They travel in groups around Havana neighborhoods. Hundreds of Chinese students who learn Spanish in Cuba and add color to a reality where other foreigners barely stay a couple weeks as tourists. Thanks to them, the city once again has those Asian eyes that were so common in the first half of the twentieth century, that Asian gait which gives the impression of feet barely touching the ground, has returned, for a time. They crowd around Chinatown, giggling in front of some restaurants with paper lanterns and red curtains where the menu offers more local and Italian food than plates of spinach and noodles.
One morning, I met several of them lost near the Central Rail Station. They had empty bags, tired faces, and walked slowly. One of the girls asked me, after consulting a small dictionary, where they could buy lettuce. It was one of those hot months where the only green on the market pallets is cucumbers. But there they were, waiting for the agricultural miracle that would put some soft leaves on their plates. I explained that the sun was very strong and the vegetables were harvested just in roofed areas, that the lack of packaging hampered their arrival in the cities, and when they appeared it was at very high prices.
After a few minutes, those almond-shaped eyes rounded in consequence of my strange explanation. “Lettuce! Lettuce!” they insisted, and one of them translated it into every language he knew, “lettuce, laitue, Kopfsalat, alphas ….” I smiled, it’s not about not understanding the word, I said, it’s that I don’t know where, right now, where they could find vegetables to eat. It was clear, they didn’t believe me. “Go to Four Roads Plaza and see if you can find them there,” was the final thing I thought to tell them, so as not to kill hope. And off they went in that direction, their steps already exhausted, empty bags blowing in the wind, with their oriental elegance faded somewhat, lacking vegetables to revive them.
27 April 2011