Varadero, Cuba. Summer of 1960.
The one on the far left and the tall one are two of my sisters, Alina and Miriam. The other 3 are cousins. During the course of the summer there would be 14 more kids – all of our cousins, from 5 families, sharing that beach house.
It even had a name: Villa Obdulia
I think Obdulia was the daughter of the lady who originally owned the house (it was because of Villa Obdulia that I began my obsession with houses-with-names, but that’s another story for another post and it’s not important right now). We just loved saying it – “Obdulia.” The unusual syllables rolling off our tongues. It was like a magical incantation. “Obdulia.”
It meant fun and freedom.
I know. Freedom. In Cuba. Tough to imagine, isn’t it?
All of us in this group would leave Cuba within the next year.
But at that moment, life was still magical.
Summer in Varadero!
To stay in Havana for the summer was unthinkable to our families. A houseful of kids with nothing to do in the heat and humidity of the city? No, thank you. So we spent our summers at the beach. With our extended family. And these are some of the very happiest memories I have of my island home.
There were 20 cousins in all. Ranging in ages from one to twenty. By some clever coincidence, our parents gave birth to us in quasi-manageable age groups. So, the older ones, more often than not, took charge of us youngsters.
It never occurred to the adults that perhaps the cousins they had left in charge of us were not particularly qualified for the job. This is why my memories include climbing over a wall to sneak into the movie theater – I was 5! One movie in particular that I vividly remember was Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. I confess that because of it, many of my childish nightmares included near drowning by a mad whale. My kids laugh hysterically when I tell them that tidbit. =D
It also never really occurred to the adults that if we were spending most of our waking hours in the water, that learning to swim might be a valuable skill. Nope. They trusted to those soft, colorful, inflatable “salvavidas,” or “lifesavers,” pictured here. I admit there is something compelling about that degree of ignorance innocence.
We ate mamoncillos in the water.
We floated out to the sand bank.
We could recite, “Los Zapaticos de Rosa,” by heart.
We played Clue in the evenings.
We followed the “viandero” (fruit and vegetable vendor) around mimicking his greeting, “Buenos Dias, Familia!”
We ate pirulin (a type of conical shaped hard candy on a stick). And granizados (snow-cones).
There is just no translation for these things. You just had to “be there.” Or live it. Or just be Cuban. And they don’t exist for me anywhere outside of our Varadero summers, outside of my memory of those perfect days in paradise.
It’s the first day of summer.
And I’m crying.
“Moros pa’ agua!”Happy first day of summer!
Maybe next year we can spend the summer in Varadero and I can try my first mamoncillo . . . dare to dream.
In the meantime, see you at the lake!
yikes I’m teary too. You’re killin’ me pal – esp this part”All of us in this group would leave Cuba within the next year.” sigh.
Ay Martica! The pirulis were amazing. Not to mention the granizados.Which flavor was your favorite. Anis or mantecado? Mmm, I can still taste them. And the pan de gloria, and the tetes that were coverd in sugar. Our sugar, the best in the world. I have an excellent tastebud memory. I have never forgotten the flavors of my homeland. I can still remember the taste of all those goodies and my grandmother’s cooking.Let me ask you, when you first arrived in the US, did the candies taste like medicine? They did to me. I guess that’s why I’m not a big candy person.
Jewbana -NOTHING tastes as sweet as Cuban sweets, or Cuban fruits.
I’m afraid we’ve been ruined for life. =(
I had the same issue with American candy. My husband wonders why someone like me, who can make such sweet desserts, or can stomach condensed milk in its many forms, doesn’t like candy.
Thanks for “getting it.”
Oh, Marta, I was *just* reading “Los Zapaticos de Rosa” to my belly last night!”¡Vaya la niña divina!”
Dice el padre, y le da un beso,
“Vaya mi pájaro preso
A buscarme arena fina!”.
I even read it using the same voice my used when she read it to me.
Thank you for making me realize that somewhere, 3000 miles away from me, someone else was thinking about that timeless, classic poem.
Val Prieto says
Marta, just to make my teary eyed Friday complete, how about some helado de coco?http://www.babalublog.com/archives/002076.html
Annie -I spent most of the day yesterday (after I had written the post) reciting those verses. Thanks for sharing my brain. =D
LOVED the helado de coco story.
What is it about tastes and smells and sounds that triggers those places in our memories that we can’t seem to access another way?
I was on sensory overload at CN – to the point of incapacitation!
Martica:Guess what? I got a new present! It’s the new Wolfgang Puck ice cream machine, a smaller version of an industrial one. In your honor, I’m gonna break it in by making helado de mantecado. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Loved the coconut ice cream
story Val. My mom used to make awesome durofrio de coco.
Do you have a recipe for cuban helado de mantecado. Please share!! Thanks.
Lucas Renginfo says
Living in Varadero, Cuba that summer of 1960 was a blessing! After that date the country becomes more and more a “military trench” or “un cuartel”