Yes, I also heard heavenly music from a distant past, reinterpreted in many ways. Some bands were better than others, but many of them seemed to love the same mystic refrain from the song “ El Bodeguero,” which I kept trying to decode: “ Toma chocolate, paga lo que debes.”
Drink chocolate, pay what you owe. It seemed an encoded message of sorts, a summation of the karmic debt that brought all of us Cuban exiles together in this extreme corner of Miami, so close to the Everglades, so far from our past.
Bodeguero. This word conjured up all that we lost. Bodegas were stores that sold all sorts of goods. They weren’t supermarkets: you had to ask the storekeeper, the bodeguero, for the items you needed. Most bodegas were on busy street corners. They had slow-moving ceiling fans and a radio or jukebox, and music was part of the ambiance. Some had bars, and all of them seemed to be owned and run by some neighbor.
The song “ El Bodeguero” celebrates the effervescence of that Cuba killed by the Castro mafia, a prosperous Cuba where goods were readily available in an atmosphere unlike any other in the world, where neighbors dealt with each other as kin, and mere buying and selling could turn into a party.
El bodeguero vailando va, the storekeeper dances as he goes,
y en la bodega se baila asi, and in the store we dance like this,
entre frijoles papa y aji. in between the peppers, potatoes, and beans.
Fidel confiscated all the bodegas, handed out ration books to everyone, turned off the music and also transformed the chocolate, peppers, potatoes, and beans into inaccessible luxuries for most Cubans.
I found no chocolate to drink at Cuba Nostalgia. But even if I’d found some, I’d have passed it up. I needed something stronger and colder, something that would steady my gait in this torrential confluence of past and present, which was overwhelming.
Babalu had Carlos’s extended article two weeks ago.