Ezy Reading:
La Boca
Evan Kanarakis


It came to mind at the most unexpected of times.

I was sitting in a beachside bar in La Boca, just outside of Trinidad. Officially we were 'killing time' until eight when dinner with old Rudy beckoned. Of course, in a sleepy fishing village like this killing time was a misnomer. Here time was different: elongated. Nothing to do but sit beachside and drink rum from sun-up until sundown. That's what all the Cubans seemed to be doing at any rate, and so that's exactly what we'd set out to accomplish as well.

Raul, the heavy set bartender with a gentle voice had switched the radio over to the baseball a short time ago, and with that at least a dozen locals had appeared out of nowhere to our table to drink, smoke, and banter about the game, just as they had on every other day of this week. Our broken Spanish mattered little; four drinks in we were backslapping our new friends in celebration of a home run by someone named Olivera.

Raul approached the table and tapped at my glass.

"Una mas, señor?"

"Una mas ron, sí." 

Raul smiled, shaking his head. Our last five rums had each been declared 'una mas'.

Perhaps it was in a whiff of cigar smoke. Or by the sound of a clinking ice cube melting into my mojito. Or in the inviting aromas now wafting across the road from one of the kitchens that lay within the shacks behind us. Or perhaps it was in a thousand other sights and sounds to be found that warm evening. Regardless, the hint of a memory soon began to form in my mind at that very moment. I saw the leathered, tanned arm of an older man, bobbing to and fro on a boat and holding up a large fish, freshly caught from the deep blue waters that lay beyond. It was such an immediately familiar memory, vivid and true, but I still had to search to find the context of it all.

It was odd that I should be rediscovering curious glimpses from my past at this point in time. It had been a heady few days of tiring travel mixed with late nights of excess and my mind had been humming along at a numb, albeit pleasant murmur for a while now. Still, this image was so very real. Familiar.

Out at the shore's edge two of our drinking companions now revealed themselves to be fisherman as, sluggish from their day's fill of booze, they slowly began to haul nets into a rusty, dented boat for the night's work ahead. In another hour or two the still bay would be scattered with the haunting white glow of a dozen odd vessels busying themselves with a night of fishing.

As I continued to watch the two tippled sailors stumble and argue with each other while loading up their supplies I took another sip of my drink and lit a cigarette. The memory began to form more fully now, gradually trickling into clarity. There was laughter and celebration on the boat upon sight of such a grand catch of the day being reeled in. I was handed the fish (there was a rich color in her fins- vermillion, was it?) but young and weak, I struggled to hold it by the gills and the older man soon rescued my failing grasp. Where was this from? Where had it all taken place? Or was it just a most striking dream of recent months now flashing back into my mind? If it was true, then this was clearly an old memory. Maybe of about fifteen or twenty years ago. Perhaps more?

A groan from the table signaled yet another painful strikeout.

"You no like baseball?" one of them asked. Everyone, even Raul, suddenly fell silent and glared at me as if I was on the verge of committing a most heinous blasphemy.

"No, it's good," I answered. "Why do you say that?"

"You no drink enough." He clicked his teeth and bit at his nails. "Cuban man get so nervous with baseball he drink and smoke all the time for game. You just sip."

I looked down at the sea of empty tall glasses in front of me and, after a moment, could only offer up a shrug of my shoulders in mock defeat. Raul chuckled and turned up the volume, but not before whispering a sharp rebuke at my challenger. Something about 'not scaring away customers'.

And then it abruptly all fell into place. Who knows how the dulled gears in my brain had kept turning, but in that instant I finally identified this nagging fragment of a memory. It was, as I'd suspected, an old one. Twenty-five years, in fact. I was eight, and it was summer back in New England. I remembered being scared about going out on the boat. Rain and wind were whipping across the docks that morning but my grandfather kept reassuring me it would all soon break. My grandfather. Ah, so it had been Guy after all. His Streamliner boat was a thing of beauty, all cherry and maple wood in color and his most favorite place to escape. True enough, he knew the waters well, and as we made our way past the heads the storm, as promised, eventually broke, opening up to reveal a clear blue sky.

Of course it made sense that thoughts of a long-ago fishing outing for snapper with my grandfather might come back to me here, in this place. I remembered Guy taking occasional swigs from the bottle of Bacardi he always kept stashed in the starboard tackle box, a corona cigar constantly burning away in his hand. I could still hear the Red Sox game that called out from his Streamliner's radio as he taught me how to cast out. And I felt the fresh spray of salt water stinging at my cheeks as we bounced up and down on our way through the surf. A happy memory, certainly, and one I'd not revisited for years, but one also tempered by the knowledge of so much sadness and misfortune that would tragically follow it in the years to come.

For now though, I embraced the warmth of this return to my childhood as the sunset over La Boca struck the heavens red, a curtain of flames sinking to meet the ocean. Raul had his scissors out and was snipping away for more mint from one of the bar's three well-tended potted plants.

"Una mas, señor?"

"Una mas. Sí."

Peering through his window, Rudy looked out across the street to the beachside bar. Soon it would be dark and his visitors would no doubt return, hungry. He tossed some diced okra into the pot and stirred. It was his grandmother who first taught him how to cook. That very first lesson had been so long, long ago. He was eighty-six now and so must have been what, seven, eight years of age? Either way, the memories of sitting on that high stool in her kitchen in Cienfuegos always gladdened his heart. The clanging of pots, her knife slicing away at yuca, the sizzle of pork frying in the heavy black pan. My, how the years had passed.

From outside, another roar. Olivera had done it again.




Ezy Reading is out every month. Send your comments to feedback@thecud.com.au