mercredi 12 mars 2008

A slice of Cuba in Lille on a cold and rainy Night

Cuba continues to give me gifts wherever I go. One such thing happened to me on this rainy cold night in Lille in the north of France
I am a Jew from Australia, with ancient connections to Kuala Belait, Malacca and Cochin in Asia, with newer connections to Myanmar and Cambodia and the like... In Australia, Melb0urne and Brisbane had been closer to my heart...
Someone with a revolutionary fervor of many years had organized a dinner at a restaurant in Lille in the north of France. Wild as the wind that blows but pretty as the demure architecture, Lille is in the north of France, fiercely independent in many ways, ch’iti as they say, more Flanders than French... Louis the fourteenth, Spanish rulers, Holland and the history goes on… and the second only to Louvre museum of fine arts...
What has all this to do with Cuba of my heart, mi Isla Rica where my love rests... Friendships stronger than anything I can imagine
Yes a dinner was organized and they chose a Cuban restaurant to celebrate our friendship. A Cuban restaurant in Lille? , I asked myself, thousands of miles away, where would be the nearest Cuban restaurant?

I felt good going in, the ambience, more like a restaurant or a paladar in Cuba... four or five tables and in one long table about thirty people were already seated ordering their food and drinks.. It was to be a merry night for them...

We sit down. Six of us, the revolutionary couple. Fond of Cuba.
We begin to order. Cuban cuisine like our orishas are not transferable, even in Miami with its hundreds of thousands of Cubans, the food is more American, Cuban cuisine is found in Cuba. Take that to heart and don’t complain, this is not la Roca or Artechef , restaurants of Vedado, la Habana... another time another place and another circumstance..

The girl with long hair takes orders, I order mine in Spanish
Ropa vieja
With memories of the Cuban restaurant esquina de tejas near the university of Miami medical school where I had spent uncountable number of days and nights of joy and pleasure and learning..

Do you speak Spanish?
She asked, with a French tilt to her Spanish
Yes I do
What is your nationality?
I am an Australian I answered in Spanish, and her eyes lit up when I said
But I also live in Havana
We are from varadero where my father was a chef for many many years
We had moved there from Havana
The warmth in her voice was incredible
We had made a connection. I am Cuban at heart, I don’t need anyone’s permission to say so, I carry many other titles and other documents, but it is Cuba that gives my heart that indefinable warmth

That ability to put yourself in the heart of another and accept another person without any judgment but with unconditional affection, as we are supposed to do to each civilized human beings

Her father, Mario was a chef at varadero for many years
His wife, Maria caridad, believe it or not is from Guines, the little town on the way to San Nicolas de Bari
I have been to her town
How many diners at their The little Habana restaurant in Lille could boast about that?

The young daughter was Cuban to the core, friendlier than ever, she wanted to bring me platanos maduros, and did you like your food? She asked anxiously, when I didn’t want any dessert she brought me a Cuba libre instead, which hot blooded Cuban would refuse a Cuba libre prepared by a fellow Cuban….?
I live upstairs the lady said and you are welcome here anytime...
You have a Cuban family here in Lille, when you come here the next time.
What makes the Cubans accept one another so easily and give of themselves? I don’t know how they used to be before the revolution; certainly the Cuban revolution has given them a sense of solidarity.
Have a sip of this seven year old Anejo, said Mario. His wife from Guines was genuinely friendly; there were others around the bar, a tall mulata from Rio de Janeiro, an ageing lothario who was singing in bad Spanish, he looked more like a circus performer, and his suffering wife. All in all, we all basked in the warmth we shared.
The daughter is going to Miami, to spend two months to learn English, a requirement at her Business School. Mother looked concerned, but father was confident that his relatives there would look after her well. I told her to get in touch with me while in Miami.
It would be nice to reacquaint myself with the Cuban Lille, a little in Miami. And show her the barrio which bears the name of her father’s restaurant
La P’tite Havane… The Little Havana