The Melodrama of Buying Potatoes in Havana

Francisco Castro

The potatoes have arrived. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The reason I write this now is not precisely because some farmers markets around Havana are selling potatoes again, but the fact this product has been made available again in such a surreptitious manner. It’s taken so long – has it been months, years? – that people have been caught off guard.

Like everything else on this island of ours, for better or for worse, no one knows for certain whether potatoes will stay around for long now that they’ve suddenly reappeared, and, since the present is all that truly matters to people, everyone is going out to buy potatoes en masse.

I have too. It’s not that I am so different from everyone else that I wouldn’t dream of setting out to buy the delicious tuber. The thing is that I’m allergic to waiting in line, to our daily queues – places where the essence, the unexpected, the concealed and proven aspects of our temperament always come to the fore.

I had to go to my neighborhood market to buy the potatoes. I wanted to treat myself to some mashed potatoes, to some delicious baked dish, to some incomparable steamed or boiled potatoes, or a potato and chicken salad, or whatever else you can throw together. What I hadn’t counted on – naïve me – is that I would have to deal with a line of people ahead of me.

The line was made longer by people who saved several spots to buy as much as they could (they were only selling 20 pounds per person) and later re-sell the potatoes at higher prices. The line was endless and thick, always ready to scatter and reform, as though by divine intervention, and to double or triple in length, in the worst of scenarios.

In the worst of scenarios, I would have to argue about who had arrived at the line first, and make an older lady anxious to reach the counter understand she had gotten there a mere half hour before and that I had been waiting for much more than an hour – insist it was impossible for the man in the red T-shirt to have told her he was the last in line, because he had said the same thing to me.

But, in the end, it was worth the effort.

What took me by surprise was an even sorrier scene, which I came upon in another neighborhood. The huge throng of people recalled those demonstrations we used to hold in front of the Anti-Imperialist Grandstand – not only because of the large numbers of people, but also because of the police officers present.

They had even cordoned off the market with a line of metal tables used to sell products to the public – a barricade meant to hold back the crowd and ward off any opportunist seeking to cut in line.

I couldn’t help but bring to mind images of the Holocaust…

I imagine this story will have a happy ending, provided potato supplies become as stable as they were years ago. Then, we will be able to eat potatoes that don’t taste of queues and shoving, and we will eat them every week.

Francisco Castro

Francisco Castro:Everything becomes simpler when one crosses the line of thirty. That does not make it easier, but rather the opposite. There I am on the other side of the line, trying to figure out, what little I know about art, politics, economy ... life, how to move without breaking oaths that seemed essential, how not to give up, how to make the years spent into a beacon to the future.

2 thoughts on “The Melodrama of Buying Potatoes in Havana

  • Jaaaaa, Moses,You are so right!!!Nothing else needs to be said!.

  • In first grade, I remember poking toothpicks into a potato and then lowering the potato into a glass jar filled with water. I was careful to keep water in the jar half submerging the potato. In a few weeks, before my very eyes., there a leafy and smelly potato plant. I was 6 years old. Given the rich tropical soil and moderate climate Cuba is blessed with, what kind of stupid can’t grow potatoes?

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