I argued with a lady in line for malanga root. She wanted to let her two friends cut in and I figured that if they did I wouldn’t get the ten pounds of food, rationed since the hurricanes. In the end I let the two old ladies cut the line and didn’t even insult them when the clerk announced, “It’s closed, there’s no more!” It depresses me to get into a fight over food which is probably why I’m so skinny. In the pre-university where I studied, I never had the claws to grab for a better share and it always went to the strongest. When I see myself reduced to fighting for food I feel badly and prefer to come home with an empty shopping bag. Of course my family offers no thanks for my excessive pacifism.
To console them, I bought a few boxes of bouillon cubes, which has come to be the most common food for the vast majority of the people in this city. When some confused tourist asks me what a typical Cuban dish is, I answer that I don’t remember, but I know the most common everyday recipes. And I list them: “Rice with a beef bouillon cube,” “rice with hot dog,” “rice with a bacon bouillon cube,” or the delicacy of “rice with a chicken and tomato bouillon cube.” This last one has a color between pink and orange that is most amusing.
If we’re constantly fed pre-digested news on the television, canned speeches past their expiration date, little cubes of patience and waiting to get by day-to-day, why shouldn’t our plates reflect these same bitter flavors.
So I resign myself and buy the happy placebo that will make me believe my rice contains a tasty rib or a piece of chicken. After the most “complicated” preparation, I put the steaming dish on the table. My son, smelling the odor, asks me reproachfully, “Why didn’t you fight harder in the line for malanga?”