Those of us who live in Santa Cruz del Norte (a little town on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico about 30 miles from Havana), frequently wake up in the morning to the cry of “Guava bars… from San Antonio del Río Blanco…”
A thin gray-haired woman wanders through the streets peddling these sweet bars of concentrated fruit. Her peculiar voice and cry are easily recognizable and difficult to imitate.
The woman apparently lives in San Antonio, another small town a few miles away in the direction of Jaruco. In our province (also called Havana) are several “San Antonios,” so that this particular one takes the name of “San Antonio del Rio Blanco.”
It’s in the hinterland of the narrowest western part of the Island, inhabited by cultivators of the earth and marked by the rural spirit of familiarity and unhurriedness. It’s like a Cuban variation of the “eternal return.”
I, born in a big city, always envied that gentle breath that characterizes people from the country and from some of the outlying towns. However, I’ve never been one of them; it seems one’s urban manner is like a birthmark.
Nor have I ever tasted the confections that the woman sells. In my family, we don’t eat a lot of guava sweets; plus we get what we do from other places. Then there’s an additional particularity: you can’t say that this type of fruit concentrate bar is scarce in our markets.
It’s sold in the currency we’re paid in as well as in convertible pesos (CUCs) in “dollar stores.” In addition, the one sold by the woman who usually wakes us up with her cry is usually a bit more expensive than that bought by most Santa Cruz residents.
That fact fascinates me. Although I haven’t been able to compare the quality of the “guava bar…of San Antonio del Rio Blanco,” I presume that those people who buy it have their reasons to pay the price she asks. I don’t know them, but it must be like an original brand, a mark of distinction in a land where the assortment of goods and ideas is still not characterized by diversity.
All the more, the price difference isn’t so great. And the distinction, rather invisible to the eye, is based on the pleasure and flavor of the sweet guava bar, and not on harmful aspirations for status.
Although I don’t buy the guava that the woman sells, it makes me happy to hear her voice in the morning; it’s a sign that life continues…in a certain way, in a certain sense.