ago I went by there, and surprisingly there was no one waiting to go in. I couldn’t resist the temptation to enter that palace of deserts without lining up.

All I needed to make the visit perfect was for no one to plop down at my table playing reggaeton on their cellphone or trying to tell me how pretty my eyes were.

Fortunately I ended up sharing a table with two women: a Chilean and a Cuban.

They talked nonstop, giving me no choice but to listen.

What I couldn’t help but learn was that the Chilean was an artist who was teaching a course at the college here (and who also wanted to walk over to the Revolution Square), while the younger Cuban woman (art history student) was assigned to be her guide.

The conversation started to become interesting when the artist decided to ask about universities in Cuba.

She said something like: “What’s caught my attention is how depoliticized the universities are here. In Santiago (Chile) it’s totally different. Right now all of the students are demanding change and improvements.”

That line of questioning continued for a while, with the Cuban student merely repeating the same non-answer: “It’s a complicated issue.”

Meanwhile I sat there dying to share my knowledge about all of this foreigner’s enquiries and talk about this tangled mess that’s called higher education here.

Of course I kept quiet, hearing that they had also censured one of her works.

I decided not to do what my countrymen do, jump into the conversation as if it were with me and end up talking as if I had known these women all my life.

I didn’t do it, and I regretted it for a good while. I was filled with a terrible desire to communicate.

I would have liked to have asked how the student struggle in Chile was going, but I kept quiet.

I finished my five small scoops of ice cream and had to leave.

Finally I decided to speak up, I apologized for interrupting the conversation and I passed the Chilean a Havana Times card.

I commented that perhaps she could find the answers to many of her questions there.

She asked me my name and thanked me with a smile.