September 18, 2013 by vivalafiona
We bought a fridge last week which was delivered to our house by horse and cart, along with the house paint and the gumboots we had also purchased. I love the fact that the government stores charge first world prices for fridges, freezers, washing machine etc which, I might add, you can pay for by credit card if you possess one, but there’s no such thing as a delivery service. Truly, your only option, unless you own your own truck, is to hire a horse and cart or carry the goods home in a wheelbarrow. The alarm on my face as we crossed over the railway tracks and the fridge, which is a fairly big one, lurched back and forth, would have brought a smile to the faces of the locals walking by.
So now we have a bed, a fridge, a blender, a rice cooker (something I never owned before) a pressure cooker (ditto) and 3 bicycles. – the essentials really. Oh and 2 antique lights. One that Osiel fell in love with and the other a Polly Anna lamp with the crystal pendants that capture prisms of light, which I chose. Some of the older folk in town are in possession of many antique gems. Nineteenth century tables, sideboards, cabinets, rocking chairs, hat stands, chandeliers and large porcelain urns. There was a house for sale with all the furniture included in the price, which was very tempting for the furnishings alone, but sadly, the house had too many structural problems. A seemingly rich Cuban/Italian has bought it and has a team of people working all hours to restore it. I have discovered that builders earn more money than doctors and other professional people in Cuba. Much more.
We are currently building a new wall between us and our two closest neigbours (we have 6 neighbours bordering the property including the local party representative). My new career has begun: chef, kitchen hand, and waiter. It is a tradition in Cuba to provide all construction workers in your employ with a substantial morning tea (Cubans often only have sweet black coffee for breakfast) and lunch. I am up with the rooster each morning preparing fresh juices and smoothies, egg and chorizo rolls and for lunch, chicken or bean stew, spaghetti or my favourite (not) blended soya and beef mincemeat, with rice, avocado and banana on the side and bottomless cups full of ice cold water. Cubans like their water very cold, their drinks very sweet and their food very salty and preferably fried, all of which is against my dietary religion. Even worse, they like what few green vegetables there are on offer to be cooked to a state of mush. This also applies to carrots and pumpkin. Unlike us Aussies who learnt from our Asian immigrants that it is just wrong and stupid to cook the bejesus out of vegies to the point where all the vitamins are in the water destined for the drain, Cubans ignored their Chinese population’s culinary skills (fried rice being the exception). Woe betides the Yuma who tries to introduce them to a new healthy diet. Cubans are not afraid to help themselves to the salt container or the sugar pot. Nicely steamed green beans or pumpkin is fed to the dog.
I met a 78 year old woman today who was born in the house we own. So it was certainly built earlier than 1959, which is the date that appears on the title deeds. It was built for a family of 8, five girls and one boy and was the only house on the street, this side of the railway. Its previous address was 1 Calle Simon Bolivar which I much prefer to the current 8 Carretera de la Boca, Trinidad, Cuba. As it seems to be in its original state I can only presume it is hurricane proof, or in a lucky position.
We gave me the night off last night and went to a Cuban restaurant for dinner. It is our local, a ten minute bike ride through lush green countryside with the mountains off to our right and the sea beyond to the left. The menu is fairly limited, fried or grilled chicken, minute steak, pork and sometimes fish, served with rice and beans (congri) salted deep fried banana chips and a salad (mushy green beans and cucumber tonight) . Cheap and cheerful, the restaurants real appeal is that it is set amongst a mango grove, with cattle, sheep and goats grazing nearby and a glorious view of the mountains. Whilst sitting under the mango trees sipping on a cold beer we are treated to a sea breeze from the coast which is only another 5 minutes away.
The restaurant/bar is open 24 hours and, believe it or not, the staff does a 24 hour shift. During the quiet times, ie late morning they get to have a nap in an air-conditioned cabin at the back, which also has a TV, shower etc. The food can be paid for in Cuban pesos but the alcohol must be paid for in the tourist dollars ($1 tourist is equivalent to 24 pesos). A lucrative state run business or a pricing policy designed to reduce over consumption of alcohol.
The mango season has been extended, it would seem. I don’t remember so many mangos for sale on the streets when I arrived here a year ago. It seems only yesterday that I was packing up my desk at A&U or having a tantrum the night before my flight because my things wouldn’t fit into my suitcases. I am pleased to report it is considerably cooler than the same time last year, perhaps due to the tropical storms we experience in the afternoon and not because I have acclimatised. The countryside is so green and photogenic and I believe the waterfalls in the mountains are at their best now, so perhaps September is a good time to visit. This is the low season and I do not have to queue at all when I visit the internet cafe which is a joy.
Osiel finally caught something edible with the fishing rod Dad bought for him. It was a very large snapper and quite delicious. He cooked it as well, slowly steaming it over a bed of sweet potato and banana leaves. Lucky for the cat he also brought home the left over bait. Our recent fishing trips have been fruitless. I believe all the holidaying Cubans scared the fish away from the coastline. We need a boat to take us out to the reef, but these are almost impossible to come by.
We had our first party to celebrate Osiel’s birthday. The cousins from La Boca arrived with a huge fish and another provided a portable, handmade oven to slow roast the leg of pork. Rice with beans was cooked up in my brand new pressure cooker and I made lots of guacamole. There was rum of course and a cake covered in meringue. Chairs were cobbled together out of pieces of wood, bricks and lumps of wood. The pork was covered in Cuban’s favourite sauce: crushed garlic, lime or sour orange juice, oil and salt and eaten with our fingers.
I have discovered that Bunyip (the new dog) doesn’t like The Beach Boys. Perhaps the harmonies of Pet Sounds are not music to the ears of puppies. Pleased to report however that he likes Ben Harper. The neigbours are forever listening to the music programs on Cuban Television (there are many and they do feature music from all over the world). Today I heard the soundtrack from The Piano wafting over the wall (we still don’t own a TV). The most popular music, other than Cuban, is would you believe 70’s pop music. Yes, sadly it’s true. I am regularly subjected to the likes of Bonnie Tyler, Foreigner The Eagles, Lionel Richie, Toto, Sheena Easton and Phil Collins. Even the bars, nightclubs and taxi’s interlace reggaeton with 70’s love songs. It would seem that every Cuban’s USB (if they are lucky enough to own such a thing and have access to a computer) is loaded with the same songs. Somehow, I don’t really think a rant about intellectual property theft would go down so well here.
You can add a metal table and chairs to our list of possessions. This arrived in the afternoon and took 3 men to assemble. Black market items don’t come with instructions or screw holes in the right places. I am about to add paint.