Praising What I Do Not Have

“The Kitchen,” Fernando Botero, 1994, Antioquía Museum, Medellín, Colombia.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, October 8, 2023 — The engineer Silvia Gomez Fariñas has done more to hasten the collapse of Cuban communism than any dissident. Her work does not appear in the pages of some independent newspaper but in the most reddish and conscientious newspaper on the island. Therefore, it stands to reason that its director, Randy Alonso — seemingly the regime’s censor and trumpeteer — must be a secret benefactor of freedom. I think it’s time to help these co-conspirators come out of their ideological closet but not before sending in helicopters or boats to insure a successful rescue.

Why else, in a country whose daily bread is hunger, would someone take the risk of writing a food column? Between Díaz-Canel’s rants and the historic spiritualism sessions of Fidel’s, Raul’s, Leal’s and Sara Gonzalez’ speeches, Gomez Fariñas stirs the reader’s spirits with a weekly column on theoretical cuisine.

I say “theoretical” because nowhere else but in a mythological market, an imaginary corner store, a fictional inn or an invisible town square could one get the ingredients that Fariñas lists in her column “Taste and Tradition”. The ploy is as subversive as it is brilliant. By inoculating against the desire for what one does not have (oysters, prawns, snappers) and identifying the culprits (pot-bellied leaders), hunger is activated and protests are triggered. It’s a well-known fact that nothing is more frenzied and fearless than a hungry mob.

The ploy is as subversive as it is brilliant. By inoculating against the desire for what one does not have and identifying the culprits, hunger is activated and protests are triggered

Kudos to Gomez Fariñas, and to her patron Alonso, for coming up with this strategy, which could prove useful to Venezuelan, Russian and North Korean dissidents as well. To give the reader a better idea of the effectiveness of this approach, allow me to describe several lines of attack that, thanks to her column, cemented my opinion and radicalized my views of the regime. I should clarify that I, in my clumsiness and gluttony, did not at first understand her flawless technique.

I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when I read her October 2018 article about lobsters, specifically those prepared by Gilberto Smith — Meyer Lansky’s Cuban chef — with garlic, guaguao chile, thyme and mustard. “A little more, please,” the gangster is said to have said, licking his fingers. (Though I no longer have any reason to believe Gomez Fariñas is on our side, I can easily imagine her cooking that same lobster for Díaz-Canel and the president applauding like an eager seal, asking for more. Like Lansky.)

Gomez Fariñas did not endear me to her on that November morning when she explained how to prepare rabo encendido, literally “flaming tail.” I will spare you the jokes about the name of the dish – hunger and humor don’t mix – which required not only an oxtail but also olives, raisins, capers and chorizo. That’s when I started having doubts. Could she be sending a coded message? Was she suggesting that we, like the tail, were the least worthy part of the cow? Not to mention it being the appendage closest to the animal, the thing that shoos away the flies. Was it time for us to set out in search of freedom? What makes perfect sense to me now seemed delusional back then. Hunger blinds us.

Gomez Fariñas carried out operations that left her badly exposed. We could interpret this as a cry for help, that she wanted us to rescue her

2021 was a bad year for Gomez Fariñas. The successive poultry recipes she was required to write —  so many that the chicken began showing up in our dreams, like the avian oracles of ancient Roman —  did not diminish her dignity or her patriotic vocation. She found a way to energize her readers. If I she had to talk about chicken, then she would use it as an opportunity to remind people of other ingredients that were hard to find. So we got articles about chicken curry, chicken in pineapple cream, honey chicken thighs, chicken Caesar, chicken with ginger, chicken fritters.

I see that, in her recent articles, Gomez Fariñas has carried out operations that have left her badly exposed. We could interpret this as a cry for help, that she wants us to rescue her. Her latest recipe – corn meal, ear of corn, sweet tamales and green tamales – amounts to a not very subtle protest. “No matter what a Cuban likes to eat, he likes to eat the best version possible,” she writes. “But whether it be good or bad, what he really cares about is quantity, of feeling sated. He likes to feel that pleasant sense of satisfaction, of fullness.” The secret police must be at her doorstep now.

I call upon readers, patriots, those concerned about the fate of a true Cuban woman and anyone with a good appetite to pool their resources and extract Gomez Fariñas… and Alonso, too, if he’ll fit in the car. Otherwise, Cuban gastronomy – which everyone knows is the nation’s most noble and beleagured species – will remain under the spell of 17th-century Spanish-Cuban poet Silvestre de Balboa who, fondly recalling a meal that featured tortoise meat, wrote, “I praise it though I do not have it.”


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