For a short break from the library, I went to the park in Amberg, my hometown in Germany. It doesn’t matter how highly motivated you are studying, sometimes you need a break. And thus, I am sitting under centuries-old trees, listening to the water fountain, reading the newspaper and smoking a cigar.
A mere 15 minutes have passed, when a thin, dark man with gold teeth introduces himself in English. He is from Cuba and a musician, he says.
As he opens his small backpack, I already fear that he is going to offer me a CD. I am a conscientious objector to music and would thus have to decline.
But no, he pulls out a large wooden box, opens it like a treasure trove, and presents Cohiba cigars. The big ones. Churchill size.
I last smoked these in Bolivia, where they only cost a few euros each. To avoid smoking too much, I purchased only one at a time, which is why the shopkeeper, whom you know from this alcohol-free story, had to go to the refrigerator and unpack the box each time. It was just a corner store, but whenever the box was empty, the clerk would say: “No need to despair, señor. Tomorrow or the day after, the plane from Cuba will arrive,” as if it were flying in just for this little store on Avenida America. On the other hand, that would explain the many runways hidden in the jungle, without having to resort to nasty rumors of drug smuggling.
While I have been digressing like an airplane gliding over the gentle waves of the mild Caribbean waters far below the radar of focused writing, the man from Cuba has taken a seat next to me.
“The situation in Cuba is terrible,” he says. That’s why he is selling cigars, so he can bring his wife some money for food. “If there is any food,” he caveats. “You can’t even get chicken every day!” Anyone who has been to Latin America knows what a disaster that is. Without chicken at least twice a day, most people can’t function properly. Honestly, after a year and a half in South America, I couldn’t see no chicken with rice no more.
Imprudently, I have switched to Spanish, although I should know that I don’t understand Cubans (nor Argentineans). One could get used to the plural congruence of impersonal verbs, the morphosyntactic deviations, the substitution of liquid palatals. But the rapid pace of speech combined with unpronounced consonants brings me to my limits.
In Cuba, the colloquial language became the standard language after the 1958 revolution. As formerly underprivileged classes ascended to language-shaping positions, such as teachers, politicians and radio hosts, the development was welcomed by Marxist linguists as an element of democratization. Moreover, many intellectuals emigrated, leaving behind a somewhat sloppy linguistic swamp.
Just like in Amberg.
But I do believe to understand that he forms a band with six colleagues, himself playing the drums, and that they are on a three-month tour around Europe. Not as street musicians, but a proper, professional band. Tomorrow they will go to Switzerland, then to Luxembourg, then Berlin and back to Amberg, where they are staying at the Bruckmüller brewery.
“Well, that’s convenient,” I say, suggestively.
“Oh no, we’re not those kind of musicians,” he objects, assuring me that he hasn’t touched a single bottle of German beer. He pronounces “German beer” as if the whole world knew it as some devilish brew.
Still having a 70-cent Toscano-Garibaldi cigar in my mouth, I can’t deny that I occasionally smoke. But on the other hand, it allows me to credibly assure that I can’t pay the suggested price of €10 for one or €15 for two Cohibas.
“I’m a student,” I explain with a sad look.
“But a Cohiba usually costs €20,” he says.
I know. Even €30 in some places. But I find that exaggerated. It’s like people paying €20,000 more for a car because it has a star on the hood, which they could get for €25 at a junkyard. Or when people pay ten times as much for a first-class ticket in order to arrive just as quickly as I do in economy class. And between you and me, the Toscano cigars taste better, too.
All right, he says, then I should just give him €10 or €12 or whatever I want for two Cohibas. Apparently, the tobacco market has not yet been hit by inflation.
When I tear a page from the newspaper to wrap the cigars (argument no. 28 against electronic reading), he puts four Cohibas on it and suggests €20.
I accept the deal and we say goodbye with a handshake. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand his name. But he promised to be back at the same park in mid-June.