The Diner

Aedan finally finds a place to eat.
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on tumblr
Tumblr
Share on email
Email

Aedan stepped out of the store and into the bright sunshine. Of course he had been there less than a day so the newness of it all still embraced him. There seemed to be nothing exceptional about the hat he had just purchased though. It was the typical ‘Cuban fedora’ that he had seen on so many while walking the streets.  The brim was rolled down in the front to better block the sun. He wondered to himself if it would block rain as well.

Around the hat ran a band of leatherette – at least he hoped it was leatherette since he would not normally purchase anything using real leather.  He had little choice in this matter though. The instructions were passed to him without a chance to question anything. Presently, he was more concerned about wearing the hat because it was certainly meant to identify him. It was the only way to meet the contact that he had come to Havana to meet.

He flipped that hat over and examined the inside band. One side of the band was the same material but it was sewn to a plastic backing. This pleased him that is was probably leatherette.  He looked closely for any sign of tampering…for anything that looked out of place but he found nothing. After several moments of analyzing the hat he was satisfied that there was no electronic device attached to it.

As he slid his head into the hat he was pleasantly surprised to find that it fit perfectly without adjusting the strap. He wondered if this was a lucky guess or if the person he was meeting actually knew his hat size and if so, what else was known?

The relief from the sun provided by the hat was nearly instantaneous. It didn’t take long to figure out why they are so popular here though he guessed that he had paid a premium as a tourist. Though he noticed plenty of people staring at him, often children and younger people, he reasoned that to his being a foreigner which was not something he could hide.  It wasn’t just his blondish hair or inability to speak coherent Spanish but even his clothes seemed out of place. He mused to himself that the hat might have been overkill if anybody were looking for him.

For two hours he walked the streets of Havana. He wandered through stores of all types but was turned away when trying to purchase a souvenier to take home. The merchant would not accept his American currency but did draw him a map to a bank to exchange his dollars for pesos. After a second merchant also refused to accept his cash, he pondered that the old man with the hat must have been expecting him…of course he was!

Along the path to the bank, Aedan remembered he hadn’t really eaten yet today and began paying more attention to the restaurants. He didn’t have much hope of seeing ‘Vegana’ pasted to any windows but still he could hope.  He spotted one advertising fish and BBQ attached to a fresh produce market and noted the location in case he needed to return. If they had could prepare nothing he would eat, he would just eat it raw. It’s something he had been considering anyway. Perhaps this would be the push he needed.

The bank was a grand building that took an entire city block. Upon entering the front door, the high ceilings and inornate classical decorations were beautiful to gaze upon. Some seemed to be in pristine condition while others showed signs of actively being restored or badly needing restoration. Like so much he had seen today,  the Cuban people are doing wonders with what little they have to work with. Throughout his day, he found them to be extremely hospitable and friendly. He nearly forgot he was wearing a target on his head.

The teller in the bank was no different. She began speaking english as soon as it was obvious that Aedan was struggling to speak spanish. She was also quite talkative so Aedan took advantage of this and asked about places to see….places to eat. She rattled off a few near by restaurants that she highly recommended.  Some he had seen during his walk today. Others he hadn’t but the names of most of them didn’t appeal to him. Finally, he asked about vegan or vegetarian places.

“Oh! “ she rolled her eyes “you and my daughter…”   She smirked then paused to think. “You won’t find much here.  There are a few downtown but you’ll need a taxi to get there. We don’t have all the opportunities you have where you come from.  We’re happy to eat whatever we can. My daughter doesn’t go out much for that reason but she has mentioned a place a few blocks away.  They’re not vegan but they have stuff you would eat on the menu and a great salad bar”.

Aedan got the directions from here and thanked her for being so helpful and friendly before departing. On his way out of the bank it occured to him that the architecture was very similar to that in the older section of the Court House in Seattle. He guessed they might have been built around the same time…a time when Cuba was flush in foreign investment. That single decisions can lead countries – people – to such different outcomes was never more obvious to him. He mused that he was finding the people he met on the street friendlier than a walk through Seattle for the most part. Perhaps it’s easier to be friendly to strangers when one has less to be taken from them.  Of course, this isn’t unique to Cuba, he had witnessed this many times in he traveled much more in what seems like a lifetime ago, now.

With the directions he was given, Aedan found the restaurant exactly where the bank teller said he would. When he opened the door he stepped back into time. It was a diner from the 1950s. Old Chevy and Ford bumpers hung on the back wall. There were a couple he couldn’t identify.

Even before the door had closed completely, a smiling young lady met and welcomed him. There were no other customers. An older man wearing an apron sat on one of the stools at the counter, eating. He merely glanced at Aedan then continued eating. It was the middle of the afternoon and likely between any rushes if they happened.

The young woman took Aedan to a booth along the sidewall and offered him a menu as he slid onto the bench seat. He removed his hat and set it on the seat beside him then managed to ask for a glass of iced tea with lemon and ice all in Spanish. She replied negatively so quickly that he wasn’t able to decipher. The puzzled look on his face was obvious but before he could say any more she explained in english that they had run out of ice at lunch but assured him that the tea is kept in the refrigerator. They established that he needed a few moments to look through the menu and she left him to his own.

As Aedan read through the menu, occasionally translating words on his phone, another man walked in. He was a large and rather serious looking man but seemed to know the hostess as they had a few lines of friendly chatter. She pointed to a booth near Aedan but he nodded to the one nearest the door and sat down with his back to the door.

Aedan watched the interaction from the corner of his eye while trying to translate spanish to english.  He was carrying a briefcase and newspaper. The briefcase went on the seat beside him. He asked only for coffee then opened the newspaper he had brought with him.  A few more friendly words were exchanged when she poured his coffee then she returned to Aedan.

There was nothing marked ‘vegan’ on the menu but most of the dishes could be easily made so. She seemed unphased by his questions. With minimal effort he placed his order. It had been so tempting to just go for the salad but not knowing where he would eat next, he went for broke..and got a salad too  He had put on a lot of miles and the day was young. As he waited for his order, he pulled out his map to identify his location and plan the rest of his day. Before he could finish, his salad sat before him.

He was quite engrossed in the map sill before him while he ate when the door opened again. He didn’t even bother to look up until he heard a woman’s voice struggling with her spanish as he had. He looked up to see the woman dressed casually with her platinum blonde hair pulled up on her head. She and the waitress quickly broke into english as she asked for a set next to the window. The waitress advised her that it might be a bit warmer there with the sun still pouring in but she was undeterred.

Aedan tried to not stare as he listened. She was quite attractive and he could detect no accent in her voice.  Certainly she was American too. She wasn’t the only blonde he had seen all day but of the small handful he had seen, she was the first he heard speaking english.

Returning to his map plotting, Aedan continued listening to the two speak. He really had no choice made all the more difficult because it wasn’t in spanish as most of his day had been. She was indeed from the US but what got Aedan’s attention was that she was asking about meatless dinners. With her order placed, the waitress turned to Aedan and let him know in english that she was coming with his dinner next. At that, the blonde customer turned her head just enough to look at him, half smiled and then turned back straight and pulled her phone from her purse.

The man near the door was also paying attention. His eyes met Aedan’s for an instant before he looked back down to the newspaper he was reading.

El Sombrero

Eyes Wide Shut
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on tumblr
Tumblr
Share on email
Email

The sounds of voices and cars on the street woke Aedan.  He was disoriented when he opened his eyes. Nothing seemed familiar. It was hot. Slowly he remembered where he was.  It was still hot.

Other than being on the edge of sweating, he was quite comfortable on the bed he had laid down on for 30 minutes…three hours ago. His unexpected morning nap had been filled with dreams about the day before. He relived his meditation, of seeing his new, old face for the first time, of his conversations with Louise which him wondering if her mother was who he thought she was…if it was possible.

Suddenly and without warning, he remembered that his sponsor, Ms. Fernandez had told him she would have Cuban coffee waiting for him. He glanced at the clock on the wall and deducted that since the sun was shining outside, it must be 1pm and not 1am. He felt bad for having stood her up but at the same time felt happy about having had the opportunity to get some rest. He also felt that his first day in Havana couldn’t be spent sleeping even if he did need it.

With that last thought, Aedan sprung off of the bed and dug through his clothes to find some shorts and a light shirt. The shirt was a little wrinkled but he calculated that fifteen minutes in this humidity and it would  be hanging from his shoulders without wrinkles.

When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Aedan stuck his head into the kitchen and saw the small coffee pot on the stove with the even smaller cup on the counter beside it but there was no flame. He called out for Ms. Fernandez but not too loudly and only once, it was truly too late for coffee in his mind and he was thankful he heard nothing back.

Stepping out the front door and closing it behind him, he took a deep breath of the warm, salty carribbean air brought in by the waves breaking across the street. He debated about just walking across the street to enjoy the beach but knew that once he planted himself, he would stay.  Besides, in this sun he might actually need a hat and that was number one on his list. It also occurred to him that he hadn’t eaten a full meal since hs lunch with Louise.

Aedan pulled out his phone and retrieved the note from Cathy with the address of the store and committed it to memory then promptly put the phone back into his pocket.  Had Ms. been available, he would have simply asked here which direction he should head in. The fact is that he had no idea of where he was going or if it was even within walking distance.  What he knew was that he truly enjoyed exploring new places and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. He had all afternoon to find his way around so he shrugged his shoulders, turned to the left and began walking.

He walked several blocks with the sea wall and waves across the street. The side he walked on was lined with older houses, all of which appeared to have been refitted to accompany guests. Many desire to travel to Cuba partly because of the mystique of a placed closed off to much of the world for so long.  Recent thaws in their relationship with the U.S. brought the promise of increased tourism and those who could positioned themselves to benefit as much as possible. More recent hardening of that relationship by a new administration disappointed many and brought hardships to those who had spent their last peso trying to be ready but most believed this was a temporary set back and hoped for the best.

There were also many stores and restaurants on this street. Aedan stepped into several of the stores to look around and paused ot look at the menus at the restaurants.  Some seemed promising so he made a mental note of his location before moving forward.

Upon seeing a street sign with the name that was the same as the street that the store he was looking for was on, Aedan made the turn away from the beach and pulled out his phone to remind himself of the address as he continued to walk.  “One eleven or uno once” he voiced to himself in a meager attempt to practice his spanish.

Looking up he saw “115” above a door and then “117” on the next.  He had already missed the place and turned promptly around. He saw a hat in a window and looked up at the address. 111.  This was the store he had been directed to. There wasn’t much to it. No wonder he had missed it.

Aedan pulled the door open and as he had experienced in other stores, in his room, no blast of cold air met him. The side door closed as a woman left the store just as he walked in. It was cooler than outside but not by much. There were no lights on but enough came through the windows to suffice – at least at the front of the store.  At the back of the store sat an older man behind the counter. The old man was friendly and quickly started talking faster than Aedan could possibly understand. He used to joke to himself that he knew just enough spanish to get himself into trouble but not know why. He nodded and faked knowing what was being said but it didn’t take long before his cover was blown and the old man was laughing as much at him as with him. 

He looked around but saw no other hat than the one in the front window.  He did his best to explain to the old man that he needed a hat but either the man didn’t understand or simply had no hats. After several minutes of this, Aedan pointed at the hat in the window.

“Oh no, no. No parla la venta.” claimed the old man.

Aedan looked around the stoor again. There wasn’t much there…clothes, household items, even some food items but not a single hat besides the one he first saw. He hadn’t exchanged his money for pesos yet but he knew the Cuban peso was pegged to the US Dollar and guessed the man would accept his money. As he pulled a twenty dollar bill from his wallet, the old man was watching and laughed “No parla la venta” he repeated.

Without blinking, Aedan pulled a second twenty dollar bill out and simultaneously wathched the old man’s laugh turn to a smile as he held out his hand. Aedan was actually prepared to pay more but wasn’t disappointed that he didn’t have to.

With the money in his hand, the old tried to sell more to Aedan, a beach umbrella, flip flops…some things Aedan might have actually needed but he remembered that he was to buy nothing but a hat and so he did.

We are using cookies on our website

Cookies are used to help improve the usefulness and attraction of this site. Please confirm, if you accept our tracking cookies. You can also decline the tracking, so you can continue to visit our website without any data sent to third party services. Thank you.