A Havana Café Charging in Regular Pesos

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Havana's San Rafael walkway.

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 8 — Unlike other provinces, it’s not often that you’ll find places in Havana where the government has set up outdoor tables where you can eat and pay for your meal using the workers’ currency: moneda nacional (MN).

I’m sure you’ve read about “MN” in other diaries on this website, where other colleagues of mine have written about this damn currency of the Cuban Republic.

While the hard-currency “CUC” — which is as national as national money (MN) — out-competes in terms of its power to purchase quality goods for those who possess it, I don’t want to go astray. The point is that, in the end, these two currencies wind up and in the same place: the king’s coffers.

But going back to places, it turns out that for some time on Obispo Street, though lost among the thousand and one places to eat in CUCs, there’s one MN eating place for the workaday Cuban; it’s a café called La Luz [“The Light”]. (It’s not the only one, there’s another one on the corner of Amargura and Mercaderes streets.)

For the prices of the items on its menu, it boasts its name because it’s “the light” for many laborers who work nearby and want a coffee or to eat at this workers’ restaurant/stand/cafeteria.

Nonetheless, not too many people know about its outside tables. The place is sometimes confused with the CUC pastry store beside it, which has a different type of table (the ones at the MN eatery are pink). The tables at the CUC pastry shop come with umbrellas to welcome tourists who, after their long holiday strolls, want to cool down and rest.

The differences between the places are noticeable. Although they’ve tried to make La Luz a pleasant place, some managerial hand has spoiled it all. On the menu — crudely taped on a slip of paper at the bottom — is the notice “NO BUYING, NO SITTING.”

In this place where I can sit and pay in MN, the outdoor menu includes delicious grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with tuna, cucumber and tomato.

While this item parched my hunger, a wet towel was thrown on my afternoon when the waiter for my station grumbled something like: “Yeah, but they’re Cuban!”

I actually felt sorry for him. Looking at his face, he seemed frustrated, which made me realize that since he was working at an establishment that charged in MN, he wasn’t going to receive a single tip from a yuma (foreigner) in CUCs.

I felt sorry for him and his inferiority complex, as well as for that generalized shame of all Cubans who feel it. To hell with whoever it was that came up with this idea of filling this city with things for foreigners while not allowing me the same.

With all the freedom in the world, I got up and left; leaving behind that cold-shouldered waiter, availing myself of another option: going someplace else.