Puppy’s barbershop, Cuba

“Puppy’s Barbershop:You’re ugly when you arrive, but you’re handsome when you leave.”


Barberia PuppyMy eyes wandered from the handmade sign, past photos of a younger Puppy, along the fuchsia bicycle with a handmade child seat on the crossbar, to the 1950s barber’s chair where a young macho was having his coif maintained by the patient Puppy of signage fame.


Their conversation was relaxed, familiar, and so lightning-fast that much of it went right over my head, which was covered with an amount of hair that had felt fine in San Francisco, but in Cuba felt like one of those big Russian fur caps, which just don’t do well in the tropics. There’s a reason it was the Cuban Missile Crisis, and not the Cuban Giant Hair-Hat Crisis.


CubanoNext to me sat a sinewy older man in no particular hurry, occasionally chipping a word or three into the conversation, but other than that, just relaxing like thin Buddha in a guayabera. I felt at home among these men, and asked them a question that had been on my mind.


“Would you guys like a McDonald’s here in Trinidad?” I was half-expecting, or perhaps hoping, for a revolutionary rebuttal against capitalist corporations, perhaps a discourse on neo-liberalism’s inherrent destruction of the principles of solidarity, which are so crucial in Cuba. But their answer was far more beautiful than that. Beautiful, and terrifying.


“McDonald’s? What is that?”


Cuba and comidaHow does one explain McDonald’s? “It’s a hamburger restaurant chain…” was weak, but it’s what came out while I tried to translate what else I wanted to say about it.


“Of course! We love hamburgers! And they’re really good with pork.” Cubans love their pork, and do it better than any nation I’ve yet tasted, though I’m not sure Ronald would approve. The conversation moved on to various pork recipes, leaving my mind to wonder how I could have explained the golden arches better.


Because someone needs to.


Cubans, protected for fifty years by an embargo they love to hate, are shockingly innocent of the dangers of globalized commerce. They are not aware that GDP does not equal wealth and prosperity for the people, and if there’s one thing Cubans are remarkably good at (in addition to baseball, cooking, music, art, dancing, laughing, storytelling, relaxing, and looking cool) it’s caring about The People.


There is a sense of solidarity on the island that is unlike anything I have ever seen. So of course, Cubans hear that these giant multinational companies want to come in, and they think “It will bring in a lot of money, and therefore be good for Cuba.”


Cuba, Havana Prado at nightI fear for the day Ronald starts selling his burgers alongside the paladares of Havana, and can only trust that the Cuban people, or at least their leaders, will know the danger before it is too late. Or, failing that, that they’ll remember what good food tastes like.


Maybe it was the steps already taken to protect this island sanctuary, or their impressive adaptability and resilience, or maybe it was just the languorous pleasure of an afternoon in the barbershop, but as Puppy finished removing my sweltering hairstack, I felt a calm optimism.


In fact, maybe Cuba will teach Ronald a thing or two. Maybe he’ll arrive looking ugly…