Gray with Black Stitches

Dariela Aquique

Cuban fruit and vegetable market. Photo: Lazaro Gonzalez

Returning to a little popular slang (also known as “cubanisms”), when we say something is bad, we say “it’s black.”  Similarly, to say that something is bad and going to get worse, we say “it’s gray with black stitches.”

Those humorous phrases I learned from my grandmother, who was a teacher in the art of the witty remarks.  As I have an extravagant imagination and an good sense of humor (obviously hereditary), I try to embellish my rhetoric with these expressions.

I went grocery shopping this past weekend to put something in my empty pantries.  Outside of the markets you always find a countless number of people who come up to you offering all kinds of things: cheese, milk, drinks, condiments, meats, sausages, preserves, etc., etc., etc.

A first thought then hits you: Where did they get all these street goods, all these products that are almost always missing in the official market?  But we all know that they come from government warehouses that play a part in the pilferage of resources earmarked for the public.

These products that aren’t made available through normal channels can only be obtained at prices that match the level of risk implied by their sale on the black market.

I came up with the analogy, then, whereby the black market is similar to a bad market.

Once inside an official establishment (one of the chain ironically named “Ideal Markets”), I noticed that they have less of a variety of selections than the street vendors, and from what I could tell the prices were the same.

You don’t understand this horror?  (Excuse me, I meant to say “error”).  The problem is that you have to make a decision.  You’ve gone out to hunt for staples for your lonely cupboards, so it doesn’t matter if the supplier is from one side or another. Both have the same characteristic: they’re strangling your flimsy paycheck and any of them has to appeal to the law of survival.

But returning to the simile, you can evoke the old witticisms: Two markets exist, the one called black (the clandestine one), which is equal to bad or vice versa; and the one that’s going from bad to worse (the state-owned one), which you can call gray with black backstitches.