HAVANA TIMES — Some days ago, a friend and I went to a reception held at the home of an Ambassador, a very pretty mansion located in Havana’s neighborhood of Miramar.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the ambassador and his wife with refined cordiality. The atmosphere was agreeable: large mirrors everywhere, paintings on the walls, armchairs draped in white. We were immediately bombarded by a chorus of foreign voices (and those of the few Cubans invited).
Everyone was engaged in conversation. My friend and I were the only ones who didn’t seem to know anyone there and felt somewhat excluded. We headed for the pool. One wasn’t allowed to walk by that area, so we settled at the arbor and remained there a good while.
The women were wearing their best gala dresses. Evening dresses, high-heels and sweet-smelling perfumes filled every corner. Very young women, Cubans who looked like call-girls, strolled about and chatted with the foreigners, showing etiquette.
The men were very elegantly dressed, almost all wearing suits and ties. Some wear long-sleeved shirts. In short, everyone had made a considerable effort to look good for that party.
A troop of waiters came and went holding trays and offering wine glasses, cocktails and exquisitely prepared canapés with extreme courtesy.
Out on the terrace, we came upon a crowd of people lining up to get ice-cream. We stood in line and got ice-cream several times, stuffing ourselves. It wasn’t that terrible ice-cream they sell at the Coppelia parlor, but a very creamy, fruit-flavored ice-cream very agreeable to our palates.
I would sometimes cast a glance around me and look at people. I didn’t feel comfortable. I wasn’t well-dressed and wasn’t wearing the right shoes for the occasion. I make a habit of dressing modestly: I can make do with a pair of jeans, a blouse and a pair of sandals.
I haven’t really looked of late into buying high-heels, first of all because I don’t have the money for it. Store prices are three-times what they ought to be, even though you often find peeled (or downright rotten) shoes and, second of all, because I have other priorities at the moment. I live one day at a time, which means all of my money is spent on food and “goes down the toilet”, as a friend of mine says.
I do admit a long, evening dress and high-heels come in handy from time to time. Despite the way I was dressed, I noticed no one stopped to look at me – people minded their own businesses. It was a world without shortages. Many of the people there knew nothing of daily hardships, of the ration food card that doesn’t cover one fourth of the daily nutritional needs of the population, that an entire social class and dynasty that has no need of rationed food mocks this obsolete item.
Some of the people there probably didn’t know the first question poor Cubans ask themselves when they wake up (“what will I eat today?”) I was surrounded by a different standard of living, far removed from my daily woes, projecting a totally false image about the way I lived.
Later, we ran into two well-known Cuban writers. We chatted and told jokes to mitigate the boredom that surrounded us. I told my companion that what that place needed was music, as not even background music was being played. The only thing one heard were people’s voices, buzzing like bees in a hive. He burst out laughing and told me that was more or less how cold European gatherings were.
He also told me that a kind of cocktail party, in which people merely talked. He said one could tell I was Cuban and liked music and dance just by looking at me. I replied that the gathering was the lamest thing I had seen in my life.
When night fell, there was a downpour and we had to stay for longer than planned. Everyone left in their cars and limos. We had no choice but to wait out the storm and walk to the bus stop.
I arrived at the bus stop with my shoes wet and covered in mud. “Welcome to the real world,” I said to myself. Shortly afterwards, I threw up in a nearby garden.
The following day, as I recalled the evening, I could not bring to mind a single fun experience. I had merely eaten a lot of canapés and drunk several glasses of wine (which got me slightly drunk and fairly sick).
The home of the ambassador had been left far behind. I had returned to my same old life, full of urgent needs.