Public Spaces

Irina Pino

Cafeteria in front of the Colon Cemetery entrance.
Cafeteria in front of the Colon Cemetery entrance.

HAVANA TIMES — It’s nice to be invited to dine out, not to have to cook something at home and skirt all of the stress that this cursed task involves. That’s why I was happy to receive an invitation to eat out at a restaurant from some friends who had recently arrived from abroad.

They wanted to go to a place that was nearby and we decided on the one at the intersection of 3ra and 8 streets, in Miramar. The place looked nice, but they took a long time to bring the food over and, when they did, it was cold. The vegetable salad looked like purée, the fried plantain chips were all crumbly, the cheese cream was pure flour (without a hint of cheese) and everything else was insipid, tasting like reheated food.

The most striking thing, however, was that the waitress served our table while talking on a cell phone, addressing other work issues while she set down the plates. The food had no quality and was expensive – the entire meal cost more than 60 Cuban Convertible Pesos, highway robbery. Many State restaurants look like seedy dives, but there are many privately-run places that also serve poor quality food at exorbitant prices.

Another incident I can think of involved a friend who’s a writer. We had come out of the Chaplin cinema and wanted to eat something at the coffee shop across the street from the nearby Colon Cemetery. We were hungry and asked for pizza, soft drinks and ice cream. Incredibly, they didn’t have spoons, so we headed over to the La Pelota restaurant, at the corner, to ask to borrow two. The head waitress refused to give us the spoons, saying, with an impolite tone of voice, that the supplies could not leave the establishment. Then, we headed to the bar and they told us they couldn’t lend us anything if we didn’t buy something there. However, they gave us a disposable spoon, that we took turns using. A while later, after we’d had our ice cream, someone asked for the spoon, and the spoon changed several hands, or, better said, mouths.

It was a very folkloric experience, metaphorically speaking. People were talking loudly at their tables, there were 2 and 3-year-old children screaming. Then came an extravagantly-dressed man, accompanied by two very seedy-looking characters, who plugged in a stereo and began playing reggaeton music with dirty lyrics at full volume.

My friend and I were petrified, as no one dared say anything to this man (who was a foreigner, and looked European). Two girls under 5 even began to dance, as though the place were a disco, when they should have been in bed (it was almost 10 at night). The parents paid no attention and continued talking at their table.

Everyone was joining in. The waiters did nothing to quiet them down. Only the two of us were taken aback. Could it be we’re from a different planet?