HAVANA._“Porkscratchinggggggzzzzzaaaaa…” the vendor gives a loud cry, taking passers-by in Havana by surprise at first.
But right away, a street vendor pushing a cart full of pork scratchings can be seen close by; “a real treat, either for breakfast or as a snack”, the vendor says.
His goods consist of little squares of pork scratching which following the correct portions of meat and fat are cooked over low heat in order for the fat to evaporate. They are then chilled and cooked again in hot butter until they become an inviting golden color.
“One has to be creative,” Higinio Martínez, the vendor says as he explains the meaning of his cry to a potential client. “People are sick and tired of listening to the same old cries like ‘Porkscratchings for sale.’ It’s not the same as when you cry Porkscratchinggggzzzzaaa…”, which tempts and invites the people with a touch of rumba he says.
Martínez is one of the ever-increasing number of street vendors that can be seen on the streets, in the plazas or in the parks in Cuba who are reviving an old local tradition: street cries. These cries were once part of the Cuban musical heritage included in memorable songs by talented musicians such as Gonzalo Roig, Moisés Simons, Rodrigo Prats, Félix B. Caignet and Ernesto Lecuona.
An example of these pieces is Simons’s “El manisero” (The Peanut Seller), whose chorus singer Rita Montaner, popularly known as ‘The One and Only’, enriched the piece with her extraordinary voice.
“Peanuts…,” street vendors call out as they strategically stand at the entrance and exit doors of movie-theaters in Havana or who walk along the city streets under the hot Caribbean sun, with a highpitched highpitched and falsetto-like voice that could make any opera singer envious.
With their hands full of the very popular peanut cones, they are aware that their product has become part of the city’s scenery. They even caught the attention of U.S. actress Frances McDorman when she came to the island in 1998 accompanied by Ethan and Joel Coen (her husband) to attend the 20th edition of Havana’s International Festival of New Latin American Film.
The star of Fargo did not want to leave Cuba without tasting the tempting, toasted peanuts covered with a pinch of salt, with their peculiar smell.
“Wonderful,” said the actress as she ate some before entering the Yara Movie-theater where The Coens were screening their latest film at the time: The Great Labrovsky.
Another legendary cry that has become a real jewel of the Cuban folklore is the one called out by tamale or “ayaca” sellers in the eastern Cuban province of Santiago de Cuba: “Hot and not hot,” like the chorus of a piece written by Jorge Anckerman that was performed at the former Alhambra Theater.
Based on this and following that very tradition, the Aragón Band made a version that turned out to be one of the most popular songs of its kind: “Los tamalitos de Olga” (Olga’s Tamales), which has been performed all over the world.
“Coal…/ the coalman/ 10 cents a sackful/ I sell cheaply” was another famous cry popularized by Miguelito Cuní and the Arsenio Rodríguez Band, which was also taken to different world stages as included in versions performed by the Pacho Alonso and Chapotín Bands and most recently by the Pachito Alonso Band.
Also on the list is the popular cry sung by Sara Montiel in the film “La reina del Chantecler:” For pants and cardigan/ I have cheap hangers. I have fish if you ask me for it”.
Taken on with renewed spirit in the final decades of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st century, the traditional cries have returned to Cuban life. “There are dark survivals, traditions of remote origin and secular habits in those cries; in those primitive vocal instruments used by professionals or street vendors to catch the attention (of passers-by),” Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier said in one of his articles.
Vendors’ cries are once again dominating public spaces in the capital, now with new products like the ever more popular guava and milk bar known as “matrimony,” just a perfect combination for the palate.
Meanwhile, street sellers like Higinio Martínez continue on the search for original cries to promote their produce.
There are those who even look for amazing metrical combinations to captivate passers-by and make them turn their heads and stop in front of their carts, which are full of highly attractive products that make their mouths water just by looking at them.Share on FB Share on TT