Cubita with Ernesto.

I am one breath from the sea, two blocks from the naked brown man on the balcony, and three feet from Ernesto, my Cuban host. He is a 71-year old retired mechanical engineer, and every morning at 8:00 a.m., we have coffee. He comes down his marble stairs and knocks on my door. “Callie!”. His hair is fine, silver, and full.

Did you have many friends who left after the revolution? I ask. Yes, many. All of my classmates, he said.

I wonder if he was named after Che. He was a teenager during the “Patria o Muerte!” ousting of Batista and with him, my country ’tis of thee. He is 5-feet eight, with tan skin, like beautiful buttered leather. His teeth are white and worn but strong, partial to wide smiles that reveal happy wrinkles and missing molars. He wears short-sleeved polos and shorts, with cloth loafers or sometimes, baggy socks and running shoes. He carries the little tray, stocked with floral porcelain demi-tasse cups, yellow, blue, and pink; a beige porcelain pot painted with blue, Asian flowers, and a broken-handled, black and white cup filled with brown Cuban sugar that says “Cafe de Cuba” in black on white on the inside and “Cubita” in white on black on the outside. There are also delicate little stainless steel spoons, and a glass cup full of cookies.

The coffee we drink black, with sugar. Daring. Unapologetic. Just like Fidel. To the smell of smoky exhaust and the sea splashing on the Malecón and the sound of so many Cuban things: the wind and the ocean and the things humans do in the Carribean sun. Motorcycles, Cold War technology, Detroit in the 50s, toy horns, barking dogs. People laughing talking living. Piccolo and drum beats drifting across Vedado from the Hotel Presidente. Buses, trucks, and life. English in one ear, Spanish in the other.

What was the difference between those who stayed and those who left?

The cookies, though, are what I really want you to taste. They’re small, roughly 1 1/2 to 2-inches in diameter, and probably crisp at one time. But, this is Cuba. Hot, humid, and sensual. Crisp doesn’t stay crisp for long, although other things here last forever.

Those who stayed cared more for the poor. Those who left cared more for the rich.

They’re thin, two tints lighter than a daffodil, and semi-soft, thanks to Habana. Just looking at them, you’d think they were bland and artificial. But upon first bite, they release a slow bouquet of pineapple with a buttery banana finish, dissolving into your tongue, not too sweet but sweet enough to meld with a heart that already beats for Havana.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Callie Neylan’s story.