18 May 2009


Forgive me if this one comes to a bit cloudier than the others. I've just about run out of Will Shortz puzzles and I've been up all night.

I was living in Pequeña Habana at the time. Doing my best Haitian Creole with a heavy South Brooklyn accent.

I could still see the boxes of pseudoephedrine behind the counter in shackles. To this day I can smell the white leather in that idling Corvette. For those on the run, with no time or desire to eat, like most of us were in those days with white knuckles on old suitcases, a shot of café Cubano could revive the dead. I remember the sound of the heavy door on that old Corvette closing behind me. The big getaway. I thought we'd pulled it off. Figures it would turn out to be the last car door I'd ever close. Hell, it was the last Yank tank I'd ride in for a very, very long time but what a score it would have been.

The morning I'd meet my bride, Moros, I was having a leisurely breakfast at Versailles. It was no Café Tortoni but it was comfortable and the waitresses knew my face. I always sat in the same table and ordered the same thing: a tostada and café con leche. I'd usually break the tostada into pieces, then dunk it into the café con leche. Just like Americans would dunk their doughnuts into their coffee. I had to act the part. I could smell the smoky creamed ham croquetas from the kitchen, shaped in finger rolls, lightly breaded, and then lightly fried. Very little was deep-fried and there were few heavy or creamy sauces in the traditional Cuban cooking style but naturally I found and fell in love with the few that were. I always ended breakfast with a cortado and the check. Even though I'd spend the whole day having meetings at Versailles I'd pay for each meal one by one. It was my OCD. Must have jumped into my luggage before I left New York City a few years earlier.

The time of day between breakfast and lunch was a delicious gray area of pastelitos, croquetas, bocaditos, and empanadas or a media noche (that means midnight sandwich) - some sort of hearty meat with Swiss cheese and then topped with pickles and mustard on sweet egg bread. The midnight sandwiches were more addictive than the pseudoephedrine. Sometimes I'd have them bring out the congri before dinner. It was this white rice and black bean mixture that some people called "Moors and Christians", then came boniato in a garlic dressing, and maduros.

Next Up: Fin de siècle. The end of the century.

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