11 October 2007

Four Freaking Fritas

This afternoon, after lunch, I took a quick little visit over to Babalu Blog to see what was shaking over there.

Then I saw the pictures. Pictures of “fritas”. –with what Marta calls angel hair fries! The aroma seemed to seep out of the screen and go straight to my brain.

I don’t know if Marta is a hypnotist or what, but in her post she swore that the fritas were a time machine. And I can’t tell you if it was the imaginary smell of the pictures on my screen or the subliminal words, but there I was in a bus in Havana with my parents and my aunt.

Back then, there were still real buses in Havana and they smelled of the worst unfiltered diesel fumes. They must have put extra sulfur in that diesel to give it that special burned rotten egg –diesel from a Havana bus smell. My stomach is turning right now from both remembering the diesel fumes and from nostalgia. I swear. “But that’s not important right now.”

So anyway, we were in this bus and I’m nauseous from the fumes. I don’t remember where we were or where we were coming from but I know we were going home. My aunt was a very street wise and astute woman and she ordered us off the bus. So off we went.

You see, there this huge “molote” (group of people) on a street corner. And a huge line. The people were in line buying something-food. Food! Even better – take-out food- the type you didn’t have to use the ration card for, This was a miracle. It meant that we could eat whatever they were selling and save one day of food. This kind of thing didn’t happen everyday.

It was hot and it was getting dark and I could still smell the sulfur in my nostrils only now it was mixed with a sweet greasy smell I had never smelled before. Fritas! Whatever they were, they must be excellent because people were desperate to sink their teeth into one, Or maybe they were just hungry. In those days there was a lot of that going around.

So we get within two or three people from the window. Now, the whole time you were in one of these interminable lines for food, you always ran the risk that they would run out of whatever they were selling and you would have stood in line, for hours, for nothing, so I was nervous. I was a worrywart of a child. I worried a lot, but then again I was a Cuban gusano- I had reason to worry. This time, we would be successful. They would not run out of the greasy (more like rancid) patties they were calling fritas. But as always, there was a problem.

They would only let you buy a frita if there was a person physically there to eat it. And OF COURSE, there was a one-per person limit. The problem was that there were four of us and five mouths to feed because my grandmother was at home and we wanted to bring her a dammed rancid frita, but we couldn’t.

My aunt, the streetwise one, (my parents are saps), pulled a kid out of the crowd to stand in as the fifth person so we could buy five freaking fritas and take one home to my poor grandmother.

The omnipotent frita man behind the barred window decided to exert his revolutionary authority and deny the fifth frita due to headcount fraud. He knew the stand-in from the neighborhood.

Under normal circumstances my father would have forced fed Mr. Omnipotent frita man the four freaking fritas in reverse-that is to say, the next day he would regurgitate them. But we had to sheepishly accept the frita man’s headcount decision and go home. After all, four fritas were better than none. And it wasn’t worth risking an impending get out of hell free card over four greasy patties that probably didn’t even taste good when they were made the month before.

It was a quiet bus ride home. Even my aunt didn’t talk, Two miracles in one afternoon! On the bright side, the potent greasy smell of the fritas drowned out the smell of the sulfured up Havana bus diesel.

When we got home, we proceeded to tell my grandmother the joyous news: We got food! Four fritas and five people. They were getting ready to split the greasy, smelly loot when my dad chimed in “I’m not even hungry anymore” and walked away if a Cuban father huff.

The man looked miserable. Glassy eyed and pissed because he had to swallow his pride and be emasculated by the revolution AGAIN, the old man walked into the darkened living room with his shoulders slouching and his hands twitching perhaps telling the frita man off in his head. But, who cares? Let’s eat!

I took one bite. One bite! I could not eat. Don’t be silly, not because of my father. The Frita was horrible. I started crying. I was threatened, but unlike my father, I had my pride, I would not be forced fed fritas!

Eventually they made me a mayonnaise sandwich. (my favorite to this day) For some reason there was always mayonnaise around.
I don’t know what ever happened to that greasy, smelly, revolutionary frita with one bite, but I can assure you, my father didn’t touch it.


Marta said...

Se me salieron las lagrimas.

So sorry that my happy frita memory brought up such a sad and intense (!!) personal memory for you.

But thanks for sharing it.

(Comunistas de mierda.)

Amy said...

She's not kidding. When I stopped by last night, there she was, weeping. And now I'm at work and was trying to sneak some reading time, but I too am weeping.

That was beautifully written.

Thank you for sharing something so personal.

Anonymous said...

Rei -
The mayonnaise sandwich you mentioned just did for me what Marta's frita post did for you. Man I have eaten so many of those pan con mayonesa sandwiches.
In 1971 we were standing in line to get a spaghetti dinner, we had been in line for at least 4 hours. While waiting I climbed a tree, fell off and broke my arm, I was seven at the time. So no spaghetti and off to the hospital. After going to 3, count them 3 different hospitals my arm was finally placed in a cast. This process took over 4 hours(talk about great and free Cuban health care). Finally getting home after midnight and starving, I ate no less than 3 sanwiches de pan con mayonesa.
Thanks for sharing, Oscar

Jewbana said...

I also remember the smell of the guaguas. It sure made my stomach turn. But I never had a frita until we came to the states. My mom thought the robolutionaries made them out of mystery meat.
Loved your story Gusa, it's like being six years old again in my island paradise.

Tio said...

A notorious frita maker is Castro agent Max Lesnik. He had a few frita stands in Havana before the revolution.