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Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

A Night at an Ambassador’s Home in Havana

July 9, 2014 | Print Print |

Irina Pino

One of the embassy/mansions in Miramar, Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — Some days ago, a friend and I went to a reception held at the home of an Ambassador, a very pretty mansion located in Havana’s neighborhood of Miramar.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the ambassador and his wife with refined cordiality. The atmosphere was agreeable: large mirrors everywhere, paintings on the walls, armchairs draped in white. We were immediately bombarded by a chorus of foreign voices (and those of the few Cubans invited).

Everyone was engaged in conversation. My friend and I were the only ones who didn’t seem to know anyone there and felt somewhat excluded. We headed for the pool. One wasn’t allowed to walk by that area, so we settled at the arbor and remained there a good while.

The women were wearing their best gala dresses. Evening dresses, high-heels and sweet-smelling perfumes filled every corner. Very young women, Cubans who looked like call-girls, strolled about and chatted with the foreigners, showing etiquette.

The men were very elegantly dressed, almost all wearing suits and ties. Some wear long-sleeved shirts. In short, everyone had made a considerable effort to look good for that party.

A troop of waiters came and went holding trays and offering wine glasses, cocktails and exquisitely prepared canapés with extreme courtesy.

Out on the terrace, we came upon a crowd of people lining up to get ice-cream. We stood in line and got ice-cream several times, stuffing ourselves. It wasn’t that terrible ice-cream they sell at the Coppelia parlor, but a very creamy, fruit-flavored ice-cream very agreeable to our palates.

I would sometimes cast a glance around me and look at people. I didn’t feel comfortable. I wasn’t well-dressed and wasn’t wearing the right shoes for the occasion. I make a habit of dressing modestly: I can make do with a pair of jeans, a blouse and a pair of sandals.

I haven’t really looked of late into buying high-heels, first of all because I don’t have the money for it. Store prices are three-times what they ought to be, even though you often find peeled (or downright rotten) shoes and, second of all, because I have other priorities at the moment. I live one day at a time, which means all of my money is spent on food and “goes down the toilet”, as a friend of mine says.

I do admit a long, evening dress and high-heels come in handy from time to time. Despite the way I was dressed, I noticed no one stopped to look at me – people minded their own businesses. It was a world without shortages. Many of the people there knew nothing of daily hardships, of the ration food card that doesn’t cover one fourth of the daily nutritional needs of the population, that an entire social class and dynasty that has no need of rationed food mocks this obsolete item.

Some of the people there probably didn’t know the first question poor Cubans ask themselves when they wake up (“what will I eat today?”) I was surrounded by a different standard of living, far removed from my daily woes, projecting a totally false image about the way I lived.

Later, we ran into two well-known Cuban writers. We chatted and told jokes to mitigate the boredom that surrounded us. I told my companion that what that place needed was music, as not even background music was being played. The only thing one heard were people’s voices, buzzing like bees in a hive. He burst out laughing and told me that was more or less how cold European gatherings were.

He also told me that a kind of cocktail party, in which people merely talked. He said one could tell I was Cuban and liked music and dance just by looking at me. I replied that the gathering was the lamest thing I had seen in my life.

When night fell, there was a downpour and we had to stay for longer than planned. Everyone left in their cars and limos. We had no choice but to wait out the storm and walk to the bus stop.

I arrived at the bus stop with my shoes wet and covered in mud. “Welcome to the real world,” I said to myself. Shortly afterwards, I threw up in a nearby garden.

The following day, as I recalled the evening, I could not bring to mind a single fun experience. I had merely eaten a lot of canapés and drunk several glasses of wine (which got me slightly drunk and fairly sick).

The home of the ambassador had been left far behind. I had returned to my same old life, full of urgent needs.


What's your opinion?

  • August Zhao

    Interesting article Miss Pino. I personally had quite a few similar experience at different stages of my life. Only difference was that I was not feeling excluded because of the way I dress or not having a car, but because I am very much a introvert and not very good at chit chat with people.

    Later on, I have learned a great lesson in dealing with social events. I will tell myself that “I am there to have fun nothing more, nothing less. If I am having a great fun, then I will stay, otherwise, I will just leave”.

    Remember you might not have dressed as good as the rest, but you are just as good as everybody there. However if you keep telling yourself “OMG, they all so well dressed, except me…” you are actually tell yourself that “I am not as good as them, so they are not going to talk to me, or treat me as equal”. So you actually gave people permission to treat you differently.

    Next time,remember you are there to have fun, it is not happening, say “thank you” to the host and walk out. That is the way I do it anyway:}.

  • Moses Patterson

    During one of my last visits to Cuba, I was invited to a reception at the French embassy in Miramar. As an American, I was perfectly comfortable in my casual attire despite the fact most of the people who were there were far more elegantly attired. My Cuban wife on the other hand, who, against her better judgment followed my lead and was equally informal in her dress felt mortified upon arrival at a party of Havana’s most “beautiful people”. We stuck it out and afterwards my wife let me have it. Cuban’s love to dress well and especially where and when dressing well is universally expected. My “American sense of informality” did not serve me well that day and lessons were learned.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Six years ago I was a member of a group of scholars holding our AGM in Cuba and we were invited to attend for an evening at the Canadian Embassy. The drinks were reasonable and the food indifferent and those attending did the usual chit chat – rhubarb rhubarb with a few of us – including me, taking a swim in the pool. If only I had known of the future difficulties my wife and I were to experience when applying for temporary resident visas to enable her to visit Canada. Five successive applications were denied with reasons including “lack of employment opportunity in your country of residence” – this to a lady with 23 years continuous full-time employment as a school teacher and with a Master’s degree. My MP (He would confirm) was given answers to his enquiries which were ‘incorrect’ that’s a better word than lies. Eventually in frustration we applied for a visa for my wife to visit the UK in company with me. The British Embassy staff in contrast to those at the Canadian Embassy, were courteous and helpful and duly granted my wife a visa. The following year the Canadian Embassy granted a visa but not for the period (July-September) sought but expiring in early August. As one who had involvement as a Director of a multi-cultural society I had been aware of problems within the Canadian bureaucracy dealing with visas, but our personal experience was a rude awakening. The Cuban authorities granted a passport and white card without difficulties. Although a critic of the Castro regime and Socialismo, it would be improper not to record our experience with the Canadian Embassy in Havana and its staff.

  • Michael

    Carlyle I think any Cuban (woman or man) should have to come to Canada only in the very middle of a bad winter to see if they like this country or love the (man or woman) No health care no benefits and if needed the partner pays for it all… Or is it all just for money??? And then they should leave for the nice months and go back to Cuba and come back again the next winter… If they last 3 year well OK… Truth is most Cubans just want this country and not the person. And look at the EU’s mess.
    And Irina… Drink the wine and eat the food enjoy yourself and have a good time while you can. For I too would have felt out of place though I still would have used the nice washroom to throw up on the floor…

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      I understand why you are generalising about the reasons Cubans want to enter Canada and remain in the country. We have stated repeatedly and correctly in Statutory Declarations that neiither my wife or I wish her to live in Canada. Our home is in Cuba and whereas I at the moment am not there as evidenced by my writing on this site, I spend well over half the year there during which time I cannot access the Internet including this site – my absence will doubtless be of satisfaction to Mr. Goodrich.