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.
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.