Manuel, the Distinguished Meringue Maker / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 2 September 2018– Some years ago a well-mannered gentleman appeared in our neighborhood selling the most delicious baked meringues. He told us he was living, not in the best of conditions, in a distant suburb on the outskirts of Havana. On almost on a daily basis he walked the streets of Nuevo Vedado, where he had found some customers.

Recently, which is to say a few years ago, privately operated sites began springing up in our neighborhood where one could buy bread, cookies, candy and meringues, the latter supplied by Manuel, who also continued walking the streets in his normal street vendor way.

Several months ago we lost sight of him. All the neighbors were asking, “Have you seen Manuel?” His delicious meringues were still available at certain designated spots but we no longer crossed paths with him. We missed chatting with him — this older, cultured, pleasant man with a unique demeanor  — when we made our purchases.

Today, I inadvertently crossed paths with him for the first time in months at one of the sale locations. We had a brief conversation during which I discovered that his absence was due to the fact that, after several years of retirement, he had decided to accept an offer to return to teaching at the University of Havana, where for years he had been a professor. His main source of income, however, remained the sale of meringues, which his family had taught him how to make.

On planet Cuba it is very common to find distinguished and elderly professionals living not on their salary or pension paid in Cuban pesos but on little freelance projects which earn them hard currency. This is a finer point not addressed in any article of the pitiful draft of the proposed new Cuban constitution.