By Irina Pino
HAVANA TIMES — I go to Old Havana quite often to see a friend and colleague of mine from HT. She brings her laptop and I bring my external hard drive. We look for a quiet place where we can exchange films, literature and news articles whilst we talk about the things that interest us.
We normally sit in a square or in the lobby at the Hostal de Los Frailes, where we can stay for a few hours where nobody will bother us.
When we decide to eat something, we just have ice cream and a soda. However, the difficulties we face trying to find them is the stuff of first-class comedy, as what happens to us at state establishments is truly incredible.
Our favorite soda is the Cuban cola and we both like chocolate ice-cream. But it’s a real mission to find them together. I don’t know if it’s just pure coincidence that all these establishments have warm cola, and where you can find a cold one it costs 1 CUC. We’d searched small bars and cafes for over an hour without being able to buy a cold can of cola. No lie.
Ice cream is a whole nother story. Sometimes there aren’t any spoons, or you can’t simply change a 5 CUC bill and you have to pay in exact cash. Most of the time, the ice cream is melting or shopkeepers are unable to sell it because they don’t have codes.
We’ve experienced the same in Vedado too. The other day, I was walking with my friends and we came across a gas station store where they had ice cream. However, they couldn’t sell it because that had just been fumigated and they had to wait 45 minutes to enter. Is it really convenient to fumigate during working times? Money is being lost, but who cares if people are still being paid the same salary even if they don’t sell?
Then, after we got to a “Rapido” fast food locale my friend asked, “Do you have any spoons?” She was shocked to hear they had, and said ironically, in disbelief: “They have spoons…” The shop assistant smiled: “Yes, we have spoons but they’re going fast, so hurry up and buy your ice-cream. Today’s your lucky day!”
It’s useless to complain to employees, they treat you like a stray dog or they tell you where else you can go to buy it. They also protect themselves by saying that the ice cream has just arrived, or that the freezer doesn’t work properly plus a million more excuses.
The real reason you can’t find these things is because there’s a catch. Soda is sold to those who have restaurants or cafes first. They then sell it for a higher price and always have stock, even if you go late at night. State employees get their cut and everyone’s happy. There’s no set price either, and prices vary from 0.65 cents to 1 CUC or 30 CUP for a can.
Almost melted, Nestle ice-cream isn’t a safe bet anymore. Sometimes the tub is missing a few spoonfuls or it’s like stuffed ice-cream.
Are we going to have give up eating ice cream and drinking soda? This in itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s probably a lot healthier to leave the house with fruit juice and bread in your bag. But fruit doesn’t taste the same and bread, if it’s from the bodega ration stores, is sour.
So, how do we stop these irregularities from taking place? By getting rid of the employees? I’ll leave that, my dear readers, up to you.