On a Celebration in Havana…and Memories of a Film

Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES — Family celebrations are important events the world over, but they make for particularly special occasions in our country. Last Saturday was my father’s birthday, and I wanted to treat him to one of his favorite desserts.

I beat some eggs, a can of condensed milk and a teaspoon of vanilla and poured the mix into a mold coated with caramel. Then, I turned on the stove…or tried to, but the stove never came on. The gas had run out, crushing the moment and all of the energy I had invested.

It is not unusual for them to cut off the gas supply from time to time. The same thing happens with the electricity. Sometimes, we get power cuts that last as many as 8 hours. The areas where the power is cut seem to be asleep, even though one hears the occasional cry of protest. If you call the electric company to find out what’s going on, they usually tell you they cut off the electricity to prune trees that interfere with the cables. Always the same excuses…

I started cursing out loud, threw the lid of the pressure cooker into the sink and stormed out of the damn kitchen swearing to the four winds. I had no other choice but to put the mix in the fridge and to wait for further developments.

I went to the bedroom, turned on the computer and started typing away, as though moved by a spring mechanism. Some ideas flowed smoothly, others I had to force – almost kick – out of me.

I remembered that, three years ago, Cuba’s Multivision TV channel had aired Taxi Driver, an excellent film, something unusual for the channel, which commonly airs “Z movies”, as I call really bad films. Watching that old film by Martin Scorsese on TV made me remember when I saw it in Havana’s La Rampa theater for the first time, more than twenty years ago.

The character played by Robert De Niro, the taciturn taxi driver who leads a life without goals, accepting things as they come, a man without dreams, cut off from the world and people, sheltered by his rolling shell, an observer inside a car, looking on the different social strata he has to deal with on a daily basis, this man had made a deep impression in me. The film captured daily life in New York, the streets no one, not even an abandoned stray dog, would like to die on.

The young driver takes his first steps out of his shell and begins to court a beautiful woman he meets. He offers her the only world he knows – without any malice, of course – but the woman turns him down. Later, he takes pity on a teenage prostitute and tries to help her.

Repulsed by his aimless wanderings, he finds himself at a crossroads: either he lets everything follow its usual course, or he gives his banal existence a true turn. He decides to do the latter: he opts for an act of cleansing, a categorical sweeping away of scum.

He ends up the hero who has redeemed a small part of that ghostly city.

After three hours, the gas supply was finally reestablished and I was able to cook. Immediately, I opened the fridge, took out the mold where the eggs and vanilla-flavored milk were swimming in and…such is my luck that it slipped from my grasp and hit the floor, breaking with a loud crash. The eggs, the milk, everything was lost. It was the “dessert that never was.”

My father still clung to the hope of enjoying his favorite dessert, so I decided to go out and buy a 6-CUC chocolate cake at the nearest pastry shop. That was something of a consolation for him. Money well spent on a special day. “One shouldn’t cry over spilt milk,” the saying goes. “Sometimes, losing means winning,” says another. It’ll take him at least two days to eat the whole cake.

Nothing else happened. I went back to my words, wishing for something other than the everyday to arrive, perhaps the recollection of a good film, so as to turn my life around.

Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.