Wednesday 11 December 2013

Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana

what woke me up at the same time every time in those years was not the sound of the mass being conducted in the flat downstairs no it was not the mix of violins and batá drums led by the elderly gentleman who dedicated this celebrations to his recently departed wife it was as if the world of afrocuban music and the classical one came together for just one night and oshún was more than honey queen sensuous woman feminine oshún and changó was more than lightning and genitals it was a pure symbiotic union but it was not this music that woke me up it was not the screams coming from the next door neighbour the one with the three sons one of whom was around my age the woman who always said within earshot i ain’t looking for no man me no i don’t wanna give my children no stepdad but that did not stop her from landing a different partner almost every year on christmas eve nochebuena was to be spent in company she said even if it was a short lived one she did not wake me up with her passionate screams and commands of así papito aprovéchame toda que los niños no están aquí así mi cielito tócame como tú sabes the x rated material coming out of her mouth was enough to make my mother give her the cold shoulder the next day and grass her up to the chairman of our comité de defensa de la revolución she did not however wake me up nor did the dog campeón was called that lived downstairs a bulldog that looked so much like its owner that you always wondered who led who by the lead the dog was the clue to what woke me up because its owner woke up too at the same time every time in those years and the dog immediately began to bark in the direction of our flat the dog knew and its owner knew that my grandmother had just finished making our christmas eve supper the roast pork that would be served the day after twenty fourth of december with my mum dad cousin auntie and nana presiding over the table the pork that had been killed at my relatives in the countryside a few days before probably killed with one stab because as one of my great uncles used to say you have to know where to plunge the knife if you do not do it right the pig begins to cry like a child and uno se apendeja you get cold feet mi’jo you cannot get cold feet when you kill a pig only once remember just once  he was the one also carrying this beast on his shoulders several miles to our house in havana so that my grandmother could cook her famous pork cracklings now that was what woke me up one minute my bed was my safe sanctuary after a whole day in school and an afternoon playing hide and seek with my friends in and around buildings that had slowly wrinkled up over the years and given up trying to hide their cracks the next minute the smell lured me out of the sheets or duvet if it was nippy as sometimes december was and my bare feet led me to the kitchen and my still somnolent eight year old voice said one mima only one and my grandma with a smile from ear to ear with the big earrings that she wore between seventeen and thirty first of december babalú st lazarus and new years eve bookended her outfits going from sackclothes to bright yellow dresses fished out a crackling in the still hot pot patted it dry on a piece of paper and put it in my mouth my eight year old mouth saying you know pork meat is the gossipiest of the meats mi’jo because it lets the whole neighbourhood know when it is being cooked all this she said to me with my hands rubbing my eyes with my mum behind me making sure that my sleep would not be further interrupted with my dad working that night maybe in a cabaret or nightclub with my auntie and cousin in deep slumber even with the lounge light on sometimes a second pork crackling followed a rarity as the big clocks hands marched slowly toward midnight to turn twenty third into twenty fourth and many a barrio in havana underwent a change of mood not even fifty revolutions would rid cubans of their traditional christmas eve rice and peas plantains roast pork salad consisting of lettuce tomatoes cucumber and raw onion yuca con mojo and the unforgettable chicharrones the pork cracklings that woke up the neighbour and his dog that woke up my eight year old younger self at the same time every time in those years

© 2013

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 15th December at 10am (GMT)


  1. wow, I'm the first? Still doing the Noche Buena here in the New World...We are so stuffed, because I make a Thanksgiving meal on Christmas Day...Love traditions, love eating with my family and friends, and love those tasty childhood memories :-) Wonderful how you kept the suspense of what woke you and wove such a story of the life around you. Loved it

  2. It appears that the Ghost of Christmas Past has been lurking in your home, CiL, and he seems to be in the company of the Ghost of James Joyce or, perhaps, the Ghost of Marcel Proust.

    You have utilized an interesting style to present memories of your childhood during the holiday season and, even more fascinating than the writing style, is the content of your piece, which reveals a great deal about your youthful life and about Cuban customs and traditions.

    You have me thinking about how complex an individual really is once the doorway is opened to reveal that person's memories and experiences. I also think you have the ingredients for an autobiographical novel within you.

    I enjoyed reading your "memoir," CiL, and I will be reading it a few more times to absorb it and to learn from it.

    Yes, fascinating is the right word ....

  3. Magnífica descripción de una mañana de diciembre en un edificio habanero. La Habana a pequeña escala. Aquí, en diciembre, también el cerdo es protagonista. Muy a su pesar... Por fin acabamos todo el trabajo que conlleva matar un puerco de 130kg, despiezarlo, deshuesarlo, hacer los chorizos... en fin... que ahora lo único que deseo comer es pescado y verduritas... Besos desde Galicia.

  4. Oh wow, what a fabulous style. I didn't think I'd make it to the end but I persevered and actually enjoyed it.

  5. I found this absolutely read of your childhood memories of holidays past, and to learn of Cuban traditions.
    This really got me thinking...of how complex we all are. No two people are alike in any way really, are they? Our memories set us apart...make us unique...and that, I believe, is what makes life so interesting!

    Oh this really is wonderful! :)

  6. Los recuerdos de infancia siempre los llevamos presentes con las tradiciones.
    Aunque muchas veces no podamos volverlos a pasar con todos aquellos por lo menos revivir alguna comida conmemorativa.
    Un abrazo.

  7. What a beautiful description of your memories.

  8. very cool... i would love to try that food as well...and i think i have to get myself some really big earrings...smiles... one thought... if you would make a stanza break every once and a while it would be easier to read..

  9. That bit about how to kill/not to kill a pig was chilling! People who kill livestock are so often matter-of-fact about it when they talk about it, it was good to read an anecdote like that.

  10. :) Magic land was just a misty evening :)

  11. Wow, that's some powerful writing, and in a breathless stream of consciousness kind of style. I think a part of your heart remains in Havana, especially at this time of year. Beautiful job.

  12. Thanks for your comments.

    Question: What happens when you are assaulted by memories? Answer: You put them all at once on paper.

    But two letters cannot physically occupy the same space.

    It's hard to believe for me sometimes how much of an impression Joyce's Ulysses made on me when I read it almost three years ago. Especially Molly Bloom's monologue at the end.

    I know this post is hard to read. It's on purpose. It tested me, how far can I go, how much can I get away with, will it make sense? Do I care? Sometimes I need to go where my fingers on the keyboard take me. Sometimes it's not a place with the right syntax and grammar, but it's a place where I feel comfortable. Havana is comfort, like comfort food, but occasionally I want the 2+2=4 comfort to be turned on its head and become instead 2+2=5, or even 3+1=4, or 0+4=4.

    Or maybe 5. :-)

    Have a nice weekend.

    Greetings from London.

  13. its pretty cool that you knew where your food came from...and that he carried it several miles, oh eve sounds like good eats among family....

  14. What a great piece of writing - running memories together without taking a breath.

  15. A time of year that many of us look back and remember our childhood at Christmas. It's also fascinating to read what those childhood holidays were for other people, around the blogs. Thanks for sharing this.

  16. love how you save these memories I think I should hugs

  17. Lovely piece--food is such an important part of traditional celebrations and especially when it is honed by hand as here--thanks much for a piece of it. Still crackling. k.

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