Requiem for Coppelia

Veronica Vega

The menu when Coppelia offered 26 flavors of ice cream and 24 combos.

HAVANA TIMES — On three separate occasions it has happened to me. When going into the Coppelia outdoor ice-cream parlor, I have promised myself each time to never come back there again! Nonetheless, the other day when I was passing by there, and saw the line was short I began to either distrust my memory or to have confidence in that eternal relativity of events.

I then decided to expose myself to risking another disappointment.

However, that most recent visit could seriously be classified as my last. In any case I went in, prompted also by the sheets of rain coming down. Plus there was the fact that among the only three flavors listed on the sign, there was included CHOCOLATE, which was enough to quell any embers of resistance within me.

I was by myself, and a man and a woman who apparently had been tempted by that same opportunity sat down at the table I had chosen.

When taking our orders, the young clerk informed us that they were out of coconut ice cream as well as candy. “They had only started serving it a few minutes earlier,” I thought. But anyway, I was only concerned about the chocolate ice cream – so I was still safe.

As the young woman walked away, I lost myself in my thoughts, like I always do (perhaps out of bad habit). However the couple at my table, very attentive to the process that was following our orders, made me react with their comments.

The woman noted, “Look at that, they’re not covering their mouths and they’re talking right over the ice cream. What a lack of hygiene!”

The man then exclaimed, “Look at that, the girl grabbed a handful of cookies and started eating them and since the other employee called to her she just dropped the cookies back into where she had taken them… You don’t think those are same ones that they’re going to serve to the customers do you!

He then sighed.

“It’s a god thing that by now not even bullets penetrate me,” he said.

The woman just shook her head in disgust. “I don’t even know why I come here,” she added.

“By inertia,” I said wistfully, not wanting to accept the fact that Coppelia isn’t what it used to be, but I felt the same way.

What’s left today.

Of course we started talking about the Coppelia of yesteryears, about its round scoops. “I could never even finish a whole ice-cream salad,” the woman said. We thought back to the long list of ice creams, how one could choose from a variety of chocolate flavors, and the huge “Jimaguas,” the “Turquinos”; the cups of “Lolita” piled with ice cream, graham crackers and candy; the cookies, the environment, about how people used to come there to show off the latest fashions, or young people with their motorcycles, the big “gasolineras” (cars) parked outside, the gays… about real Coppelia ice-cream!

“When did they stop making Coppelia ice cream?” the woman asked suddenly.

The three of us looked at each other with the same question. Then the employee came. In the tray were the dishes with…semi-scoops? Quasi scoops? Languid packs of some non-compact substance with a color that was chocolate-like but that didn’t seem convincing.

The taste test confirmed it for me.

“This doesn’t tastes like chocolate!” I told myself. The cookies lacked sweetness. The candy didn’t taste like candy. And there remained this scraping in my throat with every swallow of ice cream.

But oddly enough, I didn’t have the desire to ask, to inquire or to question. I looked at the tarps that now cover the areas that used to be open-aired, where the tables back them had a bluish glow.

The young employees — dressed in jeans, red sweaters and plastic shoes — all had a silent display of “modernity.” A few days ago, I saw a story on TV about Coppelia that was promoting its new desert: The “Special” Ice-cream Salad

I understand the emotional attraction of the term but…does it matter? – I wondered.

Here we are, in a country where the workers can’t live on their wages but march around in packed parades celebrating May Day. We have schools where students pay for passing grades, where the elderly are without a “dignified” or “secure” old age and have to sell plastic shopping bags on any corner; where people go along like capsizing boats, where no amount of makeup is enough to hide the decay… and now the scoops of ice cream aren’t round, the chocolate isn’t chocolate, where the “specials” bring back sad memories.

Coppelia has died. No matter the attempt to give it a transfusion, the effort is practically insignificant.


5 thoughts on “Requiem for Coppelia

  • We have just returned from Havana, on a five day person toperson tour.
    Had a double dip ice cream bowl at Coppelia. Was good but a little pricey , how do Cubans afford such a nice treat?
    If no trade is allowed between our countries, what are all the commercial activity based on. I would say that probably 100 large carons of supplies per airplane land in Havana from Miami every flight.
    Had a good time in Cuba!

  • Luis, the connection is easily made. In all societies, change must and does take place. The hope is that we exchange the loss of something good for something better. Losing good ice cream may not seem like much when taken alone. But in the life of a Cuban, it is just one more sacrifice paid in exchange for what? Certainly, one can argue that Cubans now have DVDs and cellphones and internet. For a poor third world country that may be a big deal. Maybe these small steps are enough to satisfy most Cubans. The safer streets balance the food shortages. The low cost of electricity justifies the overcrowded housing. Cheap rum is a good trade for expensive milk. Maybe Cubans say these exchanges make sense. Maybe not.

  • “Normally, in exchange for the decline in the size and flavor of a scoop of ice cream, come advances in technology or speedier communication and travel.”

    How can one connect the quality of service of a freaking ice cream parlor with technology is beyond logic.

  • I wouldn´t blame the government for that. Because if workers are so lazy no even being able to offer a few different and well made icecreams, it´s simply a disrespect for the other workers not doing their best. Icecream on the private market is as bad as at coppelia in Cuba. I guess they don´t know that the can put fresh fruits in it and therefore use chemical flavours. Outside Cuba little kids make better icecream than Cubans ever sold in the last 20 years.

  • Traditions of the past often fade. As do our memories along with them. Normally, in exchange for the decline in the size and flavor of a scoop of ice cream, come advances in technology or speedier communication and travel. The tragedy in Cuba is that as Coppelia fades, there is no compensating increase in comfort in some other aspect of Cuban life. On the contrary, buildings are falling down, not getting taller and more comfortable. Cars are getting older and slower, not more fuel-efficient and with GPS. The good news is that no one lives forever. Not even dictators.

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