By Irina Pino
HAVANA TIMES – I can tell you that to go out in these times you’ll need to have a good-sized roll of bills. Anything you eat in a cafeteria or restaurant will leave a sizable hole in your wallet. To my way of thinking, the monetary reordering (the 2021 currency reforms) is the worst thing to have happened to the country.
I call it “monetary disordering”, because all the private and state sectors have now raised their prices, as if everyone were receiving a respectable salary.
After so much time shut up at home for the public health crisis, many places have finally begun to offer service. I wanted to go spend a few hours in Old Havana, and I talked a friend into going together.
We got there fast, heading down the Havana boardwalk on her electric motorcycle. Right away we began to look for a parking space where she could leave the bike. Almost all the sites where they guard parked cars and motorcycles are situated amid old ruins of former buildings. The fee for parking her motorcycle for a few hours was 50 Cuban pesos. (US $2.00).
Our first destination of choice was The House of Chocolate, where in years past they prepared a great chocolate drink with cinnamon and nutmeg. Now it’s only just hot or cold chocolate, and of course they’ve given up the bonbon and the little cookie that used to come with the cup. It doesn’t even come with a little piece of toast.
The entire place has changed. There are only a few tables in the main salon, and the chairs are piled against the wall. At least they still have air conditioning. Sitting in the garden is the pleasantest though, with the tables in the open air amid large pots full of plants.
Outside, they sell churros for 20 pesos, which people buy to have with the chocolate. The cup of chocolate now costs double what it did before – 25 pesos.
A man in white served us. He’s not a waiter. I commented on how the quality of the chocolate had gone down, since it was now half watered down. He responded rudely that it’s not his fault, and that in addition they’re short-staffed.
Can you imagine a more discourteous reply to a customer?
The decor is still tasteful, with shelves of porcelain cups, and paintings on the wall with scenes involving cacao.
We tried to enjoy our stay there, conversing and recalling old times. Later, we walked through the plazas and alleys, until it occurred to us to go by the National Museum of Fine Arts to catch an exhibition. The entry fee, which before was 5 pesos each, now cost 15 pesos per person.
The lunch hour caught up with us, so we checked out two or three restaurants. They all offered the same thing – chicken – as if suddenly that animal was all the rage.
They say that pork now costs 200 pesos a pound in the markets…
What’s really going on is that there’s nothing else to eat, or maybe they haven’t done the necessary transactions, or they lack enough imagination to develop dishes that don’t involve meat. The administrators of these places aren’t interested in those who are vegetarians or vegans.
Finally, we stopped at a restaurant in Plaza Vieja called La Cervecera [“The Brewery”] because they usually sell that beverage.
All the main dishes involved chicken, of course, and the cheapest cost 250 pesos, while a beer with the food cost an additional 38 pesos.
My friend ordered a chicken skewer that seemed to have come straight out of the refrigerator. It was supposedly grilled with briquettes, but the dough was pale, and the peppers on the skewer were half rotten.
Since I refused to eat that darn chicken, I didn’t eat anything, only drank one of the beers.
I began to protest and badmouth them loudly, saying that they were forcing people to consume a plate of cold and ill-prepared chicken, just to be able to drink a beer. A woman who was at the table next door, then broke in to say that the place wasn’t so bad, and that there were only two leaders she followed: one was Hugo Chavez and the other Fidel Castro.
I froze when I heard that, and I said: “Hey, I’m talking about the shitty food here. What does that have to do with those two dead people?”
At to that, a man at another table replied: “Well, they’re colder than that chicken!”