HAVANA TIMES, Feb 9 — “Mama Ines” is the character in a well-known song that has transcended its time in many voices, but the unsurpassed version is the one by “Bola de Nieve” (literally, “Snowball”), the artist born Ignacio Jacinto Villa (September 11, 1911 – October 2, 1971).
That line was adopted as the theme to design a truly cozy and intimate place in the city of Santiago de Cuba. It’s a small, newly opened cafe at the centrally located corner of Pizarro and Enramadas streets, in front of Plaza de Martes.
On a well-lit-up sign that seems to invite every passerby, it prominently displays its name: Café Mama Ines.
From the outside, the locale can be appreciated even before entering. Once inside you find a comfortable air-conditioned establishment filled with an arrangement of 12 tables, attractive modern decor, with large posters of Bola and the name of the song covering its wood-paneled walls.
All of this is complemented by a beautiful counter in addition to a bookcase with books and magazines inviting you to stay as long as you like drinking coffee and reading – if you please.
Once seated, you’re offered a menu that also has an excellent design and is covered in a plastic binder. In it is listed the dishes offered and the different varieties of coffee, ones made every way from traditional dry-roasting to the well-liked espresso, along with flavors that include liquor, cream or milk. Also available are several types of tea and toast.
My first visit there was just a week after it had opened. Fascinated by the atmosphere of the place, I decided to stay and try several items on the menu, since the prices are quite reasonable and are charged in local currency.
My first let-down was when the waitress — without giving me time to order — snappishly warned me, “There is no milk.”
Her manner was such that I almost lost my desire to enjoy café cortadito or coffee with milk or cream.
Yet that still didn’t completely destroy my high hopes in this lovely place. I therefore asked for a “café cubanito” (though I really didn’t know what it was, the name inspired me).
It turned out to be a light brown drink, the kind that causes people to make strange grimaces with their mouths. On the edge of the dish was a small piece of cheese.
Sweetening this strange infusion was obligatory, otherwise I couldn’t drink it. But the sugar bowl was already empty and I had to wait for a refill, which by the time it came the coffee was completely cold.
That combination of cold blended coffee and melted cheese caused a convulsion in my stomach that forced me to leave the place almost running.
But as we tend to be masochists, I returned there yesterday with my sister – and what do you know?
There, the girl explained to us that “the machine for preparing the milk is second hand and broke down after just a week, but it’s fixed now.”
As she brought us our order, we talked about the paradox of making such a large investment in the place but skimping on the equipment.
Added to that, between the ordering, the long wait and drinking our coffee, we realized that the song “Mama Ines” was repeating over and over and over again.
I asked the waitress, “Don’t you have any other songs by Bola?” – to which she replied, “Yes, but that’s the name of the café so that’s the song we’re required to play.”
I was speechless. Just imagine, the place is open 24 hours a day. I could easily see someone, angry with the quality of the service and suffering from acoustic saturation, physically assaulting one of the employees.
Incredible. But that’s the way things are here – always absurd. The café isn’t even a month old yet, yet I’m already wondering how long it will be in business.
“Oh, Mama Ines. Ohhh, Mama Ines!