(Coppelia Line, Photo by GV, 2010)
Valentine¹s Day in Santiago de Cuba
Its a breezy Sunday, less hot than usual, so I decide to go for a walk. Heading down Avenida Garzon I see lines snaking down sidewalks. All are clustered in front all the new moneda nacional restaurants. There is a new head of the communist party in the province of Santiago: Lazaro Ésposito, and changes are afoot. Ésposito was brought in from a successful stint in nearby Bayamo province to modernize Santiago, a city known for its juicy music, traditional neighborhood carnival associations, old-style Caribbean red-tiled-roof architecture, and antiquated water mains, lousy municipal services, food shortages, annoying power outages, and provincial backwater status. Starting in September, he presided over the opening of a series of new restaurants, cafeterias, and food vending carts. All sell in moneda nacional, the Cuban peso. Valentine¹s Day gave folks an reason to try the new restaurants, and long lines ensued. I squeezed thru crowds and peeked into several of the gleaming new establishments. White tablecloths, real china, nice plastic flower centerpieces. All this and a fish dinner for only 25 pesos (a little more than one US dollar)? Wow, Santiago is on the up and up! Families and couples line the sidewalks as moms, wives, and girlfriends are feted on this special day of San Valentin. Ambulatory sellers of fabric roses encased in plastic bubbles and little heart pins and teddy bear key chains are doing brisk business. Everybody is dressed up. Ironed and pressed. The women navigate broken pavement in high heels, waving fingers with mini-rhinestone manicures. Cologne and hair oil wafts from the men. Many are wearing yellow and white, not the pink or red we might think of as “valentine colors” in the US. Two couples in line have even pattern-coordinated their outfits. One woman has a white top and bright yellow jeans, her friend white capri pants and a yellow blouse. Their men also sport the yellow & white theme. In the Afro-Cuban religion Santería (also called Regla de Ocha), the divinity of love, river waters, honey, romance and flirtation is named Oshun and her color is yellow or gold. Maybe in Cuba, Valentine¹s Day is more yellow than pink due to the influence of the African gods.
One of the new restaurants, named España, has an especially long line and a few women in very high heels are actually sitting on the curb in front. Cubans almost never do this. The curb, the gutter, sidewalks, streets, and floors in general are considered “dirty.” Parks and plazas have benches. If they are full, people stand. Children are admonished not to run barefoot. Rarely do folks flop on lawns or plant their behinds on a curb. The beach is about the only place where you¹ll see anything other than the soles of Cuban¹s shoes in contact with the ground. Cubans are used to waiting in lines. For the bus. For bread. At the bank. To see the municipal coordinator of such-and-such. On this Sunday coinciding with the day of San Valentin, I calculate the waitlist to get a table at España must be more than an hour to force the ladies to desperate measures – sitting on the curb in their stepping-out attire. One fellow has actually made his lady a little temporary stool out of three empty rum bottles and a stout piece of cardboard. Valentine’s was made for Cuban caballerosidad, no?
(España Restaurant, photo by GV, 2010)
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