Friday June 17, 2005


[Contributed by Veronica Fernandes]

Biking to Calle Ocho, what my ears expected was to hear Cuban music from the heart of the most Cuban place outside of Cuba.
“You will be surprised, everybody down there loves Buena Vista Social Club.” And I thought I could accept its naïve stereotype for a little while.

I kept biking, and I couldn’t hear more than “psst-psst” from cars and trucks. Suddenly, in the middle of the street, a huge red-and-brown rooster trying to look all friendly smiling with his beak told me, “Welcome to Little Havana (for tourists use and abuse).” Not used to these straight endless American streets, I was still distrustful, and decided to look for the real (whatever that means) Little Havana somewhere else; in little abandoned-looking backyards and narrow lanes behind stores, where it seemed I was not allowed. How has this place been described?

Description A: yellow and red streets, friendly people welcoming you, rum and coke flavor, animal sacrifices in every corner of the street. Wrong.

Description B: nobody cares of people strolling around, its easy to walk alone. Wrong. “Psst-psst.” Wrong.

Description C: unsafe – there are no attractions worth that name.
To check.

After a lot of “psst-psst” and undressing looking, I stopped at a green corner, which ended up being a dusty-and-green combination juice bar and a grocery store. The sign was orange chalk on a school-size blackboard: “Juices.”

Everything was white and orange, plastic stained and burnt table cloths, straws, plastic flowers, and the frame of a big dog picture. Some good old well-known regulars (unlike me) were sitting on a bench, analyzing the situation outside, without talking. Still and bitter atmosphere. The whole place looked like a doll house – children’s drawings hanging on the wall, an elephant-shaped teapot, nail polish bottles, Miami postcards, and plastic grapes. And, right in front of that, a quite young man washing coffee cups, laughing at the guy behind a castle of watermelons and bananas.
The main attraction: a big steel juicer shining under the sun outside.

A short Cuban lady –the owner- looked at me with a who-are-you-and-what-the-hell-is-that-camera expression. To make sure I got the message she asked, “what do you want?”
Unimpeachable customer care.

“Can I have a strawberry juice?”

“We don’t have.”


“We don’t have.”


“Do you want a carrot-orange-lemon juice?”

Quiet, she started making my juice and three or four carrots drowned in that juice maker. Noisy. There was something very attractive about it. “Why don’t you take a picture of me?” I did, and she immediately stopped being interested in my camera.

After that, Little Havana became a dreamy view through plastic cups filled up of that juice. A stroke of still-life in my sight-seeing mood. To know more of this small world drowned in itself, apparently, I need I guide. (Like Dante, mpf)

A fat Argentinean guy showed a statue of Holy Mary holding a beheaded Holy Child. (Luckily, a fervid Christian put a plastic pink gardenia as substitutive head and gained his way to Heaven)

Second guide, Lorenzo. 70-year old Cuban man with light blue eyes. “My wife is in Cuba,” he said. “I left Cuba more than 30 years ago, because I hated it. I hate Miami, too. But I play domino.” In few minutes he introduced me the whole domino club –Little Havana’s throbbing heart- and forced me to drink 5 coladas in two minutes, with his sweet toothless smile. Around the tables, smell of cigars and sweat, and words coming from their mouths like snakes, lisping.

“Cuba is my heart.”

“Cuba is connected to Sicilian mafia, do you know that Italian girl?”

“I wanna be buried in Cuba.”

“Cuba was wealthy and happy, once upon a time.”

No present, only past and future, memories and hopes. “I buy gold in Colombia,” says Lorenzo, “to sell it here. I make good money, I have never been a Communist. Cuba is Communist. People die in Cuba, they don’t have enough food and children don’t have milk. And if they have some, they grow, but they are not happy. You are very lucky, you know? Why don’t you write something about that?” Well, I tried.

(Can I leave a sentimental note? I miss you a lot, all of you. Oofa.)

[Previously by Veronica: Miami is A Rebours ]


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  1. cohen    Sat Jun 18, 01:36 PM #  

    The attractiveness of little Havana is just how Cuban it really is. I grew up fairly close to little Havana, and I feel very fortunate to have grown up in such a complex environment. Little Havana is neither America or Cuba.. a place where you must speak Spanish and pay for your café in dollars,, It’s the shit