HAVANA TIMES — Today, Havana’s ice-cream carts roll into the city’s neighborhoods hoping to draw the children with Christmas jingles or the theme music of American cartoons.
I still remember that, throughout my childhood and until the onslaught of the Special Period in the early 90s, the “Ice Cream Carts”, small trucks that sold ice-cream in the currency one’s salary was paid in (when one could make ends meet with these), would drive around Havana, announcing themselves with Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube”, and that these were extremely popular in those happier times.
Back then, this waltz would set off a veritable race from the neighborhood’s houses to the place the truck had parked in. Children and adults alike would dash to the familiar “Truck”.
Old people would forget their pains. Pregnant women would run to the truck, holding their “bundles” (bellies); other women, holing their children in their arms, would follow. No few foods, left on unattended stoves, would burn to a crisp. And the children, well, suffice it to say that not even the dogs stay put.
The arrival of the ice-cream truck was cause for celebration across several neighborhood blocks, for people knew there was no shortage of popsicles, ice-cream sandwiches, cups, quarter-gallon or gallon tins, and that there would be enough to supply the entire family, today and tomorrow, satisfying young and old alike.
Carrying people’s favorite flavors (chocolate, strawberry, almonds and others) and the less popular ones (vanilla, caramel or malt), these trucks sold large quantities of ice-cream, for the flavor and texture of the Coppelia brand was, and continues to be, the best in people’s minds.
Back in those days, this brand of ice-cream had no competition, as it does now, with the emergence of Nestle’s wide offer, which is sold in Cuban Convertible Pesos (hard currency).
Today, one can buy Varadero ice-cream at the Coppelia ice-cream parlor, in Vedado, or two or three other parlors in more peripheral neighborhoods. One can also purchase Flamingo, Alondra, Bim Bom or Guarina-brand ice-cream at most so-called hard-currency establishments. But no ice-cream you can buy today compares to the Coppelia brand, when it was sold at an affordable price in Cuban pesos and was of the highest quality.
Today, what people refer to as ice-cream carts are generally bicycles, tricycles or other similar means of transportation which the ice-cream man or woman – a self-employed vendor – rides down the street, followed by children, who are perhaps those who need these delights the most (or so their parents, who sacrifice their own pleasures to treat their kids, unable to afford both, believe), as the heat makes one thirst for something that isn’t always a soft drink, some juice, a guarapo (sugar cane juice) or granizado (snow cone).
And though these ice cream vendors no longer offer a quality, creamy and rich ice-cream (as we like it), an ice-cream as delicious as the one we used to enjoy, able to draw the crowds it did, there’s still no shortage of people who buy from them.
Nostalgia for the little things (which often swell into bigger things) sometimes finds its way into the hearts of parents, who cannot always treat their children to those sweet things they enjoyed as kids.