Vicente Morín Aguado
HAVANA TIMES – They caught me by surprise on the corner of 23rd and “L”. As always, the gardens around the Coppelia ice cream shop – made famous by the movie “Strawberries and Chocolate”- were surrounded by long lines of Cubans, some waiting patiently and some impatiently for their only opportunity for a good ice cream in regular pesos.
If you turned your head, the imposing “Havana Libre” Hotel sported a recently restored mural done by the very cubist and very Cuban Amelia Peláez in the times of the Miltons, the former owners deposed by Fidel Castro.
Another monumental building beckoned us with the latest novelties in national film production.
This one was previously the property of Goar Mestre, also ousted as a property owner by the revolution, and now serves as the seat of the Cuban Institute for Broadcasting and the adjacent “Yara” movie theater.
Ignoring these attractions, the Truck Drivers, who identified themselves as hailing from Aragón in Spain, asked about the young girls here. Thus began a debate as to whether or not Cuban women were really as beautiful as word of mouth, along with certain information to be found in Playboy magazine or on the internet.
I replied that they shouldn’t be looking for a paltry Naomi Campbell here, because the women of my country have shoulders that will shred to bits the Chinese blouses available on the international market. In fact when a young girl passed by, their eyes nearly popped out of their heads, looking towards the well-known place that Joaquín Sabina spoke of in his story of a taxi driver.
At any rate, I told them that being young, good-looking and tourists – a synonym of money to spend – this would be an easy thing to obtain, without the need for another man as intermediary, something ill advised when women are involved.
They liked my sincerity and we went on to discuss other topics, ending with a date to see a baseball game the next morning. “Baseball” as they say in American English or “La Pelota” as we say in Cuba, is the national sport, in which we have been both World and Olympic champions several times.
We went to a neighborhood stadium where both veterans and kids play. The former play softball, a slightly easier variation of the sport, although essentially the same game as that played by professionals or amateurs.
The contenders were a very Cuban mixture of society as a whole: workers from some of the nearby companies together with nationally known players, disputing the terrain on equal footing.
They had trouble believing that a player I pointed out was Alberto Juantorena himself, double Olympic champion from Montreal ’76; and that another was no more and no less than Tony Gonzáles himself, a member of the national World Championship team in 1969, alternating with – and this was the best – another Tony with the last name “Castro”, son of our Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro.
But the best thing of all was in the bleachers. The wife of my friend Gerardo, a pitcher for one of the teams was, as they say, “with the baby in her mouth”, that is, just about to give birth. She was selling tamales in the stands. Everyone, right up to the record-holder Juantorena were buying from her and calling her “Olga the Tamale Girl” in jest, referring to the line in a song.
My friends from Aragón were fascinated, realizing that in Cuba there’s a lot more than meets the eye, in addition to the not-to-be-scoffed-at women of mixed race that our unbiased interracial mixing has produced.
The next day, the expected occurred: the woman who was selling tamales went into labor. Her “waters broke” and we all found ourselves in the maternity ward awaiting the joyful event.
This is another story. In Cuba, births come accompanied with flowers and bottles of rum. My Spanish friends asked, “What does she need?” No medicines, that’s something that’s already known about our health system.
We would thank them for other items that our hospitals can’t provide. Disposable diapers, food for the future mother and her baby and the rifles!
Firearms in a hospital? No, my friends. “Rifles” in Cuba is a synonym for bottles of rum to celebrate a happy event. During the wait we all headed out to procure them, led by the future father as Delegation Chief. Unfortunately, events didn’t progress to the liking of our committee.
Babies, it seems, are born when they or God decide. In the waiting room, full to bursting with men, other “teams”, equally well armed with rum and flowers, awaited the arrival of the new loved one. Receiving the baby wasn’t a problem of money or “munitions”, but an affair of Honor.
Upstairs, the nurses announced each birth. The fathers then set about opening the bottles and running to see their children. We were in a relay race worthy of any Olympics. The unfortunate thing, however, was that the baby of “the tamale mom” didn’t want to emerge. We were the last to celebrate, long past three in the morning with the men from Aragón absent, since the wait had proven too much for them.
At last the long awaited announcement arrived, us almost drunk but happy and with our “honor saved”. We rushed off to take the first photos of the baby, with an additional thanks for the camera lent by the truck drivers.
As José Martí, the apostle of our independence, once said: “For Aragón in Spain, I have a place in my heart that is entirely Aragón: frank, fierce, loyal, without viciousness. If some fool wants to know why I say I have this place: I had there a good friend, there I loved a woman.”
Surely there are questions left to answer, but they would be superfluous. The “baby” is now twelve years old. The men from Aragón left. I never asked them about their hasty departure the night of the baby’s birth.
Vicente Morin Aguado: [email protected]